Mothers are champion worriers, and even where there was nothing to worry, they would find something to worry about. I often find myself in that situation where I worry about something rather silly and can possibly fixate over it for quite a long period. And I think the Internet doesn’t help because it gives you more things to worry about and sometimes more than you can handle.
The advantage though with having triplets and a toddler all under the age of 3 is that I have very little space and time to worry than compared to when I had my first and only child. You can ask my husband, I was an absolute neurotic over Livia. And then the triplet pregnancy came along and I started letting go and became less controlling, and by the time the triplets arrived, I was and still am on survivor mode. Does this make me a terrible parent because I am not giving my children the very best that each of them deserve? I certainly feel guilty about it from time to time but I never let myself indulge in worrying. I would actually argue that I am doing them a favour because in this age of helicopter parenting, children just do not know how to be on their own or do things independently anymore.
This is also the reason I really enjoy Brain, Child Magazine which calls itself the magazine “for thinking mothers” and yes, I do think a lot. Its the hazard of being an academic – overthinking and overanalyzing. The essays inside the magazine gives me perspective of motherhood in the longue duree (long range), and also a diversity of opinions on very essential aspects of motherhood and some of these opinions can be very refreshingly different and controversial.
There was a particular article that struck me and it was a mother’s essay on her teen daughter. The one part I recall distinctly was how she felt rather silly worrying about all the little things like breastfeeding and milestones when she was a young parent because in the very long perspective of parenthood, it really did not matter. It is very difficult though to tell new parents that in the very long duree, that for example, what type of formula you feed your child matters very little. It is not going to help him or her win a Nobel Laureate.
I remember reading not too long ago about a scientific article that posited that pumping breastmilk yielded very little benefits and that it was almost the same as giving the child formula, and so many mothers went on the site to comment how the article made them feel horrible because they could not breastfeed for whatever reason and pumping gave them some semblance that they are still giving their children “the good stuff”. This is kind of the problem of mothering in the Facebook and Internet age. Every piece of new advice, whether scientific or pseudo-scientific, is taken as a point to compete, and because mothers who cannot breastfeed have to pump, or give formula, such news makes them feel like their children are losing out. Especially when you keep hearing news that breastfed children have higher IQs and some go as far to say that breastfed children go on to have bigger salaries. And I feel this imaginary competition is where the bulk of the stress of parenting comes from these days.
I still read these articles because I enjoy keeping abreast of current affairs, especially so in parenting, but I certainly find it extremely silly to internalize them and make myself feel bad over it. If people actually knew how these studies were conducted and how limited their findings are, they will understand how silly it is to worry at all in the first place. And also whether we like it or not, we all do start out rather unequally because we cannot choose the parents and families we are born into, and some governments are better than others in giving all children a levelled playing field. And even so we are stratified the moment we are born and our access to certain privileges depends on our social background, education, wealth, income and so on. But from what I can see it doesn’t stop people from parenting extremely well. But when it gets to the point where we are always looking sideways to how other people parent, and we want to try to do better than them, and God forbid find glee that we are actually doing a much better job, I think is when we are more interested in competing than actually parenting.