With the one who taught me how to be a mother.
In a mere 7 days, we will be celebrating our son’s birthday. His sixth birthday. Birthdays are joyous occasions, no doubt, but it is this birthday, the birthday of our oldest child, that always hits me like a load of bricks every year. It is a birthday that marks my beginning of motherhood and how long I’ve been in this treasured role. It is a birthday that summarizes all the years, days, hours, minutes, and seconds of love, sweat, tears, whines, toil, laughter, and utter enjoyment involved in my little world of mothering. This year makes six years at the job, a number that is staggering, especially when there are days I feel I’m just hours old.
And then there are others, like today, when I’m gifted the perspective of sitting back and appreciating all the time that has gone by. It has not been easy. There have been moments of desperation, fleeting moments, and also points of great triumph. One overarching theme seems to be that time marches on, no matter how I feel on any given day. People told me this back at day 1 of my new son’s life. “It goes so fast,” they would say. I dismissed it then, but am beginning to agree. 6 hours… 6 days… and then poof, 6 years!
I wish I had the privilege of 6 years of wisdom to hand back to myself on that cold, icy February day in the hospital. Experience is rich and four kids later, I’d say I have a bit of motherly wisdom in my tool belt. If I were to make a list of advice to give to my fledgling self, here are a few items I would highlight:
1) Learn from other mothers.
Watching other women do what they do has given me a world of great motherly wisdom on this path. Play group circles starting off were some of the richest, best assurances of great motherly practices. Learning from great mothers like the Builders here has inspired only the best in me as a mother. Heading out into the world, I watch everything. I take in the good and make mental note of the bad. It all goes into the mixture of my mothering.
2) Pave your own path.
Even with all the good advice given in the world, mothering is about doing what is best for your family at all times. This might mean throwing Aunt Mable’s tried-and-true wisdom out the window in a quick minute. Read the books, glean the cream, and then throw them aside. Mothering is instinctual, so follow your gut. Use others’ wisdom and fashion it for yourself. No one knows your children like you do.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve stressed about some crazy phase one of my children has been in. Would my son ever conquer the potty? Would the baby ever learn to stay in his bed during the night? Would we ever make it through our oldest son’s 3-year-old land of obstinance? Well, lo and behold, my son is now a potty champ, we all get a good night’s sleep, and we survived the 3’s, 4’s and now 5’s with a strong-willed child. Growing pains. I would definitely recommend keeping a journal of the good and bad days. When you’re going through a tough spell, flip back two weeks prior to see how well things were going back then. Adjust practices to accommodate the phase and bring good behavior back. Do your best and give yourself a break.
4) Chill out.
Take things in stride. Easy come, easy go. Your stress in a moment will only add to the child’s stress. If you are calm and patient, you quell the situation and bring peace and order. I have often had people remark about this when we are out in public–“You are so patient,” they say. I am not patient. I am just trying to be chill. When I’m chill, the situation comes and goes and we make less of a scene. I have to make a concerted effort to chill out. And it does my family very good.
5) Celebrate each child’s uniqueness.
There’s no question I’ve struggled a lot with comparing my children to others’ children, wishing they would have certain qualities or characteristics. Bottom line, this does nobody any good and gets me down on my kids. By working on celebrating who they are as individuals, all the cool, unique, crazy wonderful things about them, we focus on the positives and encourage those aspects of their character. The less I compare and the more I celebrate, the better.
I could go on… but I’ll spare you. No doubt these lessons will continue to apply as I venture onward in mothering. It is a fantastic role, a wonderful, out-of-my-mind, challenging one that I’d never give up. I’m a better person for being a mom, thanks be to God.