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. It's 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
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
How do you navigate a day when you've never encountered its 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
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
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 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
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
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
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
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.
Then I Became a Mother. Available in both Kindle and paperback editions. Get your copy today!
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