It’s an indescribable moment when you have a child after years of thinking you won’t be able to.

When you’ve spent day after day, month after month, mulling over options like adoption, surrogacy, and egg donors, your mind blocks out the idea that having a biological baby is even possible.

If, against all odds, you do find yourself pregnant, you’ll yearn to be the best mother you can possibly be and vow to do everything “right” for your little blessing.

This was my reality.

Colour me shocked when the “perfect” mother I’d cooked up in my mind just didn’t work for my little family.

What do you do when the mother you’d always hoped to be isn’t you?

The Perfect Parent: What’s Your Version of an Ideal Mother?

Whether you’ve struggled to get pregnant or not, there are few words available to dutifully describe the happiness most women experience the first time they find out they’re pregnant.

Suddenly, your world stops revolving around minor decisions like restaurant selections and vacation ideas. It becomes littered with a new realm of choices, like:

  • Breast or Bottle
  • Co-Sleep or Crib
  • Strollers or Baby Wearing

You read the articles, mull over statistics, and attempt to make the best decisions possible for this beautiful baby you’ve been dreaming of.

In the end, you’ll have successfully formulated a mental picture of your “ideal mother” self once the baby arrives.

Take that photo and throw it into your theoretical trash bin.

Because when the doctor lays that beautiful blessing into your arms – almost instantly – small holes perforate the image. Before you know it, you’ll quickly move away from that “perfect parent” you’d planned on being.

Meeting Our First Born – Is This Thing Broken?

As a couple who’d struggled with infertility, we were elated when the time came to finally deliver.

I’d cooked up this fantasy plotline involving her gently being laid into my arms… she’d sweetly look up at me and somehow know, in that little baby brain of hers, how long we’d fought and how much we’d prayed for her.

She’d gently touch my face and we’d exchange a mental collection of words, in which she’d say to me:

“It’s okay, Mommy, I’m here now.”

This is not what happened.

After an hour of pushing, I was frantically clawing for my daughter as soon as they pulled her out. I laid her to my chest, looked at that beautiful face, and began to cry with exhausted euphoria… and she began to scream.

Then she screamed some more.

The first twelve hours of my parenting journey consisted of me frantically looking around the room wondering who would save me from this screaming child. I anxiously pondered whether something was wrong but was consistently told she was as healthy as could be.

“It’s good for her to cry,” they said, “It will help her lungs get strong.”

My little girl must’ve had the strongest set of lungs in the UK.

Overwhelmed doesn’t quite cover the way I felt as I sat struggling to cope with the emotions spinning in my brain:

  • I was enthralled by this beautiful creature.
  • I was more in love than I ever thought possible.
  • I was frustrated things weren’t going how I’d expected them to.

Instead of quietly taking the time to count her precious fingers and toes while memorizing her doll-like face, I began to panic: I was already messing things up for this sad, little baby that wouldn’t stop crying.

Long story short, there was nothing wrong with our girl – what we experienced was simply the beginning of our life with a strong-willed little darling demanding to be heard.

A beautiful daughter who would take my image of a perfect mother and throw it out the window.

Letting Go of Mommy Guilt and Accepting Your New Reality

In one of my favourite parenting books, Raising Your Spirited Child by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka, the author discusses the use of positive labels when it comes to our children.

Instead of being stubborn and demanding, for example, your child might be independent and enthusiastic. With that in mind, I’ll tell you my daughter isn’t high maintenance… she’s strong-willed.

In general, I’ve come to find our parenting expectations rarely reach fruition 100% of the time. With strong-willed children, you can pretty much kiss expectation goodbye.

How do you overcome the changes to your child-rearing plan and become comfortable with your new normal?

There are a million different scenarios where this comes into play, but let’s take one as a ‘for instance.’

Maybe you’re sitting reading this and feeling frustrated because you wanted to breastfeed but it just didn’t work.

Your child wouldn’t latch.

Your milk didn’t come in.

You didn’t have the necessary support.

Whatever the reason, you’re now mommy to a formula-fed baby and the disappointment is stacking up.

Don’t let it.

Look down at your wonderful boy or girl and realize breast or bottle doesn’t matter. I’m a proud member of Team Fed is Best.

When it comes to letting go of mommy guilt and becoming comfortable with the derailment of your parenting goals, it’s essential to realize you’re making the best decisions for your family. If your child is happy and healthy at the end of each day, you’re doing something right, no matter what actions are taken and choices are made.

That being said, it’s still okay to feel a sense of loss when it comes to losing the parenting style you were hoping to have.

When Parenting Goes Awry

While parenthood undeniably has its moments of pure happiness and beauty, some days feel like the lows are coming as quickly as the highs.

I like to say that I was a perfect mother… before I had children.

Before I became a parent, I was guilty of the same judgmental eyes we all have from time to time. I’d look at a struggling mom and dad and think, “Wow, that will never be me.” Or, “My children will never do that.”

A few of the things I assumed would be par for the course with parenthood:

  • My children would never throw tantrums.
  • They would eat all organic food, all the time (McDonald’s… what’s that?)
  • I’d have a perfectly executed daily schedule every day of the week.
  • I’d never raise my voice.

Looking back, I can’t help but give my past self a smug little “Just you wait and see” grin while admonishingly shaking my head. If I ever decide to get superior about my parenting in the future, here’s what I’ll use to bring myself back to reality:

I vividly remember the first time I raised my voice to my daughter. She wouldn’t stop crying, was making messes, and seemed to be out to destroy me.

I tried all the tools the so-called professionals tell us about. I put her somewhere safe and walked away. I lowered my voice and spoke calmly. I ignored her. I tried giving her a hug… nothing worked.

I could feel my resolve to exercise gentle parenting dwindling away and felt like I was about to lose it. Before I even knew what was happening, I opened my big mouth and yelled at her. She was taken aback and looked at me with startled, sad little eyes.

She stopped crying – and then I started.

I’d finally gotten through to her, but at what price? Would she now require endless years of therapy to recover from that one time I screamed?

The answer is no – she will not.

Once I’d calmed down, I re-evaluated the situation. Was I happy that I’d yelled? Absolutely not; in fact, I felt pretty miserable about the entire thing. On the other hand, I’d managed to make her listen.

The moral of this story isn’t that you should yell at your kids whenever they do something wrong. The fact of the matter is sometimes situations require solutions that might not fit your expectations.

While it’s sometimes necessary to move beyond your comfort zone and do something you weren’t prepared for, human nature can get in the way and cause a major case of mom guilt.

The simple act of raising my voice took me further away from that “ideal mother” I’d created in my head than I’d ever wanted to be. I couldn’t help but feel this misstep turned me into the most horrible of horrible things:

… a bad mom.

How Do You Let Go of “Bad Mom” Guilt?

Let’s get something straight; more than likely, you’re not a bad mom.

I know what you’re thinking – “Tell that to my guilt-ridden mommy brain.”

It’s true, though. Making certain decisions because you genuinely feel they’re best for your family isn’t classified as poor parenting.

When you’re feeling disappointed in yourself, it’s easy to start spiralling and believing that you’re doing something wrong.

But how do you get past this negative thinking?

Here’s a few ways I’ve learned to pull myself out of a mommy rut:

1.     Ask Yourself – Did You Really Do Something Bad?

I think we all realize that, at some point, we’ll make a mistake and do something we probably shouldn’t have. Before you start feeling guilty, look at the situation and decide how bad it really is.

Face it, there’s a big difference between ruining Santa Clause and refusing to take the nuts out of your child’s trail mix (a true-life example, by the way.)

Just because your son or daughter doesn’t like something doesn’t mean you’ve done anything wrong. Be your own analyst and decide if the situation is really something worth feeling bad about.

2.     Take Time for Yourself

Now you’re thinking – “Time to myself… what’s that?”

I know, I know. It’s not easy to carve out the hours in a day or week that you need to focus on yourself and regroup. Despite that, it’s necessary.

I once read an article that really resonated with me, wherein they compared a mother’s energy and ability to parent with a gas tank. Let’s say that each day you start with a full tank of gas. For every action taken, you use up a little bit of fuel.

The more tantrums and difficulties you face in a day, the quicker you’ll “run out of gas.” If you’re constantly running on empty, it doesn’t just affect you – your children feel it, too.

Taking time to regroup each week is an important part of parenting.

Whether you choose to exercise, read a book, or grab coffee with a friend, put the guilt away and appreciate the fact that spending time on yourself is just as much a part of being a mom as changing diapers and reading bedtime stories.

3.     Surround Yourself with Supportive People

It’s pretty well-known our harshest critics are ourselves.

When you’re feeling down on yourself, you need a backup team to help bring you back to reality and remind you that you’re not a bad mom.

As they say, it takes a village.

If you’re trying to traverse this challenging world of parenting without the proper support, it’ll be nearly impossible to succeed.

  1. Stay Off the Online Mommy Forums

Okay, so take this one with a grain of salt. From time to time, those online forums can be pretty helpful.

Before you put yourself out there, however, consider this: not everyone will agree with your parenting style and you could end up getting more flack for your questions than assistance.

It’s a sad truth, but mom shaming seems more prevalent than ever before.

Even though we’re all a part of the same Mom Tribe, many of us can’t help but push our own beliefs onto everyone else. Just because something works for you and your kid doesn’t mean it will for another child.

Here’s another example:

I know lots of people say homemade baby food is the ONLY way to go. Everything else is pure poison in the eyes of certain individuals.

Well, when our daughter was little, I tried my hardest to make my own. I tried tons of different recipes and cooking styles, but to no avail; she hated everything I made. I finally broke down and tried a pouch just to see what happened – she loved the stuff!

Was I happy that my homemade, organic baby food didn’t work? No.

Was I happy that my child was eating? You bet I was.

I didn’t care what mommy shamers had to say. I did what felt right for my little one, as you should for yours.

Letting Go of the “Perfect Mom” Stigma

Our personal battle with infertility has given me more appreciation for our little girls than I can ever truly explain. I want them to have a perfect mom… they deserve to have a perfect mom.

It’s just not possible, though.

I’m a human being, and no matter how much I love our children, I’m going to make “mistakes” and things aren’t going to go as planned. I wish I could hit a magical button and suddenly become the mother I think I should be, but in reality, that’s not the mom they need.

While I’ve come to terms with the fact that my parenting style isn’t exactly the ideal creation I’d cooked up while pregnant, I still have bad days when I want more for them.

I’ll put them to bed and then, in the quiet of the evening, I’ll cry for not giving them the best. The next morning, though, they’ll wake up and wrap their tiny arms around my neck and give me the biggest smiles you can imagine.

They don’t remember mommy was tired and cranky the day before, or that I let them eat chicken nuggets for all three meals and watch too many episodes of Llama Llama. They remember I love them – and, at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it?

The 2-Minute Action Plan for Mothers

It’s nearly impossible to avoid feeling like a “bad parent” all the time.

No matter how much faith we have in our mothering convictions, we’re still going to have moments when we feel like we’re not doing a good job. Here’s a couple of quick fixes to think about the next time you’re in one of those spots:

  • Look at the situation – is it really that bad, or is your kid just mad that you told them to stop jumping on the furniture?
  • Take a breather – when things feel like too much, do what the experts say and walk away for a moment (as long as your children are safe and have their needs met.) Even a two-minute breather can make a world of difference and bring a little clarity to the situation.
  • Hug your son or daughter – I find that when I’m feeling frustrated and emotional, a snuggle from my little ones can make everything feel a million times better.

The Ongoing Action Plan for Mothers

Learning to embrace your “flaws” and how to take care of yourself are essential parts of being a good mom.

Make the commitment to do AT LEAST one thing a week, just for you. Even if it’s heading to the grocery store and browsing around without your toddler in tow, spending a little time in your own company helps build your confidence and gives you a new perspective.

Don’t forget to surround yourself with the right people who can help build you up when you can’t do it yourself. You’re a fierce, wonderful parent and you need the right people in your life to remind you.

Remember: it’s pretty rare to be a bad mom. It’s all about exploring a different point of view and looking at how happy your kids are on the whole, not just in small moments of time.


About the Author

Kristen B. is a freelance writer that shares two beautiful girls with her husband, Ryan. She loves spending time with her family, reading great books, and drinking good wine.

She is passionate about supporting other couples trying to cope with infertility.

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