What I Wish I’d Known When I Was a Young Mama

Ah, how exciting. All these years of writing and blogging and today I get to write the post that’s been on my mind since 2002…

Because, when I was a young mama, this is the kind of stuff I needed…another mom, a bit further down the mothering road than I was, but not so far that she’d forgotten what foods a one-year-old will choke on and, related, how to do the baby Heimlich.

While normally I like to give principles and not prescriptions, today I’m going to be taking a break from that philosophy and laying it on thick. So, here it goes, nineteen years of mothering condensed down into one (relatively) short list, starting with pregnancy and moving all the way to letting children leave the nest:

1. There is never a perfect time to get pregnant and you will never have enough money to start your family. Do it anyway.

2. Don’t tell everyone what you plan to name the baby. They will pipe in with why they hate it and spoil it for you. Emily, for example, was previously named Jessamyn Rayanna, but I made the mistake of telling people. If you wait until the baby is born, however, to announce the name, your family will declare it the finest one since Mary named Jesus.

3. Enjoy that moving belly every moment you can. You will miss it the most out of all your pregnancy memories.

4. Take the drugs.

5. Let the nursery take the baby for a few hours. You’ll need the head start.

6. Accept help. Especially if it comes in the form of hot lasagnas delivered to the door by your Ya-Yas.

7. Don’t create a Pinterested life. Happiness with your baby does not come from some vision someone else puts in your head of how it should look, but in accepting your unique experience and reveling in la difference, not in la perfect ideal that doesn’t exist. Rinse and repeat for every issue you will ever encounter with your child.

8. Sleep when the baby sleeps.

9. Reading stimulating literature is a salvation for a mama with three under three. Adjust to your temperament: Painting may be your thing instead, but do something.

10. Teach the baby to sleep on his own. 

11. Read Mother Teresa on mothering (The Greatest Love).

12. Studies consistently show that firm rules with lots of love makes the healthiest, happiest kids. Tuck that one away.

13. Memorize this mantra I learned from my college orchestra conductor: Keep your wits about you. 

14. When you feel the slightest stress building, sit down and breathe slowly for one full minute. Don’t wait for the full coronary.

15. Tend and water your body, mind, and soul, daily.

16. Pray for EVERY situation…not just when you’re at your wit’s end.

17. When your child is most unlovely and the most unlovable, love him the most.

18. There is no one method, philosophy, or formula…so quit looking for it and enjoy the scenery on your own journey.

19. Don’t stop hugging and kissing them just because they get facial hair. If you never stop, it never gets awkward.

20. Worry more about living life than documenting it.

21. Worry less about being perfect and more about being kind.

22. Bend to the moment.

23. Work yourself out of a job by teaching your child from birth to be competent and capable.

24. Model every trait you want your children to have and gently forgive yourself when what you model isn’t what you want them to be.

25. Be a safe confessional.

26. Talk at them less and with them more.

27. “Work while you work, play while you play. One thing, each time, that is the way. All that you do, do with your might, things done by halves are not done right.” In other words, double-tasking is a soul sucker. Do one thing at a time as often as you can.

28. “What you can’t get out of, get into wholeheartedly”—Mignon McLaughlin

29. Say ‘yes’ more often, if you are on the strict end of the spectrum.

30. Say ‘no’ more often, if you are on the soft end of the spectrum.

31. Don’t overcontrol your teenagers. Now should be the time to loosen the reigns, not tighten them like you did when they were two.

32. This, too, shall pass.

33. Exercise, even a little, every day.

34. Never, ever compare your life/child/home with another mom.

35. Don’t wait for everything to be perfect to live and enjoy right now. Even if that right now means you have three in diapers, are expecting twins, and just bought a puppy.


Well, that’s it for now, though I’ve left out a few for a future post. What would you add to this list, older mamas?


We’re giving away a copy of Amy Henry’s new book, Humpty Dumpty Just Needed a Nap: What Children’s Stories Teach Us About Life, Love, and Mothering. Please leave a comment below for your chance to win!

On November 2 at noon (EST), we’ll pick a name in a random drawing from all eligible entries received and send you an email notification if you are the winner!

Limit one (1) entry per person; NO PURCHASE NECESSARY TO ENTER OR WIN. Open only to legal residents of the 50 United States and Washington D.C. who are 18 or older as of date of entry.

  • Diane Reitz

    I already have a copy of the book but simply must comment! I plan to purchase more for gifts as this is the best book on mothering that I have ever read. I loved reading to my children and never even realized the lessons I could have learned from all those wonderful stories. On the other hand, maybe I gleaned those lessons subconsciously. Even though I did so many things very wrong (by my imagined standards) my children (by the grace of God) have grown into fantastic responsible adults who are good citizens. Love your children and before you know it you will receive an even greater reward by way of adorable grandchildren in who’s eyes you can do no wrong. Your advice is right on the mark, Amy!

    • wholemama

      Thank you, Diane! You have amazing kids and are such a model for me!

  • shirie leng

    love all of it! You remember what Mr. Owen says even now! shirie

    • wholemama

      You bet I do! That statement has come in most handy during many a non-violin-related moment:)

  • Ginger

    Thanks for the great post!

    • wholemama

      You’re welcome, Ginger:)

  • Shari Gray

    Radical/unsettling moment – I disagreed with you. GASP! – #4 and 5 were not for me. =)

    I always tell new mamas to make sure there is a “welcome” area in each area where you spend lots of time. Don’t make so many things off limits, especially if YOU are there most of the time. For example, in the kitchen, a drawer or cabinet with safe items for the kiddos to get into and pretend to cook, etc. In the livingroom by YOUR bookshelf, a bookshelf for the children’s books. They want and need to be where you are. Make them welcome.

    • wholemama

      I’m sure you’re not the only one, Shari. We all have different experiences in labor and delivery which inform our decisions. And, depending on the kind of help we have at home (moms, grandmothers, etc) we may not need that head start on sleep. Again, our experiences are so different it’s hard to say what’s best for each of us. This is my advice based on my experience and I’m sure your list would be awesomely different from mine! Thanks for sharing the welcoming idea. Love it and so true!

  • Kiersten Brandt

    I would add three more:

    36. Be quick to ask your children for forgiveness if you’re in the wrong. It’s more important to teach humility and the grammar of forgiveness than teach that Momma is always right.

    37. Laugh at yourself often, so your children learn not to mourn over every difficulty.

    38. Learn to love what your children love. This investment pays off in dividends too many to count.

    • wholemama


  • Jenni

    Great list!

    One thing I’ve been learning is to see my kids as a person, not a project/job. I was a teacher, so I guess its easy for me to see my kids as a job to handle, teach, control, etc. But, that doesn’t allow me to just be me and them to be themselves. I don’t always need to be thinking about what they SHOULD be DOING, but WHO they ARE….and then loving them for that.

    Mentoring! We all need that. I hope that more older mamas can find ways to mentor younger mamas more. ….and so on. I’ve taught my kids that one day they will be mentoring someone. It should be a part of life, but we’ve lost that in America.

    Thanks for this list!!

  • mothering spirit

    Fantastic! This is my favorite, because it’s the simplest, most obvious, and easiest to forget: Tend and water your body, mind, and soul, daily.

  • beth

    Great list! I have been parenting 20 years and whole-heartedly agree. Especially with #31.