If social media is your main resource for everything-motherhood, you probably expect it to be a dreamy affair of unconditional love, affection and flower crowns—an experience to be grateful for and joyful about each and every day. While it certainly can be and is all of these things, it’s also incredibly hard, especially in those early stages. The shiny images on social media are just that… shiny, and not always real. While I, too, post the prettier sides of things, it’s been freeing to let go of the perfect image of parenting. In an effort to help bridge the gap for other moms-to-be, I’ve put together a few of the realities I’ve faced, as well as the lessons I’ve learned, particularly in the first year of being a parent. And remember, at the end of the day, as difficult as they can be, children are 100% worth it all.
The Truth About Motherhood
I’m here to tell you that you may not experience this emotion upon the birth of your baby. I didn’t cry—I think I gave out more of a nervous laugh. The truth is that while I’ve always envisioned children as part of my life, I never truly felt ready. I was a competent caregiver, but I didn’t feel emotionally bonded until my daughter was close to her first birthday. That’s when I discovered she loved magic and fairies and princesses, and that I could re-live the best parts of my own childhood. I wish someone had told me it may take time for the euphoria to kick in, and that it can be triggered by something small.
Everyone is usually so focused on the logistics and plans for labor and birth, so everything that follows the actual act remains a mystery until you are smack dab in the middle of it. I didn’t anticipate the physical recovery I would have to endure for the first two months—most intensely in the first two weeks. Warning: It will be hard. I was crawling up and down the stairs for a good week. Some people recover quickly, but it took me a full two months to feel normal. Oh, and as a good friend advised me, take as many of those ice-pack maxi pads home as the hospital will give you—trust me, you’ll need them.
I’ll be honest that breastfeeding was not a special or treasured experience for me: It was functional. I felt it was right for us, so I did it, but I also stopped when it felt right. In my opinion, a happy mom is better than a martyr mom. If nursing doesn’t work for you for whatever reason, the important thing is to not be hard on yourself. Trust that the best solution for you and your baby is the right one.
But the good news is you might be a toddler, preschooler or teenager person. We can’t all be good at everything. It seems odd that we expect ourselves to be A+ moms at every single stage of our kids’ lives. Personally, I’m not a baby person. I found baby-play boring and mind-numbing. It feels a bit easier the second time around, but that’s probably because I stopped judging myself, knowing that I’m great with toddlers who love dress-up and dance parties. At the end of the day, you get through the parts you aren’t the best at, and you’ll excel in others.
You will always be your biggest critic, and the self-doubt struggle is real. Think of motherhood as a brand-new job: You don’t know the ins and outs on day one. So why put pressure on yourself to know how to handle every situation perfectly? My mantra: “This is the best I can do right here in this moment.” For a diagnosed perfectionist like me, it was a huge pill to swallow, but it also released me from judgment. The quicker you stop comparing yourself to the moms who seem to have it all together, the happier you and your babe will be.
The biggest parenting secret is that the first six months are actually the easiest in many ways, outside of the adjustment to sleep deprivation. So enjoy them! Your days will truly just revolve around when your baby eats, sleeps and needs diaper changes. This is a gift that will allow you to tote them around to lunches, Target runs, etc., all of which they will likely sleep through. My husband likes to warn new parents that the real work is from six months to 18 months, because this is when babies hit the stage of constant supervision since they now sit up, crawl and walk around.
When you become a parent, your priorities instantly change as you give your little one(s) every ounce of energy you have. With my two small kids, I think I run out of whatever I have to give by 5pm. Then, I’m just running on empty trying to get to 8pm, when my daughter goes to sleep and I subsequently crawl into bed. With that schedule, you can see how one can easily lose their sense of self without even realizing it. Taking time alone, even if it’s just to go for a quick walk, get your nails done or grab a latte, will do wonders for your mental state. Don’t expect to come back feeling completely revived and refreshed—but a little breather goes a long way.
Babies are unpredictable, and the entire experience of motherhood is so uncontrollable that once you have a routine with your baby, particularly at nighttime, you want to hold on to it. And by hold on to it, I mean clutch it for dear life. Your baby, however, will likely have something else in mind. For instance, say he or she finally sleeps through the night—woo-hoo! But then, a sickness causes a shake-up, they start teething, or maybe there’s really no explanation at all, but they are back to nighttime wake-ups. You find yourself trying desperately to navigate them back into the routine that worked before, but it’s no longer cutting it. Go easy on yourself and your babe. My general rule of thumb is to give something a three-to-four night run, and if it’s not working, it’s time to move on. While babies like routine, they could be trying to tell you that they are ready for something new, too.
I really can’t stress enough how individual this journey of motherhood is for everyone. It’s a constant mirror on yourself, and your strengths and weaknesses become so crystal-clear. For me, I am a terrible cook and have no interest in it. So, we don’t eat organic, steamed meals every night, and we probably order pizza more than we should. Whatever. However, I do excel at planning an over-the-top birthday party, weekend adventures and pretty epic trips to Disney World. Doesn’t everyone just want to spend time and energy on the things they're good at? Well, motherhood is no different. Sure, sometimes I have to prepare a meal and I do it, but I also get to indulge in areas I feel most confident, and that feels GREAT. The biggest gift you can give yourself in this first year is to be accepting of who you are, know that your feelings are valid and embrace the freedom of carving your own path.