For those of you who don’t know me, I gave birth to my first baby last October, which has crazily been almost a year ago already. This year has been both the shortest and the longest year of my life simultaneously, and I’m not quite sure how that is possible. Let me assure you at the beginning of this blog that my son is my entire world. I love him unconditionally (even when sometimes I don’t like him - those blowout diapers are not a fun time), and I am so happy to be his mama. However, what I don’t care much for at all is the decision fatigue that set in for me around 4 months postpartum and the anxiety that followed.
Parents today are surrounded by this overwhelming confusion from the moment they tell people they’re pregnant until… well, I’ll let you know if it stops. What diapers should I buy? Should I breastfeed? What is our sleeping situation going to be? What car seat/stroller/bottles/etc do I buy? There is a constant stream of choices and decisions to be made for what I assume to be pretty much the rest of my child’s childhood and beyond.
And after the confusion of the abundance of available choices comes the judgment. No matter what decision you make and for whatever reason, there will always be someone who disagrees with you. And some of those people may be pretty vocal and critical about it.
“I would NEVER sleep train my child.”
“If you don’t breastfeed, you’re a bad mom.”
“That high chair isn’t at a perfect angle, so you’re just willing your kid to choke.”
Why are people so seemingly vicious when it comes to the decisions we make as parents? From my experience, it’s actually pretty simple. Everyone loves their child, and we all want what is best for them as possible. We want our children to be healthy and happy, and we want to give them the best chance at a future that we can. Of course we do. However, who really defines what “the best” is? Are moms who don’t live up to “the best” unworthy of being mothers? Should we come to the rescue of every child whose mother made a different decision than ours?
Many of the other parents who are so overly critical of the decisions of others are that way because of their own fear or anxiety. They are so anxious about doing something wrong that they feel like they must fight to prove they’re right. For example, a mom who has made the choice to try baby-led weaning because she has researched it and found it to be “the best” might feel the need to defend that decision. She is judging others as a way to justify herself.
For me personally, this onslaught of feedback and judgment rewrote the way I spoke to myself. I started being more critical and mean, which massively affected my self-esteem. I found myself less confident in my ability to make decisions, and I started questioning if I was cut out for this parenthood thing at all. I became absolutely terrified of making the wrong decision to the point that it was crippling to try to make any decision at all. Even what I wanted for dinner seemed like way too much. (Okay, let’s be honest, that answer is always Chick-fil-A).
Where I think we can all grow is to remember that most of these decisions that we make are not going to singularly make or break our children. For most of these choices, there is research-supported proof that there is not much of a difference between one way or another. Is there perhaps a better choice? Sure. Is it always possible for us to make EVERY perfect, better choice? Maybe not.
Here are some of my suggestions for navigating this struggle. Remember to only take what is useful to you, and leave whatever isn’t.
Remember to give yourself grace. Your child is not a computer, and you do not need to input the perfect A+B+C to give your child a chance. There is no perfect person, and you cannot do everything perfectly. That’s okay.
Take a risk management approach to decision making. Think about the amount of risk on each side of a decision, and weigh what amount of risk you are able to take on. This is going to look different for everyone. Your level of comfort with risk is valid. For example, weighing the risks and benefits of sleep training may lead to different results for two different parents.
Set boundaries with others. Even though the people around us may have the best intentions, sometimes the amount of advice and opinions are just too much. Find some trusted sources for help making decisions (i.e. your pediatrician, a trusted website with research, a book, a great mom friend, etc), and then set boundaries with the others. “Thank you for your input and for caring about us, but I am going to make the decision that works best for our family.” Boom.
Set boundaries with social media. Want an even bigger impact? Get off social media, even if just for a detox weekend. Unsubscribe, unfollow, delete the app. Do what you’ve got to do to stop that voice in your head saying “Look how pretty all those wooden toys are; my kid has plastic garbage, and I’m the worst.” We don’t need that energy, and little Jimmy just loves that plastic, light-up music toy anyway.
Aim for the bigger picture. We often get so stuck on the thousands of little decisions each day that we lose sight of the bigger picture. The most impactful thing that we as parents can do is to provide a safe and loving environment for our children. We want our children to trust that we love them and that we want them to grow and to be happy. This environment is made more in how we talk to our children, how we love on our children, and how we repair with our children after a mistake than in what they had for lunch or if they had bamboo pajamas. The colors of the playroom don’t really matter that much. Hug your kids, tell them you love them, and tell them you’re sorry when you mess up. The rest is extra.
I am still very much on this journey myself. I don’t know exactly what the future holds for me and my son, but I do know that I will love him. And maybe that’s a good enough place to start.
Ally Kennedy, LPC
Ally Kennedy works primarily with neurodivergent people of all ages (including Autism, ADHD, learning differences, etc.). She also enjoys working with adolescents and adults struggling with anxiety. Ally serves as the Clinical Associate at our center, working behind the scenes to help develop and maintain new programs.