The first time I gave my daughter a bottle of formula, I cried the entire way through four ounces and two burps. I felt like a failure. That night – after only one formula feeding at bedtime – she slept six straight hours without so much as a peep. For a baby who’d only slept in two-hour increments up until that night, that was a game changer. Before long, those tears pouring out of my baggy eyes gave way to feeling like a new lady with a big smile on her rested face.
But why were tears my first reaction to formula feeding? Have you read a parenting book lately? Have you scoured the Internet for something as simple as “How often is too often for my newborn to be hiccupping?” only to find you have the whole parenting thing all wrong (according to someone, somewhere anyway)? In this instance, I believed wholeheartedly that breastfeeding was the only option because it was the healthiest choice, and I was devastated that I couldn’t make it work for my daughter like it did for my son. But, do you know what I learned? Every baby is different. Every family is different. You have to do what is best for you and for your baby. Period. End of story. Put the parenting book down. Get off of the Internet.
It took me two babies to realize that no matter what I did in any parenting situation, I was always going to be in the wrong according to someone, somewhere. As a people pleaser by nature, this initially made me incredibly uneasy. What if I was wrong and “they” were right? Was I going to traumatize my toddler by offering a PB&J with non-organic peanut butter? Was my daughter going to hate me because I needed to let her cry it out instead of letting her sleep on my chest all night while I grew more and more sleep deprived?
The point is this: As a parent, you’ll never please everyone, but if you do the best you can to raise happy, healthy and mostly well-behaved children, then you’ve done something right.
If you’re a parent and you’re holding onto guilt for any of the following reasons like I was (and – truthfully – still am in some cases), write it down on a piece of paper, receipt, gum wrapper or whatever you have in the bottom of the diaper bag, and throw it right into the diaper pail.
- Choosing or having to formula feed or weaning early
- Letting your baby cry it out
- Occasionally or always offering premade baby food over organic, homemade baby purees
- Turning on the TV for a moment of peace
- Offering a bribery piece of candy during potty training
- Sending your child to preschool out of necessity or want
- Saying “no” in the toy store, candy aisle, checkout line, at home, on vacation, at the park, at bedtime or naptime, at Disney World – basically anytime, anywhere
- Using tough love in any of the locations listed in the previous bullet
- Having to say no to play time because you have boring grown up responsibilities
I never expected parenting would be so full of guilt! Dirty diapers, yes; tantrums, of course, but guilt blindsided me. And I’m getting the feeling that it isn’t just a phase. I deal with parenting guilt with baby girl, R, but each day I face it with my son, J too. Anytime he asks to play, but I’m in the middle of dinner or he begs to go to the park, but it’s 110 degrees outside, I have to say no and it’s hard because he’s so darn cute! I never want either of my kids to feel ignored or neglected and I hope that they’ll remember that I said “yes” to fun with them more than I said “no.”
The best thing about parenting guilt is that most of the time it’s temporary. When we make choices for our family, chances are we’ve given them some thought and they are done with the big picture in mind. Maybe you faced two weeks of screaming when you took your child’s pacifier away, but you knew he or she would face major attachment issues or dental issues if you waited much longer. Maybe your preschooler gagged and cried for 20 minutes because he had to eat one green bean before he could be excused from the dinner table – or is that just my kid – but you know that he needs to develop a love of nutritious foods. Or, like many of us can relate, maybe you had to pull your kids out of a school they loved because it was time to PCS. Much like my formula feeding experience, guilt evaporates when you realize that you made the right call for your child and for yourself. Your kid may not immediately understand right away that you’re being a “not nice mommy” – as J says – because you love him or her, but that is where parenting comes into play. We can’t always be our kids’ friends. They need us to be parents, providers and protectors, and sometimes that means making decisions that we feel guilty about in the short-term. The heartbreak is temporary for both of you and eventually you get over it, your kids get over it – no matter what that parenting book says – and you’re all better for it!