Banishing “Bad Mom”

When I dropped my daughter off at daycare for the first time last November I felt a pang of guilt not because I was leaving her alone, in a strange place with strange people, but because I didn’t feel bad about it. It was an intense, gut-churning guilt, like the kind I felt for not touching my father’s hand, for not kissing him on the cheek, as machines struggled to keep him alive 18 years ago.

It seems like a terrible admission, even saying it now seems somewhat wrong, but after having her by my side all-day, everyday, for 16 months it was time to let her go. For me and for her.

16 months. I’ve heard a thousand times before what a blessing that time we had was (from family and friends and busy-bodies in the grocery store who should just buy their damn bread and eggs without bothering me), but more days than not I resented it. I never resented her, but I resented what my life had become — who I had become.

It should be said my daughter is a dream. I know many mom’s will hate me when I say this but I did have “that” child: the one who slept through the night by six months old, the one with a good appetite, who was willing to try anything and, teething aside, had a true angelic temperament and amazing personality. (I am using past tense here but she still does!) She was happy and healthy. What right did I, what right do I, have to complain?

And that’s where the internal debate began. I didn’t, in my opinion, have a leg to stand on. I should be happy — we should just be happy — but she was and I wasn’t, and that was a problem.

As I’ve mentioned before, postpartum depression, and depression in general, is a manipulative, relentless disease. It sneaks up on you and before you know it you are struggling every second of every day to simply take in air. By the time I took my daughter for a tour of the school I couldn’t breath. I had lost all sense of self and any snippet of sanity. I was struggling, in silence, and suicidal.

Looking back, I wish I made the decision to put her in daycare sooner. It gave me time to get better and allowed her the chance to truly grow into her own. It’s allowed me to enjoy the little things, like laying on the cold tile floor, coloring on our bellies, or making music with pot lids and plastic spoons, and it’s allowed me to release some of the guilt — to step back and take breath when I need to. But I didn’t put her in daycare sooner because while her first day of school didn’t make me feel bad, the idea of putting her in daycare did — and it kept me from “making the move” for many months. Of course, there were other considerations, like how the hell were we going to pay for daycare on a single salary (and my hourly wages), but the main thing holding me back was the fact I felt like a failure. I was Amelia’s mother, and I should be able to take care of her. Asking for help meant admitting I couldn’t do it alone and, to me, this meant I was less of a mother: it meant I was a bad mother.

Ah, the dreaded phrase every mother has uttered or secretly thought more times in their life then they can count. And now, thanks to Pinterest and Brooklyn brownstone parents — with their over-the-top first birthday parties and homemade baby food — nearly every mom is destined to feel like a “bad mom” by the time their child takes their first steps. (Ok, Brooklyn, I know it’s not right to take this out on you, but I will never forget the dirty looks you gave me when I went to buy a few containers of Gerber’s non-organic pea puree when my blender failed to do the job; the way some of you glared at me you would think I was buying poison or getting ready to feed my daughter spoonfuls of sugar.)

Here’s a few things I’ve learned, “bad moms:”

  • If your child is fed and cared for, safe and genuinely loved, you are not a bad mom.
  • You will still snap at them and tap their hand when they try to play with light sockets or lob a tambourine at your face.
  • You will still get angry and say something you regret. (It will happen.)
  • You may scream and yell and even cry.
  • You will serve them microwave nuggets for breakfast and cookies for dinner.
  • And you will hide in the bathroom when you significant other comes home just for a moment’s peace.
  • None of this, however, makes you a bad parent or “bad mom.” This just means that you are not perfect and you are not super human (even though the world would like you to believe you should be). It means you are normal.

So today I pledge to remove the term “bad mom” from my vocabulary, and I encourage you to do the same. Let’s all #BanishtheBadMom from our lives.

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