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.