“Motherhood is a choice you make everyday, to put someone else’s happiness and well-being ahead of your own, to teach the hard lessons, to do the right thing even when you’re not sure what the right thing is…and to forgive yourself, over and over again, for doing everything wrong.“
~Donna Ball, At Home on Ladybug Farm
For years, 34 to be exact, I have believed that the hospital I birthed my first son in, did me a great disservice by letting me walk out the double doors of their institution after my son was a mere one day old. Oh, they took care of me alright. They gave me ice chips during the birthing process. They had all the equipment needed, in working order, to deliver a healthy baby. The pitocin was running properly through the tube and into my system. It was a hard birth but it was a healthy birth.
I slept as well as I could after my baby was born and then the next morning it was time to go home. Everything seemed normal, but little did I know, little did I realize, little did anyone tell me that my whole life had changed the day before and I didn’t even know it.
I had a baby.
Not just any baby. But a real, living, breathing baby that got hungry and pooped and cried did all those things that real babies do. Not like the babies you get for Christmas when you’re a four year old little girl. Babies that don’t make noise and don’t poop and never get hungry. If they do, you just pretend to feed them. You pretend to soothe them. You pretend to change their diaper. And all the pretending works. But not with real babies. You can’t pretend with real babies. Real babies let you know if you mess up. Real babies let you know that their diapers are messy and haven’t been changed. Real babies will want some more to eat so they can fill up that diaper again and again.
As a new parent, you kind of expect all that to happen. That is the reason for baby showers. To prepare the unprepared. To prepare the ones who did and who didn’t plan for baby. Materially, anyhow. For the truth is – you can never fully prepare for being a mom. Or dad.
You can buy every little thing they advertise for the new little munchkins. From pacifiers, to cloth diapers to disposables, to itsy-bitsy onesies, to super soft blankies, to stuffed bears, to baby lotion… you get the picture. You can buy it all, or at least what you think you’ll actually need, and it still won’t prepare you for what is coming. You can read every book on pregnancy and every book on raising children and you will still be unprepared to some degree. But there is one simple fact on your side: you have never been a parent before.
This one simple fact may seem discouraging when it comes down to it. Except, again, for one simple fact: your child has never been a baby before. Nor anything that comes after. Be it a toddler, a preschooler, a kindergartner, a youth, a teenager, or………….
They will have multitudes of ‘firsts’ that will cause you to squeal with delight. Firsts that you have taken for granted and now see again, through their eyes, in awe. Firsts that you will have forgotten what it felt like to experience. Firsts that will leave you dumbfounded, amazed, frustrated, frightened, embarrassed, uptight, proud, and every gamut of emotion in between and beyond.
However, there are a few gems of truth in this life they call parenthood, or mothering, or fathering. Gems no new parent should ever be let out of the delivery section of the hospital (or the office for signing adoption papers) without hearing. Gems that need to be heard by new moms and new dads everywhere, in hopes of saving them moments, that can seem like hours, and hours that can seem like days, and days that can seem like months of discouragement, depression, hopelessness, frustration, anger, despair, and more.
Numero Uno… Remember, remember, remember – you have never done this before. You won’t have all the answers, so go easy on yourself. You get better at changing diapers the more you change them, just as you get better at setting boundaries the more you do it, just as you get better at extending grace the more you extend it – to yourself and to others. Practice, practice, practice. Extend, extend, extend.
Butt paste is hard to put on the first time. You’re afraid you will break baby’s butt by pushing so hard to get it to spread. Once you realize after applying it a few times that baby doesn’t even bruise from said application, it’s easier to do. You’ve practiced, practiced, practiced. You are an expert with butt paste. Just like you will become an expert in other things you once never experienced (in the land of parenthood).
Numero Dos… Your baby doesn’t know you are new at this. So you put the diaper on backwards. And who cares if you gave up on cloth and switched to disposable diapers? If your baby is well fed, is changed at regular intervals and when poopy, and is sheltered, your baby is being loved. And isn’t that the greatest thing, after all? Not what brand of shorts they are sporting, whether their polo shirt has a horse on the chest, if their shoes match their outfit. None of that matters and your baby won’t care.
Numero Tres… Lighten up. Let go of expectations you have put on yourself and (perhaps not realizing) your child(ren).
We spend billions of dolllars trying to make our children into little conformities of our own desires. We try to keep up with the Jones’s and in doing so our children miss out on the one thing they are supposed to be experiencing: Childhood. We are afraid of them getting their name brand clothes dirty in the sandbox. We fret over style when we should be teaching values. Let them be children. Let them get dirty.
Numero Tres... Mama said there’d be days like this. A popular song verbiage that has tremendous value and truth. You may not have heard those words come from mama’s lips, but every parent needs to know, “There WILL BE days like ‘this’. There will be days of frustration, days of feeling inadequate, guilty and ashamed. Days filled with weariness, wishing you could throw in the towel and drive back to that birthing center and ask for a full refund.
It could always be worse. It really could. Really. That is not just a cliche.
Close your eyes and count to ten. Slowly. Your kids didn’t set out to make you tired and miserable. They are children. More than likely they are doing what they are supposed to do. Being children. However, they may be in need of some timely guidance. So give it to them, in love.
Without uncontrolled anger.
Without instilling shame.
With discipline that fits the misconduct and is age-appropriate.
And in love.
Always in love.
Numero Quattro… Things are not always what they seem, but if they are, don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help.
Some times, on those harder days, if you wait long enough before reacting, you’ll see the situation for what it really is – funny. When you finally get past the embarrassment of the repairman coming into your living room to your boys’ ingenious raceway made of connected Kotex pads (true story – not mine, however) and step back and look at how creative your boys are – eventually you will laugh. I promise. But, if for some reason you can’t just then and things only continue to pile higher and deeper and you’re not sure you can do another day, you need to ask for help. At the point of a sigh replacing your joy, you need a break.
Asking for help is not admitting you’re a bad parent. It is admitting you are human and you are being honest with yourself. The person too proud to ask for help will only make it harder for her/himself and their family. If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.
Ask for help. Offer help, if you’re stocked up emotionally, mentally, spiritually, and physically.
Numero Cinco… One of the greatest pieces of advice I ever received was from my first son’s pediatrician. This is what he said…
“Dance with your children.”
A month ago I spent a week with my daughter. During the course of that week she gave me a precious gift. A sign that read: “This kitchen is for dancing.”
And that’s what kitchens are for. Dancing with those you love and cherish. With those you have forgiven and those who have forgiven you. With those you have experienced life with. They are for making memories. They are for dancing…
with your children.