I Just Discovered I Was a Terrible Mother

I’ve been cleaning out bookcases in our bedroom, trying to reduce the number of books that are stacked upon other books, sideways and every which way.  I haven’t been successful, but I’ve discovered some old books I’d forgotten about. One such book is entitled, From Crib to Bib, and it is the book my mother’s pediatrician sent her home with after I was born. As I began perusing the pages of that little book, I grew more and more alarmed, realizing how far short I fell in following its directives. For example, the pediatrician stressed how susceptible infants are to infections and wrote, “Unless absolutely necessary, the new baby should not be taken out until he is five weeks of age. He should not be put on display by the proud parents until he is three months old.” Well, I screwed that up royally. I think we stopped to show our daughter off on the way home from the hospital.

As for the infant’s sleeping arrangements, the good doctor was very clear on that. “The infant should always have a room alone and certainly never sleep in a room with adults.” Uh, oh. He must never have read The Family Bed. I did. The doctor also wrote, “Rocking or singing an infant to sleep soon becomes a habit which is difficult to break.” My grandchildren still expect me to sing them a song at bedtime, and they are 14 and nearly 10. I messed up on that, too. One piece of advice in the book had me scratching my head. “Two daily naps should be continued through the third year, each of about one hour.” I tried to take naps, but darned if those kids didn’t keep me awake.

I was practically grief-stricken at how inadequate my maternal skills were when it came to toilet training. The book said I should have started toilet training for bowel control as soon as the baby was old enough to sit up so I could place them on the potty chair. At ten to twelve months I should have had my children in training pants as that was the appropriate time for training for bladder control. I started training my daughter when she was a few months past two. She was trained when she turned three. With my first son, I started when he was two and a half. He was trained at three. I saw a pattern here, so with the third one, I waited until he was three, handed him a pair of underpants, and said, “You know, you’re supposed to wear these instead of diapers.” He took them out of my hand and said, “Okay.” That was that.

I didn’t get past page 21 because I don’t want to know how deeply I failed. My three children seem well-adjusted. One is a writer and musician, one is a lawyer, and one is a neurogeneticist. But think of how they might have turned out if I had been a good mother.

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About Coming East

I am a writer, wife, mother, and grandmother who thinks you're never too old until you're dead. My inspiration is Grandma Moses who became a successful artist in her late 70's. If I don't do something pretty soon, though, I'll have to find someone older for inspiration.
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38 Responses to I Just Discovered I Was a Terrible Mother

  1. How dare you raise intelligent, creative functioning children while thumbing your nose at the voice of reason on child rearing! You should be ashamed! Congratulations on going with your maternal instincts and making it work.

  2. Margie says:

    Your children obviously turned out just fine! (Though some might argue that the world doesn’t really need any more lawyers.)
    Dr. Spock was the guru in my day, but I much preferred the advice of Dr. Seuss: “And will you succeed? Yes indeed, yes indeed! Ninety-eight and three-quarters percent guaranteed!”

  3. E.C. says:

    We’ve come a long way baby. lol
    Fun post. 🙂

  4. Huffygirl says:

    I’m surprised any of us grew to adulthood, let alone became well-adjusted and successful, with the terrible parenting advice back then. I’m glad you didn’t report on the entire book – just reading the part you included had me angry and cringing. what were they thinking????

    • Coming East says:

      I don’t even know why they thought that was good advice, HG. Where did their research come from, especially about toilet training? Of course, at one time leeching was in fashion in medicine, so we’ve come a long way. I like the way I raised my kids, for the most part.

  5. pattisj says:

    This is funny, Susan. How dare you ruin your children like that. Just think of all the time you could have saved potty training those first two!

    • Coming East says:

      Can you believe that was the advice of the day, Patti? It wasn’t the child being trained but the mother. My mother insisted I was trained by the time I was fifteen months!

  6. Dor says:

    My book was Dr. Spock, who instructed on the value of fresh air. So, I put my newborn out in a blizzard (well wrapped of course). He even survived that! Just goes to show – you can’t “go by the book.” Great post Susan!

  7. Amy says:

    I thought reading parenting books would help me be a good mother, it didn’t…. Enjoyed reading your post.

    • Coming East says:

      They aren’t based on reality, Amy. Good parenting means doing what you think is right for your child at the right time. We didn’t always get it right, but our hearts were in the right place, and our kids knew it.

  8. I’m not even a parent and I know that book is ridiculous. Except the part about keeping them home until they’re a few weeks old. That part I’ve always thought was true. Careful you don’t go reading books about raising teenagers!

    • Coming East says:

      Aaarrrggghhhhh, SC! Heaven forbid I read anything about raising teenagers. If I screwed up raising an infant, I can only imagine how horribly I ruined my kids as teenagers!

  9. And in an earlier post, I think you admitted letting your children eat cookie dough. Horrors! But you might have seen the error of your ways if they would have just let you have your naps!!!

    Your posts make me laugh, cry, reminisce, and contemplate. You are such a delightful writer!

  10. Loved the description of potty training your third child… hahaha… I read everything about motherhood I could get my hands on and then, like you, followed my instincts and heart. But those old books (I have a couple from my grandmother’s era on being a good wife… EEK) are such fun to look at and be amazed at how differently things were presented!

  11. hahaha! yeah, I had more than a few of those books. My first baby, I read them from cover to cover, just terrified I’d do something ‘wrong’ and screw my kid up for life. By the second one, I was like, eh. We’ll figure it out…I’m sure my daughter won’t be scarred for life. I just went with the flow of things. And, gee, wouldn’t you know it, both my kids turned out okay anyway!

    As for potty training, my son was easy. I waited until he was almost three years old, let him go naked. Took a grand total of 3 days and he was completely trained. My daughter? She wore diapers up until she was four years old. I thought she might have to wear them at her college graduation. Good to know things worked themselves out. Great post, Susan.

  12. Wow! Thank God I never saw that book. Those are pretty high standards for successful parenting. I’m sure I never gave potty-training a second thought when my babies learned to sit-up. I’m also terrible guilty of holding my babies till they fell asleep. No singing, because really, my voice does not lend itself to relaxation and sleep. I also took them out as soon as they were born. I was on bed rest before and I had to get out of the house!

  13. notquiteold says:

    Horrible….you were just rotten! (my mother toilet-trained my brother the same way – the 4th child. – She said to interfering relatives – “Don’t worry, he’ll be trained by the time he goes to high school.”)

  14. Jenny says:

    I was surprised by your title, it caught my eye very quickly. I am catching on to your humor and love it so much! It is a good thing you didn’t follow that book when your kids were little, it would have all felt wrong. Following your motherly instincts and heart helped you do a great job being a mom!

    • Coming East says:

      I’m glad you’re getting my humor, Jenny. So much of what I write is tongue-in-cheek. My students caught in quickly, too. Otherwise, they would have been horrified at some of what I said to them. Isn’t it funny to read what the conventional wisdom was in the 40’s? Even what was respected back in the seventies, when my children were little, has changed so very much.

  15. Just the other day, my husband commented he had heard a pediatrician recommend giving peanut butter to kids before they go to bed to help them sleep through the night. I reminded him that Johnny Carson’s guest pediatrician had mentioned that several times decades ago. I think he was just a little bit sorry, he hadn’t picked up on it the first times around and this little piece of information cannot be used by us anymore…or perhaps he’s planning to pass it along to the new parents in our family. Your post and other thoughts made me smile…when he does bring it up in due time, I’ll know where it came from, and I’ll keep my mouth shut so he can share his grandfatherly wisdom.

    • Coming East says:

      Your comment made me smile, Georgette. Yes, men need to think they are contributing sage advice about child rearing, and we need to let them. I think I would cringe at the peanut butter advice, though, since peanuts can produce allergic reactions ( and I don’t mean the serious ones).

  16. mairedubhtx says:

    I found an old book like that that my mother had. I firmly believe that is why I’m so screwed up. I think we’re all “terrible mothers” at times and “wonderful mothers” at others. The point is that we do our best and that’s all we can do. And the kids usually turn out okay.

    • Coming East says:

      You are so right, Maire. There is no good instruction book for motherhood. I find it quite humorous to read old baby books because the conventional wisdom has changed so much.

  17. Thanking you for giving me a laugh, it seems that there’s a million ways of doing things and most of them won’t actually kill your children after all. Hey, some books advocate a handy drawer to keep the baby in! 😉

  18. Patti Ross says:

    From the first few lines, I expected you had found a baby book with nothing but a name in it. Like mine, but I still think Mom did a good job. The book you did find is a hoot, must be so wrong because it was written by a man who I bet was not a daddy. The book you could write would be the best, starting with naps. They are easier to take once the kids are off to school.

  19. Clearly I am a deadbeat as well, but hey, at least I’m in good company. I think I love your 3rd child! Hahahaha

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