Memories of an Inexperienced Mother

Do our children remember our parenting failures? Do they hold it against us? Or do they realise just how much we love them and that is all that really matters? I ponder my past life as a dragon mother and how it affected my first born child…


When our first child was five days old, I was discharged from the hospital. A nurse carried our brand new daughter to the door, where my husband Andy was waiting to drive me home. The nurse turned to me and gently placed our baby in my arms, before smiling and wishing us well. And I thought, “She is going to let me walk out the door with this baby. She is going to let me, a mother with absolutely no experience, take a baby home. Surely I need some sort of qualification before I’m allowed to be in charge of such a precious child?” The nurse said goodbye. Andy and I passed through the door. And no one stopped us.

It suddenly struck me: I was a mother with full responsibility for a child. Andy and I were about to begin our parenting adventure and we realised we didn’t know much about babies at all. Oh, we’d read a few books, shared ideas with some other parents-to-be, but theory is totally different to reality. And we knew we’d have to be quick learners if we were all to survive.

Everything went reasonably well… for a few hours… until the first bath. We were excited. Our baby was going to have her first bath at home. We gathered the baby bath and the stand, a soft fluffy towel and a soft face washer, the baby soap, the baby shampoo, the baby bubbles and the baby powder, the rubber duck, a clean soft pink singlet, a tiny pink baby Bonds suit, a hand-knitted cardigan and a nappy,  a baby brush, the camera… and finally, the baby.

While I carefully peeled off Felicity’s clothing, Andy just as carefully filled the bath with water warmed to the perfect temperature. Then I nervously slid our baby into the bath, being sure to rest her head on my forearm, her nose clear of the water, just as I’d been shown at the hospital.

Now I am not sure what went wrong. Did we think Felicity had stopped breathing? All I remember is Andy and I jumping about in a panic, and me crying, “Karen, next door is a nurse! Quick, she’ll know what to do.”

We hurriedly wrapped our baby in the towel and ran out outside and thumped on our neighbour’s front door. We waited. No answer. Some more panicking and some more thumping. And then we looked down at Felicity.

“Andy, she looks perfectly fine. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with her at all.” We looked at our clean, pink, breathing child. Sheepishly we retraced our steps, hoping no one had seen us. Later, as we dressed our newborn baby, I thought,” There’s nothing wrong with Felicity. The problem is her inexperienced parents. How will she ever survive life with us?”

Felicity likes to describe herself as our guinea pig child. She was the one we experimented on as we tried to gain some parenting skills.

I was talking to Felicity on the phone the other day. I retold the baby bath story which happened 26 years ago and my eldest daughter giggled. “You’ll have to write about that, Mum!”

“It must have been hard being the guinea pig child,” I said. “All those mistakes Dad and I made while we were bringing you up. The other kids have it so much easier. These days we are a lot calmer and more confident and we know what we’re doing.”

“It wasn’t all that bad, Mum,” Felicity reassured me. “I had a great childhood.”

“So you don’t have bad memories of a dragon mother who couldn’t cope?”

Felicity laughed. “No.”

I have been thinking about the mother I was then and the mother I am now. I have changed so much over the years.

I used to worry about every little thing. I was always rushing down to the doctors with a slightly sick child who always seemed to recover in the waiting room; I’d fuss until my children had perfectly clean faces and perfectly brushed hair; they couldn’t leave the house unless they were wearing pristine matching clothes; I’d be anxious if they didn’t eat and spent so much time trying to make them swallow food they didn’t want; I worried about dirt and mess and an untidy house; when someone accidentally knocked a dinner plate to the floor, I reacted as if it was the end of the world; I became anxious about such things as toilet training and sleeping through the night… the list is endless.

Today I have gone the other way:

“If she’s had enough to eat, take her plate away,” I’ll say.

“But Mum, she’s hardly touched her dinner,” one of the older children will reply.

“Gemma-Rose is wearing odd socks,” someone will observe.

“At least she has socks on. It doesn’t matter about the colour,” I’ll answer.

“Oops! I’ve knocked the peanut butter jar out of the fridge,” someone will confess.

“Go and get the broom and clean up the mess,” I’ll reply, without even getting up to inspect the damage.

I have to admit I’m not perfect. Some days I get overtired and the temptation, to make a fuss about things that aren’t really important, threatens to reappear. I had one of those days not so long ago. The girls were cooking a cake and they got the instructions in a muddle which resulted in all the ingredients going to waste.

After I’d thrown my little wobbly and had my say about “reading instructions properly… and how many eggs did you waste…” and so on, I stopped and apologised and immediately began to feel rather bad. What’s a few eggs? They don’t matter nearly as much as my girls’ feelings. Gemma-Rose looked like she was going to cry and I felt like the worse mother in the world. How could I have forgotten the lessons that have taken so long to learn? But all the girls said was, “Don’t worry about it, Mum. It’s all over. We’ve already forgotten about it.”

Sometimes I wish I could go back and fix up all my past mistakes and erase all the not-so-good memories from my children’s minds. I don’t want that easily overwhelmed, emotional dragon mother to live on inside them.

I wonder if Felicity ever thinks: “Gemma-Rose, you’re so lucky. You got the good mother, the calm mother, the gentle mother. She may not be perfect but she’s a whole lot better than the mother I got. She was hopeless. I wish I was the last-born child and not the first-born guinea pig child.”

Why does it take me so long to learn anything? I have this suspicion that, by the time I have perfected this role of mother, my last child will have finished growing up. She will no longer need a perfect mother. She’ll be ready to slap her P plates to her car and drive off out into the big world to live an independent life.

I think again about that seemingly miraculous moment when I, an inexperienced mother, was allowed to take a precious baby home from the hospital. I didn’t have to present a certificate to the discharge desk, proving I was worthy of the role of mother.

Similarly, God didn’t ask me to prove myself before He blessed us with so many beautiful souls. He sent them to us anyway. How could He have done this? It took me a long time to work things out but eventually I came to realise that God doesn’t expect Andy and I to bring up our children on our own. No. He is always here to give us His strength and His grace. And He doesn’t expect us to be perfect. We only have to do our best. That’s all God expects. He does the rest.

Isn’t that a consoling thought?

Felicity phones for another chat.

“I wrote your baby bath story,” I tell my daughter. “It’s a post about your very inadequate mother.”

“You are a good mother,” insists Felicity. “When I was a child I wanted to grow up to be just like you.”

“You did?” I am so surprised. “I didn’t know that,” I say.

A warm feeling is spreading all through me. Yes, God does indeed fill in all the gaps in our parenting.
“I love you, Felicity!”

And my first-born child replies, “And I love you so very much too, Mum!”


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Comments

  1. Reply

    Oh, this made me laugh and laugh! How well I remember that feeling when I got my very first new baby home: you mean, I can just..take him? Then what?!

    I think children are God's nicest "sandpaper," to smooth out our rough edges. I look back now and think, how else would I ever have learned to live (at least a little) for others? How would I have ever laid down the burden of my pride without this tidal wave of love?

    I'm still a work in progress, of course, but I thank God and my family for how far I've come.

    What's a wobbly?

    1. Reply

      Wendy,

      It is so funny looking at our former selves! All that worry and inexperience. Maybe we share common new mother feelings.

      children are God's nicest "sandpaper," Oh I like that very much! Wonderful words. You are so right. We'd be so self centred and selfish if we'd never been mothers. What a blessing, in many ways, they are. I sometimes think children teach us far more than we ever teach them.

      We are all works in progress but I bet we are all unrecognisable from our former selves. God's grace works miracles.

      A wobbly? I guess that's my own little way of describing an out of control moment!

  2. Reply

    Dear Sue,

    Thank you so much for this humble and so very encouraging post. I have beat myself to a pulp over the years, although I have come a long way by grace and lots of effort.

    I love when I am nursing because it really is "easy living" for all. I have been nursing for about 15 years straight. It is when my hormones return, though, that I find it very difficult to remain gentle and calm for about 10 days per month. On top of that, I know I am experiencing the change at 46. Have you gone through the change and do you attribute part of your success to that end? (I hope you don't mind my asking) I feel like it's such a cross and I'm counting the days until it's over. With 8 children and 3 in heaven, I have been blessed beyond measure, although I am sure I will mourn my fertility to some degree. I just hate feeling so easily angered and irritated.

    Sincerely, Michelle

    1. Reply

      Michelle,

      Thank you for sharing my post. I was so encouraged by my daughter Felicity's words. I'm sure it is the same for all of our children: They don't remember our failures, only our love.

      I don't mind you asking me about the change at all! I am still going through it. Actually, I have a severe case of eczema at the moment and I was doing some research about menopause and allergies just last night. I came across a site with a list of 36 menopause symptoms. 36!! Fortunately I don't suffer from them all. Think how awful that would be!

      My moods don't seem to be affected by the change in hormone levels and I'm very grateful for this. My biggest problem is sleep. I wake numerous times a night and can't get back to sleep. It's been going on so long now, it's become normal though I do still pray for a good night's sleep! I get up tired and I suppose that could be dangerous but I seem to be coping. I think having relaxed and gained better control over my emotions before menopause approached, has helped me deal with this tiredness. Also my girls are very good. They seem to sense when I'm tired and make me rest. That's the benefits of having older children!

      I had a very stressful miscarriage when I was 45, resulting in a blood transfusion. I seem to have had an eventful fertile life! 7 miscarriages and a baby who died… in some ways I was ready to be told I would not likely have another baby after that last miscarriage. It's been easier for me to let go and accept this new stage of life. If you'd like to share that story it is on my other blog, http://www.sueelviswrites.com/2012/08/life-after-babies.html There's some interesting comments after the post from mothers in our situation.

      I wouldn't swap my mothering role for anything! Like you, I have been blessed beyond measure. It doesn't mean life is easy though. We really do have to struggle on at times. You said you hate feeling easily angered and irritated. That counts for so much. We might fail but we want to keep trying because we aren't happy with ourselves, and we plod on. Maybe it's the struggle which is more important than success.

      Michelle, thank you so much for stopping to chat. I do appreciate your comment. It's so lovely to find other mothers who understand. I will pray for you!

    2. Reply

      Michelle,

      What terrible wording: "7 miscarriages and a baby who died". Of course I had 8 babies who died. What I meant to say is I had 7 babies who died during pregnancy while in the womb, and one baby who died after birth. I am always so annoyed when people write about miscarriages but never use the word 'baby', and now I have done it myself. Not intentional!

    3. Reply

      Michelle,

      I am very sorry to hear you also lost three babies by miscarriage. Having had babies that died both before and after birth, I would say that losing Thomas, when he was one day old, was much more difficult than losing the other 7 babies. All babies are equally valuable. All are grieved over. But yes, there is extra suffering when a child is born and held and then dies and has to be buried. Hope lasts longer too before it has to be let go of.

      I don't think your feelings are horrible at all. It might just be we are more attached the longer pregnancy proceeds. And once we see our child, they do seem more real than if we never had the chance to do that.

      "what a pile up on Mom there will be when you get to Heaven!" Oh my! In't that a beautiful thought? I think my 7 babies will forgive me for thinking mainly about Thomas when I imagine that moment.

      A testament to faith… sometimes we don't have a choice. All we can do is abandon ourselves to God and rely on Him because we wouldn't survive otherwise. Losing all those children made me realise how very weak I really am, and how much I am in need of God.

      Michelle, I am so glad you found my blog too! It's been lovely chatting with you. I managed to find your Google + page but I couldn't work out whether you have a blog or not. Would love to visit you if you do.

      God bless!

    4. Reply

      When I left a second comment (kind of in the wrong place), I wanted to say something about it, but couldn't find the words. The last thing on my heart was your wording. But… it has to be different when they are already moving around in the womb or born. I attribute the ability to cope with my 3 losses to the weird fact that it takes me a while to believe there is a real baby in there and it was early. Does that sound horrible? Now that I can see Joey (my 10 month old), I can't even imagine having lost him.

      You are a real testament to faith Sue and what a pile up on Mom there will be when you get to Heaven! I am so thankful to have found this site and will visit often if the Lord wills. Good night.

    • Gina
    • August 25, 2013
    Reply

    I, too, was not as good of a mother with my first. I used to blame some of first's issues on myself. However, now that I am better at mothering, he still has these issues so I do not think they are my fault (at least most of the time). Sue, I'm curious….how you handle your children when they are naughty? I would think they would be naughty occasionally. I am still a work in progress when it comes to discipline. Other people tell me that they can't believe how patient I am amidst all the tantrums and sibling fights. I usually do stay calm a good portion of the time but sometimes I lose it big time. Last night I didn't blow up too badly but I wish I had handled things better. While I was talking to my husband in another room, my three middle boys had a food fight with the watermelon I cut up. I was mad about the waste of food, the mess, the time I wasted cutting it up. I think I should have just said, "It was wrong for you to waste food like that. Clean up the mess" and then left. What do you do when your kids are fighting or someone will not talk nicely to you?

    1. Reply

      Gina,

      I have also had to come to terms with the fact that some of my children's problems aren't due to me at all. Despite our best efforts some kids have a harder pathway through life. I wish I could change that but I know I can't. I just try to be supportive.

      These days my girls aren't really naughty like when they were younger. They might get careless with their words sometimes or they might tease more than I like, or not make an effort to get on with a sister… Usually I deal with these issues by taking them aside and having a quiet chat. That's all that's really needed. I wrote a bit about this in my post Guiding Children Responsibly without Imposing Rules:
      https://www.storiesofanunschoolingfamily.com/2013/07/guiding-my-children-responsibly-without.html

      When the kids were younger, I never smacked them or used time outs. I don't know if your read my post called Influencing a Child to Do What is Right and Necessary. It records a conversation my son Callum and I had about children and discipline. Here's a link if you're interested!
      http://www.sueelviswrites.com/2012/06/influencing-child-to-do-what-is-right.html

      Gina, I have it a lot easier than you. You still have young children and I don't. I am sure I had many times when I didn't handle my children's fighting very well at all. I probably used that former hot temper of mine many times! I did eventually learn to stay calm and react with love and forgiveness rather than punishment. Unconditional love does have the power to make children want to do what is right. Things do get better as children grow. I sit here hardly able to remember those chaotic days!

  3. Reply

    Like this post too! It made me smile and remember… Just noticed you have 5 girls like me too! I like reading your blog, which I don't get to do often though. But I'm so glad to have met someone who is homeschooling or unschooling, Catholic and has many kids… but… is a great step ahead! It's like having a bigger sister to learn from 😉

    1. Reply

      Bernice,

      I always hoped I'd have at least one daughter. I can't believe I was blessed with five!

      Thank you for reading my blog whenever you can. Yes, life gets busy and there's not always time to read all we'd like. I am very behind on my own blog reading.

      I like the idea of being a sort of big sister. It's so good to share experiences and ideas!

      Thank you for your kind comment!

  4. Reply

    Thank you Sue. I really appreciate you taking the time to answer me. It reminds me of The Imitation of Christ when He said, "So long as it is displeasing to you, it is cause for merit." or something similar. Also, I read Gina's comment and thought I might post something I like from EWTN's daily mass readings.

    The faults of children are not always imputed to the parents, especially when they have instructed them and given good example. Our Lord, in His wonderous Providence, allows children to break the hearts of devout fathers and mothers. Thus the decisions your children have made don't make you a failure as a parent in God's eyes. You are entitled to feel sorrow, but not necessarily guilt. Do not cease praying for your children; God's grace can touch a hardened heart. Commend your children to the Immaculate Heart of Mary. When parents pray the Rosary, at the end of each decade they should hold the Rosary aloft and say to her, "With these beads bind my children to your Immaculate Heart", she will attend to their souls.

    — St. Louise de Marillac

    I do wish I could also say that I've never spanked them or given them time outs, but I know better now and ask God, who makes all things new, to bless them in spite of this and to continue to teach me a better way.

    I suspect that it is Satan who keeps reminding me of my past mistakes and I pray to be released of those strongholds.
    God bless.

    1. Reply

      Michelle,

      Oh I do love those words of St Louise de Marillac. They are so consoling. Thank you for sharing them.

      Michelle, I think I misled you a little as far as spanking and time outs go. Years ago, when I was a very new mum I followed the latest trends and did both. I soon decided this was not the way to go, but I can remember smacking my children occasionally out of frustration, even though I knew it was the wrong thing to do. I 'never' spanked my children… not quite true. It's been a long time since I did it, and maybe I conveniently forgot my mistakes of earlier years when I wrote those words.

      We do many things we wish we'd rather not have done. Maybe we did what we thought best at the time. But we learn and change. That's what's important. Oh yes, Satan! He does like us to despair over past events we can't go back and fix. I like St Therese's approach: Jesus will fix up our mistakes, put things right, bring good out of bad, if only we have confidence in Him, recognise our weakness and abandon ourselves to God.

      Have you read "I Believe in Love" by Fr D'Elbee? I have found this book such a help. I read it and reread it continuously. Now I want to go back and find those consoling words where we are told if we give Jesus our past miseries He will transform them for us. I am sure I haven't done justice to this thought with my own words. A quote would have been nice!

      Thank you for returning with some additional thoughts.

      God bless you!

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