As you reach for the remote control, your precious baby rolls off the bed and lands on the floor with a thump. You’re mortified and scared. You just turned your back for a second and it happened. If he’s hurt, you’ll never forgive yourself.
Even the most prepared and best-intentioned new parents make mistakes.
You’re probably doing a better job than you think, but any small slip-up can send you over the edge when you’re running on too little sleep and too much anxiety.
How We React
It’s common for new parents to imagine catastrophic consequences from their errors, says psychiatrist and mom-of-three Sana Johnson-Quijada, MD.
When the baby bonks her head on the door jamb as you carry her, you wonder, “What if she has a head injury? Maybe there’s brain damage!” Anxiety builds. “We don’t choose our feelings,” Dr. Johnson-Quijada says, “they choose us.”
Attributing shortcomings to lack of ability, rather than lack of experience, prevents us from learning new skills. “We tend to second guess ourselves,” says Devra Renner, co-author of Mommy Guilt. Unsure we can trust our instincts, we look to others for parenting advice. And the cycle continues.
How to Befriend Yourself
Feelings of calm, generosity and connectedness are restored when we treat ourselves as treasured friends, not internal enemies. “If you want to be a good mom, fight hard to be good to yourself,” says Dr. Johnson-Quijada. Here’s how.
Acknowledge biology. Not all babies are easy. If your little one has a high-intensity, hard-to-soothe temperament, she’ll cry more than your girlfriend’s happy-go-lucky baby. That’s not an indictment of your parenting prowess.
Own your expertise.“You’re the expert for your own kids,” Renner says. Joyful parenting means trusting that you’re doing the best you can for your children. When you falter, learn from experience.
Stay centered. If unsolicited advice makes you anxious about your parenting style, just saying “thank you” tells would-be advisers you heard the suggestion and closes the conversation, Renner says.
Lower your expectations. You aren’t being friendly to yourself if you expect more from yourself than from anyone else, Dr. Johnson-Quijada says. Don’t idealize perfection. You’re human, not super-human.
Copy your kids. Babies bounce back very quickly from unexpected events. So should you. When things go wrong, “a do-over is perfectly acceptable,” Renner says. “So is a nap.”
Take time away. Mistakes are magnified by the constant grind of new parenting tasks. Step back, get perspective and renew your energy
Be yourself. Tune in to who you are as a person and go in that direction. If you long for adult conversation or meaningful work, seek it out, says Dr. Johnson-Quijada. “Claim your freedom to make different choices if necessary.”
When you disappoint yourself, practice compassion. As Albert Einstein said, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has not tried anything new.” Great moms are made through the ups and downs of experience.
Heidi Smith Luedtke, PhD, is a freelance writer and South Jersey mom.