By Erin Barrette Goodman
When I look back at the first couple of years of my parenting journey, I realize that I spent an awful lot of my time fighting against the mainstream culture, often with a clenched jaw and a knot in my stomach, convinced that my way (natural birth, attachment parenting, plastic-free, organic everything) was “right” and therefore everything else was “wrong.”
I packed my tiny Corolla with cloth diapers for road trips, determined that a disposable diaper would never touch my beautiful daughter’s skin. I maintained a TV-free house during all hours that our daughter was awake. I shunned strollers in favor of my homemade cloth sling. I sought out the best quality local, organic foods and made all of our daughter’s food. I drove an extra thirty miles each way to avoid stepping foot in Walmart. I researched everything and selected only the very best natural products for our home. I attended a wonderful Waldorf parent-child program and modeled our home environment after the simple toys and gentle rhythms that we had enjoyed in class.
And then, six weeks shy of our daughter’s second birthday, I gave birth to our son, and my intense desire to do everything “right” was challenged mightily by a battering sea of round-the-clock care of a newborn and an active toddler.
Wanting nothing less than a perfect beginning for our second child, and with an active toddler very much wanting my full attention, I quickly landed myself in bed with mastitis.
“You’re trying to do too much,” was the advice repeated to me by my midwife and lactation consultant. “Slow down, relax more.”
“But, but, but…” I wanted to scream, but the sheer exhaustion and physical pain of mastitis won out. I had to compromise some of my formerly non-negotiable values or I was going to self-destruct.
The TV was turned on. Disposable diapers were introduced. My car, now a minivan which we received from a relative in exchange for our Corolla, spent far too many hours on the road and frequently could be found at the Dunkin Donuts drive-thru, where more than a few Munchkins were purchased for my two-year-old munchkin.
Although in many ways, life in this more relaxed state felt easier, any sense of relief was tempered by the feelings of guilt and shame I had for not being able to live up to my own standards.
By our son’s first birthday, I had had enough. Something had to change and as I’ve learned time and again throughout my life, the best place to start was with me.
I began consciously appreciating the modern conveniences I had once criticized and creating small blessings like, “I am so grateful that I am able to eat this take-out pizza now — and equally grateful that I do not eat take-out pizza every night.”
I found a few PBS shows and a handful of DVDs through our library that I felt really good about (we love the Scholastic video series), and I truly appreciated them for the small break they provided. (My daughter gave up her nap six months after her brother was born but was not old enough to "play quietly," while I nursed her brother down for his nap.)
I let go of cloth diapers for several months (the universe gave me a little nudge on this one as our water pump began to fail and eventually stopped working) and slowly reintroduced them once things started to settle down and it felt right.
As I look back now, I see many things that I could have, and I’m sure some would say should have, done differently.
I could have sought out a postpartum doula to help me with the transition to mothering two children. I could have made arrangements to have a relative live-in with us for several weeks or even months as we adjusted. I could have hired a mother’s helper to care for our two-year-old as I napped with our baby. My husband could have requested more time off from work than the one week that he took (though as our sole income provider he felt considerable pressure to get back to work).
But in the midst of the crashing waves of juggling a new baby and toddler’s needs–most days just barely keeping my head above water–I didn’t think of any of these things.
And from where I sit now, two years later, I am grateful for the forced letting go of my need to be the perfect mother.
As I relaxed, and accepted help in various (often previously unacceptable) forms, I was able to realign with what is most important to me — enjoying my children.
It was amazing how the process of letting go actually allowed me to move back towards many of my parenting ideals (conscious/limited use of TV, natural/simple toys, healthy homemade meals, and shopping at small, locally-owned stores, to name a few), but this time it was in a much more natural and joyful way.
I’m certainly not about to hop in a boat and float away with everything mainstream, but I’m so happy that I’ve begun finding ways to “go with the flow” a little more and stopped constantly fighting, with clenched jaw and knotted stomach, against everything that is not (my version of) perfect parenting.
My children and I recently made up a song (one of our many original ditties) to remind us that feeling good and enjoying our days is often more important than everything being “right” (or getting the blue cup, or getting to be first to do something):
It feels good, to go with the flow.
It feels good, to go with the flow…
’Cause going with the flow feels GOOD you know!
Ah…it sure does!