The Facepalm Emoji: A Lesson in Early Motherhood


The Facepalm EmojiWhile looking back through some notes on my phone, I stumbled across one that outlines my kiddo’s exact bedtime routine. When I say “exact,” I mean I describe in painstaking detail things like how to adjust the faucet so the water warms up just right and the order in which he should be scrubbed during bath time. It’s an 11-step process. Eleven. Steps.

Now, looking back on it, I’m embarrassed that I typed this up, let alone sent it to my mom – you know, the woman who raised me – so that she would know how to put her grandson to bed. As if she didn’t know how to use a faucet or washcloth. Even worse, this wasn’t the first time. Arthur was 18 months old at the time, and I still felt compelled to micromanage his time with my mom.

You can’t judge me too harshly. You certainly can’t judge me any harder than I already have. Becoming a parent opens up a whole new world, one where some decisions come as naturally as breathing and others feel wrong no matter what. I wrote that note on February 17, 2017. A year later, I already feel light-years away from that neurotic new mom who needed to make absolutely certain that her own mother would turn off all the lights before leaving the nursery.

If I could sum up my early fixation on micromanaging motherhood, it would be the emoji of the woman with her hand on her face.

I can’t claim to be totally different now, even a year later. I still worry about minute details. When my husband puts Arthur down for the night, I still ask if he used enough diaper cream. I consult Dr. Google for everything, from medical advice to parenting tips. But after being a mom for the last couple years, I already see some sliver of the future where I’ll look back on these days and laugh.

What was I thinking?

Screenshot of ridiculous note.

In my defense, when you’re in the trenches of early parenthood, everything feels overwhelmingly significant. We had a rough go of it right from the start – all three of us did – so it took some time for us to develop a nighttime routine that worked. Arthur didn’t nap consistently until right around his first birthday. He only slept well at night because we tried the hardcore cry-it-out method when he turned nine months old.

Through trial-and-lots-of-errors, we learned how to put him down to bed so that he’d stay there, asleep, all night. So when a new person entered the picture, grandmother or not, I felt compelled to lay out all the details. I had the secret! I knew what worked! Ironically, this must be what my own mom thinks when she offers helpful tips on parenting in general.

She’s been there before, having raised four kids. She probably knows a few things.

Despite the wisdom that you gain from every mistake and success as a parent, you’re still going to embarrass yourself. Maybe you won’t write out obsessive notes on the bedtime routine, but you’ll do something equally ridiculous. We learn as we go. At least we’ll have plenty of fun stories to tell when our kids are doling out instructions to us for our own grandchildren.  

My mom knows what she’s doing.

You’ll be happy to know that I no longer leave multi-step directions for my mom when she watches my son. These days, I only give in to some of my more persistent compulsions, like making sure he wears a thick layer of sunscreen when he’s outside.

I will never not worry about every detail. That’s just the way my brain works, for better or worse. But I hope that as Arthur grows up, I learn how to ease up, relax, and trust that he’ll be okay, even if his hair isn’t washed correctly the way I do it.