I suspect every new mom has one, but I can only speak for myself. The running tally. What is it recording, you ask?
Well, here’s mine:
– I dressed him, put a knit hat on his head, placed him in his car seat carrier and covered him with a blanket, because we were about to go outside for a walk. He was beginning to fuss, but I gave him his binky and went outside to quickly put the stroller in the car, expecting him to have calmed down by the time I came back in. It took me a few minutes to get the stroller properly placed because I had to put down one of the back seats so it would fit. When I came back in, he was screaming a scream I hadn’t heard before, with his mouth barely open. His face was bright red. I immediately unbuckled him and pulled him out of his carseat, and realized that he was drenched with sweat. In the house, even for a few minutes, the hat and the blanket had been too much. He was too hot, and the only way he could tell me was by crying. I immediately stripped him down and got him cooled off, after which he fell asleep on my shoulder right away and I cried for 20 minutes.
– I wore him in the sling so I could work on preparing chili for the crockpot. This entailed cooking chopped chilis on the stovetop for a few minutes to soften them before putting them in the crockpot. The steam and very light amount of smoke from this cooking diffused the spicy chili oil into the air, and we both started coughing. He sputtered for a few moments, and for the rest of the day I watched him closely and felt wracked with fear that I had damaged the lining of his sensitive new lungs with that stupid spicy smoke.
– I reached down in the wee hours of the morning during a feeding, in the dark of the bedroom lit only by a dim blue lightbulb, and accidentally poked him in the eyeball right after he had given me a contented smile.
Yep. My mental tally is a record of every time I have messed up, screwed up, failed to realize the reason my child was crying or caused him some amount of discomfort by mistake. The guilt that wracks me after these fairly benign episodes is crippling and usually puts me in tears. Granted, there are things that I now know never to do, like have my child in the same room when I’m cooking chili or leave him in a warm room for too long once he’s been bundled to go outside. They are valuable learning experiences, but I hate that they have been at my son’s expense. I know he won’t remember these experiences when he’s older, but there is always the fear in the back of my mind that maybe the next time I screw up it will be a lot more catastrophic. It’s enough to keep me up at night, my stomach in knots. I can do everything in my power to prevent SIDS and avoid suffocation and keep myself from dropping him or banging his head into doorways or one of a million other even more graphic fears that flash before my eyes every day, but there will still be moments when I fail. Fortunately I love my child and am tuned very keenly in to his signals and am FAST to react when I realize something is wrong. Being a mother means developing very fast reflexes. I do my best to be mindful, but I’m still human and, especially since this is my first child, I don’t actually have a clue what I’m doing.
My challenge now is to find a balance between mindful caution and fearful paranoia. To give myself a bit more grace when I fail, acknowledging that I’ve never done this before. To remind myself that my overwhelming love for my child is stronger than the fleeting moments of frustration I feel when he fusses excessively, those moments of irritation that rise in my chest and then lead to tears of guilt, for how could I ever get mad at a baby who doesn’t even know what he’s doing wrong?
Somehow along the way I’m going to have to accept that I am enough for him. That God trusted me to parent this exact particular child, and that with a big dose of humility and a daily transferring of my burdens to Him, I can do this. I proved that my body was capable of birthing him naturally, and if I can do that then surely I can do ALL things through Christ who gives me strength.
What are your own methods for dealing with parental guilt?