It has been a decade since I held my first baby in my arms. It seems like yesterday, until I remember that we documented those first moments of family life with a handheld video camera, and then it feels like a technological lifetime ago. We parented “by the book,” as that’s all we had available to guide us through those early years of parenting. Fortunately, by the time my second and third baby came along, the iPhone replaced the video camera, and blogs and online discussion groups replaced the need for most of the parenting best sellers. I embraced the change, flourishing in these motherhood communities, online and in person, giving advice, seeking advice, crying, and being a shoulder to cry on. For a wonderful ten years, raising young children was my life and supporting other women navigate through early motherhood was my passion.
As I now prepare my youngest and last child to start school next year, I recognize that my own days of mothering little ones is coming to a close. When I reflect on the sleepless nights, the healthy food aversions, the hours of “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” on repeat in the car, I remember all the advice from other mothers who helped me, and those I have helped, to survive and enjoy those early years of parenting. However, as I sing my swan song to early motherhood, I find that what I want to share most with mothers of little ones is the advice that is less spoken about, but equally as important as the stories of reflux solutions and successful bedtime routines. Unconventional and sometimes a little silly, these are the lessons I learned over the last ten years that I want to pass on the most.
It’s Better to be Quicker with an Unsolicited Helping Hand than Unsolicited Advice
When a mother is in throes of a toddler meltdown, for instance, it also seems to be in our nature to offer advice, when sometimes all that is really needed is a hug or someone to hold their bags. Unsolicited advice is often construed as disapproval and can be hurtful even if you were just trying to help, not criticize. Always offer support before suggestions, and try not to take offence if you find yourself on the other side of unwanted advice.
Be Willing to Admit that Your Child is Not Perfect
Failure is a normal part of the developmental and learning process, and our children have to make mistakes. You don’t need to make an excuse for why they threw out the entire contents of your shopping cart or hit another child at preschool. These are normal behaviors that they (and us) need to learn from, not be excused from. It’s not that they are “tired” or “learned how to hit from Sally’s son” – it’s that they are young children and testing boundaries. Simply admit that your child is being “two” and can be a bit of a jerk sometimes. Other moms are likely experiencing the same challenges and need to hear that it’s normal learning behavior.
Learn to Tap Out
Though it may sometimes seem like it, you are not the only person that can put your child to bed, get them to take a bottle, read them a story, or kiss them goodnight. You need to let others do some of the heavy lifting both for your sanity and for your kids’ as well. Children need mom, but they also need your spouse, your parents, a babysitter, a friend, to help shape their experiences. Let go, and let people help.
Don’t Let Motherhood Define You
One of the greatest moments of my life in early motherhood was meeting a friend that didn’t want to talk about her kids all the time. Even though we have children the same age, we often get together without them. We are interested in each other, not just as mothers, but as women who love art, books, movies, walks, etc. I love my “mom friends” and credit them with so many of my great experiences in early motherhood. However, we need friends outside of motherhood as well to remind us that we are a interesting and worthy people, even without our children.
There is Life After Babies
I want to express just how wonderful life is when the children grow out of the baby stages. I felt so much pressure to enjoy every minute, every barf, every kick in the stomach while I was sleeping, and every baby snuggle when I really wanted to put them down to pee. As it turns out, children are just as awesome, and in many ways more awesome, as mini adults than they are as babies and toddlers. Definitely enjoy the time, and you will miss some of it, but the benefits of a child that can make their own breakfast in the morning, far outweighs the benefits of a baby cuddle. And spoiler alert, even though they can walk and go to school, they will still snuggle with you!