Hello! And welcome to the first episode of the Beyond the Crumbs Podcast! I am your host, Brittney, a mom of six from tiny to teens and I’m so glad you are here, joining me today as I discuss that 20/20 hindsight view of my parenting journey so far and share with you what I would tell new mom Brittney if I could go back in time and take myself out for lunch. In the future, once there are a few more of you out there, I would love to get you involved with the show. I look forward to good feedback and incorporating your experience, wisdom and opinions into the show. Find me at beyondthecrumbs.com and listen at the end of the show for more information on how you can participate. And now, a little about myself and how this podcast came to be:
There is an assumption, when you work in parenting media, that if you are willing to raise your voice loud enough to be heard you must know what you’re talking about. Furthermore, you clearly have IT ALL figured out and be living a bulletproof parenting superstar life… sharing pearls of wisdom as you pontificate from your pedestal, adored by your dream children in your spotless house. I hate to shatter your high opinion but I wrote parenting articles and columns for years and I had no idea what I was doing.
I was NOT that woman who confidently steps into motherhood through a conscious, well-planned birth into intuitively navigating the opinion-infested waters of infant feeding and sleep. She’s not perfect but trusts herself. Yep… that wasn’t me… not even close. I devoured pregnancy books and watched the mothers around me with wonder. Not because I wanted to take in all the information in order to make the BEST decisions but because I didn’t trust myself one little bit. Motherhood was grown up work. Responsible grown up work. And I’m STILL working on claiming the responsible grown up title today. As a new mom I asked for advice on everything from everyone. I would trust a random grocery store stranger over my own gut.
I got into parenting writing because, aside from feeling compelled for creative reasons, it gave me free access to experts! I could ask any question I wanted and would never have to make a decision on my own or potentially fail if I made the wrong one!
I envied those mothers I watched at church or at the mall. Clearly they were made out of something I wasn’t. Their eyes were missing that slight touch of crazy AND the deer in headlights look mine had all of the time. I had a friend down the street who had four children and I wanted so badly to be a fly on her wall. I used to go over a little to hang out while expecting my first. I watched as she competently managed the chaos to the point that it didn’t resemble chaos at all. She just owned it. And I wished I could just sit and watch all day long or even better, that she’d rub off and me and I might have an inkling what to do when my son arrived.
This sounds dramatic. I remember reading a book review once in a doctors office waiting room about one of those soccer mom novels. The main character was distracted, forgetful, and behind on laundry to the point of having to climb over piles in the basement. I had three kids or so at this time and felt like that character and I could have been good friends. But the reviewer harshly criticized the author for contributing to inaccurate stereotypes about moms. Like we we are all incompetent slobs who are in over our heads and that was offensive to her. Which confirmed to me that yes, indeed, I WAS doing it wrong.
My requests for advice during that first pregnancy had elicited the same opinions throughout my circles: I needed THE BOOK. One of the moms even gave me own copy. I devoured THE BOOK and vowed to mom by it’s precepts and not let my child fall prey to my ineptitude. So, I did. This was over fifteen years ago now. Oh, if I could go back. If there is one thing I could go back and tell myself at the beginning of my parenthood journey it would be this: Trust yourself. No one knows you or your baby like you do. No one can know what you need or what your baby needs like you can. Listen to yourself. Listen to that voice inside of you that is telling you everything you need to know.
But I’d never have believed myself anyway. This was one lesson I had to learn the hard way. And I’m still learning it.
As the oldest of six kids this inadequacy complex came as quite a shock to me. Before attempting to have my own kids I felt like something of a parenting expert. I had a front row seat to my parents’ successes and failures (as I perceived them) and had a fairly firm understanding of the perfect parenting formula that would turn out compliant, obedient, brag-worthy kids. I worked in after school childcare and daycares and it was easy to see how much better I would be at this parenting thing than all the flawed but well-meaning moms who came through.
But pregnancy can be humbling. My pregnancy did NOT go the way I had planned. It started with the wrong doctor. You know he’s wrong when you’re traumatized by your first appointment, apparently. Having never had an obstetric appointment before I was unaware of that fact until on retelling the story to some work friends I was met with horrified stares and a recommendation for a new OB. Then there was the vomiting. All day and night every day… every diaper changing shift at the day care. The fatigue, the passing out, emotional instability… I’d watched my mom go through 8 pregnancies and I’d never seen ANY of this! This was NOT how pregnancy was supposed to go!
I’m sorry to say that in the past I’d made fun of women who were terminally pregnant (Air quotes). I was supposed to be able to power through… I was pregnant, not dead! I wasn’t an invalid, I was just pregnant. I was supposed to glow! If you’ve seen one of my favorite movies EVER, What to Expect When You’re Expecting, think Elizabeth Banks’s character. Yep… that was me.
It slowly but surely dawned on me that maybe I wasn’t the expert on parenting that I thought I was. Maybe I didn’t know what I was talking about AT ALL. And that’s what stuck.
Which brings us back to THE BOOK. If there was one thing I KNEW my parents did wrong it was sleep. My parents had a very “whatever works” kind of parenting policy. I did not think much of it at the time (ha ha) and THE BOOK had a very prescriptive approach to infant sleep which I thought was great. No room for error. You follow the formula, you have a happy, healthy baby who you did not screw up. Perfect.
It took quite a lot of pain and suffering and marital strain for me to figure out at that expert parenting solutions were NOT one size fits all and that I could not make my son fit into a box that he absolutely did not fit into. THE BOOK was one of those boxes. That’s a story for another episode but suffice it to say that I pushed the issue much, much longer than I should have and and I am still scarred and will possibly never fully forgive myself.
By now, I sound pretty pathetic. And that’s okay. I’m not arguing that fact. But it’s not all bad. Some amazing things came out of this journey: I’m ever grateful that my mind was forced open and that I did not go bumbling blindly into parenting still thinking that I had all the answers. In my seeking I collected a mountain of knowledge and wisdom from experts and parents who came before me and along the way started to find my own inner mom voice. I found a very happy home at an amazing local parenting magazine where I wrote a few different columns, gained valuable experience on the editorial board, made friends I still keep today and became well-connected in my community. Through the pain of feeling alone, in pain and broken in my first breastfeeding experience I developed a conviction that no mother I came in contact with would ever feel the same way if I could help it. Through my pregnancy and baby column writing I found my way to a postpartum doula training which was eventually cancelled but helped me connect with a community of women I still treasure. Through the same columns I fell into a position teaching parents and their babies infant sign language so they could feel confident in their responses to their baby’s cries. I later trained as a doula, a childbirth educator, a breastfeeding peer counselor where I got to enjoy maybe the greatest impact I had on the mothers in my world outside of article writing.
In retrospect, I was never doing it wrong. Not when I was making health or parenting decisions with no evidentiary foundation. Not when I was questioning myself or my choices. Not even when I shut out my instincts and over-informed myself. This was my journey. This is how I learned who I am as a mother and what matters to me. This is how I learned who and what I DON’T want to be. This is how I developed a safety network of support people that I couldn’t have done without. This is how I become the mother that my kids need and the me that I know and even LOVE today!
Some things I learned along the way:
Each of my kids is an individual human, not just one in a passel. They all have different needs and there is no formula to being the perfect parent in this family. A parenting hit with one kid will be a miss with another.
Keep an open mind. Every time I think I’ve got this parenting thing figured out the game changes. The answer to the newest problem is often something I never considered, have judged someone else for doing, I’ve never heard of, or I’d previously ruled out.
Be quiet and listen. I love to research and learn but sometimes my rabid info-seeking is merely a pillow I use to muffle my inner voice. Sometimes it’s uncomfortable to quiet my brain and listen to myself because sometimes I’m afraid of what I’m going to hear. Like it or not, I know myself pretty well at this point. And I know my children at this point better than anyone else ever could. If I can take the time and have faith in myself and the voice of my intuition I will find that the answer to any problem with them is hanging out somewhere in my mind or heart.
My kids benefit from watching me try and fail. My mistakes and the way I learn and grow from them becomes the foundation of their knowledge that people can and do change.
And the biggest shock that was in store for me all those years ago was that as much as I didn’t know what I was doing, those other moms didn’t either! It’s not about knowing. You don’t have to know ahead of time. It’s about putting one foot in front of the other… showing up. You WILL make mistakes. You will fail. But you will also win! And you will learn, grow and become better every day along the way.
The last thing I learned that continues today is that as important as my safety net of friends and family are to me, it is at least as important to me to be there for them. I love to support other parents in the better times and the harder times of growing their little people. Whether through breastfeeding support, birth education, doula work, sharing resources through writing magazine articles or blogs or now through this podcast.
Wherever you are on your trek, I hope you can offer yourself some grace. I hope you can appreciate the lows as well as the highs. And I hope you can see the good in the bad, ugly and painful parts or raising children. I think that as we do this we are better practiced and prepared to offer our kids the same understanding on their journeys. That as they make mistakes and grow and march to their own beat we can have confidence in them and their choices and unique paths. And I hope we can teach them to have that same faith in themselves.
Hopefully you were never your own worst enemy to the extent that I have been. But as you look back over your early days, hours or years as a parent (pregnancy counts), what do you wish you could go back and tell yourself? What wisdom have you gained since then that you would share with an earlier version of you? I want to hear about it! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with your name, your hard earned wisdom and whether I have your permission to share on the show or not.
Since I can’t go back and share the secrets of parenthood with my former self I will share them with you. And I look forward to hearing yours as well. Send me an email or comment on the show notes for this episode at beyondthecrumbs.com. If you liked this episode or the show in general, please leave a review. Your reviews help other parents find the show. Join in next time when we talk about the darker side of perfectionism. How it hurts us and our families and what to do about it. Until next time, thanks for joining me here today on the Beyond the Crumbs podcast.