Apologies to subscribers who are not moms! Being a mama is my favorite role ever, but it's tough sometimes, especially when we are overloaded with information that can make us feel like we're doing it all wrong. I hope other moms can relate! I'd love to hear how you battle the constant pressure and anxiety we face in this information age.
Babies need 10-12 hours of sleep every night. Naps should be longer than 45 minutes, but not longer than two hours. She needs to be awake three to four hours before bedtime. Three minutes of crying, five minutes, seven minutes, then 15 minutes until she stops. He woke six times last night. Ugh, he only got 15 minutes of tummy time today. Fifty words by age 2. No more than one hour of TV a day, but only after age 2. You can potty train your child in three days! It’s not an official fever until 100.4, but it’s a problem if it’s above 103. How many mL of ibuprofen for her weight? How many ounces did he eat? Keep track of how many newborn poopy diapers. How much weight did you gain during pregnancy? How long are you going to breastfeed? Only 18 summers with your baby, mama! Your screen time is up 12 percent this week at 4 hours and 2 minutes a day.
The mental load of all these numbers floating around in my brain can be overwhelming. And that’s just the numbers—there are also millions of words aimed at moms about varying opinions on everything from vaccination to breastfeeding to potty training to discipline. I’m sure every generation of mothers has faced pressures and anxieties, but it feels amplified by all the books, Internet articles, Facebook groups and Instagram accounts that pump out advice and warnings. Who can we trust? What information is accurate? I remember someone tagging me in a Facebook post when I was pregnant about how a strand of my hair could wrap itself around my baby’s toes and cut off circulation. What? Why? Every freak accident, horror story, parenting philosophy and guideline is at our fingertips. More numbers to memorize, more warnings to heed.
Older generations often roll their eyes at all of this information—we made it without any of this stuff and our kids turned out just fine—but any mother of any era would have a difficult time ignoring information that touts improved behavior, better sleep or the prevention of physical injury or emotional trauma. Every mother of every generation has worried she is not doing it “right.”
On one hand, the information overload creates anxious moms who are no longer able to access their own intuition or the wisdom of their mothers and grandmothers. On the other, it allows us to be more informed, prepared and in some cases, can save lives. For example, since the “Back to Sleep” campaign was launched in 1994 (encouraging moms to lay babies down on their backs instead of tummies or sides), SIDS has decreased by over 50 percent.
I believe being able to access collective societal wisdom and scientific research is a net positive. When we know better, we do better. But what about all the conflicting advice and information that isn’t as black-and-white as laying your baby on her back? What about the clickbait articles? How do we decide what information floating around in our heads is essential? What parenting philosophy matches our family? How do we balance enjoyment of motherhood with the very real responsibility to keep our children healthy and teach them how to navigate the world?
So, obviously I haven’t figured this out. 🤣 But these basic thoughts and foundations are what personally keep me grounded when I feel the mama anxiety rise.
- Being attentive and respectful to my child is the No. 1 way to prevent harm and encourage positive development. When I am present, available, listening, watching and respecting my daughter’s feelings just like I would another adult, I’m able to protect and nurture her the way she needs. When I can say “no” to optional stuff that competes for my attention, my confidence level rises enormously. When I try to juggle it all, I feel inadequate and anxious. Also, when I can avoid comparing my child to other kiddos or this idea of a “standard” baby, my anxiety level drops drastically. Babies and children are not robots.
- Happy mom = happy kids. When I’m balancing my child’s needs with mine, I’m able to enjoy her, which in turn enables her to be more carefree. I’m not talking about bubble baths and manicures. I’m talking about quitting co-sleeping and teaching Julia to sleep in her crib when I realized it wasn’t working for us and my lack of sleep was a problem. I’m talking about sending her to school two days a week so I can have some alone time. Quitting breastfeeding when I began resenting her for it. Watching an episode of Sesame Street or Daniel Tiger together every day so I can cook dinner or sit down. Getting rid of toys that annoy me. Sometimes we feel so guilty for setting boundaries our kids don’t initially like, so we continue on in misery. Or we don’t allow ourselves to rest because it’s “against the rules" and we're so afraid of that slippery slope.
- Accepting that sometimes, it’s just hard. I can get very discouraged on a bad day and spiral into thoughts of “is it always going to be this way?” "Have I created horrible habits?" Most of the time, the answer is no. We’re just having a bad day (or a bad week), and it will get better. Babies have a hard time sleeping. Kids get sick. Teething and ear infections are horrible. Toddlers scream. Potty training is tough. It’s hard on everyone, and I’m not a failure because I’m struggling. Taking a break from social media during especially hard seasons is incredibly helpful to me. I don’t do well seeing other mamas’ highlight reels when I feel like my world is crumbling around me.
A mom of seven told me once there are certain ages and stages of childhood she just does not enjoy as a parent, and that’s OK—that stage will pass, and you’ll enjoy your child again. How freeing! 🙌
In some cases, I make it even harder on myself by not being consistent or setting boundaries. Consistency is NOT my strength as a parent or human in general. 😅 Sleep was a huge one for us—I was so paralyzed by fear that I could not make a decision about what to do. I finally had to make some choices and stick to a plan. It was so hard, but I’m glad we did it now!
- Listen only to voices that are kind and full of grace. So much of the parenting advice out there has a hard edge to it and is full of ultimatums, making us feel like this one particular method is the ONLY correct path. In a lot of traditional Christian parenting resources, authors present parenting as a responsibility to force children to obey, laying on the spiritual implications of our failure to win a battle of wills. Others insinuate that if you allow your child to cry or tell them “no,” they’ll be scarred for life. I’m in a “Gentle Parenting” group on Facebook, and there is a heavy fear in that group of parenting decisions not meeting the official definition of “gentle.” I’m talking—mamas breastfeeding both a toddler and a newborn through the night, exhausted and resentful... but feeling like they can’t wean their toddler because they don’t want to traumatize him. BLESS IT. We can’t catch a break, can we? Y’all. See No. 2. We have to take care of ourselves.
If I begin reading something and think, “Man, that sounds extreme,” or if it just makes me feel awful, I stop. Parenting books, groups and resources that humanize children and provide factual information about child development are the ones I tend to gravitate toward. These resources have a way of helping me set realistic expectations of myself and my girl. I want to read things that inspire me to be consistent, patient, creative, joyful and (again- so important) respectful of my child!
And even though there are a handful of authors I absolutely love and respect, I try to remember they are writing from their personal experience. They’ve never met me or my child, and we won’t agree on everything.
- Reaching out to other mothers I respect is usually more encouraging and realistic than reading books or articles. Other moms are gold. Even if they don't have advice, just being told, "Oh yes, that is so hard. I'm right there with you" is amazing.
- Lastly, I can’t handle entire books on a topic that is small part of a brief season of childhood, like breastfeeding or making baby food. For me, overthinking these tiny things is a recipe for a breakdown—I try to focus more on the big picture and play the long game, and that seems to be more sustainable. If my child can grow up feeling loved, respected, provided for and valued, I think the rest is pretty inconsequential and a matter of personal choice. Resources that help me break down those long-term social/emotional goals into daily practices are gold!
More seasoned moms, what kept you sane during this phase of parenting? How did you fight the mom anxiety? I’d love to hear from other generations about the unique pressures you faced when your kids were little. Millennial moms… we are gonna make it! Does this resonate with you? What’s the biggest struggle you face as a mama?