More than anything right now, I want to take a nap. And I will take one, as soon as I’ve finished writing this. My toddler will probably take one with me, but he’s just as likely to sit on my stomach, as I recline on the couch, while he watches educational programming on PBS Kids. Some would consider this bad parenting.
Let me let you in on a little secret: anything that keeps you sane and that doesn’t endanger your child is not bad parenting; it’s survival. If you’re going crazy without adult conversation, there’s no harm in chatting on the phone with a friend or checking your e-mail while the little one plays with toys. That is not bad parenting (unless your child is playing with laundry bleach).
One of the pervasive myths of motherhood is that mothers have to be martyrs. If you’re not spending 100 percent of your waking hours enjoying “quality time” with your little Pookie, you’re a bad mommy. Quality time, generally speaking, involves riveting your attention onto them while engaging in something that involves a valuable learning component, such as Exploring Shapes by creating a craft that would make Martha Stewart bow down in awe. Guess what? Tickling their feet and singing a rhyming song is just as good.
If, like me, you divide your day into sections of productivity — writing, editing, promoting — and sections of toddler time, don’t think you should wear a scarlet “B” for “Bad Mommy.” Chances are, your child is getting just as much mental and developmental growth from experimenting with toys and flipping through books on his or her own. (Again, provided you provide age-appropriate toys and a child-friendly play space, and they’re not playing in the alley with an oily rag.) Trust me: when he needs you, there will be no hiding, and when she has a diaper, you will know.
Another pervasive myth of motherhood: once you have the baby, the weight will come right off. Some people tell you that, as long as you breast feed, you burn an extra 500 calories a day and will lose the weight in no time. In my case, while I was nursing, my body seemed to want to stay fluffy, in order to be a more comfortable place for the baby to relax.
The worst part is that my body seems to be completely fine with staying the way it is. Even though I have been trying to follow the same weight-loss plan that helped me lose and maintain 70 pounds of weight loss before getting pregnant, nothing seems to work now. Perhaps it’s because I’m over 40 now, and my metabolism has retired. One friend thinks it’s because of the late hours I have to keep, doing transcription work at night.
Honestly, I just think my body has decided it’s pleased to be plump. I think it’s going to take something drastic to get past my impasse: either hiring a personal trainer or making enough money through my writing that I can afford to ditch the evening transcription work. One can always dream.
One final myth you’ve no doubt heard: Mothers always know best. Upon taking your new little bundle back home, everyone from nurses to family members assure you that you’ll know what to do if you simply follow your instincts. If only it were that easy. There will be plenty of moments when you’re simply at wit’s end: and your crying, red-faced bundle of joy isn’t giving you any hints.
It’s OK to be frustrated. It’s OK to feel clueless. It’s OK to doubt yourself. In fact, it’s absolutely normal. If you didn’t go through a period of adjustment, you’re probably super human. Or a character on a 1950s sit-com. But yes, it will get easier, and yes, you will figure it out. It might involve calling your mom more often than you did when you took your first apartment. It might involve finding a support group — either in person or online — of likeminded moms who can share tips. It might mean relying on your equally clueless spouse or life partner for moral support and assistance. But you’ll make it. And you don’t have to be Donna Reed to do so.
Now that I’ve fulfilled my commitment to write this, I’m going to have some quality time with my son. First, however, that long-awaited nap.