I know I can't be perfect. I know it. But it doesn't change the fact that I still want to be perfect. And when I'm not immediately perfect at something, I usually want to give up pretty quickly. It's why I don't take criticism well, either. When a boss tells me how to do something better, I only hear that I'm not good enough, rather than understanding that my boss just wants to help me improve. When Sam points out areas in our marriage that are struggling, I get frustrated that I haven't perfected the whole wife role yet, instead of being inspired to try harder. And we all know what happens when I don't have the time to put forth perfect effort in school - how many times have I dropped out of college now?
I've been in my newest role for just over three weeks now. I'm a mother. This is my favorite role so far - I love this little human, and taking care of her has been such an incredible blessing. Yet I also understand that this role is just another area that I can choose to beat myself up over. I can be disappointed in myself for those rough days when she just won't stop crying, and I can judge myself for not getting her on a feeding schedule. Being a mother just means I have one more area to work harder at, one more place where I keep missing the mark.
But I don't want to do that.
I don't want to judge myself so harshly. Of course I want to be the best mother I can be to Ellery, but what I need to keep reminding myself is that my best won't equal perfection. It's something I seem to forget every day, and I'm constantly practicing grace and forgiveness on myself for when I'm not an all-star mother. I remind myself that I'm new at this, that things will get better with time, and that someday I won't cry every time my baby cries. Someday I may even be able to put her to sleep and go to sleep myself, without getting up to check if she's breathing three times before laying down. I'll get better at this the longer I do it, but I will never be a perfect mom.
Two of my closest friends just became first-time moms, too. One friend had her baby the day after Ellery was born, and the other had her baby three weeks after I had mine. One friend lives in northern California, the other in southern California. I wish that I lived near both of them (yes, I realize that's impossible) so that we could do this together - go out for coffee dates when we just need a break, and talk about diaper rashes. I didn't realize how emotionally exhausting this whole mothering thing was, and how great it is to be surrounded by people who can help you through it, who understand exactly what you're going through.
On one of my first days with Ellery on my own, I broke down. She'd been crying, but she wasn't hungry or wet, so I tried putting her in her swing. She immediately stopped crying, and just stared at me while she swayed. I decided to straighten up the room a bit, since she seemed fine, but soon found myself weeping. I called my mom and Sam, asking them if I was a bad mother because I put my daughter down to get other things done. They both assured me that Ellery was fine, that she was happy, and reminded me that if I carried my baby all day long I would never get anything else done. But it took quite a lot of convincing on their part. That's when I realized that I needed to give myself a break. I think one of the reasons I've avoided the baby blues is because I made the choice early on to give up on perfection. The more I strove to be the perfect mom, the more sad and empty I felt because I knew that I wasn't. I realize now that the mistakes I make now won't completely ruin Ellery for life. If I don't give her enough tummy time today, her development won't be stunted forever.
So here is my public proclamation that I am not a perfect mother. There. Now when you see me in public with a screaming baby, you won't be shocked that I haven't yet figured out why my baby is crying. And in a couple years when I have a whining two year-old who won't share her toys, you won't be surprised that I still haven't perfected mothering. And if you know a brand new mother, or any mother for that reason, be gentle with her, and avoid judgment. She probably judges herself enough already. And if you are a mother reading this, especially a new one, you're doing great! You are a hero and you're not alone - this mothering thing is harder than it looks.
My precious girl when she was about one week old.