Apr 30, 2014

The Anxiety of an Indecisive Mother

By Anna Ilona Mussmann

When my  baby was a newborn, I worried a lot. If he rejected a nap, I worried that he would become seriously overtired. When he did sleep, I worry that he might not be breathing. When he insisted that I carry him around the house, I was concerned that he was not learning independence. When he played alone in his crib, I wondered if he ought to be getting human contact instead. After all, as a first-time mom in a world filled with thousands of alarming cautionary tales about parenting, it's hard to relax. I want to do my best, and I’m quite capable of worrying about dozens of contradictory things within the same hour (possibly because I read too many contradictory baby books). After all, I’m the woman who compromises between the teaching that milk is healthful and the alternative teaching that milk is dangerously unnatural by drinking half a glass of milk at a time.

I knew perfectly well that most of this fretting was silly. The sensible part of my brain wasn't really worried, but whose brain is entirely sensible? Motherhood gives an indecisive person like me lots of fodder for nail-biting. Of course, I had already heard many times that parents need to reconcile themselves to messing up, failing, and coming face-to-face with their own inadequacies. I did not deny this mantra. Yet I sometimes could not help feeling as though I should be able to avoid messing up as often as those other parents do just because I have already heard their stories and read their books. I’m already forewarned against their errors. I’ve sat at the supper table with them and nodded over their accrued and hard-won wisdom. Somehow I let this nodding transform itself into a feeling that imperfections in my child would reflect very badly indeed on me. I was afraid of being embarrassed.


The funny and illogical thing is that I did not lie awake at nights fearing that my little guy would turn into a criminal or a deadbeat. Somehow, I was more worried that he would defy me over the cheerios some morning in the church pew or behave obnoxiously toward his grandmother. That’s the kind of thing that would be humiliating. That’s the kind of thing that made me uncomfortable just thinking about it, because I knew that it would probably happen. And I would have to do something. I would need to make a decision. I am terrible at making decisions. What if I make the wrong one, and he keeps on throwing cheerios?

However, I have noticed a wonderful and marvelous thing. God designed babies quite well. My son is such a capable little fellow that he is growing up and developing regardless of whether or not I offer the correct stimulation or make the right decision about whether to carry him around the house. For instance, when he was six weeks old, I worried because he would not lie on his blanket alone without crying, and then lo and behold, he grew a few weeks older and suddenly he would lie on his blanket and kick quite happily. It probably had something to do with his eyesight developing to the point where lone lying wasn’t deadly dull. After this pattern played itself out several times, I came to the conclusion that even if I did not “teach” him to roll over like that baby video online demonstrates, he would probably figure it out anyway. Fortunately, he has. Mostly. He rolls from his back to his tummy, gets stuck, and become rather mad. He's going to love the day when he can do the full journey on his own.

I finally realized that babies are amazing. For all their need for adult care, they are not blank little blobs of clay who are utterly dependent on our molding hands to form their personhood. They are already people. Raising a baby isn’t just a one-sided operation in which I sculpt the perfect child through my perfectly correct decisions. Instead, God has entrusted me with an already unique person. This person will grow and develop on his own time. I will influence him, of course, but he will influence me too. There will be many times when I will have to make decisions for my child and trust in God’s grace to work through my decisions. It will in fact be my job to insist that my child respect my parental authority. However, there will also be times when I can watch my child and respond to his personality, his needs, and his desires. If I demand too much of him, he will probably react in a way that will help me realize my error. If I spoil him rotten, he will show that fact to me. My baby and I are in this child-raising thing together.

Somehow, it’s actually very comforting to be reminded that parenting is a relationship (I know, the reminder should be obvious, but I can forget it in the flurry of wanting to parent “right”). Perhaps this is because I have experienced lots of other relationships and have already realized that people who love each other are able to muddle on even when one of them messes up, because people who love are able to forgive, to serve, and to learn to work around each other’s weaknesses. Mistakes in a relationship are part and parcel with having a relationship.

If I misjudge the amount of discipline needed and my son is a little spoiled, the world will not end. I will be able to see that he is throwing cheerios. I will be able to discuss this with my husband, and we will form a plan. Embarrassed or not, we will all be OK, because in a relationship you can recover from getting it wrong the first time. Even better, I don’t have a relationship with only my child. God has one with both of us. God’s grace is not limited to forgiving big, disastrous sins. It is far more pervasive than that. It covers the little things, too. He forgives the domestic little sins of cheerio throwing and fear of embarrassment, and He will help us deal with their consequences.

Daily decisions are still sometimes hard, of course. God doesn’t descend from the clouds and tell me whether or not to sleep-train my baby or to announce the correct age at which to start offering him nut products. However, He does have mercy on a worried mother. He does offer me so much forgiveness, so much life, and so much grace that I am able to stop thinking about my own little circle of worries and realize that He is in control. The real solution is not to pray that I will always know what to do. It is instead to say, “Thy will be done,” and, “Into Thy hands I commend my spirit.”  


***

Anna writes as often as she can, although sometimes it is with only one hand because her baby son requires the other. After graduating from Concordia Wisconsin she taught in Lutheran schools for several years and became so enthusiastic about Classical Education that she will talk about it to whomever will listen. She is a big fan of Jane Austen, dark chocolate, and the Oxford comma. Anna and her husband live in Pennsylvania. Anna's personal blog is Don't Forget the Avocados.

Title Image: Mother and Child by Mary Cassatt

14 comments:

  1. Such a reassuring article for young mothers like myself!

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  2. OH YES. Can I ever relate to this. I was such a worrier in my daughter's infancy, about all those same kinds of things. And I discovered the same thing: my child will develop on her own, regardless of if I do everything perfectly right. And yes, I will mess up sometimes; but nothing is written in stone. We will both continue to grow and change. I won't ruin her for life by choosing the *wrong* approach to sleep in her first few years of life.

    Thanks for this lovely and relatable post.

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    1. Yes, exactly-- we will BOTH continue to grow and change. Even if we moms don't know what to do today, we may figure it out tomorrow!

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  3. These thoughts remind me of an "Aha!" moment I had sometime after the 3rd or 4th baby, when I read this bit of advice: "Your children don't need you to be a perfect mother. They just need you to be a good-enough mother." I realized that I was wasting too much effort worrying about my performance, and it was maybe even affecting my "performance" adversely. I figured I must be good enough, because everyone was still alive and reasonably good-natured etc etc. But I asked my children anyway, if *they* though I was good enough, and they said Yes!

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    1. That's a good statement. I'll have to remember it! My mom must have read something similar, because she would say to us, "If God wanted you to have a perfect mother, he'd have given you one!"

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    2. I'd say your kids turned out very well indeed!

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  4. Beautiful Anna! Simply and beautifully put.

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  5. You just gave me some major perspective that I needed! Thank you!

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  6. Oh, I remember being a lot like this with my first baby! And your fear of Cheerio-throwing reminded me of something he did when he was about 18 months old. We were visiting my parents' church, where my dad is the pastor, and my little one and I were sitting up in the balcony with my mom during a service. I wasn't paying the best attention, obviously, because the next thing I knew, he was dropping Cheerios over the railing onto the congregation below. One person "caught" three of them in their hat and never noticed.

    Now he's six and no longer addicted to Cheerios. Such a relief :-)

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    1. That's a fantastic story. It definitely made me laugh!

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  7. I find that I have a cycle. It starts with reading (or noticing) that some other mother does something differently than I do. Then I wonder if that way might be better. Then I worry that what I do isn't just inferior, but totally wrong. Then I obsess to the point of feeling completely lousy. Then I get to the point where I simply can't worry anymore and I realize that my kids will just have to survive me. I figure God will fill in all my mothering potholes. That's the feel-good place, but then it starts all over with something else eventually.

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  8. Really appreciated this blog post! Thank you, Anna! And Spice of Life Mom, I have a 6mo. old and I definitely relate to that cycle too!

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  9. Thank you for this. After spending yesterday worrying about why my daughter would only take 30 minute naps, I need the reminder that a) I'm probably not completely ruining her and b) God covers all sins (even the little mistakes I make daily).

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