I read an article recently about a mother who confessed to making endless spreadsheets to track her child’s food consumption, weight gain, contents of diapers, vocabulary – pretty much everything. I really related to her desire to write down and quanitfy her parenting successes.
I love me a good spreadsheet, with all the nice boxes full of concrete data. I have spreadsheets for chores, for our household budget, for appointments. When Nina first came home, I filled out the pee/poop/feeding charts from the hospital as diligently as I could. I give myself a little bit of a pass, since I was experiencing sleep deprivation on par with someone being inducted into a cult.
I felt good keeping track of what was going on, since a newborn offers very little in the way of specific feedback. (And because the Public Health nurse thought daily weigh-ins might be a bit excessive.) I also signed up to get the Nippissing Developmental Screening e-mails, so I could review Nina’s progress at specific intervals and ensure that she was meeting her milestones. (Note: NDS is NOT a diagnostic tool, it just helps me to know what to expect and how to introduce and nurture new age-appropriate skills.)
I was with spreadsheet-mom right up until she smugly pointed out how well-connected she is to her own child because of her spreadsheets, and how oblivious so many other parents are to their own children. She lamented about how so many people (friends, family, her pediatrician) have judged her for her obsessive documentation of every detail. She took a beautiful thing, like quantifiable data logged in spreadsheets, and turned it into something ugly. An excuse to judge other parents and be a dick.
People who know me well would say that I am my own biggest critic, so it is inevitable that I have been the biggest critic of my own parenting as well. A tiny part of me even wants to have a second kid just so that I can do things right this time, and atone for the mistakes I made with my first child. (For the record: I’m not crazy, I do know that isn’t a good enough reason to have a second child.)
I work outside of the home, which means that the time I spend with my child is somewhat limited. I struggled with whether or not I should go back to work and it was a very tough decision. As a single person in my twenties, I never imagined that I would even get married, nevermind have kids of my own. I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into whether or not I would decide to stay home or return to work because I didn’t think it was a decision I would ever need to make.
When I did get pregnant, I knew I would have a year of maternity leave to figure things out and I was sure that the right choice would be clear to me by then. (Note: fat chance.) Six months into my leave, I got a job offer. A really good job offer. (And in retrospect, one that would not have come up again for a very long time, if ever.) Suddenly I had to think about things that I had been strategically avoiding for the past six months.
I did return to work. It was hard leaving my baby every morning. I missed her from the time I was dropped off until I got home again. Most days, I still miss her, a lot. She is two and a half now, and she regularly tells me that she doesn’t want me to go to work. I know, rationally, that she doesn’t say it to make me feel bad. I am making the best choice I can for my family, and for our future. She loves her daycare provider and she has made tons of little friends. She possibly has more friends than I do. And at the end of each day, I am always there to pick her up.
The less rational part of me feels guilty. Recently, I have seen several children who are younger than Nina and are already potty-trained. None of their moms work outside of the home. And I can’t help but feel like that makes a huge difference for their development, one that I have maybe seriously underestimated. Nina is still in diapers. She does use the potty, but not consistently. Maybe she isn’t ready. But I can’t shake the niggling feeling that if I were around more, things might be different.
I am constantly saying, “yeah, that’s something we’re going to work on in the next few months.” But that list keeps getting longer and longer. Potty-training. Getting rid of the binky. Sleeping in her big girl bed. Picking up her toys. Introducing new foods. But there never seems to be enough time. Will there ever be enough time? Sometimes I feel like I have been scraped so thin over what feels like a thousand sharp, craggy rocks.
There will always be a few vulgar, ill-mannered people who feel the need to share their opinions with the world (“Formula is poison” “TV makes kids stupid” “Your baby cries so much because you don’t serve organic veggies” “If you let your child sleep in your bed, they’ll never leave”), but for all that has been said about the “mommy wars,” I have found that the worst battle I fight is usually with myself.
I tend to try and assuage my guilt with humour, which is pretty easy with a small child around. Spending any amount of time with a toddler will either 1) make you laugh, or 2) make you nuts. I’m trying to maintain a healthy balance of the two. Since Nina was born, I have found many different parenting resources that have helped me to realize that lots of other parents struggle with their choices, and they have given me a sense of comfort and balance. They’ve helped me realize that my child is no more irrational or wild or perfect or flawless than anyone else’s.
Hopefully my daughter ends up having a good sense of humour as well, because I’ve been dreadful at keeping any kind of “baby book” for her, so all she will have it a bunch of Tweets and Facebook updates to look at. I want her to grow up feeling secure and loved, and knowing that I did my best with the tools I had. Tonight at bedtime (which started half an hour too late) she turned to me and said, apropos of nothing, “I so happy.”
If my kid possessed the vocabulary, she’d probably tell me to lighten up so I can be “so happy” sometimes, too.