WARNING: this post turned out to be far, FAR longer that I anticipated! But it is something close to my heart. There are aspects of motherhood I have struggled with, continue to struggle with, and will always struggle with. Knowing that I am not alone has helped me acknowledge and better understand these aspects of myself. Being a parent is such an incredible journey, filled with emotions that I never realized existed until I actually became a parent. There is so much joy, but there is also doubt and frustration that every mother will feel and has the right to feel along the way. I’ve started this series to share my mistakes, struggles, and thoughts on motherhood to perhaps help other mothers feel less alone through it all. Because it shouldn’t be a lonely process! There are millions of mothers just like you in this world. We’ve been there or are going through it. Instead of judging, criticizing, and scrutinizing each other, why not just talk? Constructively. Positively. Pleasantly. Because in the end, we’re all just trying to do our best.
1. PATIENCE. Dear Lord, so much patience is required! I have to admit, I do lose my cool sometimes, in which case I will walk away for a minute or two, take deep breathes, give myself a little pep talk, and then dive back into the chaos. Freaking out on your child is never a good idea – it simply adds fuel to the fire. Emote calmness and your child will pick up on that…eventually. Maybe? Honestly, my husband is the calming presence that I can only hope to emulate. But the amount of patience that I’ve discovered just sitting there, hiding beneath my skin – it could have come in handy in the past! But there is nothing like motherhood to bring out those parts of you that you never knew existed…and no time like the present.
2. AN OVERWHELMING AMOUNT OF LOVE. I know, so cliche! But the love I feel for this kid really is overwhelming in every sense of the word. I love him so fiercely that I am almost willing to give up my identity to simply be his mother. I say almost because I have learned/am learning that while he is and will always be a huge part of me, it is just as important (for my sanity and his) to retain some autonomy. I am learning, ever so slowly, to love myself just as fiercely so he can grow up knowing a confident and happy mother. And it is overwhelming, discovering this newfound confidence, finding the right balance, and drawing that very fine line. But all of these crazy emotions and mind games I’ve played with myself are totally worth it because, going back to square one, damn do I love that kid.
3. LET IT GO. I will tell you now, any hopes you had of keeping the house pristine, the sofas white, the sheets clean, and the carpets stain-free – toss them out the window. NOW. It will save you so much stress in the future. I have two dogs, a cat, a toddler, and, well, a grown toddler in the form of a husband, and for far too long I tried to keep the house really, really clean and as adult-like as possible. I still try to keep messes at a minimum by cleaning as I go – picking up little piles and pieces as I move from room to room throughout the day – so nothing seems like a huge, overwhelming task. But honestly, a lot of things go ignored these days. Little peanut butter finger prints can be found on most furniture and appliances, jelly stains give my dining room rug plenty of “character,” and our pretty awesomely painted wood floors are sprinkled with dog prints and God knows what else… but this is exactly what keeps life so genuine. And frankly, I’d rather spend time in the sunshine with my kid than struggle for the impossibly clean house. Heck, those crumbs and stains aren’t going anywhere!
4. BUT DON’T PROCRASTINATE. Of course, there are times to “let go” and there are times to just dig in and DO. You know how I mentioned cleaning on the go? That is one of the best pieces of advice I can give to a mother. Don’t procrastinate, don’t let things pile up, because it then becomes a huge source of anxiety and one big time-suck. So instead of letting the dishes pile up, clean up after each meal. Instead of taking an entire day to do 50 loads of laundry, spread it out through the week, designate days for sheets, your clothes, spouses clothes, baby clothes, etc. When you walk into a room, take 5 minutes to clean up before you leave it. It makes the day-to-day responsibilities so much less tedious and/or monotonous. Be sure to sprinkle fun things throughout the day and these 5-minute tasks won’t phase you one bit.
5. TRUST YOUR GUT. It’s hard to explain, but when you become a mother, something supernatural seems to happen. Somehow, you gain this six-sense, and those deep, primitive instincts kick in. 17 months ago, I had absolutely no idea what to do with a screaming, squirmy baby. I had been around very few of them, and never felt a huge urge to snuggle or steal someone else’s child. But when you hold your own screaming, squirming child, something changes. Things click, and whether it’s an immediate reaction or a slower evolution, you will feel the shift. From then on, your gut will never be the same. You will know, deep down, what your child needs, how he is feeling and when he is in pain. You will know when he is hungry, or tired, or overwhelmed. And sometimes, you will know when a doctor is wrong, or know when to pry a little further. So, for all of you new and expecting mothers out there that may be on the verge of panic (as we all are at some point!), fear not. As you struggle to breastfeed, or put on a diaper, or get your child to sleep, or to eat anything at all, put aside all that guilt and outside parenting advice you were fed, and let your gut guide you just a little. And then a little more. Do what feels right for you and for your family and things will slowly fall into place. *Please note: I am not advocating going against doctor’s advice. Listen to your gut, but please be responsible! If you are having doubts about any medical advice you were given, trust your gut and do your research, but please seek a second or even third opinion from a trained professional.
6. THERE IS A LIGHT AT THE END OF THE TUNNEL. For the first 8+ months of Greyson’s life, I struggled. He was what I would call a “spirited” baby. He cried. A LOT. To be deemed “colicky” he would have had to cry for 3+ hours straight for multiple days and weeks on end, which he thankfully did not do, but it was pretty damn close. I had numerous meltdowns and I cried. A LOT. For the first few months, I chose to grin and bare it. There were bright moments to stifle the dark ones and I was coping as best I could. But 6 months in, I began to feel hopeless, stuck, and more than once I questioned my ability as a mother, as a wife, and as a HUMAN. Sometimes, I felt the urge to simply run away from it all. Start over. I would make vague comments to friends and family and I would get the “oh, that’s just what babies do!” Or, “he’s such a sweetheart” coupled with an odd look. I began to think I was crazy. But listen carefully Mammas, YOU ARE NOT CRAZY. Little babes tend to act differently with their mothers. You are their lifeline, you are their comfort, you are the one and only thing they need for the first year of their life. They will make demands of you. They will suck everything out of you (literally, if you choose to go that route) and still want more. But they will also love you more than anything in this world, and this will only grow day by day. Just as they reserve their very best cries and shrieks and tantrums for you, you will be the sole proprietor of their brightest smiles, tightest hugs, and sweetest snuggles. So if you feel stuck, less than human, or have a desperate need to flee, know that you are not alone. You have every right to feel as you do, but IT DOES GET BETTER. In fact, it gets GREAT. Cling to that thought through your sleepless nights and endless days. And one day you will see that tiny sparkle of light and each day going forward it will get brighter and brighter and brighter until you suddenly realize that you’re out of the dark and the tunnel is far behind you.
7. DON’T SWEAT THE SMALL STUFF. This kind of goes hand in hand with letting it go, but sometimes kids just gotta be kids, you know? They will eat dirt, they will kiss the dogs (speaking of, here’s a good read on that), they will mash bananas in their hair, and blow snot into their hands if not stick them into every slimy, sticky thing imaginable. It’s messy, it’s gross, but sometimes, if it isn’t harming them, you just have to let them be. On that same note, if you are in desperate need of a 20 minute breather, allowing your kid to watch an episode of Sesame Street or Little Einsteins or whatever does not make you a bad parent. If it makes the difference between a relaxed, happy parent and a stressed, unhappy parent – it actually makes you a good parent! Judging every moment of every day as the make or break difference in your child’s life is enough to drive anyone insane. Be present, be the guiding force, but don’t sweat the small stuff.
8. LET THEM FALL. So much easier said than done, of course, but sometimes a kid just needs to fall in order to learn how to pick himself back up. Success is derived through trial and error, experiences are made and lessons learned through mistakes, and character is built on failure. I have the terrible habit of hovering any time Greyson is working through a new developmental skill. Crawling, walking, using a spoon, climbing the stairs, whatever – I have been at the ready to jump in and help and sometime even do for him what he should be attempting on his own. It’s a mother’s instinct to protect, but there is a very fine line between “helping” and micromanaging. Allow him the space to figure it out.
9. DON’T JUDGE. Really, I don’t understand why mothers are so hard on each other. Most of us carried that baby around in our belly for 9 months, felt the pains of delivery and the ensuing emotions of post-partum. We have all struggled with the mental stress of sleepless nights, monotonous days, and felt the rising panic of “Oh my God I have no idea what to do why is this baby screaming at me?!” We’ve all been there. And we each deal with it in a way that fits our personality and lifestyle. Whether you’re a breast or bottle feeder, a baby carrier (or Heaven forbid, a Bjorn user instead of an Ergo user), a stroller user, a stay at home mom, or a working mom, etc. etc.…so what? As long as your baby is happy and healthy, do what works for you. What is the point of judging the lives and choices of other mothers when you know all too well the moments you have struggled in your own? No one can deny that motherhood is hard. So why make it harder by throwing judgments around? The best thing we can do for ourselves is BE THERE for others. Mothers, unite!
10. PERFECTION DOESN’T EXIST. “Having it all” is a mind frame. No one truly has it all. OR, we all have it all. We all have our ups and downs, joys and sorrows, and frankly, you never know what goes on behind the scenes in the lives of those around. So when that little green monster pops up and you begin to think to yourself “how does she do it all?!” STOP. Most likely, she doesn’t do it all. She’s had to make sacrifices, just like you. She’s had to struggle with her choices, just like you. We all try to put up a happy facade that doesn’t always relay our reality. So, instead of judging (see #9), or competing, or feeling that constant mommy guilt (see #7), just work on finding the balance that works for YOU. And let the rest go (see #3). THAT sounds like perfection to me!
Obviously, these tidbits have been derived through my own (newish) experiences as a mother. You may disagree with some, you may have some to add of your own – I would love to hear your thoughts! I want to open the doors to communication, but please, keep an open mind and keep it constructive! I look forward to hearing more insights into this thing we call Motherhood