In parenting, there is no shortage of comparison. “When’s your due date?” “How much does he weigh?” “Who’s her teacher?” etc. etc. etc. Asking these questions of each other isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For me, it’s often a vehicle for validation. Whew, I’m not the only one who lets my kid watch TV while I make dinner. Ooh, interesting - her baby ends up in bed with her, too. It’s a way to seek out a familiar face in an ever-increasing competitive world, to find another common soul on this journey of imperfection.
The comparison activity gets ramped up to a whole new level when you become a parent for the second time. Now, not only do you have two sets of peers to compare yourself to, you have yourself to compare yourself to. Me as parent of 1 vs. me as parent of 2. It is literally the most exhausting sport on the planet.
In many ways, I feel I’m doing a “better” job this time around. It’s easier, at least. I’m more relaxed (not without the aid of a professional!) and I worry about things less (most of the time). I’m not obsessing about schedules and milestones and food the way I did before. I’ve realized that, as long as there is plenty of love to go around, most of the other stuff has a way of working out.
But this realization doesn’t remove the guilt, or the comparison of current self to past. For one, this baby - my sweet little Oscar man - has many, many less words written about him. For the record, he started walking last week - 13 months old and he is toddling around the house, throwing things. Quite the little devil, cute as can be, sweet and tough all at once.
When Dora was an infant, this blog was one of my only creative outlets, and I poured my heart into it (nearly) every day. As a result, I have many of her milestones recorded - if not in a baby book (and don’t worry, I have guilt about that, too), then in a “virtual” baby book that just happens to be a public document.
What Oscar has that Dora did not have so much of is a multitude of photos. I took a lot of photographs of Dora, too, but she was 2 years old when I upgraded to a much better DSLR. Before that I still used my old SLR film cameras, but not with the frequency that digital allows. That was the beginning of a big shift for me, a return to an art I have always loved. As the photo population increased, the words went down. With Oscar, it’s more photos than words. I’m photographing him (and Dora) almost every day. Of course - I will probably never get to all the editing I need to do (another source of guilt!) - but at least they are captured, saved, and backed up - and someday I will get to them.
Last week a friend of mine sent me an article about how important it is for the mom to be in the picture. Even those who are not photographers know that it is often the mother who ends up taking the pictures (not always, but often) and the result is that momma isn’t in the picture very much. In my own family, my mom did take a lot of photos (mostly with her Kodak Instamatic). As the blog post that my friend sent me so deftly points out, our children need to have pictures of us with them. Now that my mother is gone, I cherish those old, square, slightly yellowish/orange images of her - a young woman in a plaid shirt, looking a little tired and a little annoyed at having her photo taken. Next to her is a 2-year-old me, with a shock of straight blond hair just like Oscar’s, and on the other side is my brother at 8, getting tall and thin and probably annoyed by me already. It doesn’t matter if she didn’t look perfect to herself - to me, she is perfect - my mom, my friend, a woman who I still love and admire deeply. I cherish the photo of her and the chance to remember her as she was, to love her imperfections as much as her good qualities, to see in front of me the woman who still visits me in my dreams.
The same is true about all of this comparison. A little healthy discussion is fine, but in the end, all that matters is that you are yourself, the mother your children love and cherish and want beside them. Whether you take loads of photos of them or spend hours writing about the experience of mothering them, your love, your hugs and kisses, your home-cooked food (or not), your messy (or clean) house - all of these are perfect in the eyes of your children. Dora was only 2 days old when someone told me, “you already know exactly what this baby needs”. Imperfections aside, I believe this to be a divine truth. We are what our children need. They already believe in us. Now all we have to do is try to believe in ourselves.