It would be romantic to say that motherhood transformed or changed me, and a lot of media out there hinges on that transformational narrative: Before Motherhood and After Motherhood. I was actually surprised to find that this wasn’t the case, parentally speaking. (Professionally, financially, physically…well, different story.)
What has surprised me so much about motherhood is actually what hasn’t changed. As long as you remember some basic truths, you can retain your sanity, identity and sense of perspective. So, in honor of Mother’s Day, here’s the reassurance that I’d like to give all prospective moms, based on my own experience so far. (My son is 5, mind you. Maybe this will change when he turns into a teenager. We’ll see.)
1. It’s not that tough a gig
Yes, the parenting industry, blogs and so forth will tell you that motherhood is hard. And it is! Of course it is, unless you plop your child in front of an iPad while mainlining Doritos. But there’s a forever frazzled, melting-down mommy prototype that I see so many women get freaked out by and feel that they need to mimic in order to be a “real mom.” Listen to me, please: You can still have a life after giving birth. You can go out with your friends. You’re allowed to have fun. You don’t need to become a martyr. Just look at poor (well, not poor) Chrissy Teigen, who was beaten up in the media for daring to go out to dinner two weeks after having a baby. Horrors! How could she? So many women have confessed to me that they felt guilty for not being more stressed out after having children, that maybe if they’re calm, they’re doing it wrong. Um, no, you should congratulate yourself for having your s*** together.
2. You’re in control, not your child
You, wise parent, control the sleep schedule. You control the behavior. You set the tone. Your child does not control you. You do not need to depart a party early so that you, not the babysitter, tucks your child in one night out of 100. You do not need to hold yourself hostage to your child’s nap routine, unless it actually, really and truly makes your life easier. Do not allow your tot to become a mini-tyrant. The earlier you set the schedule and the tone, the easier it’ll be for you down the road. Put your own sanity first, whatever that means for you.
3. There are very few “right” or “wrong” ways to parent
On that note, do use discretion when flaunting your choices. No parent really wants your opinion unless they explicitly seek it out. The mom you’re about to “help” regarding: bottle-feeding, cloth-diapering, co-sleeping, placenta-eating, whatever, has already made her choice. In most cases, she is doing what she does because she wants to, not because she doesn’t know her options. Can you think of one mother who would be happy to hear from a breast-feeding compatriot on the playground that her child will be less intelligent, less healthy or less well-fed because of her choice? Do you think she will suddenly fling her formula to the ground, strip off her bra and strap the child to her chest in a frenzy of instant enlightenment? Nope. She does not need your litany of statistics, anecdotes or opinions. She’s doing what’s right for her. She is not stupid. So ask yourself: Are you trying to be helpful, or are you trying to justify your own choices?
4. Very little of what you do now will matter in a few months or years
This time goes by fast. So fast. A lot of the decisions you’re antsy about right now probably won’t matter six months from now. Except in rare life-or-death instances, nothing is as important as it first seems. (I still try to remind myself of this.) Every day seems fraught with so many choices, especially when your child is tiny and you’re lacking sleep. Try to gain some perspective and ask yourself if your car-seat choice, home day-care selection or lack of ability to home-puree your child’s meals is really, really going to matter down the road. Play the long game for the sake of your own peace of mind.
5. The biggest thing you need to worry about is getting on a day-care waiting list
Do this at least two years before conceiving your first child. Ha! I’m sort of kidding. But honestly: If you’re looking for things to freak out about, this might be a good one. Unless you have timed your precious tyke to emerge from the womb on a school schedule, many infant classes will be full by the beginning of each school year. Woe to the parent whose child was born in January. Be shameless. Ask anyone you trust for recommendations. Put your name on waiting lists everywhere. Call back to “nicely” check in. Be kind, but ferocious.
6. You’re actually doing a good job
A grandmother many times over, far wiser than I could ever be, once told me this, and I think of it often. Some day your child will be in college and you will be sipping a margarita somewhere far from the strains of “Paw Patrol.” Your house will be clean. Your hair will be clean. Your child’s bedroom won’t retain the perma-odor of dirty diaper. You will be proud of your child, and he or she will hopefully like you. In the meantime, try to be consistent. Love your kid. Set boundaries. Set a good example. Otherwise, so much else is left to chance. Please try to realize that, and enjoy this time as much as you can. There’s only so much you can do. So, yes, take parenting seriously. But not too seriously. Give it your all, but then let it go. If you lose your temper, dress your child in stained clothes, feed your kid a Happy Meal while stuck in traffic or get into a fight with your spouse with your kids in the car, well, it happens. Life happens, and it often happens too fast. When you look back, you’re not going to remember the slip-ups. And neither will your child. (Once they become an adult, that is.) Despite what some media, the parenting community or those voices in your head might tell you, you’re not doing it wrong. Really.