I've been unapologetically damn confident about this parenting thing right from the start. Thirty eight years of anticipational anxiety taught me that I don't cope very well with surprises, pressure and making prompt decisions that don't involve scouring the internet and consulting the said powers of the parenting universe beforehand. So, in that vein, I made sure I did everything possible to prepare for my new role as a mother.
An uneventful pregnancy and a stint working from home meant I had nine months to prepare for everything parenthood was going to swing my way. I left no scenario unstudied and no eventuality unprepared for. Everything from the baby's bath to his bedding, teething aids, dental plan and choice of university were all in place before we'd even had a gender reveal. I had read up on sleep, discipline and weaning and felt that with a watertight plan there was little room for anything to go wrong. And it didn't. Until I entered into the unchartered territory of mum friends and the minefield of baby social events. Who knew the little terrors would have such busy schedules.
The first time I truly felt the pang of parenting uncertaintity was at the end of a toddler music class. A class of ten mothers and toddlers of around eleven months were banging madly on surprisingly loud wooden instruments for thirty minutes. It's fair to say that by the end of it we all had one hell of headache and some very happy but tired toddlers.
The teacher was going around the class asking which of the mothers and babies would like a stamp. Without a second thought I offered my son's hand and he giggled uncontrollably as the teacher stamped his hand with a little guitar print. She then went on to offer my friend Katie and her daughter Amery a stamp. Katie politely declined on Amery's behalf and carried on chatting away with me. Let me just explain, Katie is not simply a mum friend. She is someone I have known, admired and respected for as long as I can remember. Knowing her for many years, I respected her both as a professional and as mother. Throughout my pregnancy, birth and parenting journey I had alway held her opinion in high regard. Her daughter was flourishing beautifully and I had no doubt that Katie's efforts were to be credited for Amery's development. Katie was a bright star in what can be quite dark skies of parenting. I was happy to be in her orbit.
As she refused the stamp, I felt a sinking feeling in my stomach. Had I made the wrong decision. Was there something sinister about the ink pad used? What had made Katie so reluctant to let her daughter sport a cute little guitar stamp. My mind raced to make head or tails of Katie's refusal as we were kicked out of the room to make way for the next class. Has I endangered my son in some way, had I broken some unsaid parenting rule. Had I made my first bad decision as a parent because it was a decision different to one Katie who I held in such high regard had made?
As we walked out of the class Katie stroked my sons guitar stamped hand and looked apologetically at Amery. "Sorry honey, next time you'll get two stamps not one!" she promised. I looked bewildered at Katie and asked the question I'd been dying to ask for the last thirty minutes. Why did she refuse the stamp. "Oh, were meeting Annie for a coffee after this and you know she runs the competitive class to this one. We didn't want her to think we were being, well, traitors. Her class is great too, it just clashes with our nap schedule."
As I breathed a sigh of relief a sense the extent of my ridiculousness washed over me. I had done exactly what I always encouraged others to avoid. I let the parenting decision of another person make me question a decision I had made myself and was totally at ease with.
Parenting is tough, so lets just focus on our own decisions and why we make them. Someone is always going to do things differently. That doesn't mean we are doing things wrong. It doesn't mean we have to drop our set program and join another. We make the decisions we do for a reason. The path we take is one we carefully choose and navigate. As others do theirs.
Spending time on what others are doing and questioning their reasons just adds to the anxiety and self doubt that is inherent of new parents. Follow your instincts, understand the decisions you are making and why. Be secure in your parenthood. There are no wrong decisions. Only those filled with doubt and uncertainty.
Doubt and uncertainty thrust upon us by our most influential of critics. Ourselves.