As my belly grew in size each month I was pregnant, so did the volume of unsolicited advice. I’d read and heard about the terrible sleep, the demanding feeding schedules, and the amount of baby equipment that would pack my apartment to hoarding level.
There were pieces of advice on index cards at the baby shower that reminded me to be patient with my husband (his favorite!), but none that warned of the mom guilt and mom shame you feel when your child is screaming and you can’t figure out why.
When I first fessed up to other parents that I often felt guilty for doing something that made mothering more tolerable, I heard my sentiments echoed back. My admissions opened a whole dialogue of the numerous mom guilt triggers.
A simple, "Oh yeah, I've done that too," from another parent validated decisions I’d made, then worried over, and later shamed myself for. After purging my guilt with other parents, I felt ridiculous for spending prolonged periods of time punishing myself for taking the road that makes my life more manageable. It’s simple: when I’m happier, I’m a better parent.
It took me over a year to understand that guilt felt and fueled by actions that allow me some sanity is the definition of insanity itself. So here’s my list of nine things I refuse to feel badly about anymore:
I have friends who have rules about no television until the kids turn two. This is a novel concept, and I tried unsuccessfully to follow it. I made it until my son was nine months and got a vicious case of the stomach flu on our only week of vacation eight hours away from our home and pediatrician.
The kid couldn’t hold down anything but Pedialyte for five straight days, and both he and my husband spent most of the week suffering with intense stomach pain and terrible headaches. The only thing that stopped the sobbing was the iPad we brought.
A little television allows me to use the bathroom, shower, drink water, cook, or sit and snuggle my on-the-move little boy. I'm going to stop feeling guilty about episodes of Sesame Street, where he claps wildly and we sing to the letter of the day. Also, the American Academy of Pediatrics lifted the "before two" screen ban if you need extra reassurance.
If you can unbuckle, lift, lock the car, carry the diaper bag, groceries, and your sleeping toddler into the house, and gracefully lay him in his crib without waking him or her, then you have developed ninja-level skills.
This endeavor is a medal-worthy feat. So, if changing a dirty diaper in the process would kill and/or negate potential nap hours — sometimes the only napping hours in the day — I'm going to pass. Baby sleep is sacred. The holy grail of parenting rules is: Never wake a sleeping baby. It's been passed down through generations for a reason. It's why diaper cream exists.
I run out of imaginative scenarios for train interaction, and no human should be forced to chime “choo choo” for four consistent hours a day. Every once in a while, I need a reminder that the outside world exists.
Even if it feels like I live in Elmo’s World or Thomas The Tank Engine's station, it’s reassuring to know what's going on in the headlines or what’s trending on Twitter. Sometimes my son pushes me off his tracks himself.
Caretakers are often unsung heroes. I used to babysit so I know it takes a special person to wipe a non-relative's runny nose. I love our gym. My son loves our gym. When I work out, he plays with new trains and socializes with new friends.
The one collateral is potential sickness, but he could get that from the swings at the park or while we’re in line at the grocery store, so...oh well. With risk comes reward.
This one is self-explanatory and widely known, but a semi-occasional glass of wine or two is the only cure to all-day whining and those terribly unfair and unwarranted sleep regressions just when you thought you’d finally fought hard for — and earned — your uninterrupted nightly six to eight hours.
Every day I clean and organize during naptime, and every night I reassemble the same toys, shelf the same books, and clean the same surfaces from snacks, meals, and spills. It’s Sisyphus and his rock.
The cycle of destruction and rebuilding is the hamster wheel of frustration. File this under, "too tired to care." This is why I sometimes hide toys with lots of parts (I’m looking at you, Melissa and Doug. I'm looking at you too, Duplo blocks) and also why we have playdates at the park.
Parents who love to cook, I applaud you. Parents who love to make pureed mush at home, power to you. My satisfaction comes from knowing my son eats well, even though his mother has a penchant for microwave nachos.
My kid almost never wants what I first offer. I thought I’d be that mom who cooked one meal and sent unwilling, picky eaters to bed hungry. That is, until I realized hunger in the night invariably ensures less sleep for me, so I'm only punishing myself on that one.
This is why there's an entire frozen, organic kid’s food aisle at Target.
I used to think it was my fault he got sick because I took him out in the cold to buy more milk, or it was my fault because he was exposed to so many kids at the gym, or it was my fault because I put him to bed a little later than usual.
Read closely: IT. IS. NOT. OUR. FAULT.
Complaining always makes me feel much better while doing it, and much worse afterwards. I'm going to stop punishing myself for venting.
Parenting is difficult. Some days it takes all you've got, and then when you think you have nothing left, it requires just a little bit more. If complaining makes you feel even a little bit better for a few moments, I say go for it.
I hereby refuse to feel guilty for wanting my own life, even just for an hour or an evening or – gasp – a whole weekend. Parenting is a largely selfless and unforgiving job. Wanting your own headspace apart from your kids is human, so I am going to practice not feeling feeling guilty or shameful about this again.