I hate quitting. The thought of forfeiting anything makes me feel physically ill. I have always been competitive, and there is nothing more painful than having to throw in the towel early. Quitting always made me feel like a loser, and I don’t like to lose. I was competitive in athletics (even when I wasn’t very good- talk about being stuck between a rock and a hard place, between a desire to succeed and the lack of the athletic talents required to make it happen). I was competitive in school (I was much more successful at this competition). I was competitive at work, even if this competition was generally against myself. I wanted to win. I wanted to be a winner.
I started playing softball in third grade. I don’t remember the first time I learned about the concept of follow-through. Follow-through is one of the most important lessons that a softball or baseball player needs to learn (right up there with properly squatting when fielding a grounder). If you don’t follow through with your swing, your hit won’t have the same power as it would if you did. We’d spend literal hours hitting invisible, and occasionally real, softballs, swinging until the bat hit our opposite shoulder. Follow-through was the key to successful hitting.
Follow-through is often also the key to successful living. I wanted to go to a Catholic college; I needed grades and test scores high enough to make that happen. Following through meant studying hard and working smart. I wanted to work in the Catholic Church; I needed to land a job in youth ministry or religious education to make that happen. Following through meant volunteering for a youth program and attaining multiple degrees in Theology. Getting what I wanted in life always meant following through.
From the moment that I found out I was pregnant with John, I wanted to be successful at motherhood. I wanted people to look at me and think, Wow, she’s a good mother. I wanted to win at this whole parenting thing. During the nine months that we prepared for John, I made mental notes of what success would look like for me, what it would take to win. I researched sleep, eating and nursing, discipline. I used my research to paint a picture of what I thought was the perfect mother. She would breastfeed on demand, but her baby would sleep through the night at six weeks thanks to good sleep hygiene (because putting them down drowsy, but awake, is so easy, right?). She would make her own baby food, if she didn’t do baby-led weaning, or she would create gourmet meals, if she did. She would be gentle with her child, and never raise her voice, but stern enough to foster an environment of perfectly-exercised self-control. Sound familiar?
I thought that this was the perfect mother. This was winning at motherhood. I knew the end goal; now I just needed to follow through. I needed to persevere at nursing, overcoming any initial struggles with milk supply or latching. I needed to teach good sleep habits to a baby that would naturally know what was needed. I needed to dedicate a few hours a week to processing my own baby food, or else invest the hours of research that would be needed to craft healthy, appetizing dinners for my family (and then I needed to figure out how to convince a somewhat picky husband to eat these meals as well). I needed to find the perfect balance between freedom and restriction when disciplining my son. I knew what I needed to do; all that was left was to do it.
After a few months with John, I realized how overrated perfection was. Or at least how overrated my idea of perfection was. I also realized that you don’t need to be perfect to be good. I am not perfect, but I know that I am a good mother. All I want to do is love my children to the best of my ability, and that makes me a good mother. I don’t need to be perfect. I don’t need to be perfect to be a winner. My children go to bed each night knowing that I love them. That makes me a winner. My loving babies make me a winner.
I gave up nursing after just three weeks. I gave up making my own baby food after about two. I never even attempted baby-led weaning with my first, though we’re at two months with Felicity, and still going strong. But I didn’t even attempt to nurse her. Both of my kids can be considered good sleepers, though there were tears shed by both John and Felicity at one point or another, and good sleep came much more naturally to one more than the other. Giving up sometimes made me feel like a quitter, like I was giving up, and as competitive as I am, it was not a comfortable feeling.
But sometimes it’s okay to quit. Sometimes it’s even good to quit. If you’re agonizing over continuing nursing, if you’ve been struggling and desperately trying to reach that goal you picked (six months, a year, etc.), consider this permission to quit. Quitting won’t make you a loser. Quitting won’t mean that you’ve failed at motherhood. Sometimes quitting is exactly what’s needed for you to be successful. I wish someone had told me that it was okay to quit nursing, preferably before I’d left the hospital. Actually, I wish someone had told me that it was okay not to nurse, if that’s what I wanted. If someone had told me that, maybe I would have felt like a successful mother sooner. No one told me that, but here I am now, telling you. It’s okay if you want to quit. Sometimes success means quitting.
I quit at a lot of things in parenting. I quit nursing. I quit making my own baby food. I quit rocking and cuddling to sleep. I also quit fighting to be the perfect mother. I quit worrying about what other people were thinking. I quit wondering whether or not I was being judged. Sometimes you have to quit. Sometimes quitting is what’s best for you. I was much happier once I quit, especially once I quit nursing. I felt like a much better mom. Honestly, by quitting, for the first time since the birth of my son, I finally felt like a winner. So Mama, if you’re looking for someone to tell you that it’s okay to quit, here I am. You go ahead and quit, Mama; you’re still a winner.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!