During my pregnancy, I joined an online mom group, where threads are created and commented on, about all things pregnancy and parenthood. It was honestly a total lifesaver for me throughout my son’s infancy, and I posted questions nearly every day.
But recently, I took a look back at my earliest posts for the first time, just for fun — and was immediately embarrassed by all of my utterly newbie questions, as well as the extreme urgency with which I’d asked them. In all CAPS I wrote to these fellow moms (who were strangers, thank goodness), pleading for answers and insight into issues that had me now burying my face in my hands. I couldn’t even believe I had written what I did — I had no recollection of posting: “ABOUT TO DIE OF EXHAUSTION — HELP.”
My son is a toddler now and believe me, I still have questions. (The older the kids, the more complex the issues, of course.) But the difference is, I trust myself more to handle each challenge. Already, I can hardly recognize the rattled, rookie mother I was back then.
One of my favorite quotes is this line from Delmore Schwartz: “Time is the school in which we learn.” And boy, has that been true.
Had I known all the obstacles I’d confront during that surreal first year of motherhood, I could have tried to better prepare, but I doubt it would’ve mattered much. I had to live those moments, each and every one, eyes burning, hands full, heart exploding. That’s how I learned to be a mother. And I’m still learning, every day.
As I reflect on all the panicky questions I posed, a consistent theme stands out: Every problem I was experiencing had to do with change.
Changes are a part of life, but in babyhood, they happen fast and furiously. It’s a beautiful thing to watch your baby bloom from week to week, even day to day, but the constant changes can also be confounding. Just when you think you’ve got a situation mastered, just when you’re absolutely sure you know your baby, everything you thought you knew gets turned upside down by the next developmental stage. By a regression, by new circumstances, or by unexplainable forces.
I still belong to the same mom group, and I’ve since joined a few others, too. But these days, I answer more questions than I ask. I try to pay it forward by helping first-time moms who are trying to find their bearings, like I was. One of the hottest questions in any mom group is which items to put on the baby registry, and which items can be done without. A year ago, I might have said to forget about the wipes warmer, but absolutely include a white noise machine.
Today, though, I would answer that question more simply: I’d say, don’t worry so much about the material things. Of course, it’s important to have some essentials, but baby gear that works like a charm one day might be useless the next. It’s impossible to be prepared for everything. It’s more important to learn to go with the flow. Leave “expectations” off your list and instead write in “flexibility.”
The worst days I have as a parent — the kind that leave me frazzled, flummoxed, and full of guilt — are the ones in which I have been too rigid in my thinking, stuck on the way things were “supposed” to go, unable to manage my expectations. These are the days I push against change, instead of working with it. These are the nights I lose my patience and ask, “Why won’t you just go to sleep?!,” instead of taking a deep breath and asking myself why the bedtime routine has become a bust and what I can do to fix it.
Change is never easy, but trying to be flexible and having fluid expectations does make it easier, and stops me from asking silly questions, such as, “WILL I SURVIVE THE THREENAGE YEARS?”
Plus, when we open ourselves up to the hard changes, we can also embrace the most marvelous shifts. Now well into toddlerhood, I get to enjoy spontaneous “I love you’s,” confident “I can do it myself’s,” off-key singing, outside voices, unfiltered honesty … and unbelievable joy.
This is motherhood. It’s all part of the ride.More On