I wasn't one of those women who spend their pregnancies freaking out about whether they'll be good mothers. I knew that being in charge of someone else's survival would be life-altering, but I didn't worry about sucking at it. I mean, women have been doing this forever -- 90 percent of it is intuitive, right?
Turns out my bliss was ignorant. In the months following the birth of my son, Benjamin, a neighborhood walk was enough to stir major feelings of inadequacy in me. Was my neighbor right about my baby not being dressed warmly enough? Was the stroller bouncing too much when it hit the pavement cracks? Why was that other infant doing stomach crunches in her stroller while my guy was still floppy? And how come that baby's mom was back in her size 6 jeans already? I hadn't felt this insecure since my first day of high school.
I've since learned that most new moms have moments when they're filled with more self-doubt than an awkward, pimple-ridden freshman. Here, six ways to ensure that you don't lose sight of just how great you are.
1. Tune out the voices Never in your life have you been showered with so much unsolicited advice. Everyone has something to say about how you're raising your kid. "People like to believe they cared for their children well, and they want to pass along their wisdom and insights," says Susan Newman, Ph.D., a social psychologist and the author of Little Things Long Remembered: Making Your Children Feel Special Every Day.
Sarah Vazquez of Big Bear Lake, California, hated it when people she didn't know offered advice on how to parent Cameron, her 6-month-old. "When he was crying, strangers would tell me to try a frozen washcloth or to put rum in his bottle at night." While the comments were just annoying at first, they began to eat away at her confidence. "It made me feel like I didn't know what I was doing."
Here's how: The bad news is there's nothing you can do to stop the advice from pouring in. The good news is that some of these words of wisdom are actually wise (not the ones about rum, of course). The key is to learn to filter out the useless stuff and keep what can really help you.
A way to do this, says Newman, is to pick one or two people whose advice you'll consider strongly. "That might be your pediatrician, your sister or even your mother-in-law," Newman says. When it comes to dealing with everyone else, just smile politely or say, "I'll think about that," and grit your teeth. You can also take a moment to remind yourself of your plan. "Reiterating your commitment to take advice only from your inner circle shores up your defenses, helping you to deal with intrusive people."
2. Stop comparing yourself to everyone Fellow moms can often be a huge source of support -- or competition. "When my first daughter, Hailey, was 2 months old, a coworker whose baby was a few months older than Hailey showed me an adorable picture of her son on his belly, pushing up," says Meredith Kwitkoski, a mom of three from Monroe Township, New Jersey. "When I asked about it, she said he had been doing that for a while. That day, I went home in a panic and tripled the amount of Hailey's tummy time. She didn't like it, but I wanted her to be able to push up too!"
If this sounds familiar, it's because sizing ourselves up against others is human nature. "You compare fruits in the grocery store, so of course you're going to compare yourself to the mom down the street," says Paula Spencer, author of Momfidence: An Oreo Never Killed Anybody and Other Secrets of Happier Parenting. That said, fixating on the fact that your best friend's baby is president of the broccoli fan club while your little guy spits out anything that isn't a Cheerio is simply not a productive habit.
Here's how: Instead of just staring at them enviously, talk to other new moms. "Everyone looks perfect from far away," says Spencer. "But you have to do some further investigating." You'll be surprised to learn that the baby behind you in line at the grocery store, who is cooing and giggling as your daughter wails, has never slept through the night, and that her seemingly laid-back mom spent two hours stressing out over what to put into her diaper bag.
So what do you do when the too-skinny-to-have-just-had-a-baby mom at the park claims that being a mom to her perfect kid is the best thing that ever happened to her? Don't hang out with her so much. Find a friend -- even if it's just one -- to whom you can really relate.