As you approach parenthood, it is tempting to try to fit into a specific vision of ‘The Ideal Mother.’ This fictional woman is a combo of fairytale nonsense, societal pressures, gender stereotypes and filtered fibs on Instagram. Probably has something to do with the patriarchy and at least one of the Kardashians, too.
This inspirational mum buys certain products, prepares certain organic food, wears certain ‘cool mum’ sneakers, embraces certain parenting styles and uses the right clever-yet-relatable hashtags. You may plan to become this mother and purchase accessories accordingly. It will feel right to buy some celebrity-endorsed activewear and get a compost bin and a 20 session Pilates pass in preparation for the New You. This imaginary mother figure may be nothing like you at all, but no matter. Your new identity will just click into place accordingly, right? Out drops a baby, in drops a whole new personality!
You’ll pretty quickly discover the Ideal Mother doesn’t exist, your values won’t fundamentally change and those new leggings give you thrush. ‘Perfect mum’ pressure can be overwhelming but once you get going with motherhood, you’ll find your own groove and start to feel comfy with your new personality… which, in reality, will be much the same as your old one, just with less shits given. This will be an enormous, happy relief.
First lesson: Pick your battles. You will be faced with five trillion Crucial Choices along the way. Every decision will feel all-consuming and critically important, especially 70 minutes into a Baby Bunting trip without a snack break. Which pram reflects everything you believe in? Are you a Bugaboo Chameleon – not just in your parenting lifestyle but also in your soul? Every choice feels like it might change the entire life trajectory of your child, from how you give birth to whether or not to get the $1500 cot. Thankfully, everything is a much, MUCH smaller deal in the long run.
Maybe you use washable nappies, maybe you don’t. Maybe you buy educational wooden toys from posh baby shops or maybe you get plastic crap from your local two dollar shop. Maybe you go to mother’s group and make lifelong friends or maybe you go once and never again because those women seem crazy (or make you feel like the crazy one). Maybe you ban the iPad and set YouTube restrictions, or maybe you let Emma Wiggle single-handedly raise your infant. Maybe you do mum-and-bub meditations in one of those cute designer teepees or maybe your kid plays with their genitals in a hand-me-down bouncer while you answer emails and count down the days until you’re back at work. Maybe both or neither!
It’s hard to hear when you’re so busy planning and preparing, but the truth is, it really doesn’t matter. Do what is easiest for you overall and your child will be okay. ‘Easy’ is not a cop-out, it’s making sensible choices that don’t make your life unnecessarily difficult or stressful. No one is asking you to sun-dry your own tomatoes and I promise, not all mothers are using their downtime to make raw energy balls.
If something makes you anxious or annoyed but you’re doing it because you’re paranoid about making a mistake or some unqualified troll on the internet told you it’s ‘for the best’ – stop and give yourself a break. Pick the option that makes good overall sense for your family and move on.
Women lose faith in themselves and forget how completely capable they are at life. If you live a healthy, balanced existence already, there’s no reason you won’t approach motherhood in exactly the same way. It’s very hard not to feel self-conscious and second-guess yourself when social media and baby forums and sleep deprivation exist, but if a comment or article online makes you feel bad or defensive, you have to stop and think – ‘am I smarter than this?’ Chances are, yes. If you need practical advice about your baby, use Nurse On Call instead of Google. They are amazing and non-judgemental. No problem is too trivial and they love helping with poo and rashes and snot.
The advice I give most often to all my new mum friends is this: You are an intelligent, reasonable woman. Any decision you make about feeding, sleeping or parenting in general will not be wildly off base because it will be well-considered and thoughtful. In short, you cannot really fuck this up. It’s an annoying #inspo cliché, but you really do Got This. Your baby will feel incredibly loved and safe because you care. If you’re taking the time to ask yourself ‘am I a good mum?’ then it’s highly likely you’re already a bloody great one.