The biggest of the parenting mistakes I made during my first year of motherhood is the same one I struggle with 20 years later. I am too rigid, too uptight. In fact, I’m so tightly wound I’m wondering when a spring might literally pop out of my head.
I married a man who is a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. He doesn’t worry about what I worry about. And he didn’t when our kids were little either. I was adamant that our kids be on a schedule for eating and sleeping. Having a regular mealtime and bedtime was the only way I could hope to have any measure of sanity and stability in my life. Let’s face it — babies rule the roost and I was tired and in desperate need of a shower.
My husband worked while I stayed home with the kids, so I felt it was my job to take care of the kids 24/7 (including all of the middle of the night feedings and diaper changes) so he would be well-rested, which often left me grumpy and bedraggled. Keeping to a schedule was the only shot I had at having more than two or three hours of sleep at a time.
Because of this, I became anxious about every social plan, every birt hday party invitation. The challenge to make sure the kids were fed and rested before we left the house made my head spin. Once, just once, I wanted a relaxing outing with our family. I don’t remember really ever having a calm meal when my kids were little. We couldn’t sit at a table for more than a minute before someone needed a diaper changed or woke early from a nap and needed to be rocked and walked to fall back asleep. Handing the baby off to my husband didn’t help. The baby would scream and be returned to me, because it was me whom the baby wanted.
Twenty years later, I can look back and see a lifetime worth of trying to schedule our lives so it wouldn’t seem so chaotic. I run my life by the clock. There’s not a wishy-washy bone in my body. And, mostly, I like it that way. My kids, for as much as they balk, seem to like it too. Adhering to a schedule was useful and necessary when they were juggling sports and rigorous academic loads in high school and has taught them to manage their time well now that they’re in college and graduate school.
But, not everything needs to be planned. Not everything needs to be scheduled. Some of the most wonderful moments in life are the ones we don’t see coming — the things I’m sure I missed out on because I felt I needed to stick to a plan. Being so uptight and rigid makes it difficult to let the wonders of serendipity into your life.
We have close friends who had babies late in life and they are so inflexible that they make me look loosey-goosey. I wonder how it must be to live in their homes, because I don’t think rigidity is something you can turn on and off. It’s either who you are or it’s not, and I know firsthand how it seeps into other areas of your life.
Watching my ridiculously controlling friends is like looking into an unflattering mirror, and I can’t help but think of things I wish I had done differently, all those times I wish I would have just let things go because in the long run it really didn’t matter. Digging my heels in only caused more stress for everyone. Control is just an illusion and the pursuit of perfection is just more weight on a mom’s already tired shoulders.
My kids are now in their 20s and the consensus in our home is that “mom is so uptight,” which makes me cringe. I still struggle with keeping some sort of schedule when they come home to visit. I get twitchy if we leave the house without a plan. Heaven forbid we get somewhere and have to wait — that would throw our whole schedule off. In my mind I know how I want the rest of the day to go and don’t want anything to mess with the plan. I can see smidgens of rigidity in my kids. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. But I wish I didn’t have to be that way. My life would be easier, less stressful, and more whimsical without my need to control how fast it spins.
Now when I run into those last-minute changes my husband seems to live for — that normally set me on edge because they weren’t part of the grand plan — I’m trying to learn to say, “You know, this might be fun,” instead of jumping to say “no” with a list a mile long why it’s not a good idea. Trying to find the sweet spot between balancing spontaneity and a schedule is my goal. Getting rid of the notion of this working perfectly is the first step. My big mistake the first year of parenting? Well, I’m still working on it.
This piece originally appeared on Scary Mommy.