Mothering Mistakes and the Human Spirit

This guest post is an important one and I’m honored to be bringing it to you.  Mi-Jo Sayegh is a very active member of The Leaky B@@b Facebook page offering encouragement, support and information to others through sharing her experience.  I love this post of hers and feel it is a message so many moms need to hear and take to heart.

When I was pregnant I didn’t know anything about labour or child birth.  I was so busy learning about breastfeeding and gathering all the information I could on that subject, the thought that there was any other way to have a baby, other than in the hospital with pain medication never even occurred to me.

I never got to have the natural birth I had hoped for.

Looking back, I know that there was series of events that led to my c-section.  Was it my fault ? Maybe , maybe not.  The end result was that my daughter had rapid breathing and ended up being in the NICU for 10 days.  I was not allowed to hold her for the first two days of her life, she never had contact with her mother, and was left to cry it out all alone in an oxygen tank.

I was a terrible mother.

It was all my fault.

According to a lot of mothers on the internet, the damage was done, my daughter would be traumatized for life and I couldn’t change it.

I had ruined my baby. This hard start would effect every aspect of her life, and there was nothing I could do about it. It was too late.

My ruined baby hardly ever cried the first year of her life.  She was sweet , content, easy to please and a generally happy little girl.  I’m sorry to say that the same can’t be said for her mother.

I cried, I felt guilty, I blamed myself, I blamed the doctors , and I wallowed in self pity.  Those are all normal emotions, but the worst thing that happened was I became an alarmist.

No one ever knew, but I obsessed about what I would feed her, how it would effect her if she had to cry for a few minutes while I went to the bathroom, whether or not she would be scarred for life if I needed a few hours away and Dad gave her a bottle of pumped milk.

I had visions of terrible things happening to her, of accidents and dangers that lurked around every corner.  I agonized over every potential mistake I never made and ones that I had.  The paranoia became all consuming.

I’m not sure when or why it happened, but one morning I woke up and realized that this way of mothering wasn’t going to work for me. I couldn’t continue living like this.

I remember my mother once telling me that she had not one ounce of guilt over the fact that she formula fed me. When I asked her why, she simply replied that ”You turned out just fine and we can only work with what we know at the time ”

Ok. I know how most people HATE that expression.

I do also, but I mostly hate it when people use it to argue science or dismiss new theories and studies.  My mother accepts that giving me solids very early, formula feeding and letting me watch too much tv were not the best choices and she would never try to claim otherwise.  But she also thought that wallowing in guilt over it could do much more damage to me in the long run.

I must admit that I now think she is right.

The more I think about it, the more right I think she is.  I’m not saying that doing any of these things are mistakes, but I know many mothers who regret choices they have made and let it consume them, I know, because I was one of them.

My guilt and paranoia was getting in the way of me being able to parent effectively. I’m not saying that we don’t have the right to feel guilty, we all have the right to our feelings, but I am saying that the way we act around our children, and the messages we send to them with our own behavior is probably more important than any other parenting choices or mistakes we make.

If I give my daughter the impression that making a parenting mistake is something I should suffer for, or is unacceptable and may ruin her for life, then how can I turn around and tell her it is ok to make mistakes and that it’s not the end of the world?  Surely I can’t, because then I would be a hypocrite.

I have come to terms with the mistakes I’ve made now.

I accept them, I learned from them, and I have moved on.  I don’t get defensive about them, I admit when I could have done things differently, but I am also aware that these mistakes will not alter my child’s entire destiny.  What better life lesson can we give our children than the lesson of self forgiveness ?  I’m a less guilty mom now, but I’m not perfect and that is fine by me.

I believe in informed choices, I believe in trying to do the best we can, but I also believe in the human spirit.  My daughter is going to be fine.  She isn’t ruined.  I only wish it hadn’t taken me so long to realize that. Her spirit is strong, she’s a survivor, and there aren’t many mistakes I could make that will change that, as long as I keep on trying my best and learning from my regrets.

Guilt is ok, it’s an important emotion, but I also now know it doesn’t make me a bad mother to let go of it.

If anything, it has made me a better one.

I want my daughter to grow up knowing there is no such thing as perfection, knowing that I made mistakes and that I am sorry, but that it is ok to forgive yourself.  I want her to see that no matter what sort of mistake she makes, or if she makes choices she regrets, it’s going to be ok, she is going to be ok and that no one expects her to make the right decisions all the time.  I want her to have faith in the human spirit.  I want her to have confidence in her ability to bounce back from anything.  I want her to know that any wrong she makes can be made right and that if it can’t, she has the ability to make it through the hard times.

I want other moms to have faith in that also, for themselves and for their children.  I want other moms to have know I have faith in them.  I want other moms to know that it is ok to feel guilt and regret.  I also want them to realize it’s ok to let it go and that it doesn’t make them uncaring mothers.

We can’t know for sure that when our children get sick, that it isn’t our fault.  We can’t know that the choices we made, the ones we regret, won’t have some sort of impact on them later on in life.   We can know that obsessing about it and letting it get in the way of our day to day life will have a greater impact.  I have no proof of this, but I believe it with all of my heart.

My challenge to you is to try to have a guilt free day today.

Let it go, and enjoy your children.  You are allowed, and you deserve it.  In the end, our memories and our human spirit are all we have.  If we spend our short time here on earth with our children, obsessing about past wrongs, it may end up being the biggest regret we have.

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Comments

  1. Lovely, I couldnt help but to cry… I still need to learn how to forgive myself but I am working on it! Excelent post.

  2. Absolutely beautiful! What wise words… I feel guilt still from my own boys’ c-section birth and NICU stay, but I’m working on letting that go. This helps. Thank you.

  3. Thank you, Mi-Jo. As a mother suffering from intense birth guilt 13 months later, I needed to read this.

    You can read about my similar experience with guilt: http://librarianess9723.blogspot.com/2011/02/birth-is-sudden-opening-of-window.html

    Peace!

  4. I should note that my post contains potential triggers. It details a scheduled, medically necessary c-section.

  5. This article touched me, there was a point that my eyes were blurry from all the sand getting in my eyes. not from crying, that’s for sure.

    Mi-Jo, you are an excellent mother and you are a hero to me and our daughter.

  6. I am so happy that you wrote this blog, for I suffer with heavy mother’s guilt and am working toward being “less guilty”. My first husband left six weeks after the birth of our daughter. I was 24, heartbroken and in the midst of post-partum hormones. When my daughter was just over a year old, I moved to a new town to start fresh. What I couldn’t move away from were my emotions, and as my daughter became a toddler, I struggled with a terrible lack of patience and self control. I yelled and even spanked when I should have known better, actually did know better, but did not feel in control of my negative emotions. Her father became an addict and we did not have contact with him for seven years. It was really hard to sort out my own feelings while being a full time new mama, nursing, working, trying to balance life on my own with little support and little money.

    My daughter is now eight, and I am remarried to a wonderfully supportive man. Looking back, I am appalled and shocked by my behavior during that time, by my inability to put those feelings aside when caring for my daughter. I have alot of guilt and self hatred sometimes, and feel like I missed out on a very important period of Ruby’s life, because I was so stressed. Not to mention what the yelling/spanking did to her. 🙁 The only thing I can do to feel better about these mistakes is to be honest. Thank you for providing a forum for that, it is really helpful!

    No parent is perfect, no matter how hard they may try. Stressing on your mistakes only leads to more stress. We have to be able to forgive ourselves, for all the mis-steps, big or little, that we feel guilt about as parents, or we will teach guilt, as you have suggested. It’s ok to feel responsible, it’s ok to feel guilty, and it’s ok to let those feelings go and move on. That is how we learn to do better next time around. This is a great topic, thanks again for the opportunity to respond.

  7. Fantastic article Mi-Jo. As well, thanks for sharing with us your real experiences and not being afraid to share them.
    I sometimes find myself making excuses for things that I do, like why I have to give her a bottle of pumped milk so I can have a couple of hours to myself, or why I have to have daycare the first year because I’m a single mom who has to work to support us. Through your story and through your other posts, I have realized that I shouldn’t have to make excuses because I do the best that I can with what I have. I only gave excuses because deep-down I felt guilty for it.

    You are a fantastic mom!!

    • You are amazing Angela !!! I wish we could all stop feeling then need to make excuses, I do it myself all the time, it all comes back down to guilt and the mythical ”perfect mother” 🙂

  8. Kristen says:

    Well said! I believe the attitudes we hold affect our children as much as the actions we take. Children are resilient, even more so than their caretakers! I am not a big fan of mommy guilt. Kids are not born and raised in a sterile laboratory environment! They live in the real world, with real parents that make real mistakes (often, on a daily basis!). There is so much we don’t understand about the human body, about human psychology and even our own spirituality. Researchers get paid to make correlations… and I am thankful for all we have learned, and continue to learn through the scientific method. But, those studies can’t account for one important, invisible element: the human spirit. Sometimes it is more than enough to just do the best with what we know at the moment!

  9. This is a beautiful article. It’s a very freeing concept.

  10. Thanks for sharing Mi-Jo. This was something I really needed to hear today.

  11. Wow, amazing article. I don’t think I realised until reading this that I’m in the same boat, dreading every moment she cries if I am in the bathroom or something along those lines, since she was also left to CIO in ICU for the first day, and I wasn’t even given a chance to breastfeed her until the next day. I’ve been so worried about harm that has been done to her or will happen in the future, but I guess it all comes down to doing things proactively from here on in, and teaching her to live and love. <3

  12. Tammi Mansolf says:

    I am not a mom, but a mom friend shared this with me. I think this is a truth *everyone* could benefit from learning about their life. Humans have been having children, living life, making mistakes, and moving on from mistakes for thousands of years. There is always some new “science”, “fact” or “truth” we are told is the “right” way to think or do things. But people have survived and thrived before that “truth” and native tribes today without that “truth” still do. I think we forget that, and should give ourselves more credit for our resiliency. No, we aren’t perfect. But we do pretty darn ok overall, I’d say. Thanks for reminding us of that.

  13. Great post, Mi-jo. 🙂
    I think THAT is how that phrase “You turned out fine,” should work. Not to excuse knowingly made poor choices, as people often do, but a way of saying, “Despite my mistakes, everything has turned out okay, and that’s the best I could ask for.”

  14. This hit the nail on the head for me! I have wallowed in so much regret throughout motherhood that it’s ridiculous, even to me! I can’t change how I started out, I can only improve how I continue. I have a big issue regarding breastfeeding my 4th child (8m) right now that I’m more afraid of how I’ll feel about it later than how it will even affect him now! That’s just plain sad.

    I also feel that mommy peers contribute to alot of our guilt. Snide comments about other moms decisions and forcing opinions like they’re the only right way of doing things. Those types of pressure can break a mommy’s heart – I know!

    Thanks for writing this and letting moms like me know they’re not alone!

  15. Samantha says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this article with us. It has definitely opened my eyes and helped me realize to not regret the things I’ve done or choices I’ve made and that in the end it is helping make my daughter and I the people we are today. So once again THANK YOU!!

  16. Beautiful post! It spoke to me on such a deep level. May I link to it on my blog? This here:
    “If I give my daughter the impression that making a parenting mistake is something I should suffer for, or is unacceptable and may ruin her for life, then how can I turn around and tell her it is ok to make mistakes and that it’s not the end of the world?”
    really has inspired me for a spin-off post.
    Thank you!

  17. Thank you so much for this post. I really needed to read this today of all days. We all work so hard to do the best that we can, and sometimes I find it so hard to accept that the best I can do might not be absolutely perfect. Sometimes it just crushes me that I’ll never be the perfect mother.

  18. I’m so happy you guys related to this, especially since we can feel so alone in our regrets, it’s good to know we aren’t and that it IS ok to move on 🙂

  19. That was wonderful. I’ve had that same sort of epiphany recently also… this past year has been hard for me. I had my 2nd child and I had a hard time finding patience to deal with a toddler while a baby needed me too. But, I now realise that teaching my son that it’s okay to say “I was wrong” and asking for forgiveness is quite possibly one of the best things I’ve learned to do this year. Feeling guilty never helps… it doesn’t change anything or make anything better. All you can do is move on and learn, if here is learning to be had. Otherwise, just move on and ensure that the next day, hour, moment is better than the last.

  20. Colette says:

    I was a midwife before I became a mom and that lead to even greater expectations of myself – because I knew more I should do better – but I had to work when my baby was small, shifts, nights, holidays etc. He is 21 now and doing just fine. I still feel guilty at times and recently apologised to him and he looked at me blankly “for what?” he asked. I replied that I hadn’t been there enough for him. He laughed and said he didn’t remember that! I was lucky as my husband and I took turn about so one of us was there most of the time our son was at home. He went to Nursery too but that was also good as he was an only child and needed that interaction with other kids and the “independence” to do it without mom and dad. I thought then I should really be apologising to my husband because we had very little time as a couple after our son was born, but then thought about it some more and from a distance of 20 years can truly say that I couldn’t have done anything differently. Someone wise once said “DO what you can, With what you’ve got, Where you are” and another said “Give your child 2 things – the 1st is roots and the other wings” I now live by these sayings and am fairly guilt free!

  21. Beautiful. Just beautiful. Thank you for writing this. I absolutely agree; we must forgive ourselves so that our children don’t learn to hate themselves. And maybe we could try not judging each other s harshly, when we are all on this same crazy ride (motherhood). Kudos.

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