Q&A: Guilt

C writes:

"Is it normal to be 7 months into this parenting thing and feel like you've already failed spectacularly?

Milestones: My daughter is hitting them...I think. At 7 months she still doesn't roll over on a regular basis. I've seen her do it both ways but most of the time she seems content to just be where she is. Same for attempting to crawl. She doesn't really want to. She sits up like a champ though so I don't know if I should be worried. I know I should bring it up with her pediatrician, but I'm afraid to.

Sleep: Is awful. Has been since she was 4 months old. I can't get her to do more than 3 hours in her crib before she appoints herself Queen of the Bed for the rest of the night. I feel like it's my fault because I brought her to bed with me early on and let her nurse back to sleep. It was the easiest thing at the time and now it's the ONLY thing that works. I don't have a partner here at night to pass her off to...so the task of breaking her "habits" feels daunting.

Play: I'm staying at home with her for now, but by mid afternoon I've gone through everything there is to do at least once. I feel guilty when I put her in her jumperoo or on the floor to play by herself and when I'm not constantly talking to her. I know that these are unrealistic expectations to have of myself but I'm having trouble finding the right balance. It doesn't help that I suffer tremendous anxiety about leaving the house. I feel like I'm robbing her of a lot by being cooped up inside with her. We go on the occasional playdate and out to do errands but it's just not enough.

I guess that's my question. Am I ever going to feel like I'm doing ENOUGH? Is this relentless guilt and wishing I was better just part of the new mom thing or is it a forever thing? Is there ever a point where you think "Hey, I'm doing an ok job after all" and if so, how do you get there?"

Ouch. That makes my heart hurt.

C, you are doing a good job. You are an excellent mother.

All this stuff you're worried about is stuff you've picked up somewhere that you should be doing, but none of it matters. None. If she's happy and meets your eyes and responds to you, then the milestones will work themselves out. (Plus, I don't think she's actually late at all. It sounds like personality, not lack of skills. She's the girl who's going to sit back and watch her friends do stupid things and be the photographer.) Also, 3 hours in a row at 7 months does NOT constitute Bad Sleep (although it is bad sleep), and who cares if she's in your bed? She's only 7 months old. And let me repeat this again: There is no need to play with a baby. As long as you're responsive when she makes a play for your attention and you talk to her enough (which doesn't mean constantly), anything else is gravy.

As to the question about whether or not it goes away, well, I don't know. I feel like there's always something to feel guilty about if you let yourself. I also feel like sometimes feeling guilt is a way of compensating for feeling like we're not doing enough. As if immersing ourselves in guilt makes up for the stuff we think we should be doing. Which is twisted and ultimately super-destructive to ourselves.

I am going to ask you to do three things:

1. Make sure that every day you are taking either fish oil or flax seed oil capsules 1,000-2,000 mg, a B-complex supplement (you can buy the orange-flavored drops at any drug store or big box store), and magnesium. (The magnesium is a little tricky because it doesn't absorb all that well orally, so either buy some as oil from Joan at www.health-and-wisdom.com and then rub it on your feet--tops and bottoms--every night before you go to bed, or find chelated magnesium tablets. The magnesium is important because lack of it causes anxiety and insomnia, and lots of us get low on it because of pregnancy.)

2. Find people and places that are in touch with the reality that you're doing a great job. Whether they're online, or (better yet) in person, there are tons of people out there who know that having an infant is a hard, unrewarding job that mostly involves showing up every day. Surround yourself with those people, and stop reading books or website that make you think you're supposed to be stimulating your baby's mind constantly or that you have ANY control over how she sleeps or develops physical milestones.

3. Ask yourself what kind of mother you really want to be. Be extremely honest with yourself. Think about what your priorities are. Consider making a parenting Mission Statement about what you want for your daughter when she grows up that you can influence. Then, if it's not directly contributing to who you want to be and who you want your daughter to be, stop caring about it.

Who's got something to say to C? Helpful contributions might include: Data points on hitting milestones like crawling and rolling over, stories of kids who could do everything but didn't want to, the guilt you felt/feel, how to find supportive friends, whether you remember how long your baby was in your bed or not, and anything in the general "It Gets Better" genre. Thank you!