I’m afraid of failing at being a mom
By Kari Shimmel.
Being a mom is hard. A lot harder than I ever thought it would be. In fact, I was so scared of it I kept pushing it back in our life plan. I always thought that I would be a mom, but then we got married and I started a career and then it just never seemed like the right time. We planned on having kids after 5 years of marriage, but we both felt that we wouldn’t try until we felt absolutely sure that it was the right time.
After our 6th and 7th anniversaries came and went, we had plenty of conversations. I even remember a long walk and Doug (my husband) saying he felt it was the right time. Then I snuck away to my car, called a girlfriend and almost started hyperventilating at the thought. I kept saying to myself, “I am not ready. I like my quiet time. I want to go back to grad school. I want to teach and have my career. I want to travel more. I want my marriage to be awesome.”
Then, I went back to grad school. I kept growing in my career. I started teaching at the College for Creative Studies. I took a trip to Spain with my dad. Doug and I went on more and more weekend trips than I can count. And I was in love with my BFF after 8 years of marriage. I had crossed all the items off my list, except one. I needed to feel that this was what God wanted us to do and that I wanted to be a mom. Not out of expectation, but out of desire. I can’t pinpoint the exact moment, but there was a ginormous shift and, suddenly, I wanted this and I felt that we were ready.
I wish this is the point in the story where I could tell you that from this moment on I felt a deep sense of purpose that gave me the confidence to be a great mom. But in fact, this is where things started to go a little off the rails for me.
As you can probably tell, I am a planner. I LOVE to be in control. I rarely try something if I haven’t already researched it and generally feel confident that I could do a pretty good job. I love what I do for a living, and I thrive on putting logic and creativity to work. So logically, I thought that from the moment I became pregnant, I would instantly bond with my baby.
But I didn’t.
For months I struggled with trying to feel connected and ready to start this next chapter in our lives. I read just about every book and blog, and I searched to find someone else like me – but I couldn’t find them. I only found women who loved being pregnant and felt they were moms from the moment they saw the plus sign on the pregnancy test. Because I wasn’t a glowing pregnant woman, I felt like a failure … and I wasn’t even a mom yet! However, I was reassured when my midwife told me that when my little girl was born and I met her for the first time, then it would happen.
After 22 hours of labor, I remember meeting her and thinking, “I am so glad this is over.” Not exactly the pure joy and connection I was promised. I sat stunned, watching Doug bond with Maggie (our daughter) as she turned to his voice, not mine. I felt like a failure again and it was only day one.
Turns out, I didn’t know what to expect even though I read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting.” They left out the chapter about “how to make the lasting, joyful bond with your child and transition to motherhood.” I felt lost, afraid and not in control. I felt like I was losing the person who had reached her goals and felt confident in life. I felt like I didn’t know how to succeed at being a mom.
About 2 months into this thing, I realized that I was probably dealing with some postpartum depression, but also that motherhood is something unique and not a clearly defined title with a job description. I realized that if I constantly let the fear of being a bad mom (aka – not in control of every situation) cripple me, I would lose my former self. I wouldn’t be the role model I want my little girl to see.
So, I pushed through the fear of the unknown. I bonded with Maggie in our own way, including rituals (which include singing and praying together at bedtime every night – sometimes even on Skype when I am traveling for work). I realized that I have the rest of our lives to continue to build our relationship.
I made it a priority for us to travel (from Hawaii to road trips). I realized it is okay to be “that family with the crying kid” on the plane or in the restaurant and that experiencing the world as a family is best when not everything is under control.
I am discovering the next chapter in my career as a mom. I realized it is okay to create boundaries and that I can be a great mom even if I have to Skype our bedtime routine.
I am feeling the joy of being a mom. I realized every cuddle, tight squeeze, toothless smile, tickle fight and laugh is a moment to be fully present and engaged.
I can’t say I have licked this “feeling like a failure,” especially after 2 hours of nonstop whining from Mags, but I can say that I figured out that it is okay to admit that this is hard stuff and to not have it all figured out.