I think I’m a good mother. Some days, a good enough mother. Over the years, though, I’ve made some dubious decisions and missteps that I’d gladly go back and change, if I could. I’m sharing the ones I most regret to help you avoid them — or commiserate if you’ve already been there, oopsed that.
1. Extreme pre-baby shopping
When I was newly pregnant, a good friend gave me a list of the baby necessities I needed … all 100-plus of them. After my first foray to the store to get a bunch of stuff, I came home, dropped the bags on the floor and burst into tears. In retrospect, I realize that because I was so nervous about what to expect as a new mom, I was trying to impose some sense of order and control with a baby gear blowout. Which only made me feel more overwhelmed. Here’s the reality: It’s good to be prepared, but you don’t have to get every single baby item, especially stuff that you won’t need till a child is an older baby like toys and books. And there are things you will never, ever need. In other words, resist the wipes warmer.
2. Breastfeeding blinders
My first child did not nurse well; a feeding could take an hour. I read books. I had a breastfeeding consultant come to the house, watch me in action and give tips. But nothing helped. During my maternity leave, my husband would leave for work at 8:30 a.m. as I sat on the couch, nursing, then come home again at 6:00 when I’d still be on the couch, nursing. I’d barely move, except to eat and use the bathroom. I thought I had to nurse. My cure was returning to work, when I was forced to pump; only then did I realize it was OK to get the milk this way. My friend, Jean, had the opposite reaction; when her child wasn’t feeding right, she decided she wanted the intimacy of nursing over lots of breast milk, and so she nursed and supplemented with regular milk. In the end, you need to do what is right for you.
3. Letting the kids crash in our bed
There’s something snuggly and sweet about letting your toddler crash in your bed … for one night. The thing is, like bedbugs, once your child is there it’s very hard to get him out. My hapless husband and I ended up letting both kids into our bed, and at some point it just became easier to do it then to fight them on it. (Willpower at 2:30 in the morning is pretty much non-existent.) It took months and months before we finally extracted the kids from our bed, which we did by tricking out my son’s bedroom with glow-in-the-dark lights and mattresses on the floor and telling the kids they were camping. (See: DESPERATION). A family bed in which the parents are not willing participants is a miserable situation; think twice before you ever let your tot in.
4. Giving up on photo albums
For the first several years of my children’s lives, I diligently created photo albums. Then life got in the way, and I stopped printing out photos or assembling them in any organized way. Now that my kids are older (9 and 11), I so love flipping through this early albums, and wish I hadn’t stopped. I may get around to creating some more … when I’m retired.
5. Accepting stuffed animals
For some reason, people think children require stuffed animals. Many, many stuffed animals. In my kids’ early years, we acquired a virtual menagerie that threatened to take over our home. I finally hung up some netting in the corners of the playroom, where the animals stayed for years, doing nothing more than gathering dust until we finally gave them away. A couple of teddy bears and cuddly critters: fine. But no child needs more. Just say no.
6. Creating a balanced homework division
From the get-go, my husband and I both changed diapers, fed the kids and gave them baths. When they started getting homework, though, somehow the responsibility fell squarely on my shoulders. Homework when your kids are young is easy; practice reading together, glue some pretzel goldfish on a paper to practice addition. But it gets more intense over the years, and you need all hands on deck—including the hands belonging to a partner who assumes that you are going to be the one to do it because you are the one who has been doing it. Avoid this trap; divvy up homework help early on in your kids’ school lives.
7. Always cleaning up after the kids
My daughter’s room tends to resemble a demo site. My son leaves toy fire trucks smack in the middle of the kitchen floor. And why do they do this? Because I am their mess enabler, the mom who was lax about insisting that her kids pick up after themselves, the mom who neglected to sing any “Clean up time!” songs to her children as tots. Do not be this mom; as soon as your little ones are old enough to clean up, encourage them to do so.
And what I would never, ever, ever change:
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