My baby is 6 months now. These have been the most transformational six months of my adult life. It feels as if I’ve just gone through military boot camp, up at the crack of dawn, being mentally, emotionally and physically fatigued beyond my limits and marching on despite having no energy left. It feels like I was disassembled and put back together with huge modifications. Every body part has been worked beyond its limit. Every cell has been alerted. Every thought I used to hold has been challenged, beat down and altered. I am, practically speaking, a brand new person. My baby was born 6 months ago. And so was I—as her mother.
I’d like to impart some great wisdom and motherly advice after the whirlwind of the last half a year. I’d like to look peaceful, feel zen and be at one with the beautiful state of motherhood. I’d like to say it’s all been a grand adventure in mindfulness and equilibrium. I’d like to, but I can’t.
There have been rough roads, temper tantrums (I’m talking about mine, not my baby’s), frazzled nerves, and countless moments of doubt. There have been tears—so many tears.There have been lots of confusion and countless “fudge I know” and “WTH” times. The process of raising a child still feels completely shrouded in mystery as far as I’m concerned.
Can I confess something? I think everyone experiences doubt, confusion, sadness, and utter and absolute mental exhaustion as parents. I don’t think zen and mindfulness have a big role in parenting, and I think most moms also have as many “fudge if I know” moments as often as I do. The difference is that I am willing to admit it. I am honest about my feelings. I am not one for pretense and I don’t consider talking about having a hard time as a bad thing.
“Stop whinning.” “You’re lucky, so stop complaining.” “Your husband does a lot for you, so you don’t have the right to feel exhausted, sad, tired, doubtful, (fill-in-the-blank).”
Yeah. That’s not advice I take. I see nothing redeeming in pretending all is perfect when perfect isn’t the point. And I don’t find people whose whole purpose in life seems to be to shut others down, shame them for their feelings or guilt them into silence helpful or supportive. I just don’t.
Life is the ultimate teacher. Every moment, every exchange, every new circumstance brings a new outlook and an opportunity to grow, learn and become more aware as a human being. My part in this life is to remain open and to receive the lessons I’m being offered.
So, here’s a fraction of what I’ve learned in the last 6 months:
● Be ready to get used to frustration, exhaustion, confusion and rumination. You’ll engage in these a lot. Know that it’s okay to feel them. Know that it’s okay to talk about them.
● No matter how self-assured and confident you are, you WILL have moments of complete disbelief that you can actually do this parenting stuff. You may not believe me, but it’s true. When that happens, know this: it is natural to have doubts and it’s okay to voice them.
● No one knows or understands the feelings you feel and experiences your experience. Not even your spouse. Not even others who are parents. So, do not let anyone’s unsolicited opinion or advice shake your already shaky confidence. You are the one person who gets you. Trust in yourself and chart your own course.
● You will love your baby completely, boundlessly and without any conditions. Despite that, you will have times when your instinct is to run away. I’m serious. Your flight instinct will flare up, maybe even more than once. And you know what, it’s okay. It’s okay to feel that way. It’s natural. It’s also fleeting. So just hold on.
● You will marvel at how completely alone you can feel, despite the fact that you’re never alone. How can anyone feel so alone when another person is physically attached to her day and night? Trust me, it happens—quite often as a matter of fact. You must find a direct and strong line into your core, your true self and keep it open and safe. You must develop a safe and honest inner life and cultivate and flourish it. You’ve never needed you more. Be kind to yourself. Be gentle with yourself. Have your own back and be there for yourself. Alone doesn’t have to mean lonely.
● Finding a way to return to a version of your own life pre-baby isn’t a luxury, but an absolute necessity. You need to feel like your old self and as soon as it is possible. You will be a better mom for it. So, find a way to get some baby-free time and enjoy it guiltlessly. You and your child will ultimately be thanking for years to come.
● Learn to enjoy uncertainty, because that’s the state you’ll be living in for the foreseeable future. Never get too comfortable with status quo. Because, as soon as you do, your baby will change and everything will be new and unknown again. Hang on for the ride of your life and enjoy as much of it as possible.
● No matter what it looked like and no matter how ready you thought you were for your new life with the baby, you will find yourself mourning the loss of your old life. It WILL happen. When it does, honor your feelings and don’t waste time admonishing yourself for feeling this way. Motherhood is challenging and your feelings are in reaction to these new and unknown challenges. In time, you’ll create a new life with many elements from your old life plus all the new gifts your baby brings into your world.
● You’ll never know what type of parent you’ll be until you have a real baby to love and care for. Look at parenting theories as just suggestions and ideas to draw inspiration from. You are under no obligation to subscribe to any of them completely. You can pick and choose elements from as many as you want and create your own style. Trust your instincts and do your own thing.
● You will compare you baby to others’. You will measure yourself against other mothers. You will, at times, feel inadequate. You will, at times, feel inferior. You will, at times, feel superior. It’s all okay. It’s only natural. So, stop telling yourself to get a grip, push through or any other thing that attempts to minimize your feelings.
Do you see what I see? That motherhood will challenge you, shake you, shape you, enliven you, exhaust you, energize you, stump you, trump you and strengthen you. That through this most tumultuous and beautiful of experiences, you will feel many highs and a lot of lows. That there is no need to beat yourself up or lose faith in yourself. That you will benefit from the love and support and kind words from others, but what you really need is love, support and understanding from yourself. And that what you feel is normal and to express your feelings does not make you whiny or negative or somehow ungrateful.
As I focus on the future and look forward to new stages in my baby’s life, I feel truly lucky to be the mom to such a bright little star and hope that I can measure up. I take great pride in the person I’m becoming, as I travel in my own personal life journey as a human, a woman and a mother.