My daughter was the perfect baby. She was born after an easy, drug-free, natural labor. She took to breastfeeding like a duck to water and consumed nothing but breastmilk for her first seven months. She didn’t even know that bottles existed. I practiced ecological breastfeeding and wasn’t separated from her for more than a few minutes for her entire first year. I made all of her baby food, cloth-diapered, co-slept, never made her cry it out, and let her self-wean. I wore her in a Maya wrap constantly, a stroller was just unnecessary. She cried so little that we were shocked each time she did. She was and is the most securely-attached, happy, smiling, independent little girl. And if she had been my first baby, I would think that it was all because of me. I would be The Smug Mom.
You know the one. When overhearing a conversation about a mothering challenge, The Smug Mom offers her unsolicited advice because she knows the right way to do it. If only you used the same parenting techniques as The Smug Mom, your baby would be as easy and content as her ever-smiling babe. The Smug Mom is so sure that her way is the right way, the ONLY way to mother and criticizes those mothers with strollers, or formula, or pacifiers at the drop of a hat. She means well but seems unable to understand the mothering challenges other moms are facing.
Luckily, I didn’t become The Smug Mom because my firstborn did not emerge from the womb as a bundle of infant perfection like his baby sister. He tore down all my delusions of motherly wisdom right away. His first year was one overwhelming challenge after another, beginning with a super long and exhausting labor. When I was pregnant, I knew exactly how I was going to mother, but nothing turned out how I expected.
Was I going to breastfeed? Of course. No question! It was going to be perfect. I knew I’d have to pump at work, but no big deal! Fast forward four months later when my colicky baby had screamed through every feeding of his life and I was pumping 4 hours a day because he would only take my breastmilk in a bottle. By 16 weeks post-partum, that 4 hours of pumping a day became impossible. He only slept 3-4 hours a night in 1 hour increments and the exhaustion of pumping was actually inhibiting my ability to bond with him.
Cloth-diapering? Of course! Oh wait…after pumping for the billionth time I have to do laundry every other night after getting home from work? That didn’t last long. Hello, disposables! Co-sleeping? He didn’t sleep. I didn’t sleep. My husband didn’t sleep. I could rarely make it to work before breaking down into tears of exhaustion. We finally did CIO at 6 months and it actually worked. After starting to get a little bit of sleep, I was able to start bonding with my little boy—something that I had been previously unable to do simply because I was so incredibly exhausted. When I quit breastfeeding and switched to formula, his reflux and colic improved.
None of it was ideal. None of it was how I planned it, but I realized that sometimes what’s right for your family, what makes you the best mother you can be, isn’t a rigid adherence to a certain method of parenting, it’s simply doing your best for your unique baby in your current situation.
I know there are bad mothers in the world, but I don’t personally know any women who aren’t doing everything they can to be amazing mothers to their kids. I don’t know any mother who doesn’t love her baby and want to do what’s best. I simply can’t know what another mother might be going through, her family’s unique challenges, how hard she tried to breastfeed, etc. And I’ve seen babies thrive in different families with very different parenting methods. So now I know what to say when other moms tell me about their parenting style. You co-sleep? Awesome. Baby slept great in their crib from day one? Awesome. You love breastfeeding? It is such a special thing! Breastfeeding didn’t work out and baby is thriving on formula? I feel your pain, sister! So glad baby is doing great. You’re attachment parenting all the way and baby loves it? Good for you! You love BabyWise and your baby does, too? Fantastic!
What I learned from the early days of mothering my son is that using every ounce of energy I had to do things “the right way” simply didn’t work for my baby or for my family’s situation at the time. Trying out the same things that failed miserably with my firstborn worked like a charm with baby #2. Every baby is different. Every family is different. There is no “right way” to mother that works for every child and every family.
What mothering challenges saved you from being The Smug Mom?
Photo credit: Lauren of Simply Inspired Mama