Lessons from Motherhood
Baby number three was recently born into our family, and this has me reflecting on all the things I've learned over the past four years as a mother. As I've tried to think of what my most important advice is, I've come up with this list. So this post is for all the new mothers [and fathers], all the seasoned parents, and most especially for me. Because while I've grown exponentially since Masi was born, these are all still lessons that I have to remind myself of almost daily. I'm still learning how to apply these lessons from motherhood.
And honestly, I think that most of these things still apply to life in general. So you don't have to stop reading if you don't have kids.
1. It takes a village to raise a child. It really does. Remind yourself of this when you're feeling too shy to ask for help. You can't do it all and shouldn't even try. Find your village. Surround yourself as much as possible with your people. With people that uplift and encourage you, people that can empathize and laugh with you, people that you feel comfortable reaching out for help to. With people who have similar interests. And don't forget your online community. I've found so many amazing people thru Facebook and Instagram that I look to for great advice and encouragement. So join some mom groups and do whatever you gotta do to find your people. It's worth it.
2. Grace. Give yourself so much grace, mama. Give yourself permission to be imperfect. You don't have to do it all. You don't need to have a perfectly clean house, intricate homemade meals every night, well dressed fashionable children who are perfectly behaved, and a model's physique. It's okay if there's dirty dishes in the sink and laundry overflowing. It's okay if all you did today was keep everyone alive. You are amazing regardless. This too shall pass. Until then, grant yourself permission to struggle and survive the best you can.
3. Take what works for you and leave the rest. You will be inundated with advice from all sides. From your friends and family, old ladies at the grocery store, parenting books, and Google. As well intentioned as most of it may be, it may not all be for you. Every child, every family, and every situation is different so even if your best friend swears by something, it's important to take the things that will work for your family and not feel guilty about leaving the rest. Only you can know what's best for your child so trust your mother's [or father's] instinct. You got this. It's easy to fall into the comparison trap of how others discipline, how easily their kids go to sleep at night or eat everything on the plate but trying to force every trick and schedule on your family will only stress everybody out. So if something is working for you, then be confident in your decision and don't worry about anyone else's opinion.
4. All the cheesy cliches are true. All. Of. Them. When I was a younger, I used to cringe at how embarrassingly sentimental my mom was and vowed to never be the same... but unfortunately I'm more like her in that respect than I'd care to admit. *face palm emoji* But everything they say about being a parent really is true. I miss them as soon as they've gone to sleep (okay, on hard days it takes a few minutes 😅) The days are long, but the years are short. There is no way to be a perfect mother, but a million ways to be a good one. It will all be gone in a blink of an eye, and you'll miss this. That doesn't mean there won't be hard days or you're not allowed to feel the negative emotions that come with parenting. In fact, I believe that we need to give ourselves permission to fully experience the negative emotions so we can move through it and be able to feel gratitude for the rest.
5. Your best is enough. And some days that will look different than others. Today it might be baking homemade cookies together in a relatively clean house and tomorrow just watching movies in pajamas all day amidst baskets of laundry and a sink full of dishes. And that's okay. Because as long as you're giving your best, that's enough. As I write this, my boys have been wearing the same clothes for the past three days and their hair hasn't been brushed in even longer. Honestly, that's okay with me. They'll change outfits eventually. Lol. But I've learned to accept that all I can do each day is my best, and That. Is. Enough.
6. Take time for you. I honestly cannot exaggerate the importance of this. With three kids 4 years old and under, I know exactly what it's like to be overwhelmed by parenthood. To feel like the moment you attempt to sit down or have the audacity to take a shower, everything will fall into chaos. I've been so lost in motherhood that I heard phantom cries as soon as I start something for myself. Where is there time for self care when little people depend on you for their every need? But I truly believe the saying that "you can't pour from an empty cup". During my motherhood journey, I've been at both ends of the spectrum. I've been that empty cup, bone dry. But I'm coming out of a period of self neglect and in just a few weeks of prioritizing myself I can feel a huge difference- in my patience, energy levels, and attitude toward mothering. Don't get me wrong, taking time for self care with young children is HARD. It requires conscious effort or I end up at the end of the to-do list again. And I've had to let go of the idea that things have to be perfect first. That my house needs to be clean before I can do anything, or even that self care itself needs to look a certain way. I don't typically have time for long baths, hours at the gym, or pedicures anymore. So right now self care looks like getting 5 minutes of reading in while nursing the baby, sneaking chocolate in the kitchen while the boys watch a show, and remembering to brush my teeth everyday.
7. Accept help. This one is also hard. It requires rejecting our society's notion that independence is the ideal trait. That to be able to do everything on your own is strength, or that these are your kids so you need to handle them. The reality is that we can't do this alone and we aren't meant to. Traditionally we lived in communal settings with generations of support- mothers, grandmothers, aunts, and friends all there to lend support. It literally took the village to raise children. So when someone offers to help [especially in those fresh postpartum weeks], say yes. It's okay if they don't put the dishes away exactly how you do or if the kids get more screen time than usual while being watched by someone else. We all need help in this parenting gig, so accept it however it comes. And if no one is offering, then ask. People generally want to help, they just often don't know how. We can create our own community, if we let others into our space. Being independent isn't always the greatest strength; sometimes having the courage to be vulnerable and accept that we can't do it all is the harder task.
8. Expect & embrace radical transformation. "The moment a child is born, the mother is also born. She never existed before. The woman existed, but the mother, never. A mother is something absolutely new."[Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh] The person looking back at you in the mirror might feel so foreign and that's normal. But don't be afraid to get to know her. There may be a part of you that mourns the person you used to be. At times it feels like you'll never get back to that person, and the truth is you won't. You can't. Your body will never be the same....but neither will your heart. In the realm of personal improvement and adult development I've often heard the phrase "Include and transcend". Like a set of Russian nesting dolls, your pre-parenthood self is still there but is more like a stepping stone to something exciting and different. Your old interests are still there but don't be surprised to discover some new and unexpected passions as well. Becoming a parent can be a catalyst for so much radical self discovery, if you allow it. Motherhood prompted me to reevaluate my priorities and my direction in life, to heal my old hurts, solidify my core beliefs, to critique and seek to improve upon my own upbringing. And it is still creating change in me. Who you were before is a necessary, integral of who you are now. It's important to honor the way these previous experiences--both positive and negative--have shaped you, include the lessons you've learned from them, and then use that knowledge to transcend your previous beliefs and limitations. While at times it's been hard to get outside my comfort zone, it's like making a new friend: with myself.
Being a mother has become such a huge part of my identity and though it's not perfect, I can't imagine my life any different. As we went off to bed our first night home from the hospital with Masi, I peeked in our small apartment living room and there was already diapers and toys on the floor (he was only 3 days old so he didn't play with toys yet but?) And I sighed exhausted, thinking, "oh my gosh what have I gotten myself into?" From then to now I've learned and grown just as much as my children. And so it makes me excited to think where we'll be in four more years. I've got this mama, and so do you. Because we are all in it together.
Pictures as always by the lovely Christie from CJae Studios. I'm using photos from our shoot Summer 2019 right before Blake was deployed (hence why I'm still pregnant with Baby Alema). She has been with us through all of our family milestones here in Oklahoma and we love her so much!