What I’ve learnt from 10 years of motherhood

Che, my firstborn, celebrated his 10th birthday last week and I (quietly) acknowledged a decade of motherhood.

Milestone years are always a catalyst for reflection. Here’s what I’ve gleaned from ten years of motherhood:

  • Birth is just the beginning : when we’re pregnant (especially for the first time) we spend so much time preparing for birth and yet we don’t really consider what those first weeks and months with a baby will be like hence we are thrust into the role with very little preparation (and in many cases, little to no support or guidance). I was an absolute pro at deep breathing through contractions but when it came to mothering my baby I was nervous, anxious and very unsure. I remember coming home from hospital and looking around thinking: “What do I do now?” I was young (23), had only moved out of home one year earlier and everything was overwhelming in its newness. I had, most definitely, reached the unknown! Despite the support I had from family, it still took me a good year to find my feet and, more importantly, to trust my intuition. There was a lot of fumbling as I questioned my choices and my ability (there still is!). I know I’ve shared this quote countless times before but it so aptly communicates the enormity of the first year compared with the 24 hours of birth:

“The most difficult part of birth is the first year afterwards. It is the year of travail – when the soul of a woman must birth the mother inside her. The emotional labor pains of becoming a mother are far greater than the physical pangs of birth; these are the growing surges of your heart as it pushes out selfishness and fear and makes room for sacrifice and love. It is a private and silent birth of the soul, but it is no less holy than the event of childbirth, perhaps it is even more sacred.” – Joy Kusek

  • Your health and wellbeing must be a priority : it took me years to realise this and even longer to put it into practice but it’s very, very true. If you fall apart everything falls apart. Healthy food, plenty of water and a few walks around the block every week really will make all the difference to your mindset, your energy levels and, subsequently, your motherhood experience. There will be times (that will last for months) when you let yourself survive on coffee and leftover sandwich crusts but you’ll reach a point of exhaustion where you realise that you need to put yourself first – again. Small changes make a big difference: plan a coffee date with friends and find comfort in solidarity, close the door on your messy house and spend the morning at the beach with your little one, cut up some veggies for lunch and pour yourself a big glass of water, run yourself a bubble bath. And most importantly? Tell your partner that you need some time alone and go out by yourself…it’s the only way to recharge. And lastly, establish a good, open conversation with your GP, naturopath, psychologist (or all three).
  • Good is good enough : perfection and motherhood are oxymoronic; they don’t coexist – ever. When I learnt to let go of my tendency to have everything just so and instead chose to embrace a bit of mess and spontaneity, I became a much happier mum. Parenthood and its associated chores are relentless…good enough is attainable, perfection is not always possible (or desirable).
  • Cherish the days before your firstborn starts school : my first year as a school mum was my hardest year of motherhood. As I adapted to a new life dictated by the school bell, I grieved the carefree, spontaneous days I had left behind. Those days before school are so, so precious – dictated only by nap times and play dates. Cherish those slow mornings, Play School episodes, storytime at the library and countless requests for cuddles.

Those early years are exhausting and challenging but they’re beautiful in their simplicity. 

  • Comparison is the thief of joy : motherhood was somewhat simpler without social media and yet here we are, raising children in an age where everything is documented, filtered and shared. Sometimes these glimpses into others’ lives can be informative and inspiring and at other times those little squares can prompt us to question and doubt our own experience. I’ve been there…I’m still there, sometimes. I’ve worried about the lack of Steiner-based crafts I’ve done with the kids, I’ve felt guilty about the half-finished memory books that lie in the cupboard and I’ve spent far too long concerned with the fact that we still rent and don’t have a white-walled house in the country complete with chooks and dreamy vistas. When I feel like I’m too deep down the social media rabbit hole (which is often) I switch off, write a gratitude list and see what’s right in front of me. It works – every time.
  • The slow, simple days are the precious ones : my favourite days as a mum have been spent at or close to home – pottering, chatting, playing, baking and soaking it all in. Mornings at the beach with a bucket and spade – perfect. Pyjama days in the garden with banana bread for morning tea – ideal. Watching my kids play in the tree house while I sip tea – yes, please. No grand adventures, just home days with sun and crayons and coffee and grubby little feet.
  • Mother guilt is very real but it doesn’t have to consume you : mother guilt tends to creep in every so often and plague me with worry and regret. I should be doing this, I should have done more of that, I really regret this and this and this. But lately I’ve realised that all the time and energy that’s caught up in fretting and regretting could be spent on today. Perspective is powerful, more so than guilt.
  • It doesn’t get easier : tantrums over the way you’ve cut the carrots (yesterday’s dilemma) are nothing compared with the fiery attitude of a tween (today’s dilemma). I have purposely sought out the advice of mums with older children and they all say the same: the early days are physically exhausting but they’re nothing compared with the emotional angst of the teen years. I’m teetering on the edge of the next stage of motherhood while still mothering a newborn, toddler and six-year-old…there’s still so much to learn. Motherhood – always humbling.

What would you add to this list?

Recent Posts
Showing 14 comments
  • Kirstin

    I believe strongly that books offer comfort – however I chose different sorts of books. When I need to recharge my energy as a mother I read Young Adult novels – my favourites are Tanglewreck, Battle of the Sun (Jeanette Winterson) A Week Without Tuesday, Finding Serendipity, Pancakes are Forever (Angela Banks) . Meg Rossoff also rocks my world, but her stories are dark.

    A wise friend of mine who has three young boys has this to say about kids “It doesn’t matter how many you have, it is all the same – kids know your capacity and that’s what they aim for – not further because you will break, but never less either”.

  • Kate

    The biggest thing I’ve learnt in 23 years of parenting is enjoy thise tween years, they were the easiest by far for me in this journey. I thought by now 23, 21, 19 and 17 years I’d know what I was doing and my doing would mostly be over. Ha what a joke

  • George

    Wow- so much of this resonated with me!

  • Megan

    I really enjoyed this post Jodi, especially the comparison part! I always feel like your blog is an anchor in the sea of calm, it’s soothing to read your posts and spend some time here away from the highway of social media – which some days does feel like there are traffic jams, people shouting and lights blaring 🙂

  • Clémence

    That feels good reading! I shall have a look at those books!

  • littleblackdomicile

    Heading toward 35 years of motherhood and all remains the same. It’s the one thing in life that does not change and grounds us. Thank you for sharing and placing on paper no nicely what we all feel.-Laurel

  • Beck

    Thanks for such a lovely post, this really touched me. I loved the quote about the first year of motherhood… whilst it is something you have to feel and learn for yourself and no-one can explain it to you, I never ever expected the emotional and mental aspects to be so hard. My oldest just turned 8 and often I still struggle. Or I feel on top of things and then they grow up a bit more so I have to try and catch up again. Nice to know I’m not alone, thank you xx

  • Ariella

    I’m so excited to hear you talk more about parenting beyond infancy/toddlerhood! I had heard about mom guilt before, but when I was pregnant for the first time I discovered that there’s not only a lot of institutionalized guilt about how you handled the past, people also love inducing anticipatory anxiety about the future. You’re pregnant? They’re easier in than out. Not sleeping? Just wait until they’re running around. You have one? Just wait until you have two then you’ll really be working. I so value being prepared but, much like horror stories about labor, I think they often paralyze mothers and prevent them from finding their way. There are so few objective truths about motherhood as we are all so different, with different children and life circumstances. For some infancy is truly easier and for some even the angsty teens cannot compare to the early struggles. I think more likely the truth is that parenting is always work at every stage and wherever you are is what you know and feel the strongest. The dynamics change and we are all suited differently, but just like labor you can find what works for you and have a beautiful experience within the intensity.

  • Caroline

    You forgot wine! Having a glass of wine whilst you do bedtime makes it far more manageable!

    • Jodi

      I don’t drink!

  • Amanda

    such a great post jodi! so thoughtful. i also relished my days before school started. (i’m just a few years behind you in parenting — my oldest is 6 and i’m pregnant with my fourth. my oldest JUST started kindergarten.)
    so many of my friends can’t relate, they are itching to get out, DO! GO! PLAYDATES! ACTIVITIES! and all i want to do is stay home, make a mess, bake something, and take the day slow.

  • Gemma

    I just realised, I am just reaching my 20 year mothering milestone. I have double the years and half the children.
    Very wise to say savior the moment Jodi, and breath.
    I believe motherhood is a marathon, not a sprrint and many moments we think are irritating, or frustrating are actually wonder filled when we stop to really immerse ourselves n them.
    Not that I am always great at doing that , I just know when I do , it works.
    Happy mothering anniversary x

  • Emma Batts

    Jodi, this post brought me to tears. Tears over the messy beauty of it all. As I am at the start of my motherhood journey, with. 2.5 year old and a 4 month old, I appreciated the perspective you have, especially regarding pre-school days, appreciating the slow pace and freedom, the home days. I have a blog, too (Heartfelt Kitchen) and it has transformed from
    Food blog to motherhood+food blog, because motherhood is the most amazing/challenging thing I have ever entered into. Big ups and well done on navigating this life with wisdom and humility x

  • Sophie

    Thank you for this lovely post! I’ve almost made it to the end of my first year of motherhood and the quote from Joy Kusack made me cry.

Leave a Comment