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!