Parenting Guilt: Overcoming the Perfect Parent Pressure
I was 20 when my first child was born. We spent the better part of a year eagerly celebrating the pending arrival with our loved ones. There was a Pinterest-perfect nursery, friends and family who “couldn’t wait!!!” to meet the new baby, grandmas-to-be who wanted to be included in Every. Single. Thing., a big baby shower and a 3D ultrasound party. And, most importantly, we had a mom (me) who spent 99% of her time concerned about getting every little thing right. And boy, did that mom plan. We would have a “natural birth” (nope), we would breastfeed as long as humanly possible (not even close), we would never do screen time or let her cry it out or even consider putting her down for a second after we waited so long to meet her (HAHAHA)!
And now that mom is having her second child. We don’t have the excited friends (my husband’s best friend, when he found out, said “she’d better not be pregnant again!”). There’s no baby shower planned. We’re past the window for that 3D party. I’ve accepted that we’ll be repeating our cesarean. The nursery is a crib in our toddler’s bedroom. The “Baby Shark” video permeates every inch of our existence. And I have multiple places designated for putting this baby down while I do other things (like clean my apartment, or much more likely: nap). In fact, I think the only original baby plan that I’m still stubbornly hanging onto is breastfeeding, and that’s for entirely different reasons than it was for my first (forget brain development, formula is expensive!).
As a result, I’ve been spending a lot of time plagued with guilt. What if this baby knows that I didn’t spend hours on Etsy finding the perfect homecoming outfit? What if he resents the fact that I didn’t plan a custom cake and make everyone look at his butt in 3D? What if he thinks I like his sister more because I went through labor for hours with her and cut it out entirely for him? And worse: what if I do like his sister more? What if I can’t connect with him?
My friends who are currently pregnant with their second child have shared similar fears, while a lot of my two-kid-mom friends have assured me that this is a fear everyone has and that I’ll love him just the same. I still find myself worried. What if I’m the exception? Or what if it’s the reverse, and I find myself loving him more than his sister, or she thinks I do?
I find myself constantly googling this issue, and following every guideline I can find. Do something special with her. Buy her a big present for when the baby is here. Make her feel included. Make her feel extra loved.
In the end, I have to realize that this anxiety doesn’t matter. Nothing I do is going to negate natural sibling rivalry. I couldn’t tell you if my mom had a baby shower for any of us. 3D ultrasounds and Etsy didn’t exist, and my “homecoming” outfit was a dress that was bought after I was born. Sharing my room with my sister was so cool that we continued doing it even when I had my own room. I’m sure that I’ll prefer one kid over another, and I’m sure that that will change frequently.
At the heart of these anxieties is just me. I’m not the same person I was when I met her. I’m more experienced. I’m slightly more confident and a lot more realistic. While I idealized parenthood before, I now recognize my shortcomings and inability to be the absolute perfect parent 100% of the time. And in a society where Mom Guilt reigns, I’ve internalized that as a mark of failure.
And just like the idealism I faced with my first, these fears aren’t going to change anything once real life gets going. Being their mother depends on meeting their needs as they come, on being there for them as individuals, on not being the same mother for him as I am for her.
So if you’re like me, and obsessing over how to be the perfect mom to two when you still don’t have it down for one: we’ll be okay. We’ve made it this far.