Letting Go of ‘Perfect’ Made Me a Better Mom

perfect mother

From the moment my first child was born seven and a half years ago, I felt guilty. First it was because breastfeeding was a struggle. I fought and I fought to get her -- my little non-eater -- to 12 months without formula. The guilt only continued after I got pregnant again when she was just 9 months old -- would it harm her development? Make her jealous? Hurt her sense of self? On and on. And it only got worse when number two showed up.


Suddenly I had TWO kids to feel guilty over. My son flapped his arms too much. Was it because I ran throughout my pregnancy? He was reluctant to wean, so I nursed him until he was almost 3 and could ask for it by name. I have always wanted the absolute best for my children whether it was breast milk, not crying it out, or running myself ragged so they could do every activity.

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We moms are perfectionists. We strive and we strive to be the best -- to have the happiest, most well-adjusted children who also do well in school, say please and thank you, play the piano, and get into Harvard.

If anxiety and perfectionism were parenting styles, I was a master of them both. It wasn't just with them, either. I wanted to be the mom working a fulfilling job, being the class parent, cooking all food from scratch, and do it all in my size fours.

But then came number three.

They say three is the hardest number of children because with three, you are still under the (mistaken) notion that you have control. This third one hit me like a truck going 75 -- all 7 pounds, 14 ounces of her. 

Maybe it was because I am seven years older this time around. Or maybe it was just because my husband and I had moved on past the diaper phase, past waking at 3 a.m. with breasts that feel like rocks, spurting milk like geysers. But everything this time has been so much harder. The nursing hurt more and is a lot more difficult to accomplish when I am trying to get from one activity or another and when I am trying to make sure all three kids feel loved. "Why does SHE get to eat before we do?" my 7-year-old asked me one night. And it's a good question.

Being solely responsible for a baby (which, let's face it, nursing mothers are) was SO much harder this time around. It's no exaggeration to say it smacked me right onto my ass. All the "I can totally handle this" bravado I'd shown leading up to the birth, my whole "I've got this" attitude? Gone. Like the wind. Instead there was me, sobbing at the dinner table wondering what on Earth we had gotten ourselves into with yet another massive, overwhelming, crushing responsibility.

And then one morning, after sobbing to my midwife and worrying that I perhaps had severe postpartum depression, I bit down on the gummy bears I chewed every time the baby latched on and I realized it: Each baby is different.

I WANT to nurse her full-time. I WANT to not have to sleep train. I WANT to have my body back like I did before. But this time around, things have changed. It's not a bad thing. I am a not a mom in my 20s with nothing more to do than nurse one sweet baby. I am a mom in my 30s who has two other kids, a job I really love, and a house to take care of (not to mention a dog and a cat). I can't be perfect. 

I am learning to let go of the perfect mom. We quit some of our activities, at least until next fall. I hired more help, bumped my cleaning up from once a week to twice, and hired a dog walker. I eased some pressure on myself by considering formula. Thus far, I've been able to pump enough to get her to five months without it, but I am not opposed to using it if I need it. 

I want to be the best mom to this baby, but I need to be a good mom for all three, and that might mean letting go of some of the things that were easier the first two times. It's five months in and I've lost 47 pounds. But I still have eight to go, and unlike before, I'll skip a workout here and there. I find ways to get time to myself even amidst the chaos, but I am also accepting that my size four, flat-abbed body might take longer to come back this time around. I am accepting that I might need to use formula at some point this time and was about two nights away from letting her cry it out before she miraculously put herself on a schedule. I never would have dreamed of those things the first two times. Being resistant to those things was making my life so much harder.

No one is going to be the same mom to all their kids. We grow and change and we learn as we go. By being resistant to changing the way I parented this baby to suit the time in my life, I was making things harder on us all. This is the mom I am now. A mom of three. I am not "perfect." Not even close. I AM a hell of a lot happier. And it's better than perfect.

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