“Momming” is flipping hard! And sometimes, it would have been helpful to have a heads-up! So, ladies, in all seriousness, here are some things I wish I could tell other mothers to make their first time experience that much easier!
- Choose your people
Eish! This one is hard. This has caused me to shed many tears in the short two years of motherhood. I am someone who feels that I always need more than one opinion but, much to my detriment, I ask everyone! And then, my head is cluttered with conflicting advice from my moms, my friends, doctors, lactation consultants, clinic sisters, doulas and randoms. Then, I agonise over the decision-making process that ensues as I sift through the jumble of opinions in my mind. When I eventually decide what to do, guaranteed, there is always someone who criticises, shoots down, scorns or simply disagrees with the method I’ve chosen. I then recoil, question every decision I’ve ever made as a mom and get angry, frustrated and upset. This could be just a character trait of mine because I know it was something I had a problem with pre-motherhood. But, I think most moms experience this at some point. I have sometimes been told or advised things that are polar opposites – from your baby is not gaining enough weight to your baby is fine; from you can push your baby onto a feeding schedule to feed on demand; from give her pureed food to allow baby-led weaning. This is true even in the minor issues: wash your baby’s hair every night to if you wash your baby’s hair every night, it will lose all the natural oils and give your baby a dummy – it will help your baby not to take in too much wind to don’t, because it will cause confusion. Basically, if you look hard enough, you will find conflicting advice.
So my advice(!!) is put some thought into choosing your advice-givers. Choose only a few people to ask and stick with them. Maybe even ‘a few’ is too many but I would suggest a friend up to date with the newer research and someone who is older and more experienced. And, bearing in mind that every child is different, try and find people who have had similar experiences. In our case, we had two very fussy if not colicky babies. So, to ask the advice of people who had not dealt with the demands of high-needs babies was not very helpful. Choose your people! And then be confident to go ahead with your decision, deciding not to second-guess yourself even when others question or advise otherwise. YOU are the parent, not them. You have your baby 24/7, not them. You know your child better than anyone else. And hey, if you’re wrong, then you’re wrong and don’t be too proud to try something different. We will mess up as parents but we are all doing what we believe to be in the best interests of our child and so, if we made a bad decision, we can always try something different if what we initially chose didn’t work.
2. Expect Nothing
Phew, this is something I am still learning to do and, honestly, something I suspect will be a lesson I will need to learn throughout my life. Going into motherhood first time around, I had a lot, and I mean a lot of expectations – many of which were completely unrealistic. I thought that I would have time! Time to do the house work, time to cook, time to chill, time to play with my child. Now I look back and roll my eyes at my naive self. Yes, I do have time that I never had before. But I also had a highly demanding human who was completely dependent on me for her every need. To be fair, I knew that I wouldn’t have a lot of time and that motherhood was more demanding than many women pre-motherhood give it credit for. But I didn’t anticipate the interruptions and how much of the day is stop-start. Often the day would pass by and I’d have nothing to show for the many hours I was at home. Nor could I even account for the hours of the day!
I expected I would be a good mother. I have been led to believe my whole life that I was good with children and, naturally, people (including myself) thought I’d take motherhood in my stride. Not so! With my first, I became bored with the monotony of being at home with a baby even though I wouldn’t have had it any other way. (Toddlerhood is different.) I thought that I would have some idea of what I was doing. Not so. I questioned everything a thousand times over.
I expected it would be easier the second time. Man, was I wrong! Hardest 6 months of my life! I mean it!
I still expect to have a few precious moments to myself at some point during the day (what a joke!) and get really cross if one wakes up early or the other doesn’t sleep or settle.
I have come to realise that if I don’t expect things then I am not angry, upset, frustrated or thrown when my expectations (often unrealistic) are not met. If there is one thing you can’t control in life, it’s the realities of motherhood.
3. Lower your Standards
Maybe some people need to up their standards because they’re too low and they hide behind the “because children” excuse. But, in my case, I’ve had to lower my standards. I’ve had to realise that I cannot get through very much in the day and I shouldn’t expect to. The main area that I’ve had to do this is house work! I am exceptionally house proud and my pride has been knocked because I’ve realised that it is just not possible to have an immaculate house. I cannot always get through the house work and I can never clean the whole house in just one day. I’ve had to accept that various rooms will be clean at different times in the week. It helps me to know that, if I can get to it (which hasn’t happened since our baby was born), each room will have had a clean once a week. But even that is an achievement. At the moment, I’ve done well if the dishes are washed and we have dinner on the table at a decent hour.
I’m also learning to lower my expectations of what my children can cope with. I’ve tried to fit too much into a day or tried to fit in just one extra errand which, with one, was sometimes possible but with two, is a tall ask! I’ve pushed them into my agenda to their detriment and then we’ve all ended up grumpy and tearful!
I’ve also had to lower my expectations of who I want to be. I cannot be the wife, mother, friend, home cleaner or mentor that I’d love to be. Sure, I am more capable of being a better person if I live in the Spirit’s strength rather than trying to be Super Woman on my own. But, at this stage in my life, this craziness is a season. Sure, things will be crazy in every stage of motherhood but, one day, I will be able to go away for the weekend and give my husband some undivided attention. At this stage, I’ve had to accept that being a home cleaner means just keeping everyone in clean clothes, eating and using clean dishes not having each room picked up each day. I’ve had to realise that, with two children and a household to maintain, I cannot give them undivided attention and sometimes, I just need to breathe or fix supper.
Don’t put too much pressure on yourself! It’s a really intense, demanding time. So, let it go and roll with it.
4. Have time alone
I struggle to say this because I get annoyed with the hype of “me time” because it has been turned into a self-indulgent treat time at the expense of others. But, the “me time” I’m talking about is an hour or three once a week to just take in a breath without the madness of motherhood yelling at you in the form a tired toddler, a bawling baby and dirty dishes. I’m talking about leisure time. Down time. Time to have an uninterrupted bath, watch an episode of a series, read a book, write in your journal, read your Bible, pray…do whatever. Just time that is your own and completely quiet.
I was never an introvert in any way, shape or form! I have never wanted to be alone and used to turn on the TV just to have voices in the house. I would accept any invitations to lunch, tea and outings. I even hated sitting in my room alone when my husband wanted to sit next door and study at the desk. The only time I remember enjoying silence was after a rainy day at school when 120 kids were trapped under a 3x6m shelter outside making an ear-splitting noise competing with the rain on the corrugated iron roof. Or inside with 24 pre-schoolers roaring around with pent up energy. Then, I would revel in the deafening silence of sitting in my car for a few minutes before driving home.
Now… Being a mother to two, I’ve realised that, although I didn’t necessarily think that I had time alone, I always did when my eldest took a nap. I was also able to do things if she was quite happy to potter around doing her own thing. The more independent she became, the easier it was to have the illusion of time for myself. And, on weekends and early each morning, my husband would entertain her for a least some of the time. Now, the kids often play tag over nap time so as one goes down, the other wakes no matter my best efforts to synchronise their nap times. Or, when one isn’t on you, the other takes the gap and wants to be held.
My husband will take the girls out of the house at least once a week (and sometimes, will take both and keep them upstairs while I sort dinner) so that I have alone time. Every Sunday afternoon is when I “clock off” for a while. I don’t do house work or cook dinner. I do something that will relax me! Whether it be an unhurried bath or writing a new blog post or watching something on Netflix, it’s a time he’s forbidden me from catching up with anything house-related and he’s ordered me to use it to recharge. If I don’t have that time, come Tuesday, I’m ready to throw things and children! If you don’t have a hands-on husband, find someone! If you look hard enough, I’m sure there is someone willing to help you out – a parent, friend, domestic worker (if you have), neighbour, adopted grandparent or teenager who adores children. I need time to fill my tank and so do you!
5. Make time for your marriage
One relationship that has suffered the most in this time has been my marriage. My kids get 95% of me! I still see my friends. I am getting to some sort of quiet time each day. But, my husband…he gets what’s left over. Which is…nothing. He gets a cursory kiss when I’m already half asleep. He gets a distracted hug as I rush to attend to the baby after breakfast or as he runs out the door. He doesn’t even get five minutes for me to hear about his day over dinner because my toddler can’t stand more than two minutes of us talking solely to each other despite our stern tones that, “Daddy is talking to Mommy so just wait!”
And, as my friend said, we are doomed not to spend time together even when the kids are down at night! Someone will wake up! And then our evening “alone” goes pear-shaped! So we’ve had to be imaginative or steal moments when we can. Sometimes it means staying up late even if we know we’ll be dead-tired the next day. Sometimes it means time when I come back to bed after breastfeeding a baby in the middle of the night. From time to time, we’ll go on a walk so that we can have a conversation without interruptions because the toddler is watching the world go by and the baby is sleeping in the carrier. And, sometimes, we have kind family members or friends who take our girls for a couple of hours so that we can invest in our marriage or just chill together. Something we used to do, which I miss, was bath together every night. Some people might think it’s weird. I did when someone scribbled that advice on a piece of paper at my kitchen tea. But, wow, that was when we caught up and told each other about our day. We could go nowhere nor do anything other but give each other our full attention. I couldn’t clean the kitchen or fold the washing; he couldn’t sit down to study or eat dinner while he carried on with his work. It really was such a useful piece of advice. Get creative and make the time! You might say, “But it’s impossible.” No, it’s not! Darn hard, yes! Nearly impossible, maybe. Impossible no. One day when your babies leave the nest, it will just be the two of you again. Will you even know the man you are lying next to in bed or will you be strangers to each other because your marriage has been on the back burner for so long? This is going to set the tone for being parents. Kids will only be happy if your marriage is happy, not the other way around!
And people, I have by no means made any progress! This is the theory! This is the stuff I know I should be doing and maybe it hasn’t occurred to you. So I’m just sharing what has occurred to me. I am on square one in terms of sorting it out. But, hopefully one day, I’ll look back at this post and be able to say, “Oh yay! I did it!”
Photo Credit: NIKOLAY OSMACHKOTags: advice, alone time, children, expectations, frustration, hacks, husband, marrigae, me-time, mom, mommyhood, mother, sahm, standards, stay-at-home-mom, tips, wife