Monday, May 9, 2011

A Love Letter to New(er) Moms

This post has been percolating in my crowded brain since, oh, the Triassic Era. The day after Mother's Day seems like an appropriate time to let it out. We'll see whether age has soured or ripened it. Here we go ...

Dear Friend (insert name of expecting, new, or still-adjusting mom):

I think of you so often. Every time I hear of someone who's just given birth, I'm whiplashed back to those early days -- that moment of sheer panic when I looked down at this tiny, swaddled bundle I'd brought home from the hospital (already loving him intensely) and thought, "Dear Lord in heaven. He's here to stay. What am I gonna do???"

Then there were the days and weeks and months of adjusting to my new job as a stay-at-home mom and, four months later, our new home one thousand miles away from any (potentially helpful) family members. Even without those factors, the move from a relatively self-absorbed, independent existence to one that revolved around the big needs of a tiny person would have been fairly cataclysmic.

Sound familiar at all?

Looking back to the earliest years, a few saving graces stand out. I had to learn them the hard way. In fact, the lessons continue. What I want to share with you has nothing to do with how to raise your child -- whether to breastfeed or use the bottle or both, where your baby should sleep, when to start solids, whether to return to paid employment, whatever. It's about you.

First, beware of isolation. Maybe you're accustomed to being among adults all day, and now you're with a baby or child whose conversational skills are limited at best. Maybe your energy has vanished, and getting out to the grocery store seems like a big deal, never mind fixing your hair, finding a clean shirt, and sallying forth in search of company. Maybe you live near relatives who love to lend a helping hand, or you enjoy a church community full of neighboring moms who share your parenting views and life situation. Or maybe not.

And if not, perhaps it's for a reason. With all gentleness and understanding, I advise you to pray for companionship, and then get out there. Do not sit and stare at the walls. Do not let the computer be your sole companion. Do not evaluate a day by how clean your house is. Do not dwell on how shy you are. For example: I'm naturally shy. But guess what? One day at a Gymboree class (where of course, it seemed that everyone knew everyone else except ME), I plopped down in the waiting area beside another mom and said impulsively, "It sure is nice to see another nursing mom."

That mom was Jenny.
Our kids were ten months old.
For the first few months of our friendship, I wasn't even sure she liked me.
Then our two families went camping together. It was basically a friendship-cementing disaster from start to finish.
Then her family moved away.
Then our family moved away.
Almost ten years later, she's still one of my best friends in the whole wide world. (It helps that our oldest kids, those two nursing toddlers of yore, both turned out to be pretty quirky kids -- and soulmates.)

I have no idea whether Gymboree classes made Ian and Claire any more physically adept or will get them into Harvard one day. But they gave me an excellent friend. If Gymboree isn't in your budget right now, try story time at the library, your neighborhood park -- anywhere where other moms congregate and you might find someone who's just as lonely as you. :-) Or, round up the moms from your church, or your La Leche League chapter, or your birthing class ... and start a playgroup. If you build it, they will come. They won't all stay, but the ones who do, the ones you share laughs and fears and hopes and hurt feelings with over feeding and potty training and biting and sleep and preschool and so many world-rocking issues ... you'll never forget them.

When your kids are older, they tend to choose their own friends. While they're tiny, the people you choose to be with are the people they see as family.

Oh, and don't worry if they don't see eye to eye with you on every issue. We learn from each other. Also, don't sweat it if their kids aren't perfect ... or, more likely, if it's yours who don't always behave. Learn mercy and grace. Because the second deadly sin is ...

Watch out for comparison. You can be Mother Teresa herself, but there will ALWAYS be a mom out there who does something better than you. Who feeds her kids more organically. Who stays calmer when all hell breaks loose. Who dresses better. Who keeps a cleaner house. Who disciplines her child more respectfully and effectively. I guarantee it: ALWAYS.

I also guarantee, though, that there's someone else who looks up to you -- or will one day. Who mistakenly believes that you have it all -- or mostly -- together. And, worse, who thinks you're judging HER -- even if you're really, really, not. Because we tend to forget that this journey we're on was never meant to be a competition. If you could use some encouragement now and then -- a hand extended in friendship, a word of praise -- so could she. Can we all just assume that we're doing our best, even if the best looks a little different in each household?

Finally, don't forget to take care of yourself. Do whatever you need to do to stay healthy and happy -- yes, you can do this without sacrificing your attachment with your child. If your energy is low or you struggle with feeling depleted, read Mother Nurture or The Hidden Feelings of Motherhood for excellent self-care strategies. Find a medical professional and/or a hobby, if that helps. You're probably a loving, giving, dedicated mom ... but you are also STILL A PERSON.

And that's all I have to say about that.

Whew. Over and out. Happy Mother's Day!


em said...

Wow. Hannah, I'm not a mom or even an expectant one, at least not yet anyways, but that aside I think that this is great advice and some that I plan to not just pass on, but even more to hold onto for when that day does come for me. I'm so happy to know you and your fabulous ability to shepherd others. I'm truly thankful for you!

*happy Mother's day to you, both yesterday & every day!*

Hannah said...

Thank you, Em! Your day will come, and I just wish I lived close enough to be of service. I will pray for you and stand with you across the miles, though! xoxo

Amy Tague said...

Amazing, beautiful, absolutely relevant advice. Even 8.5 years after my first baby, I needed this. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

Bethy Lynne said...

You hit the nail on the head, Hannah...spoken from a mommy who is still adjusting...hehe. Fight not to be isolated and don't compare and don't get too wrapped up in what others think of your children because you know you are doing your best according to the Lord's leading. And cut others some slack before judging because we're all trying to find our way in the process of raising children. That's what I've picked up on the 3 plus years of parenting so far. Oh and occasionally hide somewhere and consume chocolate in secret so your toddler doesn't see you. ;)

Ian said...
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Independent said...
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Erica said...

Given that my first is scheduled to make his appearance in 11 days, your thoughtful words couldn't come at a better time! And happy belated Mother's Day to my very first friend to have a baby.

KTG said...

Some women like to criticize and I've experienced that with mothers who have raised their kids already. It's easy to forget the early days and that vulnerability.I'm so glad to hear you encourage new moms!
As usual, I love your writing :)

Jenny said...

*sniff* I sure wasn't expecting to read about myself here. I'm totally emotional now.

When I think back to those days, I remember you and a few others as my lifeline. I had no idea what I was doing, and I just needed to know I wasn't alone. As my therapist once said, "You know, there's something special about the friends you meet when you have babies together. Those people are your friends forever."

I'm so glad you struck up that conversation with me at Gymboree. And that crazy campout is one of my favorite memories! I'm a very lucky person to count you as my friend.

Dennis said...

Dennis and I have been having some fellowship recently about the companion point. So many young mothers here in the church in NY and we are burdened for them. Sisters' prayer meeting was a real salvation for me. It was also healthy that it was not all moms. There were a good number of "grandmas" that gave a nice calming effect. They had been through the whole cycle and knew the little things we sweated over were not really that important in the overall scheme of things. We really need one another.

Hannah said...

Dennis and Kathy, I am so glad to hear this is on your heart, as it is on mine. Young moms need care!

Erica and Jenny, both old and dear friends, much love to both of you.

Michelle L said...

I really enjoyed this! Thank you for putting all those universal maternal concerns/needs into words.

cjoy said...

Dear Hannah,
Thank you for such a sweet letter of encouragement, full of reminders and honesty. I will reread this in the coming days as I remind myself to have grace (with ME as much as my kids), to hibernate at home a little less for all our sakes, and to take care of my needs as well as everyone else's.
New mom to her 4th baby

Raji P. said...

So beautiful, so true. I wish someone had drilled, err, I mean, gently told me, all that 7 years ago. Oh wait, they did, but when one is in the throes of first time mommydom, it is hard to believe, leave alone follow.

When one is a first time mom and navigating a brand new world, trying to learn tricks from those around you, it is very hard not to compare them with ourselves. It takes a lot of confidence in oneself (which comes with parenting experience) to realize that we are super moms ourselves, no matter the state of the other moms, children and homes.

I have sent this link to everyone I know, so expect a huge increase in loyal readership :)

Rochelle Perry said...

Hannah, you are an amazingly thoughtful mama. Thanks for your uplifting words and advice.

Eleanor Gray said...

Beautiful and simple and TRUE. Thank you!

Kimberly said...

Thanks Hannah, I really liked this post, your advice is truely appreciated and very practical!

Vanessa said...

I linked this post in my little nook on the www. It was such a fantastic post that I had to share it with all my bazillion readers :)

Eclectic Mama said...

Okay, so when does the adjustment period end? I mean, come on, going to the grocery store is STILL a big deal, and my oldest is 14!!!

Heck, maybe one day I'll get the hang of this parenting thing. By then, my 10yo will be going off to college.

Guess there's hope for the grandkids, right?

Love ya, oh-so-eloquent Hannah!