Shortly after giving birth to my daughter, I created this little piece of altered art trying to describe what this “motherhood” thing was all about:
Yup. That pretty much sums up my first 6 months of being a new mommy. Maybe it still does.
Seriously though, I am still figuring out this whole “mommy” thing, and what it really means. Why does it still feel strange to think of myself as a mother or a parent? Yes, I have a child, and so my logic is telling me I must be those things, but the rest of me is resisting the notion as completely ludicrous. You? A parent? Hahahahaha!
I have to tell myself, I didn’t wake up on my 18th birthday magically filled with wisdom about how to be an adult. I didn’t feel any different and I certainly didn’t act any smarter or more mature. It took time, and experience, and lots and lots of embarrassing mistakes. Soooo….learning how to be a mother and a parent is going to take some time getting used to, right?
Here are some things I have learned on the journey thus far:
You transition as they do
Have you ever seen a baby horse? They are basically born already knowing how to walk and can gallop the next day. The beauty of a human baby is that their development is slow enough for people like me to catch on! Can you imagine if babies came running out of the womb? Or worse yet–already rolling their eyes and being embarrassed by you? Just the thought terrifies me. I am SO GLAD I have all this extra time to acclimate to each new development, and time to learn from mistakes along the way.
It’s ok if you are doing things a bit “different”
Sometimes I wonder if I am doing things the “right” way when it comes to my daughter. Do I spend enough time with her? Am I stunting her brain by letting her watch TV/eat chocolate/run around naked? Is her day stimulating enough? Am I too lax/strict? How do other parents do it???? Basically there are roughly A MILLION things to feel guilty about or freak out over if I let myself, and the truth is, probably none of it is worth the energy worrying about. I have to remind myself that I and my husband are both loving, responsible adults who want what is best for their kids. My husband grew up in a completely different environment than I did, and he turned out just fine. I need to trust that families can create their own traditions/habits/rules, etc and still be happy. If I changed my approach every time I read something new on Aha! Parenting my child would probably just be confused and I would be exhausted. I think it is great to be open to new ideas– especially if something just isn’t working. But if we are all happy and thriving, why spend time trying to fix what isn’t broken?
Don’t lose yourself
I hope to be the best mother I can be, but that’s not ALL I want to be. And yes, parenthood will probably always be a delicate balance between time with children and time for myself that could be a whole blog post in itself. But the key is to remember do not lose who you are by trying to be just one thing. I want my children to know that Mommy is more than just a mommy. She has interests, talents, and a career that challenges and excites her. And when my children are older, I want to take them to my art studio, to see my office at my new private practice, and go to yoga class with me. But I also want to have my own creative time and space for myself. I think the worst thing I could do is sacrifice my own interests “for the sake of my kids”–and wonder why I feel so resentful and drained at the end of the day. What kind of message are we sending when our children become our only obsession? It is important to me to show my children that I don’t have to lose my identity to become a parent. People are complex, as Walt Whitman said, “I am large, I contain multitudes.”
Lonely is a choice
I am a big fan of alone time (see above). But I have come to realize that I don’t have to be lonely, and I certainly don’t have to do this whole mother/parent thing alone. Besides my husband, I have found wonderful friends, resources and support in young mothers like me who are going through similar transitions. There are groups to join, classes to go to, blogs to read (hint hint :)). My husband and I regularly invite other families and couples over for dinner. I joined a book club, and created a bi-weekly “art night” for local artist friends. I invite myself over to friend’s homes for play dates. We do babysitting swaps. I was actually surprised by how many people there were in Salem who I connected to once I started looking.
So, even though I am still getting the hang of this whole mommy/parent role I have taken on, I can honestly say I am comfortable being “in transition.” Who knows it just might be a transition that lasts my whole life.
This past Christmas, my own mother gave each of her children a book she had written called, “Principles of Parenting.” While reading it, I was surprised to see about as many of her parenting mistakes listed as there were pearls of wisdom. Some of her main advice? “Love ’em lots,” “never punish your child in anger,” “eat family meals together,” “stay friends,” and “give hugs, or other forms of touch two times a day minimum!” Her very last written words were, “I want you to know I am always rooting for you, always on your side.” Well, mom, you just managed to help me feel a little less inadequate, a little more loved. I guess that’s what parents are for.
Who knows, maybe in 30 years I’ll be able to write a handbook of my own.