Here Are The 10 Biggest Mistakes I've Made As A Mother

If I could go back and do it again, here's what I would have done differently.

Courtesy of Risa Kerslake
Courtesy of Risa Kerslake

I think we can all agree that as mothers, we’re doing the best we can. After all, you’re reading articles like this, and that probably means you want to know what I did wrong in order not to repeat the same mistakes I made as a mom. And raising a three-year-old, I’m still very much in the thick of parenthood — my journey as a mother is just beginning.

But in these last three years, I’ve done some things that, given the opportunity, I would have wanted to go back and do differently. None of these things are inherently bad. A lot of this is due to being a new mom and learning the ropes, much like one does when starting a new job, only this one has way too many hours and a boss that doesn’t care that you’re crying into your Cheerios — he wants milk like, yesterday.

Here are ten of the biggest things I would do over as a mom if I were given the chance:

1. I Cared Too Much About What Others Thought
I found this amazing indoor playground when my daughter was about nine months old and we started going regularly with friends. As she grew, she was able to do more and more and there was one time she tried to climb these stepladders to get up to a slide. It was her first time trying it, so I decided to step back and see what happened. She got up halfway before toppling into the rubberized floor. I got the look of death from another mom standing around, that look most of us eventually get of “How dare you let your kid fail?” My daughter didn’t cry, so I stayed back, watching to see if she’d try again. She did. She pulled herself all the way to the top and looked at me triumphantly. Before that, I would have felt guilty that I should have been standing right there. I had to slowly learn to shrug off the judgments because I’ve always been a people pleaser.

2. I Didn’t Speak Up Enough
I remember taking my newborn out for the first time in public. It was winter, and I was paranoid about germs and sickness, but I was going stir crazy at home and needed to get out. I was strolling through the mall, my infant asleep in the car seat combo rigged up for her and all of a sudden a woman was there beside me, asking me how old my baby was and reaching to stroke her on the cheek. Of course, in my hormone high and germ-anxiety state, I was so shocked that she touched my daughter I didn’t know what to say. I knew I would never be that person who touched another mom’s baby without permission, so how dare someone else touch mine? Granted, everything ended up fine and she never caught the plague, but still. I should have politely spoken up instead of feeling all sorts of awkward and driving myself crazy for days after.

3. I Didn’t Realize How Powerful My Mama Bear Instincts Were
As a new mom after years of infertility and heartbreak, I was a bit possessive about my daughter. I was also coming down off of a ton of hormones and was especially needy for the first few weeks. Visitors would come over and want to hold the baby and so every time I would oblige by smiling and handing over my tiny bundle. They would coo and smile and then crack jokes about taking her home forever, or stealing her, or never giving her back. They were so obviously joking and still I wanted to burst into tears. It took everything in me not to snatch her back and clutch her to my chest like a paranoid woman.

4. I Didn’t Prioritize Myself
Bringing a new baby home rocked our world. My husband and I had been a family of two for so long that suddenly bringing a third into the mix — especially one so tiny and dependent on everything — was a hard adjustment. So it was survival mode. We spent meals on the couch — me eating over the baby’s head because she refused to let me put her down without shrieking, I nursed around the clock endlessly for months, and I couldn’t — or wouldn’t, rather — shower without my husband home and that was assuming I wasn’t sleeping. Now, I wished I would have gone back and asked for more help. I was good at the big stuff, like asking for my mom to come over to keep me company, but not so good at biting the bullet and allowing myself a five-minute shower while the baby slept in her bouncer in the next room. I didn’t get a haircut for over a year after giving birth, and due to some wicked postpartum anxiety, I couldn’t bear to leave my daughter with anyone except my mom so my husband and I could get out as a couple.

Courtesy of Risa Kerslake
Courtesy of Risa Kerslake

5. There Were Certain Things I Swore I Would Never Do
Before I had my daughter I swore I wasn’t going to use the TV as a babysitter. I wasn’t going to give her any sweets until she was three, and I would never be that parent with the tantruming toddler in the store. The problem with hard stops such as “I’m never going to be that parent who—” is it puts a lot of pressure and guilt on us when we break and do that very thing we weren’t going to do. My daughter was soon staring at the TV in the evenings when my husband and I would be lounging on the couch. She had a piece of her first birthday cake—duh!—and surprise, surprise, my sweet little thing was soon wailing in the shampoo aisle at Target before I knew it. If I could go back and do things differently, I would have given myself the grace to allow things to come as they come and to stop putting expectations on myself that are impossible to keep.

6. Thinking I Was The Only One To Lose It With My Baby
You know that thing we just talked about? The expectations we have as parents versus the reality? There were so many things I didn’t see coming as a parent and losing my temper with my baby was one of them. I remember one time when my baby wouldn’t stop screeching. She was probably about four months old and going through a sleep regression, meaning both of us weren’t getting much sleep. Nothing I was doing was distracting her and in a fit of desperation I yelled, “Shut up!” Of course, my loud voice startled her and she burst into tears. I sat back shocked and quickly scooped her up. I was the worst mother in the world. What kind of parent tells their infant to shut up? Once I started talking about it with my other mom friends, I quickly learned there were plenty of other loving, kind parents who lost it with their babies because stress is a mighty thing when you’re sleep deprived and feeling alone. I was definitely not the only one.

7. I Took A Lot Of Things Personally
My baby accidentally rolling off the couch meant I wasn’t watching her close enough. Her incessant cries in the evening meant she hated me. Forgetting her hat while running errands in the dead of winter meant I was irresponsible. I put a tremendous amount of pressure on myself, especially in my daughter’s first year. I’m a perfectionist by nature, so it doesn’t surprise me, but I wish I would have let myself off the hook more. I wish I was quicker to forgive myself for screwing up. That my daughter still thought I was the greatest thing ever even if I did forget to put a pillow behind her sometimes and she toppled over onto the wood floor.

8. I Didn’t Trust My Mom Instincts
I was obsessed with Googling. At all hours of the night. In fact, my best research came about at two in the morning during night feedings. I didn’t trust myself to make the right decisions, so I was always quick to take to the Internet to get my questions answered. I drove myself crazy, and let me tell you, there is such a thing as too much information. My grandma and my mom didn’t have all this information on infant care and breastfeeding and illness prevention at their fingertips. They had a village of a few close friends to bounce ideas off of and most of the time, they relied on instinct alone.

Courtesy of Risa Kerslake
Courtesy of Risa Kerslake

9. I Underestimated How Much My Toddler Understood
It astonishes me how much kids understand even under a year of age. They don’t yet have the language, but they know what we’re talking about. At the time, I always thought of my baby as just that — a baby. One that cried when she was tired and who would sell her little soul for the chance to nurse twenty-four hours a day without stopping. But my daughter, from a young age, knew what I was saying. I would talk over her to my mom out at lunch, explaining how frustrated I was that she kicked and screamed that morning when I tried to put her diaper on, and the whole time, my daughter sat there, head moving back and forth, silently observing us, and looking so much like she knew exactly what I was talking about. Then there was the time when she was about eight months and I told her to go get her little orange monkey toy and wonder of wonders, she crawled over to the exact toy and grabbed it, even though the only words she was saying was “Mama” and “Dada.”

10. I Always Felt I Had To Be Busy
I remember being obsessed with tummy time. In the sense of, was I doing it enough, and for how long. I remember reading 11/22/63 by Stephen King out loud to her while she nursed and probably looked at me like I was crazy, because I felt all this pressure to be doing something with her besides hold her. I mean, let’s be honest, a nine-pound baby can’t do all that much, and I still felt like I needed to occupy her day with stimulation. Let’s not even start on my guilt of wallowing in a messy house day in and day out. If I could go back, I would have just nestled against her soft body, feeling the weight of her in my arms and I would have focused on kissing her and cooing to her and let off with the pressure a bit. She’s now a thriving three-year-old, so I must have done something right.