Before giving birth to my child two-and-a-half years ago, I was one of those women who thought I’d have the basics of child-rearing down. After all, I was in the fourth grade when my brother was born and spent much of my adolescence helping my parents take care of him. My experience with children increased even more when I became an aunt eight times over. I regarded motherhood as something I didn’t have total knowledge of but suspected I wouldn’t be too far off the mark when the time came for me to have a child of my own. Little did I know that there was no amount of practice that could prepare me for what was ahead.
I can still recall the statements I heard throughout my pregnancy. Soak up all the snuggles while they’re tiny. The days are long but the years are fast. Or one I heard a lot but could never quite master: Nap when the baby naps. While those comments might have been applicable for a particular season, I had no idea they wouldn’t sustain me while I was in the trenches of postpartum life, nor would the other well-meaning suggestions comfort me when I doubted that I was making the right choices.
Instead, I wish I heard more of the following:
"Your experience is valid."
Motherhood is like a fingerprint. From a distance, it looks like the next person’s, but when you inspect it under a microscope you’ll find that it’s not identical after all. As a new mother, I would compare my journey to the mothers around me and wonder why I struggled so much when it seemed as though they had it all figured out. I looked at mothers who already had multiple children and assumed they were on cruise control while I still struggled with motherhood after a year in. I would shy away from expressing how exhausted or overwhelmed I was because I was afraid it would sound trivial– as if only having one child somehow made my experience less legitimate.
I finally realized that it didn’t matter if I had one kid, or ten, my parenting experience was just as valid.
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"Motherhood is a mirror."
You might not realize how much of your personality or actions influence your child(ren) until they begin to copy you. Maybe they replicate the exasperated facial expressions you make, the tone you take when you’re frustrated, or repeat the curse word you tried hard not to use around them. Parenting can expose your weak spots, but it also reflects the best parts of you as well. I didn’t consider myself to be a patient person until I had my child. Through caring for him, I started to notice the ways I slow down to give him time to process the world around him.
Even better, I get to catch glimpses of my personality reflected back at me when my son imitates something thoughtful that I do.
"You might not love parenting 100 percent of the time."
Parenting, even in its most beautiful and fulfilling moments, is still tough work. It is grueling, time-consuming, and soul-crushing at times. There will be seasons where you feel consumed by how tough it is and wonder how you’ll make it through. You might miss the freedom you once had or who you were prior to committing your life to care for your little one. There’s a steep learning curve as a parent, and it’s okay to acknowledge the challenges you face.
You’re not ungrateful or failing as a parent if you happen to have a rough time adjusting to your role as a mother. And you certainly aren’t a bad mother if you admit to yourself or those around you that you don’t enjoy parenting every minute of the day.
"Friendships may change."
As someone who takes pride in her friendships, I had to approach them with intention after I became a mother. I no longer had copious amounts of time and energy to regularly keep up with my friends, and wondered how my relationships with my girlfriends would be impacted. Thankfully, I found a lot of support from the women in my life who were also mothers. Some relationships that were once surface-level turned into a true sisterhood through our shared experiences as mothers. I was blessed to find just as much support from my girlfriends who didn’t have children, too. They helped me navigate into my new role. Through these friendships, I’ve found a lifeline and a safe space to show up as myself.
It took a lot of effort to find a balance with my social life, but unfortunately, not every relationship remained intact. Some friendships withered under the weight of my new responsibilities and not everyone could adjust to my shift in priorities. It’s never easy when a friendship fades, but I give myself grace and remind myself that not all change is bad.
"It's OK to parent in a different way."
A few months ago, my son flew into a toddler-sized rage while we were out eating. My husband took him outside to calm down before returning to our table. A woman at the table next to us gave her unwanted opinion on the matter and shared what she would’ve done instead. It’s not uncommon to get unsolicited advice from strangers or loved ones, but I’ve learned that I have every right to parent in the way I see fit. If that means giving my child time and space to cool down instead of yelling at or spanking him, so be it! My parenting style is influenced by my own upbringing, but I’m not afraid to use techniques I wasn’t exposed to but know my son will benefit from.
Parenting isn’t static, and you can change your approach as you see fit – even if it doesn’t make sense to those around you.
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"Do what works best for your family."
Parents are exposed to an influx of information on how to provide the very best for their children. As a result, many tend to feel pulled in different directions or feel guilty if they aren’t doing what society suggests they should. If no one has told you, let me be the first: You have permission to make decisions that work best for you and your family.
If you want to co-sleep with your child and can do it safely? Go ahead. You have a hard stance against corporal punishment or choose to gentle parent? Awesome! You don’t think you want to expand your family because of your finances, lack of support, or mental health, or you just don’t want to? Do you, sis! You have every right to provide the best environment for your child(ren) in ways that align with your beliefs, desires, and what you have the capacity for.
There’s no amount of advice or suggestion that can ever fully prepare you for what you’re going to encounter in your motherhood journey. Every experience with child-rearing is unique in that way. But my hope for you is that you’ll approach motherhood with an open heart. A heart that rolls with the punches motherhood will inevitably throw at you, a heart that leans into the many lessons you’ll face, and a heart that embraces the sweetness that is sure to follow.
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