When you have a perfectionistic personality coupled with an anxiety disorder, it’s pretty easy to overthink every single move you make as a parent and convince yourself you’re f*cking your kids up for life. I’ve been doing it since before they were born.
When I was pregnant with Ivy, I spoke to my psychologist about the myriad ways I was sure I’d make a mess of my kids. I would be nearly 37 when she was born - would I be too old? Alex and I had only just married, and I’d never managed a relationship longer than a few years before. Surely, I wasn’t good at relationships. Would we get divorced and damage our kid/s forever?
I didn’t feel particularly attached to Ivy while I was pregnant - was I even maternal? I hadn’t even wanted kids until 5 minutes ago. What if I was a cold-hearted b*tch who was only having a baby out of FOMO?
What about when our child heard messages about politics or race or religion that I didn't agree with from extended family or the world at large? How could I control everything she was exposed to so she didn’t have to feel pain?
Speaking of distressing messages, that God-awful plebiscite campaign was running during the late stages of my pregnancy. Were the opposing commentators right? Was bringing a baby into a two-Mum family destined to end in pain and suffering for the resulting child?
Of course, I’d read the meta-data that said kids of same sex families actually do as well, if not better overall, but what if some little asshole at school bullied her for something not of her choosing?
This is a long way of telling you that I had a lot on my mind during those long nights of pregnancy insomnia. My psychologist at the time bluntly told me that “We all f*ck our kids up somehow, and it’s the things we don’t think will leave a mark that they remember, like the time you took them to the drive-in when they were a bit too young for that scary movie and they had nightmares for months”.
“You don’t have to be perfect”, she said. “You just have to be good enough.”
Words to live by for an incredibly anxious, highly sensitive perfectionist. Thanks, Doc.
Surprisingly, I’ve managed to integrate the ‘good enough’ motto more and more throughout my motherhood journey. Out of sheer necessity, no doubt, or I’d have turned myself into a motherf*cking pretzel by now.
I’ve definitely gotten better at not worrying about what I can’t control, and I was far less anxious when I was pregnant with - and a new mother to - my second baby, Luca.
But lately I’ve been worrying again that I’m f*cking them up and I’m not sure if that’s a symptom of the stage we’re at developmentally, a product of my still delicate mental health, the result of a tumultuous few months moving house and day-care amidst the perpetual cycle of kids’ sickness, or all of the above.
I suspect it’s all of the above, but that gives me little comfort.
Ivy, who is 4, appears to be a highly sensitive child, a personality trait she undoubtedly inherited from me. Despite being outgoing and full of imagination and D-R-A-M-A, she’s also anxious about getting hurt or sick, and holds herself back from doing normal kid stuff for fear of injury. Did she get that from me? I do tell her to ‘be careful’ a lot.
Luca is 21 months old and has either been sick or teething non-stop for the last 6 weeks. With that has come a level of clinginess that has required me to peel her off me like Velcro at regular intervals just to get a break. When I go out and leave her with Alex or her Grandmas, she’s fine. The ‘cuggle Mummy’ command on repeat only happens when I’m in sight. Is this some f*cked developmental stage, or is she sensing my anxiety and clinging to me like a life raft for fear I’ll disappear? I did leave her for three weeks to go to the mental hospital that time.
If I try hard enough, I can find a way to bring it all back to me. Am I doing enough? Am I worrying too much? Can they tell? Am I making Ivy anxious, or am I projecting? Shit, I need a Valium and a break and to stop drinking wine on weeknights.
Everyone says, ‘the fact you even worry about these things means you’re doing a great job’. I sure do hope that’s true.
On my last day of work before maternity leave with Ivy, a fabulous psychologist and seasoned mother of three I work with told me “I have one piece of advice for you - just love the shit out of her”.
And love the shit out of them I do. Fingers and toes crossed that’s good enough.