Somebody told me recently that motherhood is a guilty profession. And it’s true.
In the short month and a half that I’ve been a mom to my sweet little newborn daughter, I’ve been bombarded by guilt, anxious thoughts and worries about the future. If I’m sitting on the sofa and holding my little girl, I feel that I should be cleaning the house or addressing my ever-growing checklist of tasks. If she’s resting in her baby seat so I can do a load of laundry, I fear she’ll suffer from the lack of attention and be delayed in her development. To swaddle or not to swaddle? Offer up the pacifier or let her cry? Whatever choices I make, I’ll convince myself I’m doing it wrong.
This conundrum of guilty feelings may seem silly, but it’s just a start. I also have real worries about the near future: how my husband and I will make ends meet as we add new baby expenses and healthcare to the budget. How motherhood will affect my career and the dreams it might force me to put on hold. How the stresses of parenthood might change our marriage and cause us to drift apart.
Did we become parents too early? I wonder. Do I have what it takes to be a good mom?
Sometimes, the self-feeding loop of guilt and fear can overshadow the joy and delight of the bright-eyed, gurgling newborn who just discovered her hands. I dreamed about holding my baby for nine agonizingly long months of pregnancy, and now I’m allowing anxious thoughts to steal my joy.
I’m reminded of one of my dad’s favorite pieces of advice: “smoke the moment.” I don’t think my father has ever smoked anything, but to him, the phrase meant to savor the present and to immerse yourself in the beauty of the moment without fear for the future or rushing to move ahead.
My dad would tell us to smoke the moment every year on the last day of our family vacation in Maine. Somehow, that last day was always the most beautiful. The sunset would stretch golden-orange across the lake, the sand would still feel warm from the heat of the day, and the air would carry the memorable mixed scent of old campfires, pine needles and pond weeds.
When my siblings and I were young, my father would send us down to the water’s edge as he and my mom packed the car for the trip home. He’d tell us to savor the beauty and keep the memory of the day to treasure during the long, cold New England winter. I know it was never far from his mind, the thought of that fast-approaching winter, with its grey skies and bare trees and long nights at work caring for the property he managed during snow storms. But he taught us to treasure the beautiful present rather than worrying about the hardships of the future.
It’s not easy. I hate uncertainty, especially when it comes to money and making sure our little family will have what it needs. I’ll try to be more confident in my parenting choices, but I have a feeling it will be a long-term struggle to fight off feelings of guilt and insufficiency.
In the meantime, I’m here in the present with my baby daughter Laura. She’s warm and tiny and fits into the curve of my arm. She knows the sounds of my voice and instinctively turns in my direction when I talk.
As I write this, she’s sleeping on my chest in perfect peace. (I am aware the baby books will probably tell me that I’m making it harder for her to take naps by herself down the road, but I’m choosing not to worry about that right now.) Her head, with its peach-fuzz hair, smells like heaven.
This is life; this is rich. These moments are precious. And I’m choosing to smoke them.