The Unbearable Weight of “Should”

When you become a parent, your world view inevitably changes. In some ways, you’re prepared for that. After all, I don’t think there’s a single parent out there who didn’t receive tons of (sometimes unsolicited) advice from family members, friends, strangers in line at the grocery store, etc. But despite all of that advice, and any research you do before D day, nothing can prepare you for how heavily what you “should” do will weigh on you as a parent.

In the first few weeks of our son’s life, all I was doing was trying to survive. I was up at night with him, getting sometimes no more than 3 hours of sleep, struggling to eat 3 square meals a day, and of course recovering from childbirth. Those days were challenging, but also pretty awesome, as I slowly got to know this person who had joined our family. After the first few weeks, we settled into a rhythm. Football season was officially underway, the team was off to a great start, and we were headed into my favorite season. I had people telling me I didn’t look like I had just a baby, some said I was the most energetic new mom they had ever met. In some moments, I thought to myself, “I really think I’m getting the hang of this!” Then all of a sudden, something changed.

I’m not sure if it was adrenaline wearing off, the reality that I was the responsible adult now, a combination of the two, or just extreme exhaustion setting in, but seemingly from one day to the next I felt completely drained- both physically and emotionally. While being everything for this little person was the most intensely joyful thing I have ever experienced, I also found it to be a bit of a crushing feeling. Especially considering Nathaniel’s schedule, the fact is that a majority of the time, I alone am responsible for the sustenance, safety, entertainment, and overall wellbeing for our son. That in itself is an overwhelming notion! So for a while, I felt a bit lost. Where was the excitement and joy from the first few weeks? Where was the energy I seemed to have in the beginning, even after only sleeping in 3-hour stints? I felt like a terrible mother, or like I was simply faking being capable of this new job. It all came to a head when I laid down to sleep one night after rocking our son to sleep, but found myself inexplicably unable to sleep. My thoughts were swirling in my head at a million miles per hour, most of which extremely negative toward myself and my abilities to parent. I felt completely out of control.

The next morning, I told my husband how I was feeling, and that I didn’t want to give in to this wave of negativity I felt I was being dragged down by. So, I decided to set some new ground rules in order to enjoy – and not just survive- parenthood.

  1. Ask for help. I, like many women I know, have a very hard time asking for help or knowing when I need to delegate something. To me, it feels like a weakness to tell someone “I can’t take all of this on”, especially in our area of Silicon Valley where everyone describes themselves as “go-getters”, “self-starters” and entrepreneurs.
  2. Stop the negative thoughts in their tracks. This little boy is literally made for me, and I for him. I am the person who is best able to take care of him, so no, he doesn’t deserve a “better mother” or “belong with someone who knows what they’re doing”. He and I are right where we need to be
  3. Let go of the notion of what I “should” be doing. So often, I will be sitting on the couch snuggling with Auggie, when I have the feeling that I should be reading a book to him or playing with his toys with him, rather than binge-watching ER for the 5th time. It eats me up, that guilt that I’m not doing what I should do for him. So when I feel that way, I remind myself that I am NOT frying his brain by not stimulating him 24/7, and that these days of hours-long snuggles are very limited. I’m going to want them back badly someday
  4. Take care of me. I have vowed to myself to work out at least 3 times a week, as exercise has always been my most effective and soothing form of self-care. Thanks to the help of my mother-in-law (who we are so thankful to live near), I get out of the house twice a week, and typically use at least one of those afternoons to go to SoulCycle. Between SoulCycle, Fit4Mom classes (Stroller Strides is fantastic for new mamas!) and walking our neighborhood, I’ve been able to clock serious workout hours the last few weeks since pulling myself out of my fog.
  5. Most importantly, enjoy every second. This time is already flying by. My boy is growing up so quickly before my eyes- growing out of his infant bathtub, his newborn and 3 month clothes (even though he is just over 3 months). He can do something new every week. Last week, it was long drawn-out babbling, this week it’s reaching for his toy and putting it in his mouth. Next week, he may be rolling over! I don’t want to spend any of this precious time doubting myself or stressing about what I should be doing differently.

The most important thing I have learned by becoming a parent is that we are all just guessing at how to do things right, despite how put-together some people may seem. I think we all know the mom who seems to just know how to do it all right off the bat and seems to have it all down. Hint: she doesn’t. She’s probably just slowing down and enjoying the moment enough to not let the stress of feeding times, diaper changes, meltdowns, breastfeeding woes, or what she “should” be doing get to her. And maybe, at 3am when her baby’s been crying for an hour and she can’t figure out why, she’ll doubt herself too. But hopefully she’ll sit there, rock that little babe of hers until she quiets, and remember that this too shall pass.

So hang on to this moment even if it isn’t perfect. That’s all you “should” do.


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