If I’ve learned one thing in the past 15 years of parenting, it’s that experience is the best teacher! Hopefully some of my motherhood lessons learned in the school of hard knocks can help you better navigate your own journey with peace and intention.
This year our oldest child turns 15 which means that we’ve been parents for almost a decade and a half! What in the actual heck. Motherhood is hard, amazing, brutal and transcendent. It’s a conundrum of the most beautiful variety and I’m so glad I chose it! The ups and downs of being a parent can leave you with whiplash but over the years, I’ve learned a handful of lessons that have helped me over and over again.
I can’t claim to be an expert at this gig (is anyone?) but I hope that sharing these lessons might help someone come to better understand and cope with the exquisite struggle that is raising a child!
- Your child’s behavior does not determine your value as a parent. This is one of those simple sayings that is a lot easier to spout off than it is to truly believe. But the plain truth is that every person, regardless of their age, background or upbringing, reserves the right to choose. This is both a beautiful and a heart-wrenchingly awful truth about life. We can’t force anyone to make the “right” decisions. Which just goes to show that we can’t take all the credit when our kids turn out amazing, nor should we take much of the blame if (we think) they majorly screw up.
- Always remain the adult. Hoo boy! If ever there was a mantra to get tattooed on my forehead, this would be it! Anyone who’s ever tried to drag a screaming toddler out of the store knows the acute difficulty of remaining calm and collected while your child acts like the demon spawn of the underworld. And if toddler tantrums are hell, then teenage insults and disrespect are enough to make you lose your ever-loving mind. Above all, remaining the emotionally mature person in a heated exchange can be crazy hard but a complete game changer in dealing with a stubborn child.
- Your kids don’t need you as much as you think. I know this might make some moms cry to contemplate but seriously, think about it! 200 years ago children rolled wagon wheels across the plains with sticks for hours at a time and today we think we have to be completely available for our children 24/7 with snacks and educational crafts in hand. Leave your children alone and watch them blossom and grow!
- Self care isn’t important, it’s VITAL. I get it- your kids are around all the time and they’re in your face and someone always needs to eat and someone else always needs help wiping their butt. It’s exhausting, which is exactly WHY you need to take care of you. I can’t tell you the best way to make this happen, but you probably already know. It will require some work and maybe a little money. Call the sitter, tell your husband, hide in the closet, do whatever it takes to get the silence and rejuvenation you need. Your kids deserve a well-rested and sane mom.
- Nothing lasts forever and time speeds up as your children grow. If there’s anything in this world more maddening than a weepy eyed old lady at the grocery store telling you to “cherish those babies, they grow up way too fast!” then I don’t know what it is. Babies and toddlers need you so much it’s suffocating. But I PROMISE, it will not last forever. In just a handful of sleepless years, you will barely remember what it felt like to hold a newborn baby in your arms. I’m not saying life isn’t a beast while they’re little, I’m just saying that it doesn’t last as long as you think.
- Motherhood shouldn’t define you (but it does refine you). I personally cringe a little when people tell me their kids are their “life”. I know they just mean that they love their children more than anything (as they should!) but your identity should never be tied up in your children. Remember to be YOU, even while raising your little minions. Take time for a hobby, read a book, go out with friends. Don’t let caring for little people become your sole purpose in life, because one day, they’ll be gone and you don’t want to be left without an identity.
- Anger only changes the future for worse. If you saw this Instagram post of mine, you know the story behind this revelation. Frustration over anyone’s mistakes (your own or your children’s) can only ruin the future: your self-esteem, your relationship with your children, your future happiness, etc. As much as we wish otherwise, we can’t go back and change those mistakes. Keep looking forward and let the past become simply experience.
- The eyes are the window to the soul. Cheesy platitude aside, this saying has made a big difference in my parenting. When things aren’t going well, I make it a point to look into my child’s eyes. When tempers are running high, we’re late to an appointment, I’ve been yelling all day, no one’s being obedient… in other words, whenever I’m feeling disconnected with my children, I try to check in with eye contact. It makes a huge difference in understanding them and it goes a long way in making them feel heard and loved.
- Keeping house isn’t the same as mothering. How many times have you or a friend said “I’m a bad mom because…I didn’t cook dinner” or because “…I didn’t make sure the kids cleaned their rooms”? Good news: the state of your home has nothing to do with your performance as a mother! The dictionary says that the verb “mother” means: “bring up (a child) with care and affection”. Nowhere in that definition do I see that the laundry has to be neatly folded or that you have to have a clean microwave. Sure, a neat and orderly home can do wonders for everyone’s sanity, but it is NOT the same as mothering your child.
Do you love your children? Of course.
Would you run into traffic to save them? DUH.
Then you’re a great mom.
- Find your tribe. We all have acute strengths and plenty of weaknesses, but if you haven’t yet found other mothers like you, it can seem like everyone is against your particular brand of parenting. If you love epidurals and feeding your children OREOS, there’s another mom out there who feels the same. If you love homebirths and hemp milk, guaranteed you’re not alone. In short, find someone (in real life, in a FB group, on Instagram…doesn’t matter!) who gets why you do most of the things you do. Share your ups, downs and frustations and learn from each other! Having each other’s backs is one of the most empowering aspects of belonging to a community of like minded mothers.
I hope some of my motherhood lessons resonated with some of you! I just SO admire every mother I meet and am thrilled to be a part of a community of incredible women. If you’re looking for more empowering motherhood tips, be sure to check my podcast, Outnumbered!
You can also read more of my motherhood posts here.