Mothers – go grab your wallet, cell phone or journal – whatever you use to store your scorecard. “Scorecard? What scorecard?” you say. Come on, don’t be embarrassed. We all have one. You know – the card that records the sum of your successes and failures as a mother? Yes, that little thing…you remember now. Go ahead and look at the bottom line. How is your score trending today? If you aren’t sure, I’m happy to provide you with this Seventeen Magazine style scoring scale:
- 0-30: You’re right, you have no business being a mother. Someone from CPS will be by to pick up your child shortly.
- 31-50: Your child has likely sustained permanent emotional/intellectual/physical damage at your hands. Keep striving for average.
- 51-80: Congratulations, better than average may keep your child out of jail.
- 80-100: Clearly you’re clueless. No one is this good. For penalty of self-denial, subtract 30 points from your score.
If you have children, you will undoubtedly experience many “Parent of the Year” moments*. For example:
- You forget to set the stroller break and your son rolls down your driveway while you’re packing the car.
- You glance away from your toddler while he decides to eat a peculiar berry from a nearby bush.
- Your child eats from your dog’s food bowl.
- You place a blanket over your child’s head to play hide-n-seek, immediately sending him to walk headfirst into a wall.
(*I certify the above stories from friends resulted in no injuries and eventual laughter.)
For mothers, scorekeeping begins with the insanity inducing post-partum hormones. Your baby cries and instead of cycling through the list of potential causes, you think, “My baby must be dying! I can’t make her stop crying. I might kill my baby!” Breastfeeding is often the beginning of scorekeeping – not enough milk, painful feeding, baby is still hungry, can’t increase milk supply. We internalize every perceived failure or shortcoming as a direct result of our inadequacy. What a burden!
Many of us remain mysteriously unaware of our scorecard, even as we liter it with detailed notes. I saw my scorecard for the first time when Wade was 9 months old. He’d been using his highchair for several months and we’d removed the safety harnesses as they were too large. As he progressed to standing up independently I foresaw the need for the safety straps approaching, but I didn’t want to harness him in unless it was necessary. Of course somedays the time between unnecessary and necessary in child’s development seems to be about 10 minutes.
One day after lunch, as the sun streamed in from the bay window, Wade decided to explore the confines of his highchair. A wiggle – became a twist – became a turn – became a lift – became a mid-air hoist. Wade finished uprighting himself to standing, proudly, in his highchair (tray still in place). I immediately realized he was at high risk of falling to the floor so I reached out to grab him. In the same instant, he fell forward in a Cirque de Soliel dive while the floor rose up to meet his head. I was holding him the entire time – but only with one hand. The result was Wade’s first head-bump. Tears ensued for him and I cried angrily on the inside. I was furious at myself – what an idiot mother! How could I have allowed him to hurt himself? The fall replayed in my mind for days. I felt responsible for my son’s harm. However, there was a second less altruistic feeling hidden behind the first – pride. I had ruined my perfect scorecard. Recounting the story seemed a confession to others of my negligence as a mother. I felt ashamed and realized this would only be the first of many “mistakes” I would make.
I talked to a new mother friend recently. She was overcome with fear about sleep training, thinking her 2 month old should be further along in his sleep patterns. Had she missed the window!? Was it too late!? What if she had damaged his future sleep habits!? I was far enough in my own journey to see what was happening to her. I had ordered a tall stack of sleep training books when Wade was a month old and spent several weeks of maternity leave reading, sorting, comparing, trying to find a hidden connection that might reveal a Universal Sleep Truth! (If you’re curious, I can assure you there is no such thing.) I tried to alleviate my friend’s fears, but sleep training was not the real issue. I told her she was at a crossroads in her nascent journey as a mother. This was her first opportunity to let go – to take a slow breath and remember – her son will be okay.
Even if we master sleep training or breastfeeding, there will be another challenge, another unmapped territory to traverse. There will be discipline, school, driving, dating, traveling – an endless list of iterating unknowns. If we do not begin to let go, to trust, we will be consumed by fear. As I challenged her, I recommitted myself to the discipline as well. You may have your own formula for renewing trust. Mine is:
follow my gut + pray = Wade will be okay!
So go ahead – crunch up your scorecard, rip it, burn it. It will not help, it will only harm.
What is your strategy for alleviating your anxiety as a mother or parent?