Am I a good mother?

Angela Lam Turpin recounts how she went from being a clumsy, self-doubting mother to a confident mom

I’m not a good mother.

It was a recurring thought—as persistent as the rain pounding on the roof of our tiny apartment during the worst winter storm the Russian River in California had experienced in years.

The thought surfaced at every tiny task I tried to accomplish: as I struggled to Velcro the tabs on the vinyl cover of the cloth diaper, when my baby cried and I could not comfort him, when my breasts were too swollen to release the milk my baby tried to suckle, and while I paced the narrow hallway rubbing my baby’s back trying to get him to burp so he could finally fall asleep.

My husband did not struggle with parenting as I did. He knew instinctively how to change a diaper, how to comfort the tiny person who had been thrust so mercilessly into a foreign world, how to massage my breasts to get the milk to flow, and how to ease a gas bubble from the pit of the baby’s stomach to escape from his mouth so the relief of sleep could finally overcome him. The natural joy my husband experienced as a father left me feeling inadequate and alone.

I was a clumsy mother fumbling for a way to fit into my son’s life

Before my son was born, everything had come easily to me. I earned good grades. I was the first to be promoted. With each success, I gained confidence until I felt invincible. But this baby—with its urgent need to be fed, clothed, and loved—derailed my confidence and cast me into a gulley of self-doubt. I constantly waffled between what I should or should not do, unable to remain firm with any course of action. Practice didn’t make me feel any more comfortable. I still compared myself to my husband. Why couldn’t I handle the task of parenting with the same poise?

The more I doubted my ability to parent, the larger my insecurity grew. My son seemed to sense my unease. He responded with more cries, more discomfort, more pleas for the father who knew exactly what to do and when to do it.

The turning point in my life

By the time my son was 15 months old, he was diagnosed with multiple disabilities. My son’s neurologist said, “Don’t blame yourself. There was nothing you could have done differently to prevent any of this. He was born this way. Our job is to find a way to help him develop to his full potential, whatever that potential is.”

For some reason, the compassionate conversation with my son’s neurologist sparked a tiny voice in my mind that whispered, “You can do this. You are the best mother for him. You can help him be whoever he is meant to become. Just trust yourself.”

That positive thought was the first step in overcoming self-doubt and gaining confidence.

Confidence is our greatest personal resource, according to Marci G. Fox, PhD. In her book, Think Confident, Be Confident, Fox writes that we can face any situation knowing we can handle it if we have confidence.

Everyone suffers from self-doubt at one time or another. The key to overcoming it and gaining confidence is as simple as changing your self-talk, believing you are capable, and finding the courage to risk trial and error in your journey to develop the skills you need to become successful.

“When you become aware of a negative thought, stop it,” personal coach Lynda Noppe said. “Then reframe it to a more positive reflection.”

My recurrent thought, I’m not a good mother, became, I’m the best mother to help my son.

But self-talk is not enough to overcome self-doubt. You need to take action. “Inaction leads to frustration. Frustration leads to anger. Anger prevents you from achieving your potential,” according to Noppe. “If you continue your efforts and do not stop, you will notice a change in the way you feel about yourself.”

My first action was to educate myself about my son’s disabilities. Although I couldn’t fly across the country to attend one-on-one sessions with developmental specialists, I could read about their lesson plans in their books and practise them with my son in our living room. That’s how I taught my son how to take his first step when the orthopedic paediatrician said my son’s leg muscles were too weak to ever learn how to walk.

I celebrated the success by taking pictures of my son’s first steps and phoning my husband at work. If you have uncertainty, you might dismiss your accomplishments. To develop self-assurance, you need to stop and give yourself a pat on the back.

am-i-a-good-mother-250x326There is always learning in every failure

With each tiny victory, my self-doubt shrunk and my confidence grew. I started to trust myself as the expert instead of looking outside for validation and direction. That doesn’t mean everything I tried worked. It means I learned from everything I tried. When a therapist suggested I thrust my son’s hands into a bucket full of sand to lessen his tactical sensitivity, my son responded by tantruming. I grabbed him tightly and suddenly he calmed down. That one failed attempt unwittingly became another victory, for although my son didn’t respond to the sand box therapy, he did respond to my extra-tight hug. I got rid of the touch-and-see books full of different textures and replaced them with deep tissue massage to deactivate my son’s sensitivity.

That magical space called Intuition

Eventually, I learned to trust in my experience and my feelings. When a specialist made a suggestion, I no longer agreed if it didn’t feel right. By stepping away from doubt, I had learned to trust my intuition, that magical space where we know what is right without having to logically explain it to anyone. When we trust our intuition, we act on hunches that take us farther than we ever believed was possible. Trusting my intuition led to the courage to ask for the therapies and treatments I felt would work best for my son even when the experts disagreed with me.

My son is grown now. He still wears diapers and speaks less than 50 words, but he loves music, going to church, and being tickled. Each day we experience something new on our adventure together.

I am a good mother.

This was first published in the February 2014 issue of Complete Wellbeing.

Magnifying lens over an exclamation markSpot an error in this article? A typo may be? Or an incorrect source? Let us know!