Friday, September 5, 2014

A Little Thing Called Guilt

Before I had a child, I seem to remember hearing people talk about this constant feeling of guilt that is associated with child rearing. The first few months of parenthood, I did not have this experience. My child was breathing, eating, making dirty diapers, and generally coming along just fine. I figured I was doing everything "right." I was trusting my instincts and going with it. I didn't read parenting books. I didn't obsess over every little thing. I was actually a pretty chill first time mom, if I do say so myself. Until I wasn't.

I noticed that this change in my approach to parenting came around the same time I went back to work. The night before my first day, we had a horrible night. The baby was up every-single-hour. I probably nursed her four times (admittedly, mostly to get her to go back to sleep). The next morning, I started work bleary-eyed and determined to figure out how to get my baby to sleep better. I decided that now that I was working, I couldn't do this up every few hours thing. I needed to be rested to function, and I was in a full blown panic. So, I started soliciting opinions. Of course, when it comes to babies and sleep, there is no shortage of opinions. Various colleagues of mine suggested everything from full blown cry-it-out (as in shut the door and don't go in until morning) to "just let her be and keep waking up with her every time she wakes until she is three" (or ten, or twenty five, as the case may be). I decided the next night that I would start sleep training. And night weaning. Throw that in the mix too. When I got home that evening, I took to the internet in my quest to find the perfect solution. Every site claimed that every other method of sleep training (besides the one they were touting) would do permanent damage to the baby. I internally debated the pros and cons of every approach for hours. I told J. that we were going to try one particular method only to take it back a few hours later. By the time it was bedtime, I was completely exhausted from thinking about sleep. Beyond that, I was feeling guilty.

I was feeling guilty for not having sleep trained my baby already, and at the same time I was feeling guilty for thinking about sleep training my baby.  No sleep was part of the package I signed up for, right? So, why couldn't I just suck it up?  I was feeling guilty for going back to work. I was feeling guilty for wanting to go back to work. I was a hot mess of guilt about almost everything. Suddenly, I thought to myself, "Oh. That's what all those people were talking about."

Being a person who has generally always had a good understanding of how to be successful, parenting has opened up a whole new world of uncertainty. There are a million and ten ways to be a good parent. There are a million and ten ways to raise a child. The one common denominator of every approach is that no one way is the "right" way, and that is so different from so many other things I've done in my life. No parenting book, no website, no advice gleaned from well-meaning friends can tell me how to best raise my daughter, how to be the best mother to this particular little girl. When people say that being a parent is the hardest thing anyone will ever do, I think that part of the reason for this is because there is no road map. It's trial and error, but the stakes are unbelievably high. When I think about the fact that any choice I make might impact this little person for the rest of her life, I pretty much want to call it a day right then and there. The pressure is stifling. I wonder if the messages I inadvertently send her will affect her in ways I can't anticipate. I wonder when those messages start getting conveyed. I wonder what those messages are and will be. I wonder and question myself on a daily--scratch that--hourly basis. And, I imagine that this is just the beginning of the doubt, and uncertainly, and guilt that comes with being a mother. I don't have a conclusion for this train of thought because I think that to be a parent is to feel guilty. Is there any way around it? If there is, please let me know.


P.S. I also feel guilty about the fact that it took me about two weeks to publish this post, and that I couldn't think of a way to wrap it up on a positive note (because this is a blog, and it is supposed to be chipper, right?)! Does it never end?!