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Parenting Mantras: A Guest Post About Surviving Parenthood

I’m thrilled to be sharing today’s guest post with y’all! My guest poster, Lauren Palmer, and I went to high school together in at Center Grove High School in Greenwood, Indiana (Go, Trojans!), and I’ve loved staying in touch with her since our high school days. (Thank goodness for social media, huh?) She and I are now both parents to little girls (although her daughter is about two years older than Maggie is), and now she’s expecting her second baby. Lauren has a way with words (you should follow along with her Indianapolis Moms Blog posts, which are always excellent!), and so I was so glad she agreed to share some of her parenting wisdom here on curiouser & curiouser.

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Lauren chose to share a few mantras that have helped her get through the various stages of parenting she’s experienced so far, and I love the thoughtfulness behind each one. I’ll let her take it from here. On to you, Lauren!:

I’m a big fan of mantras. It could be my writerly soul that connects with the power of language (or perhaps it’s my highly persuadable psyche that gives extra weight to third-party advice), but there’s something about the right combination of words at the right moment that sustains me through life’s tough moments.

I’ve never needed mantras more than I do as a parent. Since my husband and I welcomed our incredible daughter, Lyra, 3.5 years ago, I’ve felt the heavy weight of responsibility, worry, and all-consuming love that is being a parent. When combined with a tendency to overthink things and question myself, the weight of parenting anxiety can be paralyzing some days. Not only do I want to be the absolute best version of myself for my daughter, I’ve also never been more tired, overwhelmed, and stressed. Wanting desperately to be perfect combined with being stretched too thin almost all the time is a dangerous recipe for a worrier with self-deprecating tendencies such as myself.

I’ve never cared about something so much. And I’ve never doubted myself more. The stakes feel heart-thumpingly high. It doesn’t help that our culture puts so much pressure on parents, and then shames them relentlessly for ever falling short of these impossible societal standards–and women are especially vulnerable to double-standards and punishingly harsh criticisms. I’ve worked through a lot of insecurities in my journey to embracing my mothering identity, and the stories I tell myself have been a huge part of that. Below are a few of the mantras that have helped me overcome my parenting anxiety and grow into a confident, happy mom.

“Do what works until it doesn’t work anymore.”

Bringing home a newborn was one of the most traumatic experiences of my life. It was a good trauma–one I look back on with weepy nostalgia now that I’m past the soul-crushing sleep deprivation–but it was a trauma nonetheless. After spending five days in the sterile frigidity of the maternity ward, my house felt like a foreign country, the home of the woman I knew in another lifetime. The stress of keeping a tiny human alive and happy manifested as obsessive thinking and constant Googling:

Am I making enough milk? How often should I nurse her? How often should I pump? Is she sleeping enough? Is she alert enough? Do I need to hold her more? Do I need to put her down awake so she learns to self-soothe? Do I need to establish a schedule now before we set up bad sleep habits? Does she need a baby probiotic? Is this poop normal? Do I have an over-supply issue? Do I have an UNDER-supply issue? Do we need to try a sleep sack? Is it time to drop the swaddle? When should we transition her to the crib?

I felt on edge all the time, always concerned there was an unseen crisis looming around the corner, one I should prepare for NOW. And then a good friend released me from this burden by saying, “Lauren, look at her. She is okay. This is all working. Just do what is working until it doesn’t work anymore.” From there on out, I focused on doing what worked for our family until we hit a point of needing to make a change rather than constantly trying to stay three steps ahead. And I quickly found that there was no need to wonder if I would know when things stopped working. Turns out, kids are pretty great at alerting you to when something is no longer working! I also learned to spot when my own needs weren’t being met. My needs deserve top-priority, too. For things to be working, they had to be working for my husband and me, too.

“My best is all she needs.”

In our world of social media highlight reels, it’s tough to avoid comparing myself to other parents. When I’m having a down day and see a post about the elaborate educational craft another mom has put together while my kid is spacing out to her third episode of Paw Patrol, it’s easy to feel like a failure. But it’s helpful to remember that all I really need to feel like a good parent at the end of the day is to know I gave it my best effort–whatever I could manage that day. Can I turn off the TV and put on some tunes for a mom-daughter dance party? Can I find the energy to take her to the park for an hour of fresh air and togetherness? All she wants is the best version of ME–not some fantasy supermom version of myself.

A couple other ways I give my daughter my best:

  1. I work full-time outside the home. The structure of a 9-5 schedule helps keep my mental health in check, and I know I’m a better mom in the time I get with my daughter each day than if I were home with her 24/7.
  2. I take time for myself. I attend a weekly writing circle, go out with my friends every couple weeks, go to exercise classes, and schedule four days each year called “Quarterly Parents’ Days of Fun” in which my husband and I take vacation days and send our daughter to preschool as usual. I firmly believe that when parents prioritize self-care, it benefits the kids, too.

“Let yourself feel what you are feeling.”

As I write this, I’m 35 weeks pregnant with a little brother or sister for my sweet girl. My husband and I are very excited to meet this peanut, but I’ve also felt a little ambivalent about this baby’s arrival at times. It feels so different than the first time around, when I spent every day of my pregnancy bursting with excitement and gratitude at being given the chance to be a mom and thought of almost nothing else. This time, I’m already a mom to a high-energy kid who keeps me busy nearly every moment of the day. And while I’m just as grateful to be pregnant again (especially after suffering a miscarriage earlier this year), pregnancy feels like an inconvenience at times, and I’m really scared that life with two kids will overwhelm me.

At first, I felt really guilty for feeling this way–like this child didn’t matter as much to me. But then I realized that I’ve had 3.5 years to bond with my daughter, and I can’t compare the maturity of that mothering relationship to the tiny rosebud of this new one. I have plenty of time to get to know this baby, and it’s perfectly fine to take the waves of anxiety and love and wonder as they come rather than trying manhandle my emotions. I know enough now to trust that I’ll find my way.

Because that’s what this whole parenting journey is about–trusting love over fear, even when the fear is paralyzing. Choosing to keep going each day knowing it’s the hardest and most important job you’ll ever have. Digging deep for confidence and strength in one moment, and surrendering to vulnerability and weakness in the next. Being a mom is the greatest privilege of my life, and I strive every day to be worthy of it.

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