In my pre-kids motherhood fantasy I worked full time and didn’t feel an ounce of mommy guilt.
I’d come home to a clean house and children who were happy to see me, tugging at my skirt hem and telling me about their adventures in school. (Montessori, but of course.)
They’d play matching games at the table while I prepared a locally grown, vegetarian dinner and they’d never dream of turning up their noses at plates full of quinoa and kale.
(This explains why in my parenting fantasy I was a size 2.)
My fantasy husband and I took vacations aplenty and never fought about child rearing, because who was he kidding? I clearly knew more.
Life was easy. It was balanced. It was free from pee stains on the mattress and lost sippy cup lids. There were no such thing as tantrums and I never lost sleep over my decision to induce labor or breastfeed or to delay vaccinations.
I was a better parent before I had kids because it was all so very black and white. There was right, there was wrong. There was good, there was bad. There were no special exceptions made for children with colic or ADHD or those who couldn’t tolerate the texture of rice, for example.
I hadn’t yet felt the sting of judgment from a friend when I made a different choice. I hadn’t experienced exhaustion. And I certainly hadn’t dealt with a toddler announcing to an entire dinner party that she’d made poo poo in the potty.
In so many ways, parenting is a swan dive into the unknown. I approached motherhood as though my children were tiny mini-mes, not individuals with personalities of their own.
What’s more: when I imagined raising kids I only had one frame of reference- my childhood. I thought only about what worked and what didn’t from my own upbringing and based my parenting fantasy exclusively on that.
But parenting isn’t black and white. There’s a lot of gray area in between the “expert” recommendations and the wisdom of your grandmother. There’s your own set of experiences, your expectations, and those of your partner to consider.
Parenting is messy and stressful and there often aren’t right answers. It’s a game of confident guesswork. It’s crossing your fingers and saying a prayer. It’s sleepless nights and anxious days, and listening to the innate tribal knowledge passed down through the history of motherhood.
If I could go back now and take my judgmental pre-kid self down a few notches I would do it in a heartbeat. Frankly, I’m afraid the reality would scare her a little bit.
And while it’s easy to quantify dirty diapers and screaming toddler tantrums, it’s impossible to quantify the unrelenting weight of responsibility. The need.
The way even on the most hectic days you end up in the black on the ledger book of love.
So yes, I’d have a few words with that “wise” girl I once was. But the quinoa and kale? I’d allow her continue in her blissful ignorance about that one.
Photo Credit: Kelsey Love Fusion Photo/Flickr
Mary Lauren Weimer is a social worker turned mother turned writer. Her blog, My 3 Little Birds, encourages moms to put down the baby books for a moment and tell their own stories. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.
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