Some things about motherhood are universal and remain constant through time. Every mother in history likely endured sleepless nights, sore nipples (if they breastfed), emotional turmoil (thanks hormones) and poop (so, so much poop).
Modern moms enjoy a lot of conveniences. Some of my personal favorites include shelf-stable baby food pouches (invented by baby Jesus himself), tricked-out strollers, mechanical baby swings and vibrating bouncer chairs. But despite all the useful gear, I would argue there are many aspects of motherhood that have become more complicated and more likely to keep us up at night.
A lot of the issues we deal with are related to the internet and the information it puts at our fingertips. We all know we shouldn't Google "how do I know if my child is a sociopath" but we do it anyways. Other challenges stem from recent safety concerns that weren't around 30 years ago. A few things in particular contribute to my own anxiety and make it harder for me to truly enjoy motherhood and my children while they are still young enough to like being around me.
I have a toddler who pretty much can only sit still if he is watching Daniel Tiger or playing on the iPad (even better, both simultaneously). As any good modern mom, I feel horrible and try to limit screens as much as possible (while still being a human who has to make meals sometimes and gets sick every so often). But even if I stay below the recommended threshold, I still feel extreme guilt every single second my child watches TV or plays Fruit Ninja. Even the day I woke up with a horrific migraine (the kind where you can't eat and have to wear sunglasses in the house) I STILL felt awful for letting him watch shows all day. And that was an issue of survival. (To this day, my toddler hopes I am sick each morning so he can watch "so many shows" again like that one blessed Sunday when mommy laid on her fainting couch for 12 hours.)
I sometimes notice judgmental looks other moms give me (or side eye each other) when they see my kid sitting in the stroller playing on the tablet or my phone. I get the same dirty looks when I let him freak the fuck out in the Nordstrom shoe department. So I'm not going to apologize if I pick the option that doesn't involve me crying in the car the whole way home (hypothetical, totally not something I do). I should not feel guilting for letting Daniel Tiger take the wheel while I spend 20 minutes shopping for pants that don't make me look like I'm stuffing my legs into sausage casings. Of course I still do feel guilty, but I'm working on letting that shit go and you should too.
The internet is the best and worst thing for parents (especially new parents). Some of the information available online is great, and even life-saving. I'm certainly thankful I can Google infant Advil dosages by weight in the middle of the night rather than waking up my pediatrician. But when you start searching things like "sleep training," "weaning," and "how to discipline a toddler"... things get quite a bit murkier. A lot of the results you see are blogger yahoos like me who have absolutely no business dispensing advice. Much of the medical information is outdated and far from peer reviewed.
So what's an anxious mom, low on sleep and sanity and with access to internet on her phone, to do? We'll probably all keep reading scary shit on the internet while up nursing at 4 a.m. (its pretty much unavoidable). But can we make a pledge to, at the very least, do a little research on the source of the scary? Because my guess is things won't look nearly as bad in the light of day and with a healthy dose of fact checking.
Back is Best
I spent a LOT of time worrying about SIDS as a new mom. When I brought my oldest son home from the hospital I was determined to follow every safe sleep rule to the letter. But as the weeks and months dragged on, and I started getting less and less sleep, I realized that if I wanted to breastfeed it was going to be impossible. I fell asleep in the chair. I woke up with my son next to me in bed and NO memory of having brought him into our room (and no intention of co-sleeping). I started worrying about driving anywhere during the day for fear I would fall asleep at the wheel and get into an accident with the baby in the backseat. I was sick all the time. On top of it all, my son developed a flat spot on the side of his head. I got even less sleep as I obsessively watched the monitor to see if he was laying on it, and then crept into his room to turn his head when he was.
With my second child, I have opted to co-sleep until I'm no longer getting up multiple times a night, or until I wean. Whichever comes first. I did my homework and borrowed a friends co-sleeper bassinet and lowered our bed. I still worry that something terrible will happen, but I also know that I need at least some sleep to function as a mother. I'm certainly not saying I have it all figured out this time around. I'm still getting up many times throughout the night and feel like I'm going to face plant into my cereal most morning, but this is what works best for me and my family.
What pictures should I post? Facebook or Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter? How many? Who should be able to see them? Will someone turn them into a meme that will haunt my child into their adulthood? Will a sicko distort them for some nefarious purpose? Will my child one day hate me for posting this status/photo/blog? Am I annoying people? How the hell do I change my privacy settings? Will I start some sort of sanctimommy internet war if I post a photo of my child in their car seat with a coat? Do I care?
You get the picture. It's no wonder I'm medicated.
Not only must the modern mom get her pre-baby body back immediatley, but also her pre-baby LIFE. Here are a few of the expectations I have personally internalized:
Be careful not to talk about your children too much. Go out on frequent dates with your husband and make time for all your girlfriends. But also take time for you; get a manicure and massage and pedicure and do things you enjoy solo. Go on trips and leave your children behind. Maintain a pinterest-inspired home filled with whimsical, wooden toys (or don't have any toys at all). Dress in a way that pleases all the strangers you might see at the grocery store. Do not drive a minivan regardless of the number of children you have.
Got that? Easy peasy.
So what is the solution? I don't know. Probably some serious introspection as mothers and as a society. To deal with my own intense feelings of anxiety and guilt and inadequacy, I try to remember that if I truly love my children and make sure they know it, then everything else probably doesn't matter. Or matters very little.
If I'm wrong and my children read this one day, I'm sorry and I hope I'm at least paying for your therapy.