Long ago, while I was a mom to just one little boy, I had a friend. She had five kids, and had grown up with nine brothers and sisters. She made parenting seem like a cinch. One day while I was visiting with her, she said to me, “You know, you just aren’t really a mom until you have two kids.” I gaped at her wondering why on earth anyone would say such a thing to a new mom with only one child. My mind was reeling. Not really a mom?? I am running on 2-hour incraments of sleep every night and averaging 3 showers a week. I change at least 8 diapers a day, cook with a baby on my hip, and get mother goose rhymes stuck in my head on a regular basis. How could you say I’m not really a mom?? I tried not to take it personally. Coming from her, I knew she wasn’t trying to be rude or condescending, she was simply stating what she saw as fact.
Three kids later, I think I finally understand what she was trying to tell me. While I wouldn’t go so far as to say you aren’t really a mom when you have one child, but you are certainly an entirely different kind of parent than you would be if (or when) you have more.
When I had my first son, I was young and naive. My knowledge of infants was limited to a couple parenting books and the advice of wiser, more experienced mamas. Babysitting didn’t prepare me near enough for what I was experiencing, and I was trying so hard to do the right thing, thinking I had finally figured something out, only to find myself back at the drawing board. I worried about EVERYTHING. I thought I had to be perfect, my son had to fit the text-book description with each benchmark, and that if another mom had a differing opinion on parenting then I must be doing it wrong. I tried to please everyone. Sometimes I looked at other moms who had it all put together with complete awe, while on other occasions I saw parents and turned a judgemental eye thinking that I had it figured out so much better.
I think that the biggest difference between then and now is that I thought I had to be perfect and have perfect kids. Once I went from man-to-man defense to zone, I found that neither will ever happen, and that’s totally ok!
If I could sit down with that naive, young mom I was back then, I’d love to tell her a few things. Not that I have it all figured out now or that I’m better at this parenting thing than I was back then, but each new child and 10 years have given me a little more experience.
1. Don’t worry so much about what everyone else thinks. If there’s one thing I’ve learned as a mom, it’s that everyone has an opinion on parenting. Not only that, everyone has an opinion on how YOU are parenting. When it comes to being a parent, you will rarely (if ever) be able to please everyone. Back then, I remember feeling like I was drowning in everyone else’s opinions and feeling terrible and dejected when someone thought I’d made a wrong parenting decision. Not much has changed today, but now I’m trying harder to focus more on what I feel is right for my own family and following that inspiration. Maybe my 90-year-old self will have this figured out!
2. The best gift you could ever give is time. “Sometimes in life we become so focused on the finish line that we fail to find joy in the journey.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
The journey of motherhood goes so fast, I wish I could go back and remind myself to give more time to those that occupy my heart and less to the distractions that seem to take up more than they should.
3. Don’t judge. You just never know. You never know what is going on in that person’s life. You never know when you will be in the same position.
4. Kids don’t know everything. The other day I asked my 4-year-old to clean up some spilled milk. “Just grab a washcloth and wipe it up!” He rummaged through the drawer and pulled out a giant towel. “A washcloth, T! Not a towel.” Turns out, he had no idea what a washcloth is…how, I have no idea. Sometimes I find myself expecting my kids to know things, like how to act in certain situations or how to do something that seems so simple, when they’ve never been taught. I forget that they aren’t little adults, and there are things that they simply need to know and practice before I can have expectations.
5. Your kid has his own personality. Let him be him. I have four boys with vastly different natures. Learning to appreciate each one and not expecting them to be something that aren’t has been monumental in the way I interact with my kids. It certainly isn’t easy, but I hope in the end they will be glad for who they are and not try to be something they’re not.
6. Average is a good place to be. I spent way too much time worrying that my kids would be top of the class. That they would potty train early, know their abc’s, tie their shoes, and be reading before any of their classmates. I wanted them to be the best. I’m so thankful that I quickly learned the beauty of letting go of all that pressure, on them and on me. Middle-of-the-road is a great (and I’d argue healthy) place to be!
7. Water the flowers, not the weeds. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve chanted this to myself as my toddler has thrown himself into a tantrum or my older kids have frantically done their forgotten homework minutes before the bus arrives. Finding and pointing out the good in others, especially our kids, I really believe could change the world.
8. Be the kind of mom that’s YOU. Don’t try to be something you aren’t. The day I realized I just wasn’t the kind of mom who threw giant birthday parties for her kids was both a disappointment and a relief. As much as I wanted to be that kind of mom, it just wasn’t me. I realized that I could do other things to make my kids feel loved. We all have our strengths, even in raising little human beings. Capitalize on that!
9. Appreciate the moment. Savor the good. Motherhood just isn’t all roses and sunshine. But so many roses and sunshine do come! Taking time to really savor those moments makes the harder times not seem so bad. And when the clouds cover the sun and the roses seem to wilt, those better memories can remind us that the roses will bloom and the sun will shine again.
10. Forgive yourself. “Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.” Donna Ball
If I could go back in time, I would tell myself that so many exciting things are ahead. I’d tell myself that this will stretch me in ways I didn’t know possible, that I will be a different mom down the road than I am right then. And that’s ok.
I’d tell myself that motherhood is embarking on the grandest adventure anyone could imagine. The waters are deep and the waves can be mountainous, but the journey is one that you will never regret.