I’m nearly 6 years (!!!) into this parenthood journey, and I’ve started to reflect on my experiences. I’ve come to the conclusion that a lot of people tell you a lot of things about what it is like to be a parent—but there are a LOT of things that they conveniently leave out. If I were to give advice to a new mom, these are the things I would want to say (of course I would *never* give unsolicited advice to a new mom because I know she’ll get enough of that from the other 10,000 people with whom she comes in contact!).
1. The first year of your child’s life is the easiest. Truth. Everybody tells you the first year is so hard. And it is hard—a primal kind of hard. You’re tired in a way you’ve never been tired. You don’t know the first thing about anything you are suddenly supposed to be an expert at. You don’t even know this human being whose life it is your responsibility to protect. And hormones. Lots of them. That year is hard, really hard. But you find your rhythm and you become an expert on the new love of your life. And then they start to grow up. Toddlerhood. Preschool. Elementary school. You meet moms that say, “Oh, if you think 2 year olds are hard…wait until he turns 3!” And you think they are crazy, until he turns 3, and you suddenly get it. And then you meet the mom that says “If you think 3 is hard, you are in for a real shock with 4.” And then 4 rolls around, and holy hell, 4 is hard. And then you meet the mom that says “4 is tough. But wait until…” And then suddenly you realize that it is NEVER going to get easier. NEVER. And you begin to reminisce about that first year when things were so simple.
2. Motherhood is isolating. When I became a mom I knew exactly zero new moms where I live. I was working as an attorney and I planned to return to work. And then we decided that leaving my job was the right decision for our family. One day I woke up with a 4 month old baby, nowhere to go and nobody to talk to. It was a shock to my system, to say the least. But I quickly joined a moms’ group and had a social calendar that the Queen Mum would envy. From the outside, it would seem life as a SAHM is similar to being a sorority—always somewhere to go, and somebody that wants to join me on an adventure. Except it isn’t like that at all. I can’t remember the last time I was able to finish an actual conversation with a fellow mom. I can’t tell you how many times our plans have been derailed by a napping (or not napping) child, or sickness, or just plain exhaustion. I often go days without having any real valuable adult interaction. It feels downright lonely at times, even in a sea of moms that are in the same boat. On the rare occasion that I can get out, sans children, with some friends, I am reminded that I am not alone at all—I’m part of a sisterhood that just holds our meetings very rarely and doesn’t need to ever finish a thought because we know we are in this together.
3. A “healthy” child is not necessarily an easy child. I was one of those moms that didn’t find out my child’s gender while I was pregnant, because I didn’t care if it was a boy or a girl “as long as it’s healthy.” I’ve been blessed with three amazingly “healthy” children. But my children are not without challenges. One in particular has some issues that until recently required weekly meetings with not one, but two, different kinds of therapists. I thought that because I had healthy children, life would be easy for us. Au contraire mon frere. Having a child that screams non-stop for 15 months is far from easy. Raising a child that hides under a chair covering his ears if you cook an egg too loudly or acts like you’re ripping his toenails out if you try to bathe him is far from easy. Searching to get that child the help that you believe in your gut he—and your entire family—needs, is far from easy. Rearranging everything in your life to get that child to the appointments so you can fight the insurance to pay for the treatments that give you a glimmer of hope that one day his life will be easy(ier) is far from easy. Worth it? Yes. Every second of it. But easy? Nope. And yet, my children are perfect. Perfectly made in their own way, each able to teach me lessons that no other being on this earth is equipped to teach.
4. The things you think matter don’t. And you’ll be blindsided by the things that do. I know that I spent hours researching whether to start my first child with fruits or vegetables or (gasp!) rice cereal first when he turned 6 months old. For the record, we started with avocado (which technically is a fruit but often masquerades as a vegetable). Also for the record, it didn’t matter. I can remember agonizing about how and when to drop the morning nap, or when to switch from soft bottom to regular shoes. And I won’t even start in about the tormenting choice to supplement with formula. These decisions felt BIG at the time. But now, they are just part of the white noise of those early years. I look back at every single one of them and realize that if I had made a different decision, everything would have been fine. Perfectly fine, just different. Now I’m facing decisions that floor me. I’m not a political person at all, but I can remember feeling overwhelmed with a sense of importance during the last election. What kind of world am I going to leave for my children? How to educate my children—what is really important to me about their learning environments? God. What do I tell them about God, our religion, and other religions? That one keeps me up at night. How do I explain when bad things happen to good people? Or good things happen to bad people? I’ve been a mom for nearly six years, and the enormity of this job is really just starting to hit me.
There is no pain greater than seeing your child in pain. Labor is hard. It hurts. Like really hurts. Like pushing something the size of an elephant out a hole the size of a peanut. But it doesn’t hold a candle to the stabbing pain when your baby comes home from preschool and tells you that nobody wants to play with him. There is nothing to compare to the agony of sitting next to your child in a hospital bed while he is getting a spinal tap and all you can do is stare into his big blue eyes calmly singing “You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you make me happy…” Emotional pain. Physical pain. Seeing your child in any kind of pain will take you to a place that you cannot possibly understand until your heart is walking around outside of your body. Nothing, I mean nothing, could ever prepare me to feel pain to the depths that motherhood has brought me. But at the same time…the joy. Oh the joy. I never knew joy like watching my child feel true happiness.
You will lose yourself. But it’s ok, because you will find yourself again. I think this one is the most important. Read it again. You will lose yourself. But it is OK. Because you will find yourself again. I think we set up an impossible standard in this country. Be everything for everybody. And find time for yourself. And be a good wife. And pursue your dreams. I thought I could do that. I mean I thought everybody—every mom—did that. And was happy about it. That was my job description. Right? Wrong. It’s impossible. As in not possible. At all. And that is OK. See how freeing that is? It was for me anyway, although it took me a while to come to that conclusion. I had 3 children in 3 years. That means I was also pregnant 3 times in 3 years. And I had newborns 3 times in 3 years. And also toddlers and preschoolers…you get the pattern. Somewhere between the vomiting, laboring, nursing, feeding, washing, teaching, potty training, disciplining, driving, reading, hugging, snuggling…I lost myself. I felt scared to admit that. People would ask me “What’s new?” and I felt like I needed to produce an exciting answer—more exciting than “I changed 16 diapers today.” Because the old me would have had a crazy story to share. But I didn’t have a more exciting answer. For the past few years I’ve mostly felt like a mom, and then a wife…and then somewhere if I searched really hard I could find a little bit of me. Except it wasn’t the me I knew 6 years ago. That me would have had a list a mile long of goals, aspirations, plans, and to-dos. This me—the mom-me—if given a moment to myself would honestly like to sit and think no thoughts. Hahaha. I can’t help laughing when I think about that. But I’m cool with that now, although it took me a while (and a few tearful conversations with my hubby) to realize that this is just a season. That’s all. I gave everything I had to these past six years, and I don’t regret a second of it. Not a single second. I’m not sure I can say that about my pre-mom life when I often threw myself into things that were not worth my time, frustration, or dedication. And guess what--I’m already starting to reach a point where my kids need me less (well, differently anyway) and I’m starting to think about who I am now and who I want to be next. It’s kind of an exciting time, really. So don’t worry about losing yourself. It’s not as bad as it seems. You’ll find yourself again, and the person you find will be well worth the search. I promise.
So there you have it. What I wish somebody told me before I had kids. But now I know, and I’m all the wiser for it.