Anyone who’s gone through the early days of motherhood can probably relate to the whirlwind of emotions -- tears of joy at your baby’s first smile and sometimes tears for no reason at all; feelings of panic the first time you have to give him medicine or the first time he sleeps through the night; and, of course, sheer exhaustion. When you’re lucky enough to have a great mom like I do, it’s also hard to shake the feeling that you have a standard to live up to, or a model of parenting to aspire to, and that you’re failing miserably.
Yep, I'm part of "Generation Mom Guilt."
Experiencing a roller coaster of new parent highs and lows in front of my mom made me feel like a kid looking for guidance, hoping for someone to step in and save the day. I'm not sure if that's how she saw me, too, but I figured that had to be the case. In the first few weeks at home after I had my first son by C-section, I’d watch the clock and count down the minutes until my mom would get home from work and come upstairs to give me a short reprieve from the crying infant that was consuming me (we lived upstairs in her two-family home at the time).
While everyone else around me saw a blissful new mom, someone who really had it together, and with whom motherhood agreed, my mom could take one look at me and know I'd had a challenging day.
I’d imagine, when your own child becomes a parent, all you want to do is help, offer advice, and enjoy every second in your new role of grandma. She did those things, but more important, she let me discover what parenthood was really all about -- on my own. She didn’t judge me, she let me make my own mistakes, and she even admitted when a new parenting technique or gadget was an improvement from what was used in her day. She reminded me to take care of myself, and that babies are resilient – two pieces of great advice that none of the baby books I read really highlighted.
Over time, as I physically healed and grew more comfortable and in love with my baby boy, I learned to cut myself some slack and trust my newly honed mom instincts. At my son’s one month pediatrician appointment, my mother joined me, since I was still unable to drive because of the surgery. She and the doctor had this weird exchange while I was dressing the baby (as if I wasn’t in the room) about what a great job I was doing.
“Usually the new moms are so nervous at this visit,” said the doc.
“Nah. My daughter’s got this,” said my mom.
And that’s when I knew that I was officially welcomed into the club. I’ll always be her daughter, but I realized that she also saw me as her peer – a fellow mom in the trenches. Of course, when it comes to my two boys, she's still got one up on me for spoiling. That's something, she says, I'll only master when I'm a grandma.
Dawn Papandrea is a freelance writer specializing in parenting, women's lifestyle, and personal finance. Her work has appeared in Family Circle, Parents, WomansDay.com, and more. She lives in Staten Island, NY with her husband, two fast-growing boys, and a living room full of toys.