I remember how hard I was on myself during my first days as a mom.
It’s one of the few things I actually do remember with startling clarity.
I had always thought that motherhood was just something that happened to you, no research or preparation required (Wait…what’s a birth plan?? Man, was I dumb.) And once it did happen, a new mother instinctually knew what to do.
It was after my first child was born, when the freezer meals that friends had dropped off were all eaten and gone, and after the moments of everyone at my church circling me check on how I was doing and fawning over the baby subsided, I realized just what brand of chaos I was in for.
The loneliest chaos. Ever.
Truth be told, my son was magical. He slept. He ate. He pooped. And repeat.
The problem was me.
So I thought, anyway.
I wanted to get away from my son, but I wanted nothing more than to be near him. And so the eternal contradiction otherwise known as motherhood had begun.
I felt so conflicted, so at a loss in my new identity and uncomfortable in my own skin. I felt like this cataclysmic thing had just happened to me, but it was also the single most ordinary thing ever conceived (no pun intended), one that has been happening to women since the beginning of time.
I realized that in some small way, I took for granted those tired mothers I saw at the grocery store. I had never considered what they must have been going through, not until I was in the thick of it and had come to realize that motherhood isn’t something that just happens to anyone. Motherhood isn’t just anything.
I spent my days seeking answers and somewhere in there, I had my second child.
She was incredibly beautiful. However, as great as she was to look at and coo over, what she wasn’t was agreeable, not like her cherub-faced older brother was. Her arrival rocked me to the core.
I thought I was so ready to deliver her because I thought that by this point I surely knew what I was doing (again, I am so very stupid.) She turned me into the slightly caustic, battle-hardened, and yet laid-back parent I am today.
I remember packing up my children and dragging them to whatever moms group I could back then. It didn’t matter the cost or inconvenience, I needed to be around other adults. Children wailing and throwing their jackets off be darned, we were all getting in the car and leaving, either by way of Graco or duct tape.
I remember waiting for someone to get real and tell me why motherhood sometimes hurt so badly. Why is motherhood like this spot that gets opened up and left raw, while simultaneously being a joy I never knew I could feel?
And why is it that everybody tells you that this new spot will be so, so good, until after you are on the other side, and they finally decide to start being honest about how hard it is??
After my second child came, I stopped working outside of the home completely. And with my spare time, and with the advent of smart phones, I found myself online more than ever. I churned through blog posts and mothering articles, one right after the other, breathing a sigh of relief each time I found another exhausted and imperfect mother I could relate to.
I’ll be honest, for as much as people sometimes deride them, “mommy blogs” found me in a lacking place during those early days at home where all I did was watch the clock. It was a true comfort to know that I wasn’t the only mom who hid in the bathroom from her children, or who on occasion even had to run out of the bathroom with her pants around her ankles at the sounds of crying and crashing.
I eagerly consumed every article with “10 steps to an easy day at home,” or “5 things you should start doing…or stop doing or maybe do?” in the title. I was eager for someone to tell me how to do all of this.
I always found myself in the same place when I was finished reading: I’d failed at following the steps or advice, or at exceeding the expectations on the lists. Like displaying patience when my toddlers resolutely decided they were going to buckle themselves into their car seats. Or waking up early to enjoy my coffee before children were awake. Or disciplining by way of redirection and soft voices.
Read: I am a failure.
They became one more failure on my list. See, I had my own lists. They were only ever comprised of my short comings and screw ups. I began to think that maybe, had I done everything right, each day wouldn’t end with tears and slamming doors.
Now that I’m a lot further in my parenting journey, a lot more chill about my children and our relationship (like the cereal for dinner and let them play with shaving cream on the dining room table kind of relaxed), I have learned something invaluable.
Whenever you are desperate. Whenever you are hurting. Whenever you feel so utterly discouraged that you feel like you have already failed before your feet have touched the floor that day, or you are struggling with extracting any semblance of joy out of what you are doing in your life with your littles, and you want to find an answer with the same ease that you can slip on a pair of gloves, remember this: the answer isn’t on a list.
Maybe we don’t need those lists because maybe we just need to go easier on ourselves?
Because parenting, and mothering, are these colossal enigmas worthy of the greatest of cares and examination, but they are also this divine mix of the tiniest of joys, and quietest moments of satisfaction. Or maybe motherhood is just…great?
I would go back in time and I would shake that new mother I once was, and tell her that the journey of parenting is difficult enough without us heaping our own insecurities on top of it.
I would tell her that lists are quite useful and good for grocery shopping, just maybe not for motherhood?
I would tell her that when those thoughts creep up or bang around in her head, those thoughts that whisper and tell her that she isn’t good enough, are the times when she needs to earnestly PREACH to herself that she is a very good mother.
Like, the best mother.
Because she can sit right there, in a pile of unfolded clothes, and list out all of the things she has ever done for her children, said to her children, made for her children and given to her children if she thinks hard enough.
That is the list I choose, mothers. It’s my very own. Maybe it isn’t pin worthy, or retweetable. But it’s quite a good one.
If I can only remember it from time to time…along with where I put my car keys.