When my first child was born, I must admit that she didn't look exactly as I had expected. I was picturing a sweet little blonde cherub, with a rosebud mouth and a button nose, perhaps a couple of adorable dimples. Instead, my little bundle of joy weighed in at nearly ten pounds, with a dark faux-hawk hairstyle, puffy red face, enormous belly, fur (yes, fur!) on her bottom, and eyes that refused to open. She resembled a furious half-animal half-Buddha more than anyone in our fair-haired, blue-eyed family. You may think I'm making this up, but I swear that every nurse who saw her in the hospital said, "Wow, she's something!" rather than, "Wow, she's beautiful!"
In those first hormonal days, I felt confused and conflicted about her unexpected appearance – and more than that, mortified that I could be so superficial as to care. I had a healthy baby! What else mattered? I'd always heard that parents find their own newborn to be stunningly gorgeous from the very first moment – so what was wrong with me? Had I been hoodwinked by my own unrealistic expectations, influenced by all those lovely 4-month-olds being "born" on TV shows? Regardless of the reasons, I was too ashamed to admit my feelings at the time. And I must confess, I'm somewhat embarrassed to tell the story even now. Yet I do.
For one thing I can now look back and explain how I quickly moved past my birthing-room expectations and became utterly smitten with my daughter's beauty (yes, even that early patch of fur.) More importantly, though, it's because, nearly six years later, I understand that the wave of embarrassment was only the beginning. As a new parent, you find yourself caught up in all sorts of awkward and embarrassing feelings and situations – and it goes way beyond showing up to work with spit-up on your shoulder or having your breasts leak on date night.
The problem is, if we can't ‘fess up to them – even to our partner or to ourselves – they can seem bigger and more isolating than they really need to be. It's ironic that what makes us feel so alone can, in fact, connect us with other parents in a deep and meaningful way … if only we could admit it.
On so many occasions, parents – perhaps new moms most of all – have a hard time confessing the deluge of uncomfortable, awkward, emotional stuff that comes with life with kids. Why? Perhaps it's because new parents often want to give the impression that they have it all under control and it's all terrific, just terrific!
More experienced parents, I find, are more likely to air their dirty laundry. They've come to understand the release and the camaraderie that comes with confessing their embarrassing parenting moments, big and small, to others. Of course, it's so much easier if it's reciprocal. So go ahead, people! Share your stories with one another, warts and all. Rest assured, someone's got an even bigger one to top it.
Maybe you invent doctor appointments to get "alone time," or used a work blouse as an emergency diaper wipe this morning, or find your kid's singing voice excruciating. Some of your admissions may be more profound, like that you're secretly questioning your decision to stay home with your child, feel you can't wait for your kid to get older, or are finding parenthood unbelievably boring.
Whatever it is, it's time to say it. Say it and experience the sweet relief of admitting what you imagine is a shortcoming, something to be hidden, something no one else feels. Chances are, you'll find a kindred spirit who not only doesn't blame you, but also truly understands… and who is ready to confess his or her messy moments right back.
In fact, you can start right here. What is your most embarrassing parenting moment? Tell us.
Kerry Colburn is co-author, with Rob Sorensen, of How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things It's Good to Know … the First Time Around (Chronicle Books, 2010).