06/18/2015 09:20 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Why I've Stopped Judging First-Time Moms

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Dear First-Time Moms,

I have a confession to make. It's not something I'm proud of, but here it is: sometimes I think you're silly for being so uptight about your kids.

It's not that I haven't been in your shoes. I remember when I, too, had just one. I wanted so badly to be a perfect mom. To have a perfect child. To do everything by the book. I read all the studies... disciplined the way this expert suggested and potty trained the way that expert suggested and only bought organic, hormone-free food with extra DHA and ARA added for brain development and served it in a BPA-free dish because that's what those experts said I should be doing. I was so, so afraid to mess up -- like one little misstep would send my son hurtling toward a future of misfortune, all because his mother had let him watch a few too many minutes of non-educational TV or fed him too much processed food, which irrevocably altered his mental chemistry.

But then I had another kid. And another. And another. (Yes, I know how these things happen. Thanks.)

Having multiple children -- in my case, four -- changes your grand parenting plan. Dramatically. You realize that you can actually trust your own instincts, and that not every expert opinion is right for your kids. You start to relax in your approach to parenting. For example, when you see your toddler heading for an electrical outlet...

First-time mom: (Gasp) No no, sweetie! We don't get within five feet of an outlet! Those plastic covers are there for your safety!

Mom of more than one kid: I wouldn't touch that outlet if I were you. Or at least put down those scissors you were running with first.

OK, so perhaps I'm exaggerating a smidge, but you get my drift. When I had just one child, I'd have called the doctor in the middle of the night for a sniffle; now I battle raging flu viruses at home without blinking an eye. I've always thought that first-time moms and their ambitious parenting styles were sweetly amusing, yet secretly relished my own level of experience, thinking, I'm so glad I don't have to be that insecure anymore.

Until my oldest son wanted to ride his bike down the street, out of my sight, to a friend's house. For the first time. Alone. I stood there, waffling back and forth. I wanted to foster his independence, yet couldn't help picturing myself tearfully filling out a missing person report, saying, "I thought he'd be fine!" And I came to a profound and humbling realization.

No matter how many kids you have, you're always a first-time mom. Because as your oldest child grows, there are challenges you've never faced. Things you've never thought of. Times when you feel paralyzed with fear that you'll do something wrong. Anytime you have to make decisions on behalf of your child, you agonize over whether you'll make the wrong one -- especially if it's a situation you've never been in before. Every year, every age, brings some element that you didn't expect, and you parent by trial and error. But you ask around first. You do research on the best way to handle a situation. You read articles. You make your best guess. You lose sleep.

When your second or third or fourth or fifth child is in the same situation, you know what to do already. You've been there, done that, figured it out.

But when it's your oldest... your firstborn...

... we're all first-time moms. Forever.

This post originally appeared on Rita Templeton's blog, Fighting off Frumpy.

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