By Kristina Mulligan
There are so many times that I know that I am trying my absolute best, but the truth is that I don’t feel like I’m a good mother.
This has nothing to do with a lack of love in my heart. I love my son more than words can describe. I would do anything for him, regardless of my own well-being. I cherish every snuggle, sloppy kiss, and sweet giggle and I breathe through the tantrums and tough moments knowing that they’ll pass. I understand him, even though he can’t speak clearly, and I think he knows that mama is his home. While I know all of these things to be true, my doubts of my capabilities as a mom don’t fade.
For the past two years, Flynn has been receiving early intervention services. We started him out with just physical therapy to address his muscle weakness, and have built on to that with occupational, special instruction, speech, and feeding therapies, too. He has made a ton of progress which has made me very proud; especially considering just a few months ago, he wasn’t able to eat solid food. I know that this is what he needs, so I have no regrets, but as a mom, I feel lesser than.
It’s hard to let go of a part of motherhood and when it comes to any type of intervention, that’s part of the territory. As a parent, you look forward to those milestone moments like sitting up for the first time, crawling, and walking. When it comes to your child receiving services, such as physical therapy, you sometimes must take a backseat. I am lucky that I get to attend every single doctor’s appointment and therapy session with my child and I know that so many people are not as fortunate. When Flynn sat up for the first time, I was there, but I was not the one helping him. I was beaming with pride in that moment, but after the celebration, I felt like less of a parent. I didn’t feel like a good mom. On the logical hand, I knew that this was exactly what was necessary and that this was his best shot. On the other emotional hand, I felt like a terrible mom for not providing him with the care he needed myself. What must everyone else think of me for not doing all of this myself? Then came the waves of guilt for not being able to carry him full-term and causing all these obstacles for him to overcome. This is all your fault. It is the same now as it was in our NICU days: constantly on my mind with some days being overwhelmingly difficult.
The worst days are those when more “bad news” arrives. I quote bad news because, in hindsight, when it’s something that requires more work or different tactics, it’s just a temporary situation – even if temporary means years. Particular setbacks that we’ve faced have included orthotics, an increase in therapy frequencies, and decreases in muscle tone. I say “Yes” and “What more can we do?” to the suggestions and feedback, but on the inside, I blame myself. I didn’t try hard enough to work with him at home. I’m doing it all wrong and causing him more difficulty. I’m a bad mom.
Sometimes the logical part of my brain kicks in and screams: What can I do though, that I’m not doing already? I’ve changed my work schedule to accommodate appointments. I attend every session, meeting, and doctor’s visit. We do home therapy sessions, to the best of my ability. I focus all the attention that I have on exactly what I feel is needed. I’m trying my best. My best often doesn’t feel like enough, but accepting the help that is needed shouldn’t make me feel less defeated.
On the harder days when I feel lesser than, I try to remember that therapists and aides exist for this reason. They are here to help, not to showcase your “inabilities as a parent.” Some children just need that extra, specialized attention. It does not mean that I have failed. Recognizing issues and getting the necessary help is part of my parental duties. Knowing what is best for my son, regardless of my feelings and struggles, makes me a good mom. After all, all we can do is give our children the best environment in which to thrive, while providing love and encouragement.
We’re all doing just fine. To be doubting yourself means that you care enough to be better, and that makes you great. I may not be the best mom, but I’m a mom who is trying her absolute best and hopes that her child will grow to know that, too.
Preemie mom Kristina Mulligan is a wife to DJ and mom to Flynn. Their family lives in Hudson Valley, NY.
Kristina loves crafting, listening to podcasts, and obsessing over true crime. Kristina is a Preemie Parent Mentor for Graham’s Foundation. Since becoming a mom, Kristina has used her superpowers for good, not evil, and have worked a lot with advocacy and raising awareness for disabilities, prematurity, and inclusion. You can follow Kristina and Flynn’s journey in her blog: One In a Mulligan