My first maternity leave was a blur of doubt and worry. I spent way too much time on social media and parenting blogs researching the never ending list of my newfound responsibilities as a mom. With each new article I read, a new tally was added to the bad parent column.
I was convinced I was falling short.
I wrote Pat on the Back to change a debilitating habit and to give myself a few moments of private emotional support during my day. Like so many mothers before me, those who designed the perfect clothes for breastfeeding or the perfect swaddle for their fussy newborn or mixed together the best concoction for diaper rash, I had to personally make what I needed most.
And what I needed most during my transition to motherhood was to start talking nicely to myself and to silence my inner critic.
I have a hard time taking the advice I give to others. I’ve told my husband and friends countless times to speak kindly to themselves, to see themselves how others see them, to give themselves a break, to acknowledge their successes. I knew I couldn’t sustain the way I criticized every aspect of my parenting. So I turned to something I’ve turned to before: writing. Writing has allowed me to have a conversation with myself and get out the words that just don’t come up when I talk to my support network.
It’s always easier to write to someone, easier to give the advice you can’t accept yourself. So, I wrote to an imaginary struggling parent friend. I forced myself to focus on the positive and acknowledge the effort of parenting. I wrote and wrote, but I was writing to someone else, always talking to them as a “you.” Then, one day, I switched the tenses and started saying “I.” I had started writing for myself.
Around the same time, I stumbled upon a NYT article about children’s literacy and again felt deflated for not doing something “right.” The American Academy of Pediatrics had recently announced a policy of telling parents to read aloud to their infants, starting at birth. We had received countless baby books at a baby shower, but I always felt so awkward reading to my just-a-few-weeks-old daughter. She didn’t respond, smile, laugh or point at the pictures.
I became more serious about my writing. I wasn’t sure what all this writing was going to be yet, but as I reviewed it, I did what I always do when editing copy: I read it aloud. This is something I’ve done for my projects at work for years, but with this it was different. I was hearing my own voice saying words of empathy and forgiveness. It was a powerful moment for me that was nothing short of magical. That’s when I realized how desperately I was in need of self-care.
From the deluge of articles, books and podcasts available around this topic, I knew that I couldn’t be alone. Then I thought of all parents carrying around these negative emotions, and all the little sponge minds observing them.
What would my daughter think if she could hear how harsh her parent’s inner voice is? What sort of impact could it have for her to hear me practicing positive reinforcement regularly? To actually be a part of that process from such an early age? Was it possible to solve both these problems at the same time?
So, I made a children’s book for parents. A way parents can practice affirming themselves while they read to their child.
There are so many articles, communities and Facebook groups that offer the needed external support, but I also needed support in those quiet moments. I needed to change my internal voice. Pat on the Back helped me do that. I’m not perfect and still struggle daily to talk nicely to myself. I try to walk the walk and show my children often the power of positive affirmations.
I hope all parents can find what helps them through the rollercoaster of parenthood. Get the support you need in your tribe but also remember to give yourself support throughout the day too.
To purchase Pat on the Back, click here.
Edited by Kelly Riechers DiCristina