Note: While this post is partially geared toward womxn and how we experience parenthood as “moms,” I hope it can be useful for parents of all types.
In today’s society, our first task upon bringing home a healthy baby is to document our special moment and share the wonderful news to those that matter most to us: our Instagram followers.
Our desire to fit into the “new mom club” coupled with our efforts to present our pure positivity – and smash our inner Negative Nancys – leads us to only display the happy side of parenthood to the external world. For the record, the happiness factor is very real: recall the emotions you experienced last holiday season when you were sipping spiked hot chocolate and watching Kevin reunite with his mom in Home Alone.
That feeling still pales in comparison to the joy derived from bringing your child home. Nevertheless, we hide a very real alternative side: our terrified, sleep-deprived, frustrated, and physically-hurting selves. We cannot admit to ourselves that we are failing at what we perceive to be good parenting. Please note that while this might sound similar to postpartum depression, I want to be clear that I am describing a different phenomenon, although I certainly did experience some baby blues. As a matter of fact, our first night home with Mia, I considered running away because I couldn’t handle the shrill, incessant cries and the anxiety inducing, glass-like fragility of a child; however, I was too tired so decided to stay put. I did, however, muster enough energy to post professionally-taken pictures of my newborn, so desperately seeking to convince the world that I, too, am acing parenthood. Spoiler alert – there is no spectrum of excellence for parenthood; you are either putting your best foot forward and therefore are reasonable, or you are not. The topic of imposter syndrome has become the flavor of the year; this phenomenon is frequently discussed in the context of work, but actually manifests itself just as often in parenthood as well.
For those of you that don't know, high level, imposter syndrome speaks to a feeling that an individual experiences whereby they fear everyone will find out that they are "faking it".
Motherhood, while wonderful, is also a world whereby we experience an inordinate amount of judgement, oftentimes taking the form of snarky labels. It doesn’t help that arbitrary gender roles have dictated that womxn have “maternal instincts”, so we frequently feel inadequate. Like everyone else, we selectively display the best parts of motherhood on social media, leaving new moms to wonder why they are struggling when (i) they were genetically wired for this job and (ii) all their friends seem to be handling this phase well.
Having now made it to the toddler phase and reflecting on just 21 months ago, I would warn my younger self that I will encounter different manifestations of a socially-constructed trial of my parenting capabilities; each time, I will come up short and feel the urge to harshly label myself. I would advise myself to defeat these labels and realize that parenting is based on reasonability, which is binary, versus judged on a scale of excellence. I would force myself to recognize I was doing my job that I indeed was apt enough to handle. And I would encourage myself to openly discuss my challenges with other parents. No one who is trying their hardest should ever have to feel as if they aren’t cut out to be a parent.
First and foremost, let’s embrace our overarching title as “reasonable parent” - a label that should be awarded to both the mother and father figures.
Despite the amount of Elsa dolls and La Durée macaróns I have provided Mia, none of my friends have awarded me the “parent of the year” accolade. Don’t fear; my friend who enforces a veggie/fruit diet and a strict bedtime routine also has not received such an award. In reality, most of us - certainly Nick and I - deserve the “good enough” shrug. Whether we sleep train or co-sleep, stop tantrums through ice cream or timeouts, send the kids to an elite Manhattan preschool or stay at home to caretake, other parents will claim we are doing it wrong. I would view the overarching theme of judgement as a rite of passage to parenthood; we really have been welcomed into this world. Let’s reframe the roles of parenthood: we’re learning as we’re going along, but hopefully are doing our best to provide what we believe our children need.
I gave myself my first parent label as the “Ultimate Faker” on May 24, 2019, the day we arrived home from the hospital. Many are led to believe the hardest part of having a baby is the labor. Undoubtedly, it’s coming home completely unaware. It feels as if someone is forcing you to solve a quantum mechanics problem under 15 minutes while juggling knives and painting a Pollock. All the while denigrating you when you complain that the problem is in French and the canvas is toilet paper. In my case, Nick and I had the benefit of my parents helping out for a month, and even so, we faced difficulties.
The pressure is immense for someone so unprepared and you end up feeling like an ultimate faker. You wonder how someone so accomplished such as yourself, who has the capability to crank out complex M&A models in under 45 minutes, can be so totally and utterly clueless. However, your fellow parent friends seemed so ecstatic and relieved after their babies were born, so you lie on your punctual Insta-post stating, “so blessed to have BBG who is happy and healthy. We’re home and she already loves snuggles. She’s perfect.” The more genuine post would have been, “The baby is here, but Demonchild would have been a more fitting name as she’s permanently screaming. Can someone please tell my inquiring neighbors that the constant crying they hear is actually coming from me?” While I would never rob younger me of my fake brag to the world, I would have loved to know that every newcomer was in this same boat and instead call myself a “Scared, but Hopeful Newbie”: a parent who is terrified of this 7-pound lump, but will get through it and eventually snuggle the little butternut to pieces. By the way, if we are scared, that just means we are parents that are trying to protect our children.
After a week, many parents feel a tad more comfortable with the eat, sleep, and poop routine and open their world to exploring other adventures – the pacifier, the diaper rash cream, and if extra daring, maybe even tummy time.
We theorize holding a baby for over 37.5 minutes will result in attachment issues among various nonsensical assertions, thereby becoming the “Studies Show This” parent – or, in my case, the “My Friends’ Studies Show This” mom. I unfortunately lack the attention span to get through parenthood books. When it comes to reading, I draw the line at audited financial statements. At this point, we desperately want to prove our progress, especially to ourselves, and are hyper-aware that we are overcompensating by attempting to sound intellectual. We recite articles from unconfirmed sources to rationalize our actions. We fail to listen to our logical voice stating that there is no graded parenting test though; it’s a matter of if we are learning from our babies and making decisions based on their needs. We actually are becoming smarter parents – not because we can quote a research paper we read when we were up for the 2AM feeding shift, but rather because we are comprehending more about this new human who has taken over our lives. With everything we absorb, we actually are “Sponges” as we, albeit not to the extent of our babies, are acquiring a tremendous amount of knowledge daily. At this point, your baby is dictating their needs and you are listening because you, indeed, have great instincts. Notwithstanding the above, if someone with at least 12 months of parenting experience begins a sentence with “studies show…” at this point, I kindly reciprocate with a “go fuck yourself.”
The inevitable happens to moms, specifically, by week 12. We become the “breastfeeding hobbyist” or the “boob attacker”, and we must pick a side or all hell will break loose. In today’s society, people feel strongly about the idea of nursing, not recognizing various factors that are outside of many people’s control: a baby’s receptivity, milk supply, affordability of formula, work demands, PPD, happy hour plans, and so much more. At this point, we almost embrace our label, feeling the need to proactively defend our decision to validate to ourselves that we made the right choice. Classic breastfeeding hobbyists proclaim that this is the best form of bonding, with each missed nursing opportunity translating to a 10-point decrease in future SAT scores. Boob attackers meanwhile discredit all merits to nursing, claiming these women are just obsessed with their double-bump in cup size. Both sides have strong, real points as well, substantiated by supporting research. While the nursing debate market is fully saturated, I hope mothers recognize that both sides have at least one important common goal – they want their babies to eat well and grow healthily. A mom’s decision around feeding does not make her selfish, obsessive, or any less of a mother; her excitement actually makes her a “Nourishment Provider” and positions her well for when her child is ready for real food.
By this point, specific people in my parent network must be wondering if I had them in mind while writing this. Yes, I had all of 100+ you (and me) in mind and believe we all have more in common than we realize. We all assign these harsh labels to ourselves due to our fear that we aren’t excelling in parenting based on arbitrary standards that society and our network has set for us. As time progresses, we engage in other “sins”, including but certainly not limited to heightened screen time, obsessive scheduling, and bribing, bringing on a whole new set of tests we worry we are failing.
We once again question our parenting skills and experience imposter syndrome. We must embrace the notion of being a reasonable parent, and not judge ourselves on a scale, as parenting simply does not work that way. With all the hard work and care we devote to our children, we owe it to ourselves to remind ourselves that we make informed, logical decisions based on what we think is the best solution for our children. We've all heard that a bikini body should actually refer to the fact that we have a body and are wearing a bikini. Similarly, no matter how you approach parenthood, if you have a baby that you love, cherish, and provide for, you are rightfully a parent and well-deserving of the label "true, reasonable parent."
Mamas and Papas – I would love for you to share your parenting experiences and some of the labels you or society has imposed on you!