When you first become a mother, it can feel like you’ll never know enough about how to raise your baby right. Personally, I have no idea how moms were able to figure out anything before Dr. Google and online moms group were things, but they have my deepest sympathy and admiration. When I was pregnant and had a newborn, I had questions about everything, and I second-guessed all my decisions, from using a nipple shield to encourage my daughter to latch (something that is discouraged by many lactation experts), to choosing which solids to introduce first and when. (Those, for the record, are two of about 47 billion decisions I agonized over.)
There were times when it felt absolutely nerve-wracking to be a mother. What if I did something to ruin my baby girl? Had I given her too many doses of ibuprofen this week? Did she eat enough vegetables? Why wasn’t she sleeping through the night yet? All the questions, none of the answers. Gradually, However, I began to gain confidence in my decisions as a parent. This wasn’t because I was sure I was right. It was because I started to understand that “right” is a relative term in parenting (and in most other things, it turns out). And I tried to do my best, and I started to trust that I knew what was best for my child... and trusting that my child would likely be seriously, actually, totally fine and not irrevocably scarred for life if I didn't know what was best at all times.
Before I had my daughter, I was an opera singer for years. In my years of studying singing, I had a teacher introduce me to the stages of competence we all go through whenever we’re learning new skills. I feel like this set of stages does a great job explaining the process of becoming increasingly confident in your ability to raise your kid without messing the whole thing up.
Stage 1: Unconsciously Incompetent, Or “The First 8.5 Months Of Pregnancy”
This is the stage where you think you know what you're doing, but you actually have no idea what you're doing, largely because you don't yet know what you need to know, and so you don't learn it, but you probably learn a whole bunch of other sh*t instead. Fun! Most of us don’t have much in the way of experience with the minutiae of parenting when we first become pregnant. We have these ideas about how things are going to go, and we plan for those things, unaware that there could be a whole host of other problems that crop up, rendering all that other planning useless.
For instance, I spent so much time worrying about labor and delivery that I spent virtually no time reading up on breastfeeding, which was something I had committed myself to doing for the first year. That turned out to be an issue, after my daughter appeared to latch at the hospital, then didn’t again for 4 weeks. If I had known the problems we were in for, I would have spent far more time reading up on related material.
Stage 2: Consciously Incompetent, Or “What The Hell Have I Gotten Myself Into?”
We all have that moment of realizing how much we really don’t know. I like to call this the “Holy sh*t, is it too late to change my mind?” stage. It’s scary to come to that realization, because a lot of the time, we can’t see beyond that moment to when things will get better. All we can see is how bad things are right now.
I think for me, that was on day 2 of my daughter’s life. We had just experienced the worst night ever, where she woke pretty much every 20 minutes. Nothing consoled her, probably because she was hungry and unable to latch, but I didn’t really get it. There was a lot of crying that day, at my midwife’s visit, when she told me I needed to start pumping so my baby could get the nutrition she needed, since she wasn’t able to latch. All I could think about was that I was failing my child in this most basic necessity. This stage really sucks. Thank god it also doesn’t last long.
Stage 3: Consciously Competent, Or “OK, This Is Hard, But Maybe I Can Do It After All.”
As you start to get the hang of things, you still need to think through each activity before you do it, to make sure you remember everything. But you do it. And the confidence begins to build, because you’re getting it right (eh, most of the time).
I could go further with the breastfeeding story, but just so you don’t think I’m of the belief that this is the only thing a mother can have a lack of confidence in, I’m going to use my cloth diapering story. After weeks of studying how to do the folding properly — so that the inserts held baby poop in and didn’t allow it to leak out the side — I had days and more days of failure. Then I finally figured out what I was doing wrong, I really needed to concentrate on folding those inserts at the exact spot, so that they didn’t leak poop everywhere. And if I did let down my guard and stop paying attention to how I was folding those things? Poop. Everywhere.
Stage 4: Unconsciously Competent, Or “Girl, You Got This.”
It’s the moment we all wait for. The moment when we recognize our baby’s cry as being a hungry cry versus a dirty diaper cry. It’s when the list of things to bring when we take our baby out gets checked off mentally as we sail out the door. It’s knowing we are doing what our child needs us to do, without needing to second guess ourselves. And it feels great.
Stage 5: “Oh God, Here We Go Again.”
This is not the final stage, but rather the sign of a return to square one, which happens anytime you hit a new — and more than likely, totally unknown — stage with your baby. Teething, sleep regression, potty training... just when you become competent at parenting one kid, you turn around and that kid is a whole new kid. Every time you get comfortable and feel like you finally know what you’re doing? Everything changes, again. The good news? While you might find yourself repeatedly thrust into new phases of incompetence, your confidence will — hopefully — sail through, unaffected. Because that's the biggest thing you realize that lends itself to unflappable mom confidence: You're never going to know everything, but you're strong, resourceful, and instinctive enough to not always need to.
Images: Isla Murray/Romper; Giphy(5)