(HOST) With Mother’s Day fast approaching Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna reflects upon one of her worst moments as a new mother and what she learned from that experience.
(HANNA) It was summer of my daughter’s first birthday. I plopped her into her high chair and edited an article as she smeared blueberries all over her face.
I noticed that the high chair was beginning to smell funny. I wiped it down but when the smell got worse, a friend suggested I take off the chair’s plastic cover and clean a bit more thoroughly.
Imagine my distress when I lifted the cover and found a thick layer of rotten fruit and maggots underneath.
Fighting back both tears and nausea, I threw the chair outside where I nearly scrubbed the finish off. Then I vowed to never tell another soul what had happened and to be a cleaner, better, more attentive mom.
Then a few weeks later a friend who was also a new mother called in tears with a tale of parental failure. Ican’t remember what it was because it seemed insignificant compared to mine. So, after swearing her to secrecy, I told her about the high chair. She was silent, and then said, "Thank you. I feel so much better."
A few weeks later she called to tell me that she had shared my story with a friend who was beating herself up about some parenting faux paux. "We both agreed," she said, "that nothing could be worse than what you did."
And so the story was passed from one insecure mom to another – each repetition a desperate attempt to alleviate a new parent’s sense of failure.
I know this because a month later, another friend from out-of-town called. "You think you’re a bad mom?" she says. "Listen to this: Someone sat her kid in a high chair covered with maggots."
And suddenly I understood a fundamental truth. In spite of trying my best to be the perfect mom, I was going to make mistakes. And I was going to have to trust that my kids would survive with no permanent damage. In the meantime, being quick to judge ourselves – and everyone else – so harshly, is harmful in its own right.
So this mother’s day, let’s cut ourselves, and each other, a little slack. I love those cards my kids give me about being the World’s Greatest Mommy, but mothering isn’t a competition. It’s a messy, flawed journey that would be a lot more fun if we all had a little more humor and a lot less guilt. So, this mother’s day, take your worst mommy moment – and let it go. I’m willing to bet it’s no worse than mine!