This post was contributed by Natalie Cook. Natalie is a MindBody Health Coach and Therapist (and mum to 2 gorgeous boys) who helps moms navigate the gentle parenting pathway with more ease, joy, and presence. Drawing from holistic mind-body wellness principles, over 20 years of clinical experience, and more than a decade of parenting, she’s helped hundreds of other mums move from feeling irritable, impatient, and overwhelmed to feeling grounded, calm and present and able to be the mums they want to be. You can find Natalie on Instagram and Facebook.
There we were, almost 12 years ago and 3-weeks new (mum and babe), taking our first trip out of the house (or beyond buggie-pushing distance). We had just arrived at our much-anticipated appointment with the cranial osteopath; the craniosacral therapist in me was way ahead of the pack and had secured this coveted appointment when I was 4 months pregnant (we all have our thing!)
"Have you dropped him yet?"
I’m fairly sure the expression on my face matched the “dropped him? what kind of a parent do you think I am?” thought that I came close to blurting out. The osteopath must have read my mind as he started to recount all the many mistakes he’d made over the years as a parent and grandparent.
Side note - I had actually toppled my son’s moses basket when I’d attempted to settle him without having to actually get up to do so. In fact, after that save I needed the osteopath as much as bubs … and probably a guilt counsellor (they should actually have those - they probably do) But, I didn’t confess... because, “what kind of parent does that?” I’ve since discovered that the answer is, “eventually and in some way, every parent.”
“You will make mistakes, and you need to forgive yourself.”
Um, ok, sure - now, can you just do your magic with my baby and we can go home and I can carry on doing my thing (which, at the time, was fretting over getting it right... although I didn’t know that, yet.)
I didn’t know at the time that I needed to hear what he was saying. His words slowly sunk in over the next few months - each time that I saw myself getting it “wrong”. And even more so in the years that followed as baby became a toddler, one child became two and the demands of parenting with an edgy nervous system started to reveal the cracks in my calm veneer!
Then I began to realise that perfectionism was not an option, that guilt was a hole that you fell into around almost every parenting corner, and shame was the place you landed when you stayed in that hole too long.
The physical oopsies turned into losing my cool for the first time (hello trembling bottom lip), throwing an adult tantrum, and saying all the wrong things. I went to bed fretting over whether I was going to mess them up, or had perhaps already messed them up.
I’d love to say the osteopath’s words stopped me from heading down the rabbit hole of perfectionism and bowing to the voice of my inner critic. They did not, but they definitely slowed my descent.
I’m still peeling off the layers of perfectionism today. It comes disguised as desperately trying to feed them the right food, keeping my cool and saying and doing the right things, picking the right school, making the right decisions.
All these things are important but, if you’re anything like me you have the tendency to hold yourself to standards that are pretty impossible to meet. And, when you inevitably fail, those high expectations almost always come with an up-sized helping of guilt.
Standards that didn’t emerge from nowhere.
I will admit that I believe some of us come wired this way (having kids will open your eyes to people seeming to just be born with some traits.) But, this perfectionism was nurtured throughout my childhood (ballet and gymnastics meant I learned how to score myself from the age of 5, and of course school did a great job of truly fertilising the ground). This tendency to perfectionism became more ingrained with every gold star I earned for a job well done, every cheer I was given for a perfect score, and every report card filled with A’s; and, of course, the accompanying accolades reinforced my actions.
My story is the story of so many.
Is it any wonder then, that when we get to motherhood we search for the right way to do it, the way that will earn us the coveted badge of being “such a good mom”?
Is it any wonder that when we ultimately fall from grace, when we don’t get the gold star or fail to live up to society’s and our own expectations, we sink into guilt and, ultimately, shame.
Guilt for not doing a good enough job. Guilt for not doing it “right”.
And shame for being a “bad mom”.
Don’t get me wrong - guilt serves a purpose – when felt for a short sprint and used to guide our actions.
I still remember the first time I did bump my baby’s head (burping him over my shoulder on a bed with a sticking-out headboard). The resulting scream and pained expression definitely pushed my mom-guilt button, and it should have. That moment of guilt made sure I had a cushion behind me forever after. That’s the proper function of guilt.
But the kind of guilt that serves no purpose is the guilt you feel for not being good enough, not doing good enough, not getting it “right” when the “right” you are seeking is unattainable or unsustainable.
That guilt is based on the idea that there is actually a right way, one right way, or even ten right ways. That guilt is really shame. That feeling that you’ve somehow violated the social norms – or at least the ones you believe in.
Shame will tell you that you’re a “bad mom”. Shame will keep you feeling “not good enough”. Shame will whisper to you to read every single blog, article, and Insta post on what to say and what to do to be the perfect parent. It will tell you that unless you do “all of the things” you will fail, your kids will be messed up and it will be all your fault!
What if we questioned the social norms instead? What if we questioned all the rules we live by? I’m not saying that we won’t be left with a few that definitely do matter. But, a whole bunch of the should-do’s and have-to’s would disappear into the realm of really-don’t-matter’s.
When we can let go of the guilt - we have fewer chances to land in shame. Motherhood feels lighter, and in that lighter state, we’re free to follow our hearts and create the connections and relationships with our kids we all yearn for.
“You will make mistakes, and you need to forgive yourself.”
P.S. If you find yourself losing your cool more than a little, going to bed feeling guilty - wake up, rinse and repeat -there’s no time like the present to break that cycle. Download “ Release the Guilt, Mama!” - it will help you to loosen the grip of guilt, step out of the cycle of shame and feel better about yourself as a parent, and enjoy it more too!