10 Things I Wish I'd Known Before Becoming a Mother
*Originally posted on Alamo City Moms.
Almost five years have passed since I became a mother to my daughter, Harper. Four-and-a-half years of parenting hardly make me an expert, but I can’t help but shake my head at all the things I didn’t know when I set out on this journey. Here are ten things I wish someone had told me then, before I became a mother:
1. You can kiss perfectionism goodbye. Prior to my daughter’s birth, I insisted that the nursery look like a magazine—walls repainted, furniture assembled, art hung, stuffed animals placed. It added tons of stress that turned out to be completely unnecessary, as Harper didn’t even see—let alone sleep in—her nursery for at least three months after we brought her home. Four years of parenthood has taught me that, more often than not, an apple juice stain will emerge just as the photographer is about to snap the “perfect” Christmas card picture, or a collision with the coffee table will result in a Texas-sized bruise on your child’s forehead 48 hours before the “perfect” birthday party. Let it go. Lower your standards. Perfection is unattainable, so it’s illogical to strive for it.
2. You’re capable of so much more than you ever thought possible. Yes, even you—with the squeamish stomach and the six-hour sleep quota—have the capacity to clean vomit off the walls at 4:00 A.M. and to get yourself and your sick child up, dressed, and out the door to the pediatrician’s office for an 8:00 A.M. appointment on two hours of sleep. If I, whom most would describe as “puke-a-phobic,” can do it, I promise you can, too. Motherhood forces you to summon a strength within yourself you didn’t know existed. Do not doubt yourself or your capabilities. You are a mom—and this means you are a superhero.
3. Almost everything in your life will change—but that’s not a bad thing. Like most moms, I don’t look the same as I did before giving birth. A C-section scar stares up at me from across my abdomen, and my pre-baby bras now seem like items I might’ve “trained” with in the sixth grade. My lifestyle has also changed. I watch Dora more than Grey’s, consider an 8:00 A.M. wake-up call “sleeping in,” and can’t remember the last time a trip to the grocery store with my daughter took less than one-and-a-half hours. Also different since having a child: my relationships, both with my husband, family, and friends. Parenthood affects every facet of your life. Nothing stays the same after having a child, but what you gain is so much greater than what you give up.
4. You’ll never be fully prepared. “Are these big red splotches—that were not present two seconds before, mind you—the result of my two-year-old somehow grabbing the loofah while I was shaving my legs and using it on her FACE?!” “How should you respond when your child asserts that her poop smells like candy canes?” “What exactly are you supposed to say when your toddler declares that Daddy has a ‘weird bottom’ (‘It no look like mine, Ma-Ma!’) or politely asks where her pubic hair is?” These are questions not typically addressed in parenting books…and you’ll have hundreds of your own variety. Life will catch even the most on-the-ball mom off-guard. You may be the type of person who has a fresh change of clothes, stack of diapers, and healthy snack tucked inside your purse every time you leave the house, but I guarantee you this: The day you forget to bring your wipes case, will be the day you remember as The Hobby Lobby Blow-Out From Hell. No matter how much you read, research, or buy, you will never be 100% ready for this adventure or the curveballs it throws at you. Being unprepared does not equate failure; it simply means an opportunity to learn so you can be better equipped next time.
5. You will see your own mother through new eyes. My own mom has always said that she loves me in a way no one else ever could. Hers is a pure, primal, selfless, compassionate, unconditional love that could never end despite my actions or age, and only now am I beginning to fully understand it. I also realize now what I didn’t as a teenager: that every time my mother worried about me or told me to “be careful,” it’s because she saw me as completely vulnerable in a big, scary world and because she would do absolutely anything to prevent me from getting hurt. Once you’re the one doing for someone else all that your mother did for you, you’ll look at her with a new appreciation of her sacrifices and understanding of her love. P.S. Call her and tell her "thank you.”
6. No matter what, you will encounter people who don’t approve of or agree with your parenting techniques. You may think it’s best to instantly cradle your baby every time he wakes, or you may believe in the concept of “crying it out.” You may choose to discipline with a timeout, or you may feel instead that your child needs a swat on the behind for your message to sink in. You may argue on behalf of co-sleeping, or breast-feeding, or making your own baby food, or any number of things. Whichever path you choose, one thing is certain: Others will choose another, completely different road—and oftentimes, they will feel compelled to tell you exactly why their way is better. It’s ridiculous, because there is no “right” way to do this. No one knows you, your child, or your circumstances like you do. You were put on this earth to parent your child(ren)—no one else’s—and when it comes to making the best decisions for your family, you are the most qualified. Period. That being said…
7. You will doubt yourself and second-guess your decisions many times—which is why you’ll need solid support from other moms. Too many times to count have I found myself texting my mommy friends in need of their guidance. Sometimes I ask for advice; other times I simply crave reassurance from someone other than my beloved husband or doting mother. Friendships with other moms are vital. Motherhood is a tough job, and we make it so much more difficult by being incredibly hard on ourselves. Cultivate your own network of supportive moms, and lean on it when you succumb to “mommy guilt” or feel particularly down on yourself. Others will help if you let them.
8. At one point or another, you too will be “that mom” with “that child.” Our latest breakdown occurred in the Target shoe department, when Harper decided that a furry kitten purse she’d eyed on the way in was, apparently, necessary to her survival. Knowing she already has a similar purse that she seldom plays with or uses, I refused. This led to a tantrum typically reserved for the two-and-under crowd. Shrieks echoed. Strangers stared. My blood pressure skyrocketed, and my brow dampened…and yet I remained undeterred from my course of shopping for back-to-school shoes. Your darling angel will not always be so darling, but meltdowns do not a bad mom make. Forgive yourself when it happens—and your child, as well, once you’ve cooled down. And next time you see a struggling mom in a similar scenario, cut her a little slack. Better yet, tell her, “It’s OK—we’ve all been there. You’re doing a great job. Tomorrow is a new day.”
9. Your child is not really “yours.” There’s a point in my favorite play, Les Miserables, when the main character, Jean Valjean, looks at his adult daughter and her new husband locking eyes and says, “She was never mine to keep.” It brings me to tears every time, because I know it is the truth. We bring our pink or blue bundles home from the hospital and pretend they are tiny, live dolls. Why wouldn’t we? We made these precious little things: created their makeup, grew them inside of our wombs, and delivered them into this world. We dress them, bathe them, feed them, make all decisions for them, and are responsible for their entire well-being. Even so, our children do not “belong” to us. They are real people with their own thoughts, opinions, and feelings, and they will one day fly away from our nests to conquer the world on their own. We can’t ever forget that we are raising future members of society—not little toys, much as they may sometimes seem—and it is our job to give them the tools they need to thrive on their own, even if that means having to endure the heartbreak that comes with taking a step back and watching them try—and fail.
10. This role will never end. Last January, during a Las Vegas getaway with my husband, a plate of uncooked calamari resulted in the worst case of food poisoning I’d ever had. I can’t remember ever being so violently ill. I found myself lying in my hotel room yearning for my own mother, wishing she were there to wet my forehead with a cool cloth and tell me that everything was going to be OK. Similarly, two weeks after my 30th birthday, a giant grasshopper somehow sneaked into my living room while my husband was out-of-town, and my irrational phobia of large insects rendered me paralyzed to remove it. Guess whom I called? Even now that I’m a grownup and a mother myself, I still need my mom, and I know that Harper will depend on me long after she leaves my house. Your kids will eventually grow up, move out, and start their own lives apart from you, but you will always be their mom. Your role will change, but you will always be needed. This gig doesn’t end when your kids turn 18, get married, or become parents themselves. You’re in this for the long haul. Your commitment as a mother is simply to be there for your children ‘til death do you part.