As a new mum, you hear a lot that you should trust your instincts. Health visitors, midwives and doctors reassure you that you know your baby better than anyone, and should go with your gut if you think something’s wrong. It’s terrifying.
Because what if you don’t know? What if you don’t have a bloody clue?
The alternative to going with your instincts is taking advice from books, websites and forums. When my son was very young, I spent a lot of time Googling bizarre questions in the early hours of the morning, typing with one hand while he breastfed. Is it normal for babies to feed for six solid hours? Is it normal for babies to vomit twenty times a day? Is it normal? I picked up bits and pieces of advice, but I also tried really hard to just get to know my son and what he was trying to tell me he needed. But trusting my instincts proved harder than I expected, because I couldn’t always find them.
I’m a pretty confident person, and I think most people who know me would be surprised to learn that I second-guess every single decision I make as a mother. And that I spend far more time than I should worrying about what other mums might think of me, and of my children (that’s right, I followed my instincts and had a second one). Bizarrely, I tend to worry about entirely opposing criticisms from one moment to the next. I’ll hand my kids a snack, and think ‘Do all these other mums only give their kids really healthy snacks?’ And then I’ll think ‘Do all these mums think I’m being pretentious, giving my children a reasonably healthy snack, when I could just give them biscuits?’
It’s pretty exhausting, not to mention stupid. My son will fall and hurt himself, and start to cry. I’ll scoop him up and give him a cuddle. And then it starts. ‘Does this other mum think I’m making too much of a fuss and should take more of a tough love approach?’ Followed by ‘Does this other mum think I’m making light of his injury and I should take him home?’ I can do it with anything. Behaviour. Food. Childcare choices. Sleep. Really, anything.
When I’m being rational, I don’t think my instincts are bad. It’s just that I can’t always locate them, or trust in them, or stick by them. And it’s strange, because I’m a person who holds pretty strong beliefs about most things, and who doesn’t usually care what anyone thinks about those beliefs. There’s something about parenting that brings out the weakest side of me.
Perhaps it’s because it’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. Perhaps it’s because I’m always tired. Perhaps it’s because I’m so scared of getting it wrong.
I’m four years into this parenting lark. When I look around me, I see mothers who seem assured and confident in their parenting style, while I’m still scrabbling around, trying to work out what I believe in. Perhaps I’ll get there in time. Or perhaps I need to look at it differently. Perhaps these other mothers are just as worried as me, sometimes, that they’re doing it all wrong and everyone is judging them for it.
Perhaps we’re all just doing the best we can, and hoping we’re getting enough of it right, enough of the time.
Laura is a writer who lives in Leicestershire with her husband and their two children. When she’s not writing or reading, she can usually be found trying to get her son to put his shoes on, encouraging her daughter to sleep past 5am or moving small items from one room to another. You can follow her on Twitter and on her blog about getting cancer when she was pregnant.