When I first drafted this post about my feelings leading up to my second child’s first birthday, I drafted an indictment. I listed all the ways I had fallen short with him as opposed to with my first child. I tried to soften it with self deprecation and explanations but really, the mom guilt was hitting hard.
As a former criminal defense attorney, I am quite familiar with indictments: a litany of wrongful actions culminating in a seemingly undeniable criminal act. I knew no one else would charge me for my wrongs as a mother to a second child. So I did it myself.
Just to get it out of the way, Here are all the things I felt I did wrong by my son over the last year:
No mommy and me classes or even a storytime at the library.
No consistency with reading books to him.
He plays too independently so he must have gotten used to being ignored.
Inconsistently attending playgroups and not being focused on him when we do because his older sister demands so much attention.
Having a very small invite list for his first birthday party and making it a low key celebration (his older sister had a party with 50+ people…and she hated it).
It all went by so fast so I must not have been savouring the moment like everyone keeps telling me to do.
Letting him cry more because I just can’t run to him right away (this one is huge on the mommy guilt scale).
So I wrote a huge long post about all these things I did wrong, all the ways I had underserved my son because he has my divided attention as opposed to my daughter who had my undivided attention for the first two years of her life. And then I went to bed and when I woke up, I said no, I’m not going to indict myself. I’m going to defend myself from this stupid mommy guilt because it does not reflect reality but still so many of us struggle with it. After all, I am also aware that indictments are just allegations, showing just one, rather biased, perspective.
So here’s what I did to feel better and be kinder to myself.
Kick Second Child Guilt to the Curb
I reminded myself that he’s a happy joyful baby
My mom always says she doesn’t take credit for her kids’ accomplishments because she doesn’t want the blame for their challenges. I agree but I also think that if your kid is happy, you are probably doing something right.
My baby boy is exceedingly happy. Strangers comment on it within 10 seconds of seeing him. His favorite thing to do is to wave at strangers, grinning when they notice him. He laughs at running water, snuggles us constantly, and feels safe and confident enough to try all of his daredevil moves, knowing we’ve never let him fall.
He is loved beyond compare, and he knows it. I (along with my husband) will take credit for that.
I reminded myself that I love him just as much as I love my daughter. It’s just that my love is shown differently because circumstances are different.
I want my joyful, happy, sweet funny baby to know how cherished he is and how much we love him just as much as we love our daughter, even if he doesn’t get the exact same treatment as she did at his age. I know that can be such a point of contention with siblings, who got what, who was paid more attention to by their parents, who was loved more. I don’t want that to ever be a question in my kids’ minds. They are loved exactly the same amount. It’s just that our circumstances have changed so maybe our love won’t be shown in the exact same way.
So he gets read books, it’s just that he is usually looking at the back of the book while I read to my daughter. And no, “mommy and me” didn’t happen because mommy has another me to take care of who’s not into learning how to clap gently to the beat, or lying there while mom does yoga over her. He’s just not going to get the one on one attention that my daughter got, it’s not possible. He’ll get a little, but to pretend like I can divide myself in two and give one half to my daughter and one to my son is ridiculous, and to be mad at myself that I can’t do that is pretty silly too.
It’s not better or worse, it’s just different. So what did he get? Lots of belly rubs and cheek kisses, time to explore the world on his own, a more relaxed mom who wasn’t so worried that he would break. He has had much less exposure to my anxiety than my daughter had, and that might be a contributor to how relaxed and outgoing he is now. I’m wiser and more sure of myself as a mother now, and he reaps the benefit of that.
I remembered that displays of love are about quality rather than quantity.
Both of my kids get the full beam of my love turned on them regularly throughout the day. I do my best to put down my phone or devices and play with them together or separately for most of the day. I take them both on outings. I tend to their boo boos and wipe their bums. I worry into the night about whether I’m doing it right, and I read during the day about how to do it better. This is my job right now and I work really hard to do it well. I am blessed that I don’t have to work two jobs like many of you working mamas, but I’ve been there too and I want to assure you that your kids appreciate the quality of your love, and aren’t tallying up the quantity of time spent with them.
I took care of myself
I took action.
Sometimes even a thoughtful examining can’t cure the feeling that you’re coming up short. I want to accept myself as well as expect more from myself (thank you Gretchen Rubin!). It’s the only way for me to grow. I can handle more. My kids are older and my daughter is starting preschool next month. She doesn’t need as much of Mama so maybe I can rethink how much solo time I can give to my son.
So I worked it out and I’m going to take a baby music class with my son once a week. That’s his birthday present since gawd knows he doesn’t need anymore stuff! I am also going to commit to reading to him before bed. Like actually read to him, not just read at him. Finally, I changed his party date so that more people can attend. No, he won’t remember it, but I want him to feel that encompassing joy that comes from a bunch of people you love surrounding you and celebrating you. I think we are formed by feeling those wonderful feelings, even if we don’t remember the event. Plus, there will always be pictures to remind him.
What do you all do to stem the flood of parenting guilt? Do you find this crops up more around birthdays too? Let me know in the comments!
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