A couple of days ago my two-year-old son had the most (hopefully ever) cinematic meltdown at my daughter’s preschool. Between both of my kids, this was the first time I’ve ever experienced such a display in public. The words “hopelessly mortified and humiliated” couldn’t possibly begin to describe how I felt in that moment. If there was ever a time (so far) that I’ve wanted to sink into the ground as a parent, this was it. In this brief moment, my biggest priorities (addressing my son’s pleas/behavior and picking up my daughter from her classroom) were at complete odds with one another, and my options were so incredibly limited that I actually just had to stand there for a moment to comprehend what was even going on.
On the way home, I was a degree of livid that I haven’t experienced in a long time. The rational side of me knew and understood what caused this situation, but the emotional side of me was just exploding. I started thinking about all of the other times this motherhood thing has seriously sat me down. I started thinking about my friends who are pregnant with their first children. I started wondering how it was possible that there is this whole other side to being a mother that no one ever seems to talk about. Perhaps it’s because it’s so very private (it is). Or perhaps it’s because every mother experiences it differently in her own way, and it’s just a necessary step for us all to go through firsthand. There is so much good in being a mother, maybe it’s just easy for us to forget after a while.
Regardless, I felt compelled to speak to the major things I wish I knew before I became a mom. They are specific. They are intimate. I don’t care, I wish I knew them.
You’re inevitably going to find that edge
I’m just going to be really candid with you from the start: You’re inevitably going to discover your breaking point. And depending on when and how this happens, it could actually frighten you. Do you want to know what I think is the biggest kept secret of motherhood? It’s that we find ourselves right at that edge far more often than we would ever admit publicly.
What do I mean by “breaking point”? It varies by person, but generally I mean the point at which you become so overwhelmed that you just can’t. Can’t what? That varies by person, timing, and circumstance. For one person, it may be a single task. For another, it may be something much more complex. Either way, the important thing is to understand you’re not alone and to talk about it.
I’m going to be even more transparent with you: I remember this moment with my first. I probably had a collective five hours of sleep in three days, I was exhausted, hungry, borderline delusional and alone (my husband was out of town). I tapped out. Literally, as quickly as possible I distraughtly put my screaming daughter in her crib and ran out of the room just in time to have a breakdown in the hallway at 3am. It was the most humbling moment of my life and I still cry thinking about it; but you know what? It’s okay, and it is normal. What’s important is that you understand where this point is and that you’re aware of your needs, because:
Self awareness is the Holy Grail
If you ever immerse yourself in learning about someone, make sure it’s you. You’re the only person that (with certainty) has to go to bed with yourself every night for the rest of your life, so get to know you and do it continuously because things will change (especially when you become a parent). My best advice here is to take special time to love yourself. You’re going to be pushed, and I’ll save you the suspense, a lot of things are going to change. There’s going to be a lot of beautiful and surreal moments, but there could also be some really dark and isolating moments where you question yourself, your abilities, your knowledge, etc. Make a deliberate attempt to step back and see yourself objectively. Try not to get caught up in the day-to-day granularity of it all, but rather marvel at the job you’re doing at a higher level. Figure out what your tolerance is under various circumstances and understand what you need in order to have a successful day/week/etc. Ask for help; it doesn’t mean you’re failing, it means that parenthood quite literally takes a village.
Experience, reflect, journal, and repeat. Don’t hold back, write it all down. I recently came across an entry I had that I titled “To the Girl I Once Was”. I reflected on my early 20’s as a bartender and how I wondered if that little firecracker would ever come back because I was so caught up in two-under-two that I felt like I lost who I once was. Again: normal. It all comes down to self awareness. Maybe I’ll post it one day. She came back by the way, and she’s worse than ever 😉 But it was a purposeful effort on my part to reconcile that deviation, and it took some time.
It may take you a while to find your groove, and that’s okay
I will always admit that it took me a while to find my groove becoming a mom. It did. I always say that while being a parent is very different than other jobs, it’s analogous in the sense that when you’re new, you typically feel that way. Some people catch on quicker than others (similar to anyone starting any new job) and that’s absolutely to be expected. I’ll take it a step further and say that this adjustment period will depend greatly on the overall health and wellness of your child. I know several special needs mothers who could unarguably take this list to a whole other level. If you’re a person who just gets the hang of it immediately, that’s amazing!! However if you’re not, rest assured there are a million more where that came from. Call me, I’ll cry and laugh with you.
For me, I felt like I suddenly couldn’t find my thumbs. On just about every level: physical, emotional, etc., I just didn’t adjust as quickly as others. It certainly never meant that I didn’t love my child or my new role as a mother, it just meant that I was going to need more time and support to adjust. Again: self awareness. Except this step dabbles into self-forgiveness- so go easy on yourself. You will probably be your harshest critic.
Communication & Reasoning will likely be your biggest obstacles with your child
Here’s a list I never want to see: Things I thought to myself (about raising kids) before I had kids. I’m actually embarrassed just thinking about it. This is all I can assure you: there is no learning curve to parenting. A curve would be indicative of predictable observations. There is no curve. There is a scatter plot with data points equally divided between every quadrant. If you think you’ll be able to decipher any sort of relationship among all of the variables that you will experience, you’re going to be disappointed. Every thought or comment that I had as a pre-parent had two, very naïve, underlying assumptions: that children can communicate and that they are rational. Ummmmmm…. not for many years, and that’s the best case scenario.
Here’s an example: A couple of weeks ago we were on a plane from Santa Fe to Dallas. I took my son to the bathroom and routinely threw away the paper towel I used to dry our hands with. About 20 minutes later, we’re done with our drinks and my son now wants to throw away his cup. He’s really proud of himself because he knows where the trash can is! He’s saying “Trash!! Trash!!” and he’s pointing to the back of the plane like he just found Bigfoot. Forget that the plane is both descending and we’re going through turbulence that could make a grown man cry. You see, he doesn’t understand that if we get up, we’ll be injured. Nor does he have the communication and receptive skills yet for me to effectively explain that to him. Thank the Lord I had a half-eaten bag of cheetos to keep him distracted I mean…. something organic 😉 ), but if I didn’t, there would most definitely be someone on that plane making assumptions about how I should be disciplining my child (it’s okay, I was you once… bless us both). What would they want me to do? Beat my kid because he wants to throw away his trash?! Pfffttt. Now Ellie is a different story. She’s there on both of those variables. I know some parents that don’t have the luxury of their children growing out of such deficiencies. So if you find yourself making harsh assumptions about someone’s parenting, consider for a moment that there may be additional variables that you have not considered. Before I became a parent, there were about 6,000 variables I didn’t consider.
The degree of dynamism that you’re going to experience is probably going to surprise you, and it starts about the second you get home. Just when you think you have something figured out, it changes (and we’re probably not talking about a marginal change here). This is likely going to be very exhausting and frustrating at times, but it’s okay because:
You don’t have to love motherhood every second to be really good at it
Let me repeat that. You do not have to love being a mother every second to be really good at it. Period. Again, this is no different to anyone pursuing their passion with anything. There is an end goal, and then there’s the journey. The journey isn’t always sunshine and rainbows, but it sure as shit is very rewarding both along the way and at the finish line, wherever you consider that to be.
Good luck my beautiful Moms. I’m always here if you need me 🙂
All my love to you now and always. Thanks for reading!!
This post is dedicated to my highly treasured friend and soon-to-be mother, Karen.