The Tiny Thing I Did For Myself That Actually Made Me A Better Parent
Parenting is hard. No matter how you prepare, how many books you read, or even how many times you experience it. In fact, it's harder than you can possibly imagine. We all want to be better parent, but we're also extremely hard on ourselves. To make matters worse, we set unfair and unrealistic expectations for ourselves and our children, beating ourselves up when we fail. So, I want to share a secret. There's a tiny thing I did for myself that made me a better parent and, well, you should seriously do it, too.
I forgave myself.
That's right. I gave myself permission to fail and when things didn't go as perfectly as I planned, I forgave myself, and I continue to forgive myself every single day. This tiny thing has given me the freedom to love myself and my children and to give them the best version of me on a daily, consistent basis. I don't have to be perfect to be perfect to them. In fact, once I stopped trying to achieve unattainable goals and stopped beating myself up for not meeting unrealistic expectations, I became a way better mom.
Once I stopped trying to achieve unattainable goals and stopped beating myself up for not meeting unrealistic expectations, I became a way better mom.
When breastfeeding didn't work out with my daughter, due to insufficient glandular tissue and low breast milk supply, I punished myself. I nearly killed myself (literally and figuratively) pumping after every feeding and using a supplemental nursing system to incorporate formula into our routine while ensuring a bottle wouldn't "ruin our breastfeeding relationship." I purchased the most expensive formula available — with every additive, bell, and whistle imaginable — even though we really couldn't afford it. Every day was exactly the same, a constant drumbeat of feed, pump, supplement, repeat. I spent thousands of dollars on supplements, lactation consultants, prescription drugs, and a hospital grade pump. As it turns out, once I stopped this madness (and it was madness), I was able to redefine what success meant for our family and my relationship with my baby. Most importantly, I was able to forgive myself, and once I did, I was able to become a good mom (and actually believe that I was.)
Later, when I was pregnant with my son, I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia at 31 weeks. I was put on bed rest and had a daily discussion with my midwife and the maternal fetal medicine specialist about whether or not is was safe to continue my pregnancy or if I should be induced or have a c-section for my and my son's health and safety. I was so convinced that I needed to avoid induction or a c-section and, instead, wait until he was "fully cooked" to deliver. After all, wasn't there a poster at my midwife's office, showing how much a baby's brain and lungs develop in the last few weeks? I felt like I failed. Again. I couldn't even grow a baby right. I was a bad mom before he was even born. It took some harsh words and convincing, but my induction at 37 weeks resulted in a healthy, already eight pound baby, and my health stabilized. Once I forgave myself, it was clear to see that I made the right choice; a choice that allowed me to safely deliver a beautiful baby.
When my marriage failed, I felt like the worst mom imaginable. Not only did I believe that marriage was forever, when I filed for divorce I had to take a court-mandated parenting class, where I learned about all of the ways my decision to file for divorce would screw up my kids. I thought that I had failed again, somehow forgetting how hard it was to co-parent with my soon-to-be ex husband: the screaming fights, the unfair distribution of labor, the emotional abuse, the gaslighting, and the violence. I was so afraid that growing up in a "single-parent household" would ruin my kids' lives.
Once I forgave myself, it was clear to see that I made the right choice; a choice that allowed me to safely deliver a beautiful baby.
I was also terrified of being a single mom. Or worse, failing as a single mom. What if I couldn't do it? Ultimately, I forgave myself. I soon realized that being a single mom was hard, but not even remotely close to how hard it is living in a horrible marriage. I stopped beating myself up, and I rocked single parenthood. I was solely responsible for my kids, my home, and my career. It was empowering, and I felt so much relief. I no longer had to answer to someone or take care of another adult. My only regret? I wish I had forgiven myself sooner.
Now, I'm a stepmom, too. I find new, exciting, and sometimes epic ways to fail on a daily, basis. Parenting is hard. We live, we learn, and we definitely laugh. Most importantly, we forgive each other and ourselves, and it makes us better parents as a result.
I screw up every day, and sometimes multiple times a day. Today, for example, my daughter forgot her packed lunch, I pulled my son's hair too hard when combing it, I forgot to run the dishwasher last night and to feed the fish, we ran out of toilet paper and their favorite cereal (even though I went to the freaking store yesterday), and I ran over the garbage can backing out of the driveway. Worst mom ever.
However, I try to remember to put things in perspective, to celebrate successes, and above all else, when I screw up, to forgive myself. I may not be the best mom in the world, but as my son put it when I dropped him off at preschool today, "You are my best mama ever." The rest just doesn't seem to matter.