As a mom of two toddlers that are fifteen months apart, I have oftentimes felt that I had to feel my way through the dark on motherhood post-partum. While I was given advice on pregnancy and birth and had two wonderful, natural deliveries and was able to have a water birth with my second child, when it came to learning how to parent my babies, I really struggled with finding the right methodologies, constantly felt like I wasn’t measuring up and wrestled with post-partum anxiety trying to raise a family in New York City. I had so many expectations of who my children would be and the kind of mother that I would be and while some of those are true, most of the time, I have felt like I’m just surviving from one day to the next and clinging to nap-time and bed-time. I’ve learned some things along the way that I wish I had known before becoming a mom that I would love to impart to other women who will one day become moms, women who are currently pregnant or young mothers looking for encouragement. By no means do I do these things perfectly, but each day is a new day to become a better mama.
1. Self-care is really important
During the first few post-partum months and years, you will be reacclimating yourself with your body. It’s going to look and feel different. Invest in healthy routines: join a gym, preferably one with child-care, start skin-care routines during the sleep deprivation years, and get time to yourself outside of the home at least once a week for a few hours. Investing in a great skincare routine at night has helped me tremendously in winding down from a long day with the kids, helps me relax and feel better. You have to believe that you are a new person, piecing together the parts of yourself you want to keep, understanding what it means to be a mom, and forming a new identity. This can all lead to so many emotions and fears, so take care of yourself.
2. You are trading in your “freedom” but you are gaining new purpose
It’s an undeniable fact that you are no longer just living for yourself, that every decision you make will affect your children in some way. The nights of last-minute plans with the girls will definitely be curbed, and the times when you will be able to curl up with a book will be few and far between. In the West, personal freedom is a very high value, so it can be difficult to not feel discouraged or overwhelmed with giving of yourself 24/7 without the ability to come and go when you feel like it. But it’s all about perspective. You have to remember that a new creation came from you, which in itself, is a miracle. This provides incredible purpose because you have been given a gift, a child that could help change the world. The new role you have adopted is to invest in cultivating a life, and that’s powerful sister. It’s way more meaningful than hitting up a new bar in the Lower East Side or Williamsburg, although that’s cool too. Each moment you get for the next eighteen years will shape the person your child will become and that’s powerful and important and trust me, you won’t regret the time and investment.
3. Find your tribe
I really think we were meant to sit around in a circle all day weaving baskets or creating awesome things together while our children run around playing, but maybe that’s just me. Don’t try to do this motherhood thing alone, especially if you don’t live near family. Find support groups, join encouraging parenting Facebook groups, do whatever you need to do to connect to other women that will support you on your motherhood journey. Find time to hang out with your girls, even if they don’t have kids!
4. Create a schedule but leave room for spontaneity
In my experience, when children know what to expect, they feel safer, improving behavior and reducing tantrums. Take time to create a really solid routine for your kids—and this is not second nature to me at all. Take time to explain what the day is going to look like for your kids and allow them to give their input on what they would like to do but also leave room for spontaneity. Saturdays are a great day to take the whole family out and do something fun together. Create memories and traditions! And rookie tip: if you are going to take them out, take them out in the morning when they are fresh or after they have had their nap.
5. Your kids care more about you being present than they care about you being perfect
We live in an age of distraction with the daily demands of work, life, relationships and devices all vying for our time and attention. Those things are all part of creating unrealistic standards and expectations. The best book that I have read as a mom wasn’t even a parenting book, but it really helped me gain a new perspective on motherhood. Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist made me realize that instead of being present, I was exhausting myself to become a perfect mom, and that type of life, my friends, is slavery. You will never be a perfect mom, but it’s really beautiful that you are trying that hard for your children. Your kids desire your attention more than your perfection. They just want you to come down on their level. It really is that simple. Laugh when they laugh, cry when they cry, and get excited about what they are excited about. Just let them know that you are there and be there as much as you can with whatever time you have with them. That doesn’t mean you have to be a stay-at-home mom, it just means that whatever time you have, be as present as you can be. It’s the best investment you will ever make in their emotional well-being, and it’s good for you too. And girl, put the phone down and stop comparing yourself to Instagram moms.
6. Marriage is a mirror and parenting is a microscope, so ask for forgiveness often
Anyone who is married knows that marriage at times can be really hard work. It reveals parts of yourself you never knew: for better and for worse. If marriage is a mirror, then parenting is a microscope. Spend the time when you are pregnant to reflect on your childhood and seek growth and healing as a person: relationally, emotionally and spiritually. Your little one is constantly observing you, watching how you behave and responding to the world around you, so how you behave will affect her or him. It’s a big responsibility knowing that you contribute to how another tiny human perceives the world. At times, you will come to the end of yourself and feel like a big failure. Humbling myself and asking for forgiveness is something I do almost daily to ensure that my kids know that mommy messes up but still loves them no matter how they behave.
7. You will only find the JOY in parenting when you CHOOSE to become like a child again
Kids are natural explorers. Give them time and space for uninterrupted and pure play. Over the past year, I’ve tried to join in during playtime, and it has actually been great for my personal mental health because we were all meant to be free and creative. Take this opportunity to be a kid again and experience the world through their eyes, the newness and wonder of a world undiscovered. Introduce your kids to some of your favorite things to do or games you played when you were a kid, bring out that memory box.
8. Find ways to cultivate your marriage
You will be giving so much to your kids that you will find it difficult to give to your spouse or partner. It’s okay that you feel tired. It’s an exhausting time and you are both sleep deprived. Try as much as you can to get a date night on the calendar and take advantage of early bed-times where you get to be with one another. Remember that you are both on the same team and give each other time to cultivate personal dreams and passions. My husband and I have found it really helpful to have an older couple with children in our lives to help guide us and offer advice and encouragement.
9. Stop judging other moms and HELP them
If you see a mom in need, please come to their rescue. Do you know how long it took her to get the diaper bag packed? Or simply to put coats on? They’ve already conquered a handful of obstacles by the time they’ve made it to you so please be kind, help her carry her stroller up and down the stairs of the subway and show her that the presence of her kids are not an additional annoyance but a blessing to the city. Give her the appreciation she deserves for sacrificing her life to raise the next generation. And on top of that, if you see a mom who slightly loses her temper, please don’t judge—she already feels the scrutiny of eyes and onlookers around her. Give her some compassion and see if there is anything you can do, without making it awkward. Whatever setting you’re in, just know that she wants a break just like you do. So if you know of any tired moms, give them the rest they deserve and offer some free babysitting and they will love you forever.
10. Cherish this time by keeping a mom journal
It really does go by quickly, so find ways to document this time. Motherhood is a lot of process and work through, and I really wish I would have kept a mom journal for myself to remember my thoughts, feelings and revelations the first few years of becoming a mom. One thing I did do, and I’m really glad that I did, was to create a journal for each of my children, recording the big events that happened, the things I see in them at an early age, and the hopes and dreams I have for them. For me, going back and reading their journals is truly priceless, and when they are old enough to read them, I hope it shows them how much I loved and cherished them.
While motherhood is the MOST DIFFICULT journey I have ever embarked on, it has also been the most rewarding one. If I can impart one thing to you, it would be: soak in this time, laugh and have fun, and celebrate the small victories because they are the ones that will mean the most in the end.