Parenting isn’t an exact science, and second-guessing yourself comes with the job. As a new mom, it can be even harder to overcome your parenting insecurities when you feel like everyone else is second-guessing you.
Many new mothers feel shamed by their peers, parents and in-laws for every decision they make — from bottle feeding, to vaccinations, to handling a public meltdown. Among parents with children under age five, 90 percent of moms (and 85 percent of dads) feel judged, according to the Zero to Three Organization. That judgment doesn’t just come from family and friends; 48 percent of moms feel most judged by strangers.
Hayley Moak-Blest, DO, a family medicine doctor at Lahey Health Primary Care in Hamilton, Massachusetts, said she didn’t fully understand the “mom judging” phenomenon until a few years ago when she had her first child. “It’s not something moms often verbalize to me — that they’re afraid of doing bad — but it’s something I’m very aware of now that I’m a mom. I have found this makes me so much more useful to my patients because I can help them navigate all of the information out there and sift through what is sound advice versus what is largely a myth, fad or opinion,” she said.
So, what do you need to know to overcome parenting insecurities as a new mom?
1. Most Parenting Decisions Have Multiple Right Answers
There’s a difference between medical advice and parenting advice, said Dr. Moak-Blest. Medical advice is based on decades of research and scientific evidence. With parenting advice, there’s more wiggle room.
Sleep training is a great example of parenting advice that parents regularly ask for help with, said Dr. Moak-Blest. “You can take the Ferber method and let your four-month-old ‘cry it out.’ There’s a completely different approach that says if a four-month-old is crying, they need something and you should go to them,” she said. “There are many other methods in between, and none of them are going to put your baby in any real danger. You just need to sift through the different literature and approaches and see what works for you. On the other hand, Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) prevention is a sleep topic that is medical advice.”
2. You’re Probably Sweating the Small Stuff
Friends, family and Facebook are full of advice about your child’s health. Dr. Moak-Blest said it’s easy for new moms to get caught up in the minutiae and to lose sight of what matters most for childhood development: exercise, eating fruits and vegetables, parental interaction, fair and consistent discipline and limited screen time.
“There’s a lot of research that shows one or more hours of exercise or active play per day, less than two hours of recreational screen time and eating a variety of foods is really helpful for preventing obesity, achieving developmental milestones, and preventing depression,” she said. “Yet, a lot of parents think these measures aren’t a big deal, and they’re focusing on the more minute things — should I feed my kid gluten? Should I feed my kid organic? Which TV show should they watch? Those are all nice things to think about, but they don’t matter as much in the long run as those bigger-picture things.”
3. Your Child’s Bad Behavior Is Probably Normal
Dr. Moak-Blest said moms often feel judged because of their child’s behavior, but that behavior is usually more reflective of the kid’s developmental stage than parenting.
“Under age 5, erratic behavior is actually very normal. If your 2-year-old is screaming in the grocery store, it’s embarrassing for you, but it’s normal. If you are concerned about your child’s behavior, bring it to the attention of their doctor. Nine times of out 10, the concerning behavior that’s making parents feel like they’re failing is just the child’s developmental stage,” Dr. Moak-Blest said.
4. You’re Doing a Better Job Than You Think
When you’re feeling insecure about your parenting, Dr. Moak-Blest suggests remembering your successes.
“When parents are struggling, I usually tell them to reflect back on the beginning, when they knew nothing — they didn’t know their kid, they didn’t know anything about parenting and yet they figured it out,” she said. “The beauty in watching your child grow is that it happens in these small increments. Sometimes the grandparents haven’t seen them in a month, and they’re like, ‘They’ve grown so much. They’re talking so much better.’ And you haven’t even seen it because it’s been happening in increments. Noticing and remembering those successes can help to fuel your confidence.”
5. Tomorrow Is Another Day
You can’t be supermom all the time and that’s OK.
“Keep the big picture in mind,” said Dr. Moak-Blest. “Maybe one day you yelled at your kid, they had no fruits or vegetables and they watched too much TV. Oh well, tomorrow is another day. Don’t get down on yourself. Know what your goals are and try to meet them within reason, but every day doesn’t have to be perfect.”
In the end, remember only you and your partner are raising your child. “As long as in general, you’re mindful of yourself and your child, you’re on the right track,” Dr. Moak-Blest said. You can save the day tomorrow.
Remember, your Lahey Health physician is here to answer any additional questions or insecurities you may have about parenting.