Saturday, May 3, 2014

What I Would Have Told Myself When I Became a Mother

I wish that I could step back in time to those early moments of motherhood when normal seemed so far off, to those days when I feared that the crying would never stop, or that the baby would never wake up to eat, or that the baby would never stop waking up to eat.  I'd gently place my hands on my own tense shoulders and whisper into my ear, "Robin, everything will turn out just fine."

As a new mother, that's all that I had needed to hear.  Whether new or not, that's what most every mother needs to hear.


This post is my way of cheering you on.  As we approach Mother's Day, this post is my way of celebrating everything that we mothers do -- both seen and unseen.  It's a reminder that we're all going to make it.  So, dear moms, take heart, and take these words to heart.  They're what I would have told myself when I became a mother.

1) It Gets Easier

Admitting that the transition into motherhood -- or the transition into mothering more children -- can feel overwhelming doesn't reveal weakness or indicate that you're unfit to mother.  It doesn't imply a lack of faith.  And it certainly doesn't suggest that you don't love your child.

Rarely do new mothers allow themselves the grace to be new.  Our normal lives are suspended, yet we don't permit ourselves to be real and raw and messy. As a new mother, I longed to be swaddled as well -- to have the loose ends tightened, to settle and soothe my uneasy reflexes, to admit, without shame, that I didn't automatically have the new role figured out.

No new mother feels as if she does.  It takes time.  You'll find your footing.

2) Learn As You Go

Having a new baby is like having an alarm set on full volume without knowing when it will sound next.  During my first week home from the hospital, I took copious amounts of pictures, wrote semi-coherent thank you notes, and hovered a great deal.  Waiting on my daughter's every call, I operated under the perpetual sensation of always needing to go somewhere fifteen minutes from now, a feeling that allows too little time to actually be productive but just enough time to feel inefficient and out of sorts.

How do you navigate a day when you've never encountered it's likeness before?

As much as we long to prepare for the upcoming stages in our children's lives, warding off the discomfort of the unknown in advance, we ultimately learn to mother by mothering.  Even if we take parenting classes, even if we interview friends with children older than ours, we'll still need to learn certain lessons on our own through experience.

3) Say Goodbye to Personal Space 

Personal space -- or any sense of entitlement to it -- is an illusion for those with young children.  Children don't adhere to spatial boundaries.  They reach out and touch your face while you're talking with them.  They twirl their sticky fingers through your hair.  They open doors to occupied bathrooms.  They weasel their way onto your lap when you're paying bills or working at the computer.  They sidle up beside you as you're removing scalding dishes from the oven.  They're compelled to be close while you're sorting laundry, wriggling their little selves nearer in a way that undoes all the folding that you've just done.

Yet, one day my girls won't immediately run in our direction when my husband and I enter a room.  They won't climb onto our laps when we sit down, wheedle their way between us when we hug, or fall asleep with their thumb absentmindedly slung in their mouths as they rest their heads on our shoulders.  My clothes no longer will be marked by stains from little fingers, and sticky hands will no longer make their way into my own.

And when we exit this stage, I'll miss it acutely.

One day our children will need their distance.  For now, at least, we say goodbye to personal space.

4) Remember Your Former Self

I've never yet met a woman who wasn't a better mother for remembering who she was before she became a mother.

Motherhood is an all-encompassing life alteration, a deeply-seated shift in priorities, an invitation to live with your heart outside of your body.  Decisions, both large and small, are weighed from the lens of what is best for someone else rather than what is most convenient for you.  As it should be.

Yet, it's wise for a mother to remember that she was a woman before she was a mother.  Create time to care for your needs, sustain a complete thought, and stay acquainted with your dreams and desires.  And when you're in the midst of changing diapers, fastening car seat buckles, and laying yards of Thomas the Tank Engine tracks along your living room floor, remind yourself that you're made even better by the presence of your children, not diminished by them.

We're living the lives that we're meant to be living right now.  Our children aren't holding us back.  They're helping us become who we're meant to be.

5) Redefine Accomplishment

What if we moms could see all that we're doing -- all the creating and training and coaching and supporting and loving -- rather than dwelling on all that we're not?  What if we could realize that we only need to fill our daily twenty-four hours with what we're called to do, not what we impose upon ourselves?

What if we gave ourselves grace and redefined accomplishment? 

This starts by accepting that a productive day with children will look quite different from a productive day before having children.  Accomplishments in motherhood come in many forms, and rarely are they tidy and obvious.  Redefine accomplishment. You'll discover that you're accomplishing an impressive amount.

6) Build a Support Network

The hustle of life with kids can snuff out opportunities to gather with friends or have lengthy conversations.  Isolation can break a mother down.  You begin to operate within your own thoughts, convinced that you're the only one who's struggling, the only one who's lost her temper, the only one who seems to be failing.

As uncomfortable as it initially might be, airing out our concerns and admitting our flaws brings freedom -- not only to us, but also to others.  I've never surprised another mother when I've been transparent about my worst moments in parenting.  In fact, my disclosure paves the way for her to open up in return.  Turns out, her kids are fighting, too.  She's also pretended not to hear the baby wake up and has lingered in bed for an extra twenty minutes.  She's wanted to give up and run away, as well.

Nobody is helped when we pretend as if we've always got our act together.  When we receive from and reach out to others outside the walls of our own homes, we're strengthened.  Build a support network.  You'll be a healthier person -- and a better mother -- for it.

7) Avoid Comparison
In motherhood, we often only witness our own messes.  We compare our inner weaknesses -- those ugly parts we know so well -- with other people's external strengths. 

It's inevitable.  There will be days when other mothers have it more together than you.  They'll remember to return library books, send their child to school with a treasure for show and tell, and put a dollar under the pillow in exchange for a lost tooth.  You'll forget.

Other people's children will meet milestones faster than your children will.  Facebook status updates will showcase another family's amazing activities while you're living a boring day with your messy and uncooperative children.  Neighbors and friends might point out that they've done things differently while parenting, and whether intentional or not, those comments might carry the implication that you've done things wrong.

In spite of it all, avoid comparison.  It's a trap.  Without a doubt, you are the best mother for your children.  You're not supposed to be anyone else.

8) Partially Dirty is the New Clean

The reality of life with children isn't captured in the glossy pages of Potter Barn catalogs.  Life with children means that you no longer can perfectly control your environment.  You're in the pool.  You're going to get wet.

When I see hand prints on the wall, I need reminders that it's normal for a house to churn with noise and brim with stuff when young children live there.  That it's understandable to get tired of it.  That it's natural to long for peace and quite.  That it's possible to love your kids while also wanting to take a break from them.

We all know that one day, our houses will be quiet.  One day, our houses will be clean.  This knowledge shouldn't cast guilt on us now, as if it were selfish to wish for a moment's peace or self-seeking to desire an afternoon without little hands undoing all the work that we've just done.  It's not selfish to feel these ways.  It's human.

Knowing that a stage is temporary doesn't make it less crazy.  Hopefully, though, it does give us some stamina when we're weary.  Eventually, our days will open up.

9) Just Love Them

It doesn't matter how a child enters your family -- whether he's adopted or born into it, whether she's a complete surprise or yearned for month after month with dare-I-even hope? pregnancy tests.  They're yours, and you love them.  From the first moment you lay eyes on them, you know you always will.  Without even saying it, you know that you'd die for them.

We love them enough that on many days we do die for them -- unnoticed and miniscule deaths-to-self when we place their needs and interests before our own, when we bite our tongues, when we give them the last bite of chocolate cake that we wanted to eat, when we drag our weary bodies out of our warm beds to comfort them when they're frightened in the middle of the night.

Because this is what mothers do.  We love our kids, even in our imperfection.  Even in their imperfection.  We always will.
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All text in this post is excerpted and adapted from Robin Kramer's Then I Became a Mother.  Available in both Kindle and paperback editions.  Get your copy today!

"Hilarious and spot on!" (Mosaic of Moms)

"I loved every single chapter. This is by far the best book on motherhood I have ever read." (Chris Carter, The Mom Café)


20 comments:

  1. YES! My hope and prayer is that every mother reads your encouraging and inspiring words, my friend. You have such a gift. It will bless many...

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  2. Ditto what Chris said! :-)

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    1. And ditto what I just said to Chris: THANK YOU, Lisa!

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  3. Michelle ThuldaninMay 05, 2014

    I just bawled my way through this post. I have never met anyone who admitted to any of these things. When I try to tell other moms about all the trouble I'm having and the feelings I am (or am not) having, they look at me like they have no idea what I'm talking about. Thank you for some honesty.

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    1. Michelle, if I could reach through this computer screen right now and give you a hug, I most certainly would.

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    2. Michelle ThuldaninMay 08, 2014

      Digital hug accepted. :) Trust me, this post was one too.

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  4. These things are spot one! We are all mother's journeying through our beautiful messes!

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    1. Rachel, you are so correct: this is a beautiful journey. (And an exceptionally messy one, at that!)

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  5. Oh Robin! This was simply beautiful! I loved it!

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  6. Wow! I'm not the only one who feels like I can't complete a single thought. That's nice to know. It really is! Thank you Robin.

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    1. This was Crystal, apparently, Duane was signed in.

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    2. You're making me smile. Crystal (AND Duane), you are so welcome. Truly, you are NOT alone in feeling like you can't complete a single thought!

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  7. Robin, I just loved your book. It spoke so many truths and echoed my innermost thoughts, fears, and desires. I am waiting... anxiously... for any of my friends to get pregnant - this is the newest component of future baby shower gifts.

    Thank you for sharing, for inspiring (and for linking up to the SHINE Blog Hop).

    Wishing you a lovely weekend my friend.
    xoxo

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    1. Jennifer, thank you so much for sharing (and loving) the book! It's my pleasure to link up with your blog hop!

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  8. These are all such important points Robin. Even now, I still sometimes need reminding! xx

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    1. Don't we all need these reminders now and again, Francesca! (I know that I do!)

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  9. Wow! I loved this post. Even though my kids are slightly older (11, 14, 16) I remember well the scenarios you describe so well here. I feel like the best friends I have made are those to whom I've shown weakness, or maybe them to me. There's nothing like seeing a friend with her makeup off and tear reddened eyes as a way of seeing the real person, not just the capable mask we often try to wear. If we were all a little more honest on those days we felt down we would not be weaker for it. Andyes, I do miss the sticky handprints and child fallen asleep on my shoulder. It goes so fast...

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    1. Gina, I agree. Transparency -- that act of letting your guard down and showing the raw and messy and ugly parts -- is so difficult, but SO valuable. It's good to remember that being vulnerable isn't weak.

      We're still in the sticky handprint phase, but I already can see how quickly these days are going!

      Thanks so much for stopping by!

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