Sometimes it feels like guilt is hardwired into motherhood, right alongside unconditional love and an affinity for athleisure wear. From the moment we bring our babies home, every tiny choice feels momentous, from whether or not to use a pacifier to what type of laundry detergent to buy. We beat ourselves up over everything, and it’s compounded by the fact that the world around us chimes in constantly, judging and debating the minutiae of how we raise our children.
It’s taken me two kids in two years, along with a lot of caffeine, wine, and self reflection to come to the realization that all of this mom guilt we carry is complete and total BS. The truth is there are only a handful of wrong ways to raise a kid. As long as you show up, feed, clothe, and love them, you’re likely doing just fine. The problem is that “good parenting” contains an infinitesimal amount of variations. And yet we keep trying to fit all mothers into one tidy little box. And we tell any mother who makes choices outside of that box that she is wrong and probably going to screw up her child and guarantee years of therapy and possibly some time in a cult.
So let’s give ourselves and the mothers around us a break. Let’s stop the shame and the judgement and the opinions. Mom guilt is inevitable, but we can at least start small, with these ten things we really don’t need to feel bad about, no matter what society or any internet trolls think.
It goes without saying that there need to be limits on a child’s screen time. Of course kids need exercise and outdoor time, and too much time in front of a TV is bad for them. There also need to be limits on the type of content a kid is allowed to watch. Maybe don’t let your 2-year-old binge The Walking Dead. At least wait until they’re 5. And those video games where you steal cars and murder hookers? Probably not the best thing for a child (or quite frankly an adult). Most parents realize this, because well, common sense. But, for the love of all things holy, a little Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger is not going to rot your toddler’s brain or turn them into a dribbling idiot. Guess what? Television has been around for a while. Sure, it comes in a lot more formats now and is a lot more available, but we all grew up watching cartoons. And our parents grew up watching cartoons, despite their stories of walking uphill both ways every Saturday in the snow to the factory or field. You have to go back really, really far to find a generation that did not watch TV in childhood. And you know what? That generation caused TWO WORLD WARS. TV has been around and commonplace for a while. And the world has not ended yet. We haven’t turned into soulless animatrons incapable of human emotion, because we were exposed to the evil of Rugrats at an impressionable age. Our parents watched Bugs Bunny and Mickey Mouse, and they managed to function and you know, raise us. Society has not collapsed. We seem to be doing okay. Any parent who has spent a significant amount of time at home with a small child knows that the key to your sanity and survival (or at least ability to shower) is sometimes a 30 minute episode of Peppa Pig. So let’s just toss the guilt we feel over this out the window. Your kids will be okay. And they may even learn something in the process. Elmo literally could make them smarter. If you don’t believe me, there have been actual, reputable, scientific studies on this.
2. Store bought baby food.
The idea that you should steam, puree, and freeze your own baby food may be the biggest scam perpetrated on modern parents. And we all either do it, attempt to do it, or feel like we should do it. Certainly on the first kid (if you still have the energy or time to do that crap with your second child, I’d like to have some of what you’re having). I remember how certain I was with Ryland that I needed to make her baby food. I read the recipes. I steamed my sweet potatoes and blended them and put them in the adorable little containers (the adorable containers (and blenders! the cutest, miniature little blenders! are half the reason people get scammed by this stuff)). I was so excited and proud of myself. And you know what Ryland did with that baby food? She spit it out. Violently. For weeks. She hated everything we tried. For weeks. Why? THAT’S WHAT BABIES DO. I think it’s a biological necessity. They don’t know that we’re not trying to poison them with these foreign substances. So of course it takes them a lot of tries to finally believe that our intentions are pure. That’s a lot of steamed potatoes, or pureed beets, or mashed avocados. And if you’re buying organic then you’re really hosed. But luckily there is a wonderful invention that saves you the time, money, and hassle of making your own baby food. It’s called STORE BOUGHT BABY FOOD. And you can buy organic. And thanks to government regulations, it’s pretty darn cheap. It is amazing how humans can make things harder for themselves for literally no reason at all. You don’t need to feel bad about feeding your kid out of a jar. It’s actually kind of adorable looking back on it now, because of the amount of times Ryland has eaten dirt or licked something in a public place or tried to drink the dirty water out of a mall fountain (this literally happened this week). To think I felt bad about feeding her store bought baby food. Cross this off your guilt list now!
3. Non-organic, all-natural baby lotion/soap.
We were all this parent I think, the one who only bought only Jessica Alba’s products (or something similar) for our first kid. The thought of using any kind of non fancy soap or shampoo on them was unthinkable, UNTHINKABLE I tell you. You might as well bath theme with kerosene. How could you do that to your child? To use a non celebrity endorsed brand of baby product!! What kind of monster are you?! I kid, because I do actually still buy some Honest stuff because I like the smell. But you know what finally made me realize that a lot of this guilt over using the cheaper brands of baby products was totally ridiculous? As a peds RN, I took care of a lot of kids with scalp lacerations that were managed by plastic surgeons. If you don’t know a plastic surgeon, let me tell you that these are not laissez-faire people. They don’t just say, eh, whatever. They micro manage every detail of their patients’ care (which is a good thing!). And there is one product, and one product alone, that these surgeons allow their scalp lacs to be washed with (at least at my hospital, which was a major academic center where the docs really don’t mess around). You know what it was? Johnson and Johnson baby shampoo. The kind in the yellow bottle. Because it’s gentle. And works. And doesn’t irritate these injuries. If it is good enough for a plastic surgeon to allow on their handywork, I can pretty much guarantee you it is good enough for little Suzy or Braden or Blue Ivy. And if your kid has allergies or eczema, the best, dermatologist recommended soaps are Aveeno or Cetaphil or Cerave (both of my kids have had mild eczema), which are also not super expensive, fancy organic lines. So buy whatever you want to buy. But don’t feel guilty if you want to buy the cheap stuff!
This is back tracking a little, but it just shows you how early we start feeling guilt about our children. You know what hurts? Labor? You know what makes labor easier? An epidural. So if you want one, fine. If you don’t want one, fine. It is literally that simple. And yet we’ve complicated it and turned it into this huge debate and ordeal to the point where women feel guilty if they get one, like they’ve lost some kind of endurance event. You don’t need to suffer to prove yourself. If you can handle unmedicated childbirth, and it’s important to you, YOU DO YOU. You are awesome and doing God’s work (kidding, God totally invented epidurals, because He loves us and knows how much it hurts to push a watermelon out of your nether regions (since well, He invented that process as well). But really, if you feel guilty because you want an epidural or have had an epidural (or two, like in my case, and I would gladly go for another, I would have ten epidurals if I could, because I love them, oh so much), just let that go. You don’t need to hide the fact that you don’t want an unmedicated childbirth. You don’t need to cover it up like it’s some shameful secret. It’s not like someone would get their wisdom teeth out and be embarrassed to admit they received anesthesia. And that’s your teeth!
5. Postpartum painkillers.
This kind of goes with the above point, but moms also need to stop feeling guilty if they need something stronger they tylenol/ibuprofen postpartum. After doing it twice, I can confidently and very scientifically say that this crap hurts! A LOT. All of it. The afterpains, the engorgement. The tearing and the stitches. The endless list of breastfeeding issues that cause a lot of physical pain. It doesn’t just magically stop hurting when they hand you your baby. You don’t need to tough it out. There are stronger medications considered safe for breastfeeding. Ask for them. Take them. You’re not a bad mom. You’re not going to hurt your baby. You are actually going to be more available for the tiny, screaming human in your life because you won’t be doubled over in pain. Again, women need to stop feeling that the whole pregnancy/labor/postpartum period is some kind of sadistic endurance event where the one who suffers the most wins a medal. There is no medal. Just a lot of suffering. Let’s stop feeling bad because we’re human, with human bodies that hurt.
Whew, so this one is kind of a minefield, and I’m not going to dive to deep into it, because it could be its own post entirely (it could be its own dissertation), but as someone who has breastfed twice, and as a pediatric RN, I can say with 100% confidence that BREAST IS NOT BEST. Breast is fantastic. It’s awesome. Your boobs can give your baby so much nutrition and comfort. They do give them some more immune protection in the early stages of life, which is the biggest benefit. But they are not going to give your baby super powers. They are not going to get them into Harvard (if only!). Our boobs are cool and all but maybe we need to tone it down a little. Formula is just as awesome. Because it keeps babies alive! Just like breastmilk. And it nourishes them and makes them strong. There are parts of this broken world of ours where babies starve or are neglected. In our own country. So in my opinion, any baby that is fed and nourished is a beautiful, miraculous thing. And no mother, EVER, needs to feel bad about how she chooses to feed or nourish her baby. Trust me, moms get that education in the hospital from medical professionals. Out in the world, she does not need anyone else’d advice or judgement when it comes to how she feeds her kid. So no matter your intentions, stop with the shaming. Like immediately.
As long as you do this safely and follow the same guidelines as crib safe sleeping (no blankets or sheets near the baby, firm mattress, far from the sides of the mattress or any gaps between a headboard, etc) , as long as you or your partner don’t drink in excess or take sleeping pills, as long as you’re not obese or heavy sleepers, then you do not need to feel guilty about a little co-sleeping. I speak from experience when I say that for some babies, in the early months, this is the ONLY way they will sleep. And unless you want to abstain from sleep for 5 months (or even longer), then co-sleeping can almost literally save your life (or at least sanity). I remember when I did it, I felt so much guilt and shame at first (especially as a peds nurse). And again, there are unsafe ways to co-sleep, just as there are unsafe ways for a baby to crib sleep. But if you do it safely, you do not need to feel all of this guilt. You’re human. You need to function. And so if it takes being a human pacifier all night long, then so be it. Embrace the cuddles and time with your baby. Anyone who tries to make you feel bad about this, or says how they could NEVER cosleep, or brags about their perfect baby who slept through the night from day 1 (which, maybe they need to check their hearing, or they stuck the baby in the guest house, because there is no way that baby actually slept all night long), can just go fly a kite.
8. Getting your “body” back post-baby.
So you know how your doctor gives you a green light at the 6 week postpartum appointment to start exercising again? When I was pregnant with Ryland, I thought that was super reasonable and of course I’d get back to my previous, pre kids workout routine at that point (when I used to work out FIVE days a week, who was this person?). And some women do. Some women really need that exercise for reasons other than physical. But now, after having two kids, when I think about being ready at 6 weeks to really go hard core with the workouts and get back in shape, I just want to laugh hysterically, and eat a doughnut. It takes ten months to grow a baby, and I think it takes at least that much time to recover. I just hate that there’s this idea floating around out there that women should kick things into gear at the 6 week mark and really be back to their pre pregnancy shape and size post haste (because celebrities do it! why shouldn’t the poor non famous normals in sweatpants do it too?). When you’re a new mom, you are exhausted and hormonal and your body is all wobbly and weird (especially your boobs if you are breastfeeding). Nothing fits the same. You want to crawl into a hole every time you dress to go out somewhere that requires you wear something other than yoga pants. It’s just a stressful, weird time. So we really need to give ourselves a break and not melt down when we can’t get back into our pre pregnancy jeans. That may take a while. Or never happen. And that’s okay! You have a human to keep alive. Give yourself a break.
9. Not dressing your kid warmly enough.
This seems small and super random, but it is one of my BIGGEST pet peeves when some stranger points out that my baby is cold. Thanks random person! I hadn’t thought about that even though it’s 35 degrees and my kid isn’t wearing a coat. You know why they’re not wearing a bulky winter coat? Because CAR SEATS. Any parent who has seen those terrifying videos of the child test dummies in down coats flying out of their carseats probably knows that you’re not supposed to put your kid in a car seat while wearing a coat. So you have two options. You could put them in a heavy coat for the 30 second walk to the car, spend 5 minutes outside the car sweating and swearing as you try to get the coat off their tiny, flailing body to buckle them in, and then repeat the process every time you run in and out of a store. By doing this you actually subject your child to a far longer amount of time outside coatless as you take that GD coat on and off, and on and off, and on and off once more. Or you could forego the coat, do your best to bundle them in your own coat, and have people think you’re a cruel monster. I pick the cruel monster route. Oh this also goes for socks! Thank you for pointing out that my kids’ feet must be FREEZING. I hadn’t thought about that when my baby kicked his socks off for the hundredth time and we lost it in the parking lot despite a frantic search. I appreciate your input though. Moms of America (or really the world) let’s unite in the fact that we can stop the guilt over this. We know our kids are cold! We are doing the best we can.
10. Public meltdowns.
Oh, how I used to judge the people whose kids screamed in public. I judged the mom with the screaming kid in Target, the mom with the screaming kid at the restaurant, or the grocery store, or anywhere really. I of course pretended to be kind and understanding, but inside, a little part of me wondered why she couldn’t just get that kid to stop shrieking. To all those people I judged, I am so, so, so sorry. I was wrong. Your parenting is not a factor in whether or not your child will have a tantrum. The only factor at play here is that your kid has decided to be a complete and total turd. That’s it. You can be the saint of all parenting saints, and your kid is still going to meltdown because it’s late in the day and they’re tired and you won’t give them a giant bag of skittles from the candy aisle, or let them stick their hands in a candle at the restaurant table, or swan dive into a fountain. And once that meltdown stops, no act of man or God is going to be able to stop it. By all means, if you are a stranger who is judging a parent for a public meltdown, INTERVENE. Show us what you’ve got. Please. I’d love to see you get my kid to stop screaming. Razzle dazzle us with your superior parenting skills. Otherwise, keep your judgey looks to yourself.
So that’s only the tip of the iceberg. There are countless other things we need to stop feeling guilty over! But at least these ten are a good place to start. I’d love to hear what other mom shame/guilt moments you’d like to rid yourself of! Feel free to let me know in the comments!!