Forget the “you’ll never fall in love so instantly and completely” advice if you’re considering children; motherhood is much more than the first time you hold your baby. What you need is real-life advice for the long haul, which is exactly what parenthood is. So before you dive into being a parent, consider these 13 lessons that my kids have taught me about being a mom:
It’s a life-long commitment.
Having a baby isn’t all adorable outfits, brushing your daughter’s hair, and afternoon snuggles during a Disney movie. It is those things but it’s also parent/teacher conferences, doctor visits, staying home even though your friends are going out, and being screamed at by a hormonal teenager. It’s daycare expenses and a new wardrobe a size bigger every time the season changes. It’s helping with bullies and breakups and homework. And, possibly most painful of all, it’s watching the person you love the most make poor decisions and get hurt instead of heeding your advice.
Your child isn’t your BFF.
One of your biggest jobs as a parent will be to set boundaries because children don’t set them for themselves, and this means that, like it or not, you’ll find yourself saying ‘no’ more often than you’d like. Trying to be your kid’s BFF opens you up to guilt and emotional injury from the backlash that usually follows, whether it’s a from a toddler or a pre-teen, and you’ll be more likely to give in and let your child have his or her own way. Kids are smart—they break you down once and it reinforces the idea that this is a successful strategy for getting their way so they’ll stomp, scream, and huff longer the next time, creating a nasty cycle. Don’t go there.
Most motherhood fears are imagined.
During my first pregnancy, I panicked every time my daughter fell asleep because it was the only time she held still and wasn’t kicking the crap out of my internal organs. When she came home from the hospital, I couldn’t sleep because my mind was reeling with scenarios in which she had stopped breathing and I would get up over and over to check on her. Now that my kids are older, that panic still hits me when one of them is late for curfew or, more recently, when my son’s high school went on lockdown because a student yelled, “Gun!” I’m not saying that terribly tragic things don’t happen, because they do, but most of the time your panic and fear is instinct, not reason.
Patience can be learned.
No one will test your patience more than your own child. They don’t understand “me time,” chatter on incessantly (especially when you’re on the phone), get into everything that isn’t nailed down, and purposely push your buttons. The good news is that even if you’re not a particularly patient person right now, patience can (and should) be learned. When you’re feeling frustrated and worry that you might lash out, check your inner voice for negativity. Chances are you’re feeding it with your thoughts. If stress is contributing to your frustration, ask yourself if that stress-inducing situation will matter tomorrow or in a month.
It’s all about the giving.
Unless you have the means to employ a full-time nanny, becoming a mother means that your life is no longer all about you. You’re now the primary caregiver of a child who can’t do anything for his or herself, making all of the child’s needs your responsibility. Just ran a bath and the baby wakes up? Sorry. Been invited out with friends and can’t land a sitter? Too bad, you stay home. Baby blew out a diaper? Drop everything. So while it’s completely normal for new moms to feel a little jaded now and then about their new, selfless existence, if you can’t imagine diverting the majority of your attention away from your own wants and personal desires for those first few years, you’re probably not ready for motherhood.
The exhaustion won’t actually kill you.
But it sure as hell feels like it will. After I had my twins, I remember bawling in the shower because I was so exhausted that I couldn’t function and my emotions weren’t helping, either. Yet I’m still here. And if ‘it won’t kill you’ is the silver lining, the bittersweet center is that your baby won’t be a baby forever. It’s sad and liberating at the same time. Sure, you’ll have to make it through the toddler years but that parenting exhaustion isn’t permanent.
It’s not about raising kids, it’s about raising capable adults.
I tell my kids this all the time and it’s the reason I’m teaching my kids to cook and why I insist that my teenage son hold a job before graduation. It’s why my 10-year-olds do their own laundry and why I expect everyone to help with housework. My job as a parent (and yours) is to raise independent, resourceful, and capable adults, not children. I give this speech to my kids often and it goes like this: If, when you’re grown and moving out on your own, you don’t know how to wash a dish, cook yourself dinner, hold a job and interact with a supervisor, or sweep a floor, I will have failed you.
There will be tough times when you’ll want to quit.
It might be a momentary thought, or maybe someone will ask you what your life would be like if you hadn’t had kids. No matter how it happens, you’re almost sure to have a moment where you’re overwhelmed or defeated to the point of wondering if your kids wouldn’t be better off without you. They won’t. It’s just your parenting confidence temporarily lagging. Give yourself a break.
Make every day and every age count.
Okay, maybe not every day. Some days require pajamas and Netflix marathons. But as never-ending as parenting seems while you’re immersed in it, looking back you’ll realize how quickly it flew by. When my twins were little, I couldn’t wait for the toddler years to be over. In hindsight, I wish I’d spent more time enjoying those years instead of seeing them as an obstacle to be overcome. My point is that your child won’t always be an infant, or a toddler, or a kindergartener, or 13. Take advantage and make the most of every age and every stage.
Be a cheerleader, counselor, and life coach.
If you thought being a parent was going to be hard, don’t be surprised as I add more responsibilities and titles to the job description. In addition to feeding, clothing, and maintaining a roof over their heads, you’ll also be drafted to the positions of cheerleader, life coach, teacher, and role model. Yes, it’s a lot but the basics will only get you so far. You’ll be asked for advice, expected to pick them up when they’re feeling down, teach them life lessons not taught in school, and lead by example. As if parenting weren’t hard enough, right?
Don’t make promises.
My kids actually didn’t teach me this lesson, my ex did. He’d promise them trips and treats and special outings which always amounted to nothing more than talk. But watching my kids be set up for his consistent disappointment taught me something: don’t ever make promises. I don’t. My kids know they can count on me but they also understand why I have a no promise policy. It could be a dead battery, a fender bender, or an act of God that keeps me from showing up for them, but it won’t matter. To a kid, disappointment is disappointment.
You might have to do it yourself.
I learned this the lesson hard way and I still remember bemoaning the whole, “I didn’t sign up to do this all myself” mantra—but the sad fact is that, no matter how committed you and your partner are when you conceive, there’s no guarantee that you won’t wind up a single mom with little or no support from the father later. My advice? If you can’t see yourself as happy and fulfilled raising a child on your own, put the baby talk on ice. No matter how wonderful he is.
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