Sep 19 2011
This Sunday, The Man and I followed our usual routine. We went to church, and then afterwards we did our family visits, starting with my Grandma. My Mom happened to also be visiting Grandma that day, which was a great treat and also pretty convenient since I’d brought the ultrasound pics (which apparently I’d forgotten to show to anyone, whoops). I was also glad to see my mother, because I sort of wanted to sound her out on the anxiety I’ve been feeling lately. So, sometime before we ate lunch, when she asked me how I was feeling, I told her: “I feel fine, physically, but I guess I’ve been pretty anxious lately.” She asked me what I was so anxious about, and I said something along the lines of, “I’m anxious about having a baby. You know, how my life is going to change.” She gave me a bewildered look and asked why I’d be anxious about that. “Because…my life has been a certain way for like, ten years. And now it’s going to all be different.”
And that’s when my mother and my grandmother, my role models, my loving supporters, LAUGHED AT ME.
Grandma said, “Well, it IS going to all be different.” Mom chimed in with, “Your life will only be as different as you allow it to be. You can take babies anywhere. You can do almost anything you do now with a baby. You and The Man are lucky. You’re older. You don’t go out and party. You won’t have that issue where you’re 19 years old and all of your friends are heading out to the bar on Friday night, and you’re at home with a baby, wanting to go party.” She continued, “Besides that, if you ever get to a point where you just have to get away from the baby for awhile, you have a lot of people who will give you a night off. You can leave him with me.” (Just as a little background, my mother had my sister when she was 19, and at that time, the US drinking age was 18 instead of 21 as it is now. She was also living in California with my dad, and their entire family lived in Michigan.)
I stopped talking about it at that point, because I was starting to get a serious case of teenage-level, “no one understands me” resentment. As we were heading out to our next stop (The Man’s parents’), Mom hugged me and said “Stop worrying. Everything is going to be fine.”
We headed on to The Man’s parents’ house, where I ended up spending some alone time with one of my sisters-in-law, who has four kids of her own. While we were talking, I brought up the fact that I had been feeling really anxious about impending life changes, and she kind of laughed and said, “I remember feeling that way. I think everyone does. You have no idea what’s coming and there is no going back. I remember thinking what if I’ve made a big mistake?”
Later that evening, at home, I started thinking about the differences in response I’d gotten from Mom and Grandma and the one I’d gotten from my SIL. Was it just that SIL was closer to the time before she’d had her first child, so she remembered more clearly what it was like? Or was it that Mom and Grandma genuinely had no idea what I was talking about? And if it was the second one, what caused the change between the generations? I’m inclined to blame the internet. Well, the internet and the VAST AMOUNT of parenting literature that’s available to new parents these days.
Don’t misunderstand me; I’m very grateful that there are books and web sites out there to help me learn how to be a better mom. I don’t currently know anything about sleep training or breastfeeding, but I’m looking forward to reading a couple of books that friends have recommended and I love the YouTube videos I’ve found about swaddling. However, for every sensible, soothing blog or site I’ve found written by a new mom, there is another one waiting in the wings to bombard me with The Best Way to do something, telling me that if I don’t spend 80% of my day actively engaging with my child then I am a neglectful parent, and also that my marriage is going to go directly to Hell and there’s not much I can do about it. With all of this information, much of it contradictory, is it surprising that New Mom Anxiety is a common trait among the Internet Generation? Even the “amateurs” get in on the act: Go to any Parenting question on Yahoo! Answers and see if you can find one that doesn’t have a woman on it who is obviously jockeying for valedictorian of mommyhood (or at least is trolling to make the other mom’s feel bad).
Let me give you an example. The major source of my anxiety is that I can clearly picture myself bored out of my mind, sitting on the floor eight hours a day, dangling a rattle, or (in a year or so) playing with cars and trains. I never have time to read, or look on the internet, or even clean the house. I turned to Google and asked “How much of your day is spent entertaining your child?” I found a couple of different web sites with a question/answer format, and the vast majority of moms said something along the lines of “I try to make sure I spend about 30-45 minutes in the morning and then again in the afternoon/evening actively playing with my child.” (This number did not include things like talking during change times, feeding times, etc. We are talking actually get down on the floor and do nothing but play.) BUT THEN there were always one or two moms who say “I spend the majority of my time playing with my child. I want to seize every moment because I know the time goes so fast.” It’s these types of things that make me break out into a cold sweat. It’s those bars that are set so high that I don’t know if I even want to try to reach them. I don’t want to be a person who spends all day engaged in playing with a child. That doesn’t sound fulfilling to me; it barely sounds like a life.
And yet, new or expectant mothers are faced with these impossible goals all the time, and there is very little sympathy from the goal-setters when you fall short. No one wants to be judged “the bad mom”, or the mom who doesn’t like her child. But just try to say something like “I don’t really enjoy playing with children” on the internet, and you are sure to get at least one person coming at you with the judging-stick to give you a good wallop of guilt.
That leads me back to our moms (and grandmothers). Sure, they had older women to give them advice, and some resources like Dr. Spock, but I get the feeling that there was a lot less pressure in their days to raise your child perfectly or to make them the center of your existence. When Grandma tells me about her younger days, stories about her kids barely figure in, unless as a side note. Like, if she talked about bowling on a league, she would say that Grandpa bowled on Tuesday while she stayed home with the kids, and then she bowled on Thursday while he stayed home with the kids. Having children for the baby boomers wasn’t so much a choice as just something that you did, and therefore there wasn’t a lot of talk about this huge life-choice you were making or the big shift in your day-to-day life. Everybody had kids. And since everybody also wanted to keep having fun with their friends and traveling and living their lives, they made it work. Does that mean that kids maybe didn’t get 5 hours of quality learning time every single day? Yes, but it also meant that parents didn’t attempt to totally eradicate their own identities in favor of developing their children’s.
After thinking about all of this, I came to the conclusion that I didn’t want to be the valedictorian of parenthood. I didn’t want to be the kind of woman who shucks off her previous life and just becomes Mommy. I want my child to know that he’s important to me, but that he’s not my entire life. I want my husband to know that I will remain the woman he married and fell in love with, and not become this person who is only concerned with whether or not Baby is getting enough exposure to various important stimuli. I want my child to learn how to entertain himself, how to solve his own problems, how to do his own chores, and how to live his own life. I want him to know that if he gets stuck, I will be glad to help him, but that he is intelligent enough to do many things on his own. I want him to experience the joy of losing himself in a book for hours, of diligently working on a picture, of concentrating on his newest creation. How can he do and learn all that if I’m constantly there with him? He can’t. And I won’t cripple him in that way.
I’m not going to tell anyone they are wrong for spending “a majority of their time” playing with their child. That is a choice every person has to make for themselves. However, I’m also not going to allow those people make me feel like a horrible person for not following an example that I cannot agree with.
(Sounds pretty brave, eh? We’ll see how I feel about the whole thing tomorrow. Ugh, hormones!)