Children don’t come with an instruction manual. Instead, they bring screams, tears, tantrums, and poop, leaving their parents with a laundry list of questions about how to handle all of it.

As a new mom, I had so many questions. Which stroller should I buy? How much tummy time does he need? When can I introduce solid foods? Does he need special laundry detergent? When, where, and how long should he be sleeping? When will he sit up on his own? Roll over? Crawl? Walk?

Questions upon questions upon questions. I was overwhelmed.

As he grew into a toddler, I realized there were too many questions to address them all, so I narrowed it down to a few important ones. Is he eating a relatively healthy diet? Is he growing at a reasonable rate? Is he learning and developing in some way? Am I helping him deal with his emotions appropriately?

These questions seemed manageable to me at the time. I knew I couldn’t get hung up on every product that caused one freak accident or contained one suspicious ingredient. I couldn’t worry about if he could stack blocks or color pictures as well as other kids his age. I didn’t have the mental or emotional capacity for these kinds of questions. Between starting graduate school, buying and moving into a new house, and parenting, I was overwhelmed. Narrowing the questions down helped tremendously.

Then life got really crazy when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. The questions that filled my head took a medical turn. Which chemotherapy drugs should he be on? Which specialists should I schedule appointments with? How will we coordinate his surgery and radiation on the other side of the country?

And then there were the questions of worry. Will he live to see his 30th birthday? Or his son go to kindergarten? Or our 10th anniversary? Will the cancer spread, recur, or go into remission?

Now I was really overwhelmed. My brain didn’t have much space for parenting questions, yet some still pushed their way through. Can I let my preschooler play games on my phone to keep him quiet in the hospital waiting room? Can he have macaroni and cheese for dinner for the third night in a row? If he fell asleep on the couch at 10 pm because my body was too exhausted to put him to bed, will it negatively affect his health? Am I a bad mom?

At this point in my life, the mom guilt hit harder than ever. I felt like I was failing him on so many levels. We couldn’t set aside time for potty-training even though I knew he was ready. He didn’t know the alphabet like most of his friends, and some days he even forgot how to count to ten. His schedule was virtually non-existent. He didn’t have enough outside time, free play time, or even enough time with his parents at all.

Yet, he was happy.

As I talked with my sweet little three-year-old, I realized that he was okay. He may not have had the right educational toys or even the right size of clothes on, but he was fed, occasionally bathed, and most importantly, he was loved. I decided to focus on a new set of parenting questions and only allowed myself two.

Are my child’s basic needs being met? 


Does my child feel loved?

When I limit myself to only those two questions, I realize I’m still a pretty good mom. There will be other days for making sure he has matching socks, combed hair, and enough daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Today is not that day.

If today is not that day for you either, I want you to know it’s okay. Life gets overwhelming. Relationships get complicated, work gets demanding, bodies get sick or injured, and finances get tight. You don’t need all the extra parenting questions. Just focus on two. If your kids are taken care of and loved, then you are enough.

Julieann Selden

Julieann Selden is a chemistry graduate student and non-profit volunteer. Her husband, Ken, is recently in remission from sarcoma cancer. On her blog,, she examines the thoughts and emotions of life through the lens of an aggressive cancer diagnosis.