When I was inducted into the Mommy Club, I had no idea the dues included massive heaps of guilt. I generated enough all on my own, but I also found myself accepting it from others. “You’re doing an all-natural vaginal birth, right?” a lesbian chiropractor, a stranger, asked when fate crossed our paths at Dave and Buster’s. “You’re putting her in daycare? Wow, I don’t even trust daycares anymore,” said a brazen acquaintance I saw at Walmart. I could continue with comments about our formula supplementation, the length of my maternity leave, and a thousand other “issues” (that of course are not issues).
I was accepting the guilt with a weak self-defense – and a sinking heart – until I heard a father quoted on the radio one day. NPR is my #1 preset, and my curiosity was piqued when they interviewed an author who wrote a book about the experience of parenting in America. When asked what her favorite finding was, she talked about asking a man on a plane, “Do you ever feel like a bad father?” He said, “Absolutely not. I am the standard.” He explained that he went to work each day, helped with the kids, and took care of himself and his wife emotionally. Who could ask for more than that? So no, he never felt like a bad father. The author said she was so struck by his conviction that she had “I am the standard” printed onto customized bumper stickers and handed them out to all her friends and clients.
The most guilt I have felt is over feeding my baby. For several reasons, I haven’t been able to produce all the milk she needs. Everywhere, including in my own head, abounds the pressure to exclusively breastfeed, but my body just won’t allow that. Certain days I would hold my daughter and start crying that she couldn’t get all she needed from me. But when airing my sorrows to a friend one night, she commiserated and then said, “Maybe think of it as ‘just feeding,’ nothing special. Just feed your baby.” That, coupled with the belief that I am the standard, has Scotchgarded my motherhood from (most) guilt. I provide all the breastmilk I can and supplement the rest. I read to my baby. I dance with my baby. I enjoy her awakening spirit. I pray for her daily and for my man and me, that we will parent her with wisdom and grace. I change her diaper, feed her, take her out with me. I am the standard.
A superb book I just finished, Bringing Up Bébé by Pamela Druckerman, quotes a French mother, wife, and lawyer on the issue of guilt: “I never wonder whether I am a good enough mother because I really think I am.” That, my friends, is a confident woman. I want my daughter to think like that, talk like that. So it’s up to me to show her. I no longer wonder whether she has the right mom. Because I really think she does.