This post is dedicated to my sister, P, who is expecting her first child in late November and who will finally make me an auntie. We have an odd relationship, as there is 14 years between us, so that basically, she had an extra parent in me, and then she was and is that extra parent to my boys at times.
Here is what I know about motherhood:
It irretrievably changes you
When your first child is born your life doesn’t continue as before, just “with a child”, it changes completely. Everything starts to revolve around your child’s needs and you start thinking of yourself as a mother first and foremost. A mother’s selflessness knows no bounds and I continue to amaze myself at the lengths I will go to, at the physical and mental ailments I ignore, just to meet my childrens’ needs.
Before kids, a migraine got me a day or two in bed. Now, I intermittently stay in bed in between all the kid-related chores, like preparing meals, putting the washing on and baking a cake for school lunches. If it’s a school day, I still have to get up to see them off to school and then I can collapse in a heap, or get up and go to the chemist to get my meds.
There is no one-size-fits-all
The way any woman mothers is determined by her and her child(ren). There is no single style guide, no one manual that has all the answers. You can read all the books, listen to all the advice, but in the end you will need to try all the things and see what works for you. Every mother is different and so is every child. Some things will work and some things won’t. And some things will just feel so weird for you, that you won’t even have the heart to try them. That’s OK. There is no one way to do this. There is only the way that works for you right now. The most frustrating thing about mothering is that just when you get used to one way of doing things, your child changes and you’ve got to start figuring out another way.
The reality is nothing like our expectations
I had certain expectations of how I would do mothering, the foremost of those being that I would love it. The reality was the complete opposite. I realised early on that I wasn’t a fan of mothering after all. My first baby wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t feed and would not be left alone for a minute. I hated this and after 6 months ended up in a psychiatric hospital with post-natal depression (PND). Mothering wasn’t fun, it was not easy and it definitely didn’t feel natural.
In hospital, I learnt to take care of myself first, I learnt how to BE a mother rather that DO mother-type things, plus loads of practical things to help my baby sleep and eat better. I also learnt that my baby’s father wasn’t as serious about marriage as I was.
So whatever your expectations are, throw them out the window. You might think that you will never use a dummy (I did), that your baby will sleep in your bed and that you will never ever attempt controlled crying. And then the reality will happen and you will find that your baby needs a dummy, that you can’t sleep in the same room as your baby and that controlled crying is the only way for anyone to get some rest (didn’t work for us, just caused more distress for everyone).
You need a support network
Being a mother can be incredibly isolating. Your whole day tends to be consumed by your child’s care well into toddlerhood and sometimes beyond. Before you know it, you realise that you haven’t spoken to another adult, apart from your partner, for a week, or a month. Having family or good friends nearby who can cook you a meal, give you a few hours off so you can have a shower and a nap, or just someone to talk to is invaluable.
But don’t rely on those alone. Go to your Mothers’ Group meetings, find a playgroup that you like, go to the Library’s story time, start swimming lessons with your baby as soon as you can, find any opportunity you can to get together with other mums, so you don’t feel so alone. Nurture all those relationships, because you will need them more and more as your child gets older. I didn’t have have a great support network with either child. Apart from my sister, nobody really helped. I made some friends at playgroup with my second baby, but I relied on childcare to help me cope with the relentlessness of motherhood and to keep myself sane.
Get out of the house!
Having built your support network, make sure you use it to get out of the house, even though it can be hard in the first year of your child’s life. Try to get out of the house each day, even if it’s just for a walk to the local park, or around the block. My first baby hated being in the car and he hated lying down in the pram, so I had to prop him up in a sitting position probably earlier than I should have, but he loved it. We walked every day and were out and about ridiculously early in the morning, something I can’t achieve now that my kids are older.
Sometimes, we’d walk to a coffee shop for a coffee, other times we braved the car to go to Mother’s Group and Gymbaroo. Later on, when he could sit up in the car seat, we would go to a local shopping centre and spend a couple of hours window shopping and having coffee and a muffin. We made our own rituals and adventures. Then we had playgroup, the library and later on swimming lessons. Having these routines was an amazing help for me, as I continued to struggle with PND and, luckily, both my boys thrived on routine.
Your kids are the cutest
Yes, your baby is the cutest baby that has ever been born. And so will be your toddler and pre-schooler.
Make sure that you catch yourself enjoying those moments of cuteness and utter perfection and take a mental photo of them.
Actual photos are good, too, but memories, complete with feelings, are even better. Our babies change so quickly in that first year and we are so tired, that it can be hard to stand still and take a moment to just take them in. Even though, at times, my second baby would only sleep while in the sling that I was wearing, now I remember those times fondly, where I had to do nothing but be his pillow and bed. Even those 2 am feeds, cuddled up on the sofa, wrapped in a blanket, watching god-knows-what on TV can be moments to treasure, so stay present as much as you can.
You are your kids’ best mum
While there is no such thing as a perfect mother, you will always be your children’s best and only mum. No matter what mistakes you make, what shortcuts you take, how bad you feel about your mothering, remember that to your children you are the one and only mum they will ever know and that they will love you unconditionally, no matter what. (Unless you are a selfish, narcissistic sociopath – then all bets are off!) To your children you ARE perfect, so don’t sweat the small stuff. Focus on the values you are teaching your children and make sure they are safe, fed, healthy and mostly clean and you can’t really go wrong.
It is so easy to get caught up in the perfect world of Instagram and Facebook, where you see the highlights of other people’s lives, but you have no way of knowing what really goes on behind that perfect facade. Maybe that perfect photo hides PND, relationship problems, or chronic illness. Or they might be having a really bad day and that one photo on Instagram is their way of making the best of a bad situation. Behind every perfect image of the perfect mum are scores of small and big heartaches, exhaustion and self-doubt. None of us really know what we’re doing. It’s all smoke and mirrors, at least in my experience.
So sister dear, this is what I know. It’s not a whole lot, so you’d best read all those books, talk to your friends and ask for help when you need it. Don’t be afraid to try anything, because you never know when you are going to find the one perfect way of mothering that works for you and your baby. Good luck.