The perfect mom does not exist. Instead of striving for an unattainable goal, try these strategies to get into a more positive state of mind.
My daughter never got the memo about rolling over. There she was at 6 months, seemingly unaware that it was possible to flip from her back to her stomach. While she was lying there too content to move, I was there worrying.
There were lots of things I agonized about. But when I started looking online for pictures of newborn poop, I knew I’d gone too far. After all, my daughter seemed healthy, and my pediatrician had assured me that greenish-colored poop was just fine.
Still, I worried. About poop. About SIDS. About whether she was eating too much—or not enough. I worried whether her naps were too short or too long. Most of all, I worried that I was doing something wrong.
My baby girl didn’t show any interest in crawling, either. Around 10 months, she started pulling up, and she took her first steps before she turned 1. But she still didn’t roll over. I asked her doctor if this was cause for concern. The pediatrician laughed and said she would figure it out eventually.
And she did. She finally started rolling at 13 months (seven months after the books said she would). At 14 months, she crawled for a week, as if to prove that she could do it. And several months after that—when she was running all over the house—I realized that all the time I’d spent fretting had been for nothing. She was developing in her own way, at her own speed—and she was perfectly normal.
Becoming a mother changed me from a normal human being into a perpetual worrier. It’s like it’s a piece of the motherhood puzzle: Here’s your baby, and here’s your anxiety.
Even if you’re laid-back before you have a child, it’s difficult to maintain that perspective with an infant. You’re suddenly responsible for keeping this tiny person alive, and if your baby is different from what you expected (My friend’s baby never spit up that much!) or deviates from what the so-called “typical” baby does (Why is her poop so smelly?), it’s easy to start wondering if something’s wrong.
Worrying is second nature for mamas, but you know your baby better than anyone else does, and over time you’ll learn to trust yourself and your instincts regarding your child. But building that confidence as a mother can be a long process. While you work on it, keep those nagging fears under control with the following strategies.
If something’s got you concerned and you’re tempted to look it up, make sure you’re choosing reliable sources. Natalie Collins, mother of one in Durham, North Carolina, spent a lot of time on message boards when her son was a newborn. “[But] after a few trips to the pediatrician, I realized that I was not reading anything worthwhile the pediatrician hadn’t already told us,” she says. “Researching tended to worsen my worries or create new ones.”
Your pediatrician is your best resource if you feel that something is wrong. Rather than agonizing over an issue until your next checkup, make an appointment right away—or give your doc a call. “Your pediatrician would always rather see your baby sooner if you are concerned,” says Julia Rosenstock, MD, attending physician at Mt. Washington Pediatric Hospital in Baltimore. “And don’t be embarrassed to ask your pediatrician any question. … We’ve heard it all!”
While my daughter was taking her sweet time learning to move, it seemed like other babies were running circles around her. (In fact, they practically were.) At times, it was hard not to think, Maybe there is something wrong. Or even, Maybe I’m doing something wrong.
“All developmental milestones are listed in time ranges, but most people seem to hear them as specific dates,” says Rosen-stock. If your friend’s daughter can sit up at 5 ½ months while your daughter still falls forward at 6 ½ months, both girls are likely normal. Try to avoid measuring up with the baby next door, and instead enjoy watching your child develop at her own pace.
Ignore unsolicited advice
You think that you’re an adult who can be trusted to make her own decisions. Then you have a child and suddenly everyone—from your mother to a stranger at the grocery store—starts telling you how to raise her.
It’s never a bad idea to ask for advice when you need it. But if unsolicited advice leads you to fret about something you’ve never given a thought to before (Maybe he’ll develop cancer if I don’t switch to organic baby food!), keep in mind that you don’t have to listen to it. After all, you probably wouldn’t let someone else tell you how to do your job, clean your house or cook your food.
Forget about the “right” way
“Before I gave birth,” says Collins, “I had it in my head that I would do the best thing for my son in every situation.” Since “breast is best,” she expected to nurse him for his first year. But at 8 weeks old, his weight gain began to slow. After visiting a lactation consultant, she discovered that she didn’t have enough milk for him to thrive. “I cried when I gave him that first bottle of formula,” she remembers, “but when he didn’t scream for hours that evening like he usually did, I knew it was the right thing to do.”
Because of all the information and opinions readily available online today, moms can feel pressure to figure out the “right” way to do everything. But a time will likely come when you realize that doing that “right” thing —in regards to nursing, napping, daycare or whatever else—isn’t possible. You might be afraid that your babe will suffer some negative consequence because you had to compromise in this area. But keep in mind that the “right” way is not the thing you read on a website or the preconceived idea you had when you were pregnant: It’s whatever works best for you, your baby and your family.
Your child will not be perfect, and you will not be a perfect mother. But together you’ll try your best, and that will be more than enough.