Sunday, September 23, 2012

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}



A search for postpartum depression a few months ago turned up this link, in which the author laid out 6 common myths of mothering that contribute to postpartum depression.  I have believed or been affected by all 6 at one point or another in my journey of mothering, so I decided to address them in a series of posts.  This is the third.  In this post, I will address:

Mothering Myth #3 : {The Perfect Mother}
"The myth of the perfect mother ... "
When I was pregnant with Sophie, I had fond daydreams about what mothering would be like.  In my mind, it was a cross between an L.M. Montgomery novel and a Victorian tintype, where I would spend hours looking lovingly into my daughter's eyes, or breastfeeding her endearingly as she snuggled against me.  Of course, the moment she was placed into my arms in the hospital we would experience a mystical connection that would endure until I weepingly sent her off into the great world after high school graduation.  I would gaily wash and hang her little pink clothes on the line while she cooed at me from a blanket in the grass.  She would lie still and look adorable when we went to the grocery store together.  Maybe I'd stop by a department store and try on clothes while she napped in her carrier.


That was the dream.

Here's the reality:

Breastfeeding was hell for the first three months.  I mean, really.  It was extremely difficult to get her to latch on, and I didn't really know what I was doing.  I thought you were just supposed to put a baby's mouth on you and she immediately started eating.  No such thing.  We would spend entire half hour stretches with her crying, and me hysterically trying to get her to eat.  Each failed attempt after another disintegrated my confidence in my mothering capabilities.

Meanwhile, everyone around me seemed to have the answers.  I'd take Sophie to the nursery at church, and the ladies would hold her with such confident tenderness that I'd slink away in dejection.  She was MY daughter.  Why couldn't I have that confidence?  She didn't calm down for me like that!

My days were spent covered in spit up, pee and yellow newborn poo.  The only way I could get Sophie to be content was to hold her and bounce her while we faced the window, so she could look out.  So I held and bounced her and paced from window to window of my tiny house for hours.  It was exhausting.  When we did venture out into the wider world, she would scream in her car seat.  I had to carry her, and would eye the calm little babies content in their carriers with frustration.  What was I doing wrong that my baby wouldn't do that?

Mothering came slowly to me.  Really, it's only now that I'm on my third kid that I have enough perspective to understand what I wish someone had told me when I was starting out - there is no perfect  mother.  This is because every mother is different.  We all bring our own unique personalities to the table.  On top of that, every child is different and add their own personalities to the mix.  It is extremely unfair (to herself!) for a new mother to measure herself by any external standards.  Her mothering will not be like anyone else's, because she is unique, and her baby is unique, and what she and her baby have together is unique.

Now that Sophie is older, I can see that the reason she hated to be put down as an infant is because she has an unquenchable interest in the world around her.  This is the child who notices the single light in the darkening sky, and identifies it as a planet, rather than a star.  The child who can tell you where to find rolly pollies in our back yard.  The child who has a keen artistic eye and picks out library books for their illustrations (she likes collage and odd proportions the best).

What I wish someone had told me when I was a new mother, is that what you see in an infant, the inscrutable idiosyncrasies, are really the little buds of your child's personality.  Buds that slowly bloom until the child begins to talk, and you start to realize who this little person really is.  Don't be so hard on yourself.  You are an individual, and so is your child.  And mothering isn't really about breastfeeding the right way, or having a calm child, or having all the answers.  It's about ushering your child into the world and helping her realize her unique gifts.

6 comments:

  1. BUT I AM THE PERFECT MOTHER! AND I HAVE TO SHOUT THIS SO YOU CAN HEAR ME OVER THE SCREAMING BABY IN THE NEXT ROOM!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. And this evening's ER trip does nothing to negate my perfection.

      Delete
  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Aunt Cindy, deleting your comment so your email addy's not on the web ;)

      Delete