Tuesday, January 5, 2016

From My Heart: Thoughts about the Experience that is Mothering

I have been a mother now for sixteen years to six children ages 16, 14, 12, 9, 6, and 2. I am deep in the trenches of potty training, toddler tantrums, multiplication facts, learning how to read, middle school drama, sports, musicals, acne, puberty, and AP exams. So yeah, life is a wee bit busy.

Even though life is busy, I'm a thinker. I ponder my experiences and my thoughts about my children all the time. I'll be in the midst of a diaper change and inside I'm trying to figure out how I feel about this mothering thing. The fact is, I really, really love being a mom. Sometimes I don't like my children very much, but I wouldn't change my life. Many times the work that must be done to keep things under control such as laundry, dishes, and scrubbing bathrooms frustrates me. When other obligations cut down on my housekeeping time and the jobs pile up while the filth grows, I find myself anxious and happy to get back to the simplicity of cleaning while teaching and training my kids.

I have felt rumblings and stirrings in my heart for awhile about things I have learned. For some reason, I want to share these things with the world. I recognize my experiences, lessons, and realizations do not reflect the general feelings and thoughts about motherhood. You may read this piece and think I am a terrible mother. That's ok. We all have different experiences and thoughts about parenting. These are mine. Hopefully one or two might resonate with you.

Mothering is hard because you fail a lot.

I was pretty confident about being a mom when I had my first child. I was the fourth girl in a family of eight. I babysat, helped my mom with my younger siblings, and was generally mature and responsible. Mostly I was okay as a new mom. Turns out I am really good with infants-or at least my infants. They tend to sleep pretty well, I don't get riled up when they cry, and we all generally enjoy that first year. It also turns out that toddlers are not my forte at all. I am not always sympathetic or kind to my children. I lose my temper a lot. In other words, I fail over and over again--constantly.

I used to beat myself up about my mistakes--and truthfully I still get discouraged at myself for my failures. However, kids are remarkably resilient and are the perfect tutors on failing. Have you ever watched a baby learn how to walk? They fall over, they bonk their heads, they smack their bottoms, they cry, they get scared, they get frustrated, and then--they stand up and take those steps and keep on doing it until they not only walk, but run! It's remarkable and humbling.

I want you to remember that parents are like babies learning how to walk. Sure, you can read or watch other parents, but until you actually take those steps to parent, you really don't have a clue what you are doing. You are definitely going to fall, bonk your head, smack your bottom, cry, get scared, feel frustrated, and then--you are going to figure things out. It will happen over and over again and as long as you keep trying to do better, everything is going to be ok. One more thing, have you ever noticed that babies don't worry that they are failing to walk? They don't beat themselves up over falling. Don't beat yourself up when you fail as a mom. It's ok. Just get back up and try again.

Mothering is hard because kids cry and fuss a lot when they need something.

I just spent 30 minutes listening to my toddler fuss at me because she is exhausted. After I fed her (without a lot of success) I snuggled her and then put her to bed. I know she is going to do the same thing around 5 p.m. and it will go on longer. It's hard. My kids are wild when they get home from school. They are cranky, tired, hungry, and over-stimulated. Bedtime is rough. But it is going to be ok.

I figured out several years ago that 80% of my kids' behavior problems (crying, fussing, fighting, yelling, etc.) could be solved with regular naptimes, consistent bedtime, and a careful schedule of snacks and meals. I don't mess with sleep or food. I'm the same way too. I'm such a better mom when I go to bed early and eat regularly. I tend to make dinner in the morning right after breakfast because that takes a huge burden off my shoulders in the afternoon when everyone melts down.

Mothering is hard when your kids are struggling with life and school.

Two of my kids have ADHD. I have spent hours, days, and weeks working with my kids to help them develop routines and structure. I have spent horrible hours prodding one of my kids through homework. (Ok, do the next problem. Stay with me here. It won't take you long if you just do it.) We also have moved a lot. My oldest son has attended 9 different schools in his career. It hurts to see your kids struggle to find their place among peers and to make new friends. It hurts to get those calls from the school saying your child needs help or is struggling.

What I've learned is that you will learn how to deal with those challenges. You will go stronger and more educated. You'll research, ask questions, and get help. One day you may be sitting with teachers and school staff and tell them what you do to help your child and they will be amazed and appreciative. You will hit roadblocks and you'll figure out how to overcome them. Your heart will swell with pride when your child moves forward academically or socially--because you knew how much effort it took to get there.

Mothering is hard because dealing with different stages feels like forever.

You know when you potty train, you feel like it is never going to happen and your kid is going to be wearing diapers in high school? Well, I think that is one of the most challenging parts of parenting. You can never really see the end game and you feel like a phase is going to last forever.

Luckily those stages and phases don't last forever. So take a deep breath and do your best. Then stop worrying. You will figure out how to help your child toilet train, stop sucking their thumb, write on the walls, or whatever. Try and keep the big picture in mind.

Just as a caution as you wish your kids would grow up already (!) don't wish away the sweet times you are having. Did you know that toddlers give the best (slobbery) kisses and hugs? Teenagers don't hug you so much. Did you know that smaller kids think you are SO smart? Then they grow up and question you on everything. Did you know that teenagers are really fun to talk to because they have interesting ideas and thoughts? While you are struggling with potty-training or whatever phase is causing you pain, try to think about the good things you are also experiencing with your child at the moment. I promise it does make you feel better.

Mothering is hard because it is really important.

A few years ago I listened to a podcast from This American Life about nurturing and attachment. I was blown away when I realized that simple act of softly touching your baby's face and cooing to them helped them develop attachment, empathy, and love. Babies who aren't touched and loved when they are little have a very difficult time learning how to relate to people and to love. Even if you have no clue how to be a mom, take time to be soft and gentle with your little one. Do your best and you will reap some wonderful things.

Try to be gentle with yourself too. I know so many wonderful moms who parent differently or look at things differently. The one thing that unites us is that we are all trying our best.

Now, I would love to hear from you in what you have learned about mothering. I love learning from you!


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