There are fewer people harder on themselves than first time moms. And with social media continuously pumping out filtered photos of picture perfect parenting, the pressure to get new parenting “right” can be seriously overwhelming.
As a mom of four now, I often look back at my first at-bat as a new mom and think, “Lady, if you only knew how awesome you’re doing”.
I was so hard on myself for just about everything: sleep schedules, sleep habits, feeding schedules, educational activities, playgroups, breastfeeding, covering up, not covering up, introducing foods, not introducing foods… And the kid wasn’t even a year old yet!
They say hindsight is 20/20 and honestly, a lot of the lessons I’ve learned had to be learned the hard way.
I was 28 when I had my first baby and yet I was one of the first in my circle of close friends that started having kids. I was the only breastfeeding mom I knew so I had to find resources that could help me on my own. We were also living in California and away from close family for the first few months after he was born, so, without my mom I had to figure things out quick.
I threw myself into every single online, in print and in person resource I could. I sorted through all the recommendations and advice for raising a happy healthy baby and found the tips I liked best and went from there. Through tears of joy and sadness, frustrations and victories, opinions and facts, I had compiled, maybe not a manual on how to raise my baby but, definitely a pretty solid outline.
And, as time has passed, that outline, like any rough draft, has been expanded and edited, researched and revised and eventually scrapped altogether.
One thing I’ve always been sure of is I don’t know it all which is why I fully understand and appreciate that every day presents an opportunity to learn something new. And so, here are a few of the lessons Mom-of-Four-Me would’ve loved to be able to share with New-Mom-Me.
1. Just say NO
I remember telling myself that I wasn’t going to let my life change so dramatically after having a baby that I couldn’t still do the things I liked like going to lunch with friends or wearing heels or planning last minute trips. I’d receive invitations to parties and dinners and wrack my brain for days trying to figure out how I’d make it work with a new baby in tow. Add to that the stress of dealing with breastfeeding for the first time in public places, packing a diaper bag with everything I could possibly need “just in case” we got caught in some catastrophe and had to live off the land for at least a month, and just being away from our safety bubble at home. I’d be so stressed that day I wouldn’t even enjoy where I was because all I really wanted was to be home.
After a while I started declining invitations and would feel terrible about it. I felt bad for saying no to my friends. I felt bad that I couldn’t get my shit together enough to go. I felt bad for wanting to be home. But, in all honesty, the more I started to say no, the easier it was to say no. I realized I was forcing myself into these social interactions for the benefit of others’ feelings and completely disregarding mine and my baby’s. So, I missed a few birthday dinners and girl’s trips and happy hours, but I gave myself an opportunity to embrace my changing life. The great thing is I have a wonderful circle of friends and family that easily forgave my absence and let me jump back into the game as if I was never absent for any of it. That’s my village. So practice saying NO and I promise, it’ll get easier.
2. Just say YES
Now the flip side is just because it’s easier to say no to some things, that doesn’t mean you should say no to all the things. As a new mom, we’re so willing to sacrifice whatever we need to for the health and well-being of our sweet little babes. However, new moms are also notorious for sacrificing way more than they need to at the expense of their own health and well-being. Learning to say no to people is challenging because we’re so conditioned to be accommodating and helpful and that doesn’t easily go away when we become parents. And while it’s difficult to say no to others, it’s surprisingly easy to say no to ourselves.
So why not be more accommodating and helpful to ourselves? Wouldn’t giving yourself just 5 extra minutes in the shower be re-energizing? Wouldn’t giving yourself a lazy day in bed with your baby be relaxing? Wouldn’t an extra hour alone outside of the house be invigorating? Now, stop right there, because I know what you just did. I know your brain just imagined the chaos going on outside the bathroom in those 5 extra minutes you’re in the shower or the pile of laundry just getting bigger while you’re being luxuriously lazy. Just STOP! Stop thinking of reasons you shouldn’t give yourself time and JUST SAY YESSSSSS!!!
3. Accept Help
My house sits comfortably within a 5 minute drive from both my mom’s house on one end and my mother in law’s on the other. So you would think new-mom-me would be swimming in grandma help 24/7. Well, you’d be wrong. I was so determined to do things on my own and my own way that in an effort to not inconvenience anyone else (even desperately willing grandmas) with my rigid rules on parenting, I did everything I humanly could on my own. I was never away from my baby for more than an hour in the first year and a half and then it bumped up to no more than 3 hours after that. Needless to say I was a ball of stress and anxiety making sure I followed these rigid rules I’d made up myself. I was so unforgiving.
Here I was swimming in offers to help me and I rejected them all because I wanted to prove I could do it. I saw these offers not as a helping hand to give me a break, but instead as an accusation that I was a bad mom that couldn’t cut it. My insecurities as a new mom were screaming back at me so loudly that I couldn’t just accept help. And not just from my parents but anyone. I look back on those days and I could cry all over again. How many exhaustion filled days I could’ve spared myself. How many tear-filled showers I could’ve avoided. How many overwhelming doubts I could’ve ignored if I had just accepted some help.
So please, accept the help, in whatever form it appears to you, accept it. It doesn’t mean you’re a bad mom. It doesn’t mean you’re not enough for your baby. It means you’ve found yourself an amazing member to add to your village.
4. Listen to the experts then do what you want
One of my favorite pieces of advice I ever got was from the chaplain that married my husband and I. We met with him a few weeks before we were set to get married so he could talk to us about what our expectations of marriage were and how to better communicate our needs to each other. I remember he told us that no one else will know our relationship better than us but that won’t stop people from giving us advice about it. “So” he said, “listen to the ‘experts’, and then do what you want”. This has stuck with me my whole life and not only when it comes to my marriage. It really pertains to all aspects of life but, probably more so now as a mom.
The “experts” are everywhere; online, in person, at school drop-off, mom groups, family get togethers, EVERYWHERE! And they all have ideas on how you should raise your baby. Well, guess what, no one knows your baby or your family better than you do, they only know their own. So what worked for them might work for you but, then again, it might not. So listen to their advice (even if you’re really just running down your to-do list in your mind as they’re speaking), say “thanks, I might try that”, but then do what works best for you. All the advice does is it makes us doubt what we already know. Because whether you believe it or not, you really DO know what’s best for you and your baby. It’s just that all the noise, I mean, advice, can make it difficult to hear yourself out. So, more than anything, trust yourself. You are, after all, the only expert that matters.
5. Always forgive yourself
This is perhaps the most challenging for new moms. I was talking to my mother in law one day about what the kids and I had to do that day. It was this long laundry list of errands, appointments and a playdate that was going to have us out and about for most of the day. I stayed up late the night before to have the kids’ clothes laid out so they could just wake up and get dressed. I packed snacks and had lunch planned out so the day would run as smoothly as possible. She tells me “I don’t know why you do that to yourself”. Her statement, while admittedly at first pissed me off a little, really threw me. Do “what” to myself? I’m not doing anything to myself, what I’m doing is for my kids. But, the more I thought about it the more I realized, “why the hell am I doing all of this?”
I knew that all the prep work I’d done the day before wasn’t only so the day could go by easier. It was done so that my role as a mom would seem effortless. I realized that the perception other people had of me as a mother was important to me and that needed to stop. I think I needed their perception to hold me accountable for my actions, to push me to do things I didn’t want to do but forced myself to do so that I’d be seen as a good mom. And when things didn’t work out, I’d beat myself up for days about it. I’d relive what I could’ve done differently, what I could’ve said differently, how I could’ve parented differently. I couldn’t forgive myself.
I started to resent myself for not exceeding these made up expectations I had for myself and I’d had enough. I decided to eliminate should, would and could and replace them with did or did not. Have you ever noticed that all advice includes should, would or could? Then, those shoulds, woulds, and coulds get stuck in our heads and create doubt in our minds making it harder for us to forgive ourselves. But what if instead of wondering what we “shoulda, woulda, coulda”, we decided to accept what we did or did not do? No doubts, just acceptance. We would allow ourselves to forgive what we “shoulda, woulda, coulda” done and just accept what we did. Other people’s perception of you wouldn’t matter because you’ve accepted your decisions fully. So just take a step back from all the “shoulda, woulda, coulda” and forgive yourself.
You got this, New-Mom, I promise
As each new baby came into our lives the way we parent evolved. It changes every day and adapts to every situation. And that’s the thing about being a new mom. There’s no right or wrong way to be a mom because it changes every day. I’ve since learned to trust that ebb and flow and just go with it. I say yes when I want to and say no when I need to. I find myself on the receiving end of advice (solicited or not) and then turn around and do whatever the hell I want to do. But more importantly, being a mom of four for over 10 years now, I’ve learned to forgive myself. I forgive myself for forgetting about parent teacher conferences or award ceremonies. I forgive myself for being a forgetful Tooth Fairy. I forgive myself for letting the baby sleep in a wet diaper all night so that I can sleep a few minutes longer. I forgive myself, and so should you.
What are some things you’ve learned as an experienced mom or what are some lessons you hope to carry with you as a new mom? I’d love to hear about it in the comments.