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.
- Books offer a lot of comfort : I’ve found solace in the pages of parenting books such as Buddhism for Mothers, Simplicity Parenting, Motherhood and Creativity (an absolute must read! It was formerly The Divided Heart : Art and Motherhood) and The Conscious Parent (can’t wait to discuss this with the Elevate 10-a-Day group – click here to find out more).
What would you add to this list?