Motherhood Mantras: Forget Perfection. Embrace Goodness.

This post is part of a series called “Motherhood Mantras.” To read more about the series, and the full list of writers, click here.

Before I became a mother, I was a scientist. I thrived on knowledge. I designed experiments and repeated them in the lab, again and again. I lost myself in journal articles for weeks at a time trying to make sense of my data. I needed to explain and define, analyze and graph.

When my husband and I started trying to get pregnant, I went into data collection mode. I tracked my basal body temperature. I graphed it to look for patterns. I studied all the information I could find on timing of ovulation and fertilization. It was very romantic.

But I didn’t get pregnant – not right away, anyway. Knowledge wasn’t enough. And in my evolution as a parent, I have been reminded of this time and time again. Despite my labor plan backed by the latest scientific research, I couldn’t control the screaming contractions that came according to their own timetable. No amount of knowledge could have prepared me for the physical and emotional exhaustion of the early months of motherhood. And no study could explain the simultaneous attachment to my baby and the yearning for an hour in a café, alone with a good book and a latte. Parenting is not
a science, and knowledge isn’t everything.

There is a human side of parenting. It is rooted in culture and history and emotions – unpredictable and messy, innate and sweet. As someone who prefers to handle data in neat spreadsheet columns, the complexity of parenting overwhelms me.

It helps me to repeat my simple mantra:

Parent with love. Parent with respect. Parent with knowledge. Parent without fear.

Parent with love.

Love is the sweetness that dulled the pain of labor, eases the fatigue of sleepless nights, and accepts the monotony of motherhood. It is what refills my supply of patience when breakfast gets thrown on the floor and getting out the door requires 99 steps. And sometimes, love is painful, for all the little bits of letting go that parenting requires.

Parent with respect.

Respect is the space I give my daughter to be her own person. It means being willing to walk at a toddler’s pace so that she can explore the world without being worried about the time or destination. It is doing things with her instead of to her. It means giving her choices. It means setting consistent limits around her so that she feels safe. It is showing empathy and trying to understand how her world feels in the midst of a tantrum.

Parent with knowledge.

Now, 17 months into my motherhood job, I still seek out and thrive on knowledge. I pore over research and expert opinions. I talk with other parents about their experiences, and of course, I consult my mom. Knowledge helps me feel prepared and broadens my perspective. It satisfies the part of me that always wants to know more and do better.

Parent without fear.

Parenting is full of challenges, and it can feel like everyone has a different opinion about how to approach them. The thing is, we are each left to choose, in big and little ways, day in and day out, what kind of parent we want to be. Under the weight of these choices and conflicting advice, it is easy to be paralyzed by fear.

I felt afraid during that long labor and in the middle of wakeful nights with a newborn or a sick toddler. I have felt afraid watching my daughter toddle down a hill, knowing that her feet wouldn’t be able to keep up with gravity and she was destined to land on her face. I have felt afraid to leave her with a babysitter at night, wondering if she would be too distressed at bedtime without me. And I have worried that she is too reliant on me, that I have not socialized her enough.

Parenting without fear means that I have come to accept that I will make mistakes, and I will make them often. But I think that if I approach a decision with the best knowledge I have and with love and respect for my child, we’ll be good. Not perfect. Not always right. But good. I’m learning to let the fear go and embrace the goodness.

Parent with love. Parent with respect. Parent with knowledge. Parent without fear.

Alice Callahan has a Ph.D. in Nutrition but has taken a break from the lab bench to be a full-time mom and part-time writer. She blogs about science and motherhood at Science of Mom. You can also find her on Facebook and Twitter. Alice lives in Eugene, Oregon, with her husband and their 17-month-old daughter.

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