I’d been at the helm of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance as executive director for just under a year when the editor of Baltimore’s Child approached me about taking over this column. My first thought: Squeeee!!! My second thought: Uh-oh. I should probably tell them my parenting philosophy basically boils down to ‘meh, he’ll be fine.’
So, in the interest of full disclosure, dear reader, let me start my inaugural column off on the honest foot and admit I am not a Perfect Mommy. I can’t tell you how to parent better, how to apply the principles of goodness-only-knows-what fad of toddler discipline or how to KonMari your child’s closet to inspire optimal zen in your home. What I can share with you—and it’s more important than any of that—is that you, the parents, are doing just fine. Really. You are doing great.
And here’s how I know it:
From the earliest days of my pregnancy, I’ve had to jettison any hope of being the perfect mom. Although it’s not talked about much, prenatal depression—the in-utero equivalent of postpartum depression—impacts one out of five women. I was one of them. Night after night brought crying jags as I drowned in hormones and self-doubt about whether I was really qualified to shepherd another human being through life’s adventures.
With my oh-so-very-longed for baby still baking, I realized I was going to have to abandon any hope of being a perfect mom if I was going to make it to week 40, much less to my son’s college graduation. I was going to have to play by different rules than the charts and schedules and checklists of all the crap and routines we think will ensure our success as parents. Out of necessity, I had to scrap all of these, trading them in for a commitment to just enjoy the journey.
I didn’t know it at the time, but this decision was the first great choice I made as a mom. I want my son to approach the world with a sense of possibility, driven by curiosity and courage to try new things. Continuing to live my life clinging to self-doubt was not only hurting me, it was going to undermine the Big Life Lessons I hope to instill in my child.
As parents, we get so wrapped up in countless decisions we think really matter: Epidural or natural? Breast or bottle?? Is this the safest car seat?! Nanny share or day care, maybe stay at home??! Underlying all of these pragmatic choices is one constant philosophical question: Am I doing this “right?”
But the hard, scary truth of parenting is: There is no one “right” way. Certainly, there are some clear no-no’s—obviously, please remember to feed and water your precious darling on the regular, and avoid day cares run by Josh Duggar. But besides these, the best we can do is surround ourselves and our children with people who love us, who support us, who we trust to call us on our BS and who we love enough to be open to their suggestions. Above all, we must trust ourselves. We must trust that the overwhelming, all-consuming love we feel for our children will shine through the minutia of time-outs, bedtime struggles, hard talks following disappointing report cards and bad teenage choices.
As I write this perched on my back patio, my son is naked, splashing in his water table and slurping his second popsicle of the day. Because Mommy needs to write, and toddlers are hard to distract. And also because it’s Saturday, and if you can’t run naked in the privacy of your fenced-in backyard on the weekend when you’re 2, what’s the point of life anyhow? These kooky, quiet moments are the ones I will remember as I cry happy tears during his high school graduation, the ones I will share to embarrass him at his wedding. The little things that will turn out to have been the Big Things.
Paramount among the hundreds of reasons I feel lucky to be raising my son in Baltimore is the fact I’m not alone in my commitment to slow things down. Having lived on the East Coast my entire adult life, I’ve been fully indoctrinated into the exhausting world of high-stakes parenting. To my surprise and delight, I’ve found a wide, thriving community of Baltimore families who are bucking this trend, who are more committed to enjoying each fleeting second of our kids’ childhoods than to perfect SATs or extraordinary feats of athleticism.
Each day, I am more grateful for the loving camaraderie of my Baltimore parent posse. In my work as executive director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, I focus on creating opportunities for parents to find the same supportive network of friends I depended on, fellow moms and dads who will stand by them through ear infections and diaper blow outs and navigating city schools.
Parenting perfection can’t be our goal. Embracing ourselves and all of our messy, idiosyncratic quirks is the only way to teach our children that they, too, are inherently of worth, and that people who may not look like, act like or think like they do are of worth also. After all, we aren’t just raising kids; we are shaping the next generation of human beings tasked to carry on the work of moving us toward a more perfect union, starting right here in Baltimore.
Elizabeth Mount is the executive director of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.