22 Things I’ve Learned as a Mother
Q: Is there anything you’ve learnt as a mother that you’d pass on?
A: To my dear friend who had her first baby just three weeks ago… You asked me this question over text but I couldn’t figure out how to succinctly respond. Here are 22 things I’ve personally learned as a Mother (so far):
The experience of Motherhood is as unique as your individual self and as your incredibly individual new baby. We all know that comparing ourselves to others is pointless and quite probably detrimental to our self esteem and mental health. This is perhaps never more true than in the context of new Motherhood. You may be surprised by deeply entrenched expectations that you did not even know that you had, but that have a place in your subconscious simply from what you’ve seen, been told, and assumed as being ideal throughout your life up to this point. It is important to remember that never before has there ever been a you + your baby combination EVER. There is no possible grounds for comparison with any other mother + baby.
So, always take everything you hear or read with many grains of salt. It may or may not be relevant to you and your child.
Mother’s Instinct is real. Imperfect, if only because nothing in our human experience is perfect, but real. It takes time and practice to learn to trust it, and there is no need to rush the process of becoming acquainted with it, but inevitably you will get that guttural nudge about your child at certain points and it will simply and definitively feel like Truth/Fact. Most of the time, you will be right — it will in fact be Truth/Fact. Sometimes I feel like I can actually read my child’s mind. I wonder, Am I psychic? And then I remember, No, it’s because I’m a Mom.
Barring specific needs that may come up for a particular child, all children will eventually learn to crawl, walk, talk, eat, use the toilet, sleep, etc. But it’s important to remember that it will happen at different times for different children. My kid started crawling at 4.5 months (he had major motivation of wanting to follow our puppy around) and was walking by 9 months but he wasn’t using full sentences or potty-trained until closer to three years old. He’s five now and he is “advanced” in math but “behind” in writing. In the moment, these milestones, or more specifically not meeting these milestones at the so-called “right” time, might feel monumental. But trust that your kid will figure it all out in her own time and in her own style. There is no race. There is no ultimate bearing on health, happiness, or one’s life trajectory based upon how much earlier Baby A did xyz than Baby B.
It’s basically impossible to force your kid to eat. We have no control over their taste buds, inherent palette preferences, or metabolic makeup. Sure, we can expose them to a varied, nutritiously balanced diet. Up to a certain age, we can even keep away certain foods that we may deem to be “bad.” But we do not and will never have full control over this. I swore my kid would only consume homemade everything and minimal sugar. It worked for a bit. I triumphantly thought I had figured it out. And then when he was about 18 months old, he started rejecting EVERYTHING. Literally the exact foods that he once happily gulped down, he would spit out while looking at me with disgust and disdain. I plowed on, determined to make him eat what I wanted him to eat. He continued to reject almost everything I made for him. I worried about his caloric intake and got to a point where I was relieved if he just ate some frosting off a cupcake because at least it was SOMETHING. I got into a habit of distracting him with the screen while shoveling food into his mouth as quickly as possible. Then I worried that he would never be able to feed himself. When he started having lunch at nursery school, he would bring it back most days hardly having touched a thing. I was so stressed about it. But somehow — he kept growing. He is tall, strong, and robust. Apparently he was somehow taking in whatever he needed to be taking in. Our pediatrician told me that children won’t let themselves go hungry and to look at his intake over the broader course of a week rather than worrying about each specific meal. As with all things, he grew out of this phase. He now regularly asks for broccoli and spinach. He eats what we eat (ie adult food not only kiddie food). His palette is, dare I say, kind of sophisticated for a kid. I wish I had been able to deal with the eating challenges with more grace and faith in the moment. I wish I trusted that it was always going to be okay.
Perseverance and Consistency. Apply these principles to any particular routine you want to establish or lesson you want to teach. It can be exhausting to sleep train (if you decide to go that route; there is no right or wrong way for your baby to sleep, there is only what you decide works best for you) or to remind your kid of the same rule over and over and over again. But once you decide that something is important to your family, commit to it, be persistent, be firm. If you stick with it clearly on your end, your kid will eventually get it on their end.
All parents are doing the best that we can in the moment. Remind yourself of this often. You are doing your best, your partner is doing their best, that other mom who does everything totally differently from you is doing her best. Some days we feel solid and confident in our parenting choices and other days we are a sopping mess. We ALL feel these ups and downs, despite what most people’s social media feeds may show.
I don’t believe that we own our children. I love what Dr. Shefali says: We lose ownership of our children as soon as they leave our bodies. They are not ours; they are their own. Of course as parents we must keep them safe and teach them basics like why you can’t sit on your puppy’s head or run full speed into NYC traffic (true stories), but we cannot control them. We are here to guide and support them as they develop into who they are. We do not decide who they will be. It is so liberating to remember this. If my child, for example, has a tantrum in the middle of the grocery store, it does not speak to my lack as a parent. If my child is struggling with something at school, it does not mean I have failed and it certainly does not mean he has failed. It is simply my child going through his journey at his own pacing in his own way.
Our children are our greatest holders-up-of-mirrors, reflecting back to us our own unresolved stuff. This will seem far off since your little one is still a tiny, gurgling, precious pea, but once she moves into toddlerhood and beyond and finds the power of her words to push your buttons, remember that nobody, including your children, can force you to feel or act in a way that is not already in you. For example, if you lose your temper with your child and feel frustrated or angry, it is not actually your child that is causing this. Your child is merely holding up a mirror and reflecting back that which is already in you. That moment is actually an opportunity for you to understand yourSelf more deeply. To make a conscious choice in how you will respond. Will you feed and strengthen any unresolved blind spots or will you choose to see so that you can evolve and heal any old patterns? Children are magnificent, filterless teachers.
There will be days where you will be counting down the hours / minutes (seconds?) until bedtime, when, finally, you can put your feet up and be selfish with your time for a hot second. And then, as soon as your little one falls asleep, you may find yourself creeping back into her room, watching her sleep, and missing her. Actually missing this being that is literally right in front of you whom minutes ago you wanted a break from. This completely illogical, contradictory feeling will be confusing but you will come to see that it is par for the course when it comes to Motherhood. But no matter what, don’t wake the baby! ;)
When you are not with your child, even if she is very safely and very happily with your partner or her grandparents or any other trusted caregiver that will become part of your village, you will never not be thinking about her to some extent. She is forever etched in your psyche and your soul. As a mother I now viscerally understand what it means to move through life with my heart existing outside of my body.
And by the way, it definitely takes a village. For some families, the village is built-in and organic. For others, like it is for us, it is not. So we built our own. We all need support. We all need breaks. We all will be better for it.
Self-care. It is imperative that we mothers keep our own tanks filled up. It is not selfish to do this. It is a basic foundational requirement. Make a plan that works for you in this moment. Perhaps what you need is to set aside x amount of time per day for just yourself. Or make a list of your weekly Top 5 Non-Negotiables and scaffold your time to meet these as regularly as possible.
Sometimes it might help to remember: This too shall pass. There will come a time when something that feel impossibly challenging in the present moment simply won’t be in the future. Stay strong. Let yourself cry or scream when it feels like too much. And then keep going.
Take lots of videos. Photos too, of course. But videos capture their little movements and noises that they will grow out of so quickly in hindsight and that you will adore looking back on.
There are lots of cliches, like, “Enjoy it while it lasts” or “The days are long but the years are short.” Like, sure, okay. Maybe it rings true for you, maybe it doesn’t. There is no one Truth, only your Truth. Take on the things that feel right for you and toss out the rest. Including everything I’m saying here.
You don’t have to be everything for your kid or like everything you do with your kid. Me — I can read stories to my little one for hours, but having to play toy car races felt like torture. His dad on the other hand had fun playing cars because it’s something he also did as a child. It’s okay to let someone else step in to do something that you maybe just don’t feel like doing.
It will never be a 50/50 division of parental responsibility between you and your partner. It’s impossible. Whether you end up both being working parents or having one parent work while the other stays home, it is impossible to divvy everything up in a perfectly balanced way all of the time. Sometimes you’ll feel like you’re doing more. Sometimes it will feel unfair. Talk about it, ask for or offer a day off, but don’t harbor resentment as literally nobody in the world is doing this parenting thing perfectly equally.
As many different and often conflicting parenting strategies exist out there, there is one principle that I think they all share: Yelling does not work. And yet, you will probably yell at your child at some point(s). When this happens, be easy on yourself; you’re only human. When this happens with me, I do my best to take accountability in the moment and to apologize to my little one for having lost my temper: “Mommy is really sorry for yelling at you. Mommy ran out of patience. I do need you to listen to me and to be helpful but I am sorry for yelling. I love you no matter what.” At least then I hope that I am showing him that we all make mistakes and that what’s important is how we move through these mistakes.
Because, our kids learn basically everything from watching us. It still surprises me to hear my kid’s intonation of a certain word or phrase sounding exactly like my own. We model to them what behavior is acceptable and how to respond when we are feeling a certain emotion (particularly important when it comes to emotions such as: anger, disappointment, rejection, frustration). They are automatically absorbing from us how to express their emotions and how to interact with the world and with others.
It will be amusing, amazing, funny, and so wonderfully fun when your kid starts talking for real and you finally get to know all the things that have been in her head. Write a lot of it down.
We all worry that we are bad parents. But if at the end of the day your kid wants to be around you, then rest assured, you’re probably doing a pretty good job.
I am sure that this is way more than you were looking for and a lot of it may not feel relevant in these early days of newborn life, but I hope there might be a useful morsel or two buried in my ramblings. Welcome to Motherhood!