We are deep in the “Mama, watch this,” “Mom, look at me!” phase with my 5-year-old daughter. She wants my attention, even when I can’t give it to her. Actually, it feels like it’s mostly when I can’t give it to her. I have two other children, a 3-year-old and an 18-month-old, and a lot of days my mind feels like it’s everywhere and nowhere at the same time. And mom-guilt hits me hard.
When I was at the end of my pregnancy with baby number two, my heart felt like it was breaking. I was mourning the loss of my “Mom Of One” title, and the special time with just my daughter.
I felt the anxiety of our world being turned upside-down in a big way.
And I also felt guilty. How on earth could I feel anxiety about adding another child to our family? How could I wonder if I’d love her as much as her big sister? How could I feel upset about our dynamics changing when I was about to meet another one of my children?
It was a weird feeling. I felt like I knew my oldest child so well. We did everything together, we were a team. She was helping me figure out how to be a mom. Now, this new person was going to challenge us — we’d have to figure out how to make room for her in our routine, in our space.
I didn’t know how we’d all handle it. (Spoiler alert: We handled it just fine.)
The transition from one to two was the hardest for us. We had a 22-month old and a newborn at the same time. We were juggling marathon breastfeeding sessions and toddler tantrums on little-to-no sleep — and that’s not even taking into account our busy work schedules. I felt like my relationship with my oldest was suffering because my newborn needed me so much.
I remember wondering, is she angry at me? Is this going to damage our relationship forever? What the heck did we do?
Riding the roller coaster of fourth-trimester hormones didn’t help my guilt, but over time, my guilt didn’t seem to take up so much space in my mind anymore. I tried to read a book to my oldest while I nursed her sister. I’d take her out for ice cream while my husband was home with the baby, and it’d feel like we were back in the swing of things. I’d lay with her at night telling her stories while she fell asleep.
My baby was getting so much of me, I was hellbent on finding ways to connect with my oldest wherever I could.
We added a third daughter to our family 22 months after the second was born, and dynamics shifted once again. Once again, I wondered how much my heart could handle. My middle baby felt like she was still a baby — why was I doing this to her? Was she ready to become a big sister? To share me with another person?
My anxiety was taking over my faith in my children and in our family.
Turns out, promoting each to big sister has allowed me the beauty of watching them care for our babies — their confidence and personality shining through because of this new role.
But now, there are three. Three children who look to me for approval and affection. Three children who need me — need me to pay attention to the towers they’ve built, the doll they’ve dressed, the mess they need help cleaning. Three individual human beings, with their own specific needs and personalities, who need me. My time, my heart, and my focus.
This responsibility has caused me to feel like I’m drowning in guilt at times.
“Honey, I’ll be right there!” I call to my oldest as I’m changing my youngest’s diaper and trying to help my middle child with her shoes. Don’t forget to go look at her drawing, I repeat to myself hoping it helps me remember to go in to her when I’m done.
I don’t want any of them to feel unimportant.
“Moms are really busy,” my 5-year-old said to me recently. “You have a lot to do. But you’re really good at it, Mama.” I wanted to burst into tears. Moments like this remind me that the guilt I place on myself is just that — something I do to myself.
They don’t do it to me.
When I am able to strip away that guilt, I can see more clearly. I can see that my children are loved. They are safe. They are cared for. They feel special and worthy. Their individuality is celebrated, their achievements are honored.
Her comment was like a deep breath. It made me feel like I was doing a good job, even if I felt like I wished I could split myself in three so that they each could have one full version of me.
But, in a way, they already do have that. I mother them according to their own unique needs and therefore, they are (hopefully) getting their own unique version of me.
Being a mother is to be selfless. Every day we are teaching our children what it looks like to give yourself to others — doing that requires compassion, patience, and most importantly, it requires redefining our concept of perfection.
Perfection, to me, looks like the messiness of our craft table, knowing that the kids created to their heart’s content. Maybe I didn’t get to watch them draw their individual pictures, but you better believe I gushed over them and hung them up right away.
It looks like a rousing game of hide-and-seek before bedtime. I may not have been able to join in because I was catching up on work, but I can tell you this — hearing them giggle with their Dad made my heart feel happier than ever.
It looks like pausing to help each child navigate their big feelings. That may mean interrupting one of their siblings’ stories, but I am OK with that. We can get back to that. Prioritizing attention is a skill I’ve added to my motherhood toolbox as our family has grown.
It’s funny to think back to my “mom of one” self and how she was worried about loving her second born as much as her first born. Those uncertain feelings are so real and so valid. But they were also so unnecessary. I know that now, but I couldn’t have known that before.
My heart has infinite room in it, thus is the beauty of motherhood. My relationship might be slightly different with each child, but the love isn’t. The love is the same, and it’s abundant.
My guilt of sharing myself has always been subdued when I think about our future. When I picture our dinner table in thirty years, I picture lots of people around it — our kids, their partners, maybe some grandchildren. It feels full — full of people, of needs, of events, and of love.
I think I’ll feel at peace with my mom guilt from way back when because I’ll feel confident in the fact that my husband and I created each one of our children for one another just as much as we created them for ourselves. They will have each other to protect, console, and defend. They’ll keep each other’s secrets and complain to one another when they need to vent (likely about their mom and dad).
We’ve created multiple children who require a lot of us. But we’ve also created built-in friends and loyal confidants for life — and in the end, that’s worth the guilt I’ve put myself through.
Hey, maybe we’ll even add a fourth to the crew… (don’t show this to my husband).