I didn't become a mom the way I thought I would. To be honest, even though I read way too many books on the subject and I do have a grasp of just how babies are actually born, I found myself nearing the end of my first pregnancy pestered by unwelcome thoughts like This baby is going to have to get OUTSIDE of me somehow, and it terrified me. I approached my due date with more fear than I wanted to, even though I was also super-duper ready to not be pregnant anymore. Things went fine at first, and it was only after about 20+ hours of labor that they realized that this was just not going to work the old-fashioned way, and rather hastily I was prepped for an emergency C-section, which was beyond frightening. I had never had surgery, I had never even had laughing gas at the dentist, had never been in an emergency room, nothing even close to this, and it was traumatic, to say the least. But, in the end, my bouncing little baby boy was born healthy and happy, and even though I had a wide and extremely painful scar and a longer recovery than I thought, I was healthy too. I was grateful for that, but I also have to admit I felt like somehow it got "ruined."
I hated the feeling that things didn't go as planned, and it didn't help when other people expressed that they "felt bad" that I had to have a C-section. I felt like I had failed, in a way, and little did I know that was only the first in a long string of "failures" as a parent. In a sense, for some of us, motherhood is the one thing in life you will do where you will never feel like such a failure, sometimes on a daily basis. I got past the C-section thing with Finn (mainly because it was the only choice I had given I didn't have a time machine) and was all set to be the best breastfeeding mother that had ever walked the earth (or just mildly successful, either way). Except, I wasn't successful. Like, at all. I had (wrongly) assumed nursing would be super easy and natural and I would totally love it, and you know what? I didn't. I didn't really love it at all, and neither did Finn. So I pumped. Except he didn't like the bottles I had gotten as a gift at my baby shower and spit up everything I tried to feed him. So I frantically Googled "best baby bottles + spitting up + newborn" and found the ones I thought would work then paid the extra 20 bucks or so to have them shipped overnight. Except when I went to check on the shipping (yes, I was this crazy about it) they hadn't been sent yet, and I found myself on the phone with a Target customer service representative, actually in tears, when she told me no, the order was still "processing" and would ship overnight within two to four days. "But it didn't say that on the website? Why would I pay for overnight shipping if I knew it would take two to four days to process?!" I was sobbing now over the phone to this complete stranger who clearly was hating life at the at moment for being the unlucky one to take my call. I pulled it together and wound up getting the bottles someplace else and they worked, but it was another black mark against me, another example that I was in over my head and was already floundering. With the birth of my second child it was more of the same, with a nasty MRSA infection and postpartum depression I didn't just feel like a failure, I felt certain I was a failure. I paid for a lactation consultant to come to the house and help me, and I found myself in tears with a stranger once again, crying to her because I just couldn't get the hang of it and I didn't understand why.
My own mother was the one that brought me back down to reality and stopped me from my self-indulgent pity party about how much I was screwing up. She asked me if she thought my son would remember, or care, for that matter, that he was born via C-section and not "natural" birth. Um, no. I don't think he would care. Would he care that I sometimes breastfed him, sometimes bottle fed him, and eventually gave him formula? Probably would not have a strong opinion on it, no. Would it affect my kids if other moms were judgmental about the choices I made in my own parenting? No, it would not. So why would I let it affect me? Would it affect them if I worried about it, cried about it, stressed about it, made it a big deal, every time I made one of these "mistakes"? Yeah, that might start to actually bother them, actually. So I stopped.
The thing is, you cannot separate failure and motherhood. You will fail. Guaranteed. There is no question about that. You WILL screw things up. For sure. Even if you raise them on an all sugar-free, gluten-free, organic only whole foods diet, that kid will have soda at some point in their lives. Or a Big Mac. It'll happen. You can breastfeed them till they are old enough to say they'd like a glass of juice thinking that you are boosting their brain power and they will STILL do something stupid at some point in their lives. You can bet on it. And the failures aren't even something you can prevent. You can have a birth plan and a bag packed with a soothing birth songs playlist and be ready to go epidural free and then wind up with it going 100 percent NOT as planned. You can plan things to within an inch of your eyeballs and the failure will creep in. It's built in, and you cannot escape it. The only thing you control is how you handle it, and how big of a deal you make it.
There is no one guaranteed formula for being successful as a parent, otherwise we would all be doing it. You try your best, you do what you think is right, and you love them. That's all. None of the other stuff matters AT ALL. Not what cake you make for their first birthday or what their hair looked like in their school pictures. Let these little failures go even without acknowledgement, because they are so miniscule compared to the hugeness of the love a mother has for a child that they are laughable. We as moms get bogged down with these little hurdles and think they add up to a bigger problem, but the truth is, they don't. Your child will not care that you forgot about School Spirit day when they are older, they won't remember if you bottle fed them or breastfed them, they won't care that you forgot to pack their lunch, or their show and tell project. Whether you work outside the home, in the home, or stay at home, teach them to respect everyone's choices, and maybe they will growing up respecting yours. Show them kindness, and they will grow up doing the same. Teach them that it isn't the end of the world if they don't get what they want, and they won't make a big deal when they don't have THAT toy that they asked for under the Christmas tree. Focus on the important stuff, not this silly "Mom Fail" stuff, feeling bad and complaining about not finding the right Doc McStuffins toy isn't going to help you be a better parent, nor is judging anyone else for not doing the same stuff you do. And see that's the thing, since none of us are immune to screwing up, you can stop the whole Judgmental Mom thing, because we all screw up. Even you, Pinterest Party Thrower. And you, PTA Supermom, and you "Natural Birth No Epidural C-Sections Are Horrible" Mom. You guys screw up just like we all do, so get off your high mom horse and stop pretending like a failure means you are a bad mom.
Besides, all experts are pointing to failure being actually good for kids nowadays. They need to fail in order to be successful, and they need to see us fail. They can see us make mistakes and watch how we handle it and move forward and do our best without it being the end of the world. It's our job, therefore, to fail. To show them how it's done. But, before I finish my rallying cry for more failures, let's discuss some things people can stop counting as a "Mom Fail" or as a problem when parenting, because these things simply do NOT matter (trust me):
• Not being able to secure any Frozen-themed party decorations for your child's birthday party. They will get over it. Let it Go (heavy handed pun intended).
• Not feeding your child everything organic. That gets expensive. And every child needs a little processed food once in a while. Cotton candy at the fair. Ice cream from the ice cream man. Loosen up a little bit. Give them some good most of the time if you can, but otherwise, chill out and let the kid have a Happy Meal once in a blue moon. It's called balance. Not that hard. Don't want to budge? Then skip the side eye when you see other parents letting their kid have candy.
• Not being a class parent or a secret reader or volunteering at your child's school at any point in time. I work full-time. And I have a small child at home full-time (soon to be two). And no I don't think that means I need to or should take a day off and hire a babysitter so I can do it, either. Get over it.
• Any of your nighttime routines or rituals. Maybe it takes you an hour or longer to get your kid into bed, maybe you have to nurse them to sleep or rock them or read to them or you let them cry it out or they still sleep in your own bed. Whatever you feel comfortable with and gets that kid to sleep is fine.
• If you didn't or don't make your own baby food. Have you seen these pouches they have nowadays? Some of them are all organic and have stuff like salba in them which is apparently a superfood that I have never even heard of yet alone have eaten myself. And when your baby or toddler spits it out on the floor you're going to feel better that you bought it at Target rather than peeled, chopped, blended, and somehow put this mystery salba thing into it yourself.
• If you yell. Try not to do it all the time of course, but we all do it, even if some of us don't admit to it. My mom yelled once in a while too and I didn't turn out to be an axe murderer.
• If your house isn't super clean. As long as your friends and family aren't planning on calling A&E to get you on the next episode of Hoarders, you're in the clear. Laundry piles never killed anyone.
• Forgetting to send in snack. I don't even remember if my mom EVER sent in snack, or had to send in a snack, nor do I remember even eating snacks in school. This falls under an "oops, my bad" umbrella which can immediately be forgotten.
• Letting your kids hear you curse or letting them watch a non-PG rated movie. One of the first movies I ever saw was The Beastmaster at the drive-in with my parents, and I'm pretty sure I was fairly young when I watched Rambo with my older brothers. Again, not an axe murderer. If the worst thing that happens is that your child says f*ck at the grocery store, you're doing just fine.
So, accept that you are a failure, based simply on the fact that you are a mom. Let's all pay less attention to just how we are doing this whole parenting thing (and how others are doing it) and more attention to just being in the moment of doing it. Pay more attention to enjoying it, without worrying about the screw ups or what others think of the screw ups. Instead of worrying if your child is disappointed they didn't have any Elsa or Olaf balloons at their party, just enjoy it with them. Instead of staying up late making cupcakes that you think will be perfect, get some sleep and send them in with some store boughts that will please everyone regardless. After all, thinking that these mistakes have any impact at all is the real #MomFail anyway.
Follow Jenny Witte on Twitter: www.twitter.com/Mamatoga