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Surviving Motherhood

Updated on April 29, 2013

On Being A Mom ~ It's Not Always Pretty

Motherhood caught me completely by surprise. Utterly unprepared. Quite rocked off my solid center. With the roller coaster of emotions, the sense of utter joy and sheer madness, for me, being a mom has been a collection of the most intense learning and growing experiences I have ever in my life encountered. Along with the most beautiful poignant moments of holding my newborns sons came the sheer exhaustion of the labor of growing myself into the person and mother I want to be.

I wonât be extolling all the beautiful wonders of motherhood, the hallmark moments where everything is rosy and sweet smelling. Nor will it be a dumping ground for all the downsides of being a parent. Instead, it will be a glimpse into the cascade of ups and downs that one mother, this mother, has experienced in the last eight and a half years of mothering my sons.

I think, I hope, that others can relate to this real story of what being a mother is like for me. And for those that have yet to become mothers, I hope to share some ideas of things you can do ahead of time to prepare - no, youâll never prepare - to be aware of what may come, to realize it might just be normal and that you arenât in fact going crazy. I wish I had known a lot more going in. But then again, I might not have taken the challengeâ¦

Images copyright laurapeterson215 unless otherwise noted. This is my oldest, a few months old, fresh out of the bath. He didn't like the bath usually though. Sweet looking photos can be deceiving.

In The Beginning - The newborn and tiny infant stage

My youngest, 2 days old.
My youngest, 2 days old.

The newborn stage. You've just spent nine months growing this other human being and then brought it forth into the world. All you hear about is the over the moon, miraculous nature of birth. And, don't get me wrong, it is miraculous. Truly. And a whole host of other things too. For me, with my first, it was a relief. Relief that he finally deigned to make an appearance, to let go of the inside of my uterus and emerge to meet us. And the wonder of finally meeting this little person was mingled with the reality of exhaustion.

My second son was born at home in the water, after a much less exhausting labor. I trusted my body and the process more and was able to lean into it, to let go of my control and allow my body to take over.

But still. The exhaustion. You hear about sleep deprivation, but you just cannot comprehend it until you live it. And it's not just the lack of sleep. It's the overwhelming feeling of responsibility that wraps around your body like a coat of armor. You are the front line between your child and the world.

As I've searched to figure out why the first few weeks of a new child's life are so overwhelming, I've come to a few conclusions. First, there is the sheer newness of it all with your first. So many things to think about, worry about. We wonder if they are feeding right or enough or if they are gaining enough weight or too much weight. So many tiny little things to worry about. Then there's the re-learning of how to do things you used to do with your eyes closed. Like getting a glass of water. It's a new task to learn, new muscle memory to develop, new proprioceptors (the sensors in your body) to teach, when you have a newborn cradled in your arms or on your shoulder. Everything looks and feels a little different.

Learning that your child isn't as fragile as he seems is part of the deal too. At first, you may walk around so cautiously and carefully, feeling awkward as you hold this little one. All of these things are much easier the second time around (and I can only imagine how natural it starts to feel the third, or fourth time or even fifth time around).

But perhaps the most heart and mind jarring part of the early days with your child (and this happened with both my children) is trying to figure out what to do with this new intense rush of love that pours through you. Love, fierce protectiveness, roaring mama bear feelings that you've never experienced before and for which you have no frame of reference. It's discombobulating to say the least. So many incredible new feelings that I had no place for, didn't know what to do with and couldn't explain or name knocked me flat on my back for about the first twelve weeks of my oldest son's life. The duration of the crazy ride was shorter with my second.

A New Normal

This is a common occurence.
This is a common occurence.

I wondered when my life would begin to feel normal again, or routine, or feel like I had a grasp on myself and the baby. I remember counting the minutes until Daddy got home from work, desperately needing the reassurance of another adult human being to look at, talk with and share this with. The cocktail of pregnancy and post-natal hormones play a part in intense emotions, to be sure, but it’s also this intense new love that wasn’t there before. It takes a while to find your equilibrium.

It took a while for me to adjust to my changed body also. Your body will change, in often strange and surprising ways. Not just weight changes or stretch marks. There are changes that can be long lasting reminders of the weight of a child held safely in your belly. It takes a while to reconcile that.

Eventually, I found a new normal and it helped to remember this stage the second time around. It took much less time because I knew I would find my way through it. You will settle down from the crazy roller coaster ride. A little anyway. Then there are all manner of new experiences and new emotions to manage.

Did Parenting Knock You Off Your Feet?

Me and my boys.
Me and my boys.

Parenting...was it what you expected or did it blow you away?

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Parenting Resources

Please please remember you are your own best expert on your child. Trust yourself. Don't read everything there is to read, it will make you crazy. That being said, these are books that can help your journey tremendously.

How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk
How to Talk So Kids Will Listen & Listen So Kids Will Talk

I love these authors and this book. I wanted to have a good relationship with my kids and really be able to communicate with them. I'm far from perfect still, but this helps. Tremendously. The authors also have written Siblings Without Rivalry and use the same style of approach here. Extremely valuable books and very highly recommended on Amazon.

 
Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids
Duct Tape Parenting: A Less is More Approach to Raising Respectful, Responsible and Resilient Kids

First, I love the title. While I haven't read this yet, it is extremely high on my list. I want self reliant kids that can problem solve. That's what this book is about. 5 stars with almost 100 reviews.

 
Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence
Playful Parenting: An Exciting New Approach to Raising Children That Will Help You Nurture Close Connections, Solve Behavior Problems, and Encourage Confidence

Playfulness is something I struggle with and this is another high on my list. I have seen over and over how effective it is when I am playful with my kids, rather than stern and demanding they complete a chore or task. Admittedly, there are times when I just plain don't feel like being playful. But I really want to explore this more and what I want this book for is the ideas for specific, useful games.

 

Mommy Blogs - (And a daddy blog too).

When I first ran across Glennon Melton's Don't Carpe Diem post at Momastery, the relief that shook me was palpable. Someone else got it so completely and wrote the very feelings of my heart and shared it. I felt such a sense of connection that I was immediately hooked. See, motherhood can feel lonely and isolating especially as you peek into other's lives and feel like they are doing it better than you are. And that you are supposed to be enjoying it more and isn't it supposed to be a blessing? So when it doesn't feel like a blessing, what do you do? You read mommy blogs. And you feel connected and whole again and life begins to feel a little more manageable.

Some Feelings That Surprised (And Frightened) Me

Notice the tiredness in our eyes
Notice the tiredness in our eyes

As I said, I was woefully unprepared for the emotional deluge that motherhood would bring. First, the joys. All the firsts are so exciting. The first time you hold your baby and stare into his or her eyes will capture your heart and imprison you for the rest of your life (at least I imagine it's a forever kind of thing). You are now, forever and always, linked with this being no matter how far from you they roam.

The first smile, first giggle, the first time your child rolls over, sits ups, grabs for something, hugs you, kisses you, those first small steps. These are the rewards. The treats held out to sustain you as you traverse the rocky terrain. Made all the more magical because you didn't do it, your child did. They learned it all on their own, the sense of their accomplishment fulfills you and for perhaps the first time, you understand how amazing it feels to watch another human being spread their wings.

And on the flip side, you may also begin to grasp that these little beings are not yours to keep. They keep growing and will one day leave you to venture off on their own. A bittersweet feeling that often hides under everything else.

Then there are the surprising and frightening feelings. The frustration. The exhaustion. The anger. I wrote a blog post about parental anger and was surprised by the response I got. Apparently, I am not alone.There's also the feeling that for just a moment (or a week) you'd like to feel a separation, a sense of being yourself, alone, once again. And that it's not possible. You may get some relief from a spouse or perhaps a grandparent or a kind friend that allows you to take a moment for yourself. But the responsibility, the weight of caring for this other little one is always there. And it can feel like a heavy burden.

Perhaps the burden comes, not entirely from the actual responsibility of being a parent, but from the expectations you set for yourself. And the fact that you fail often and you will continue to fail. I believe that parents set out with the best intentions. And want to be the best parent they can be. For me, I believed that meant I had to read everything I could get my hands on, carefully filtering every little thing that came into contact with my precious babies, painstakingly researching every little thing. Countless little ways I set myself up for failure. Not that I think you shouldn't search for the best. Striving for the best for your children is a beautiful thing. Going mad from the frustration of not being able to provide the best always or from the times when you have no idea what the best would be in that moment isn't so beautiful.

Here's the thing. I want the best for my kids. But what I lost sight of for a while, is that the best of what they need is me loving them. Me being the healthiest, happiest mom I know how to be. Me setting the example of how to care for yourself and love others. Me living my life on my terms. Not me being the expert on baby food or child nutrition or discipline methods or the gamut of other things about which you can try to become an expert.

Herein lies the risk of parenting today. We are inundated with an explosion of information, online and off, in books, newsletters, magazines and more. In so many ways we are told and shown how we 'should' be and therefore how we are falling short and if we just buy the book, read the article, get the product, then we'll be able to pull it all together and our lives will be happy and fall into place. It's a myth. A huge myth.

The Roles of A Mother (and Father)

Moms and Dads fill many varied roles when raising children. Here are some. If I've missed any, leave a comment and I'll be sure to add more!

  • Personal Chef
  • Triage Nurse
  • Psychologist
  • Mediator
  • Referee
  • Taxi driver
  • Cheerleader
  • Chief Economist
  • Cleaning Lady/Man
  • Appointment Setter
  • Chief Financial Officer
  • Professional Organizer (ok, I fail at this one.)
  • Tutor
  • Sanitation Specialist
  • Chief in charge of science experiment supply getting
  • Personal shopper
  • Frog wrangler
  • Cat (and by this I mean children) Wrangler
  • Nutritionist
  • Bug Catcher

The Biggest Frustrations

My boys
My boys

My biggest frustrations have come from the following:

1. Not understanding that I would feel anger and resentment and that it was ok and normal and meant that I needed to take some time for something I loved.

2. Not knowing what to do in the red hot moment that I feel I need to do something. For example, discipline...I don't always know the best form of consequence for the infraction in the moment that I need it. Though I have learned to state simply that there will be a consequence if the action continues, buying me some time to figure out what fits this particular scenario.

3. Realizing that my kids are separate beings. I think sometimes I'm completely flabbergasted by a misbehavior because I feel such a sense of connection to my children, I feel like they are extensions of me on some level and to see the behavior or hear the words that aren't something I would choose feels like a raw reminder of their own separate nature. They do have minds of their own. And really, that's how I want it. It's just that on a visceral level, it smacks me around a bit. They came forth from my body and there are still energetic tendrils of connection that wind around them and me and can serve to frazzle me when there are moments when we're out of alignment with one another.

It doesn't help being a perfectionist. Because with motherhood, every day will bring countless ways you will fall and fail. From the wrong words, the wrong discipline, the harsh words or tone...there are constant failures. And if you're the type of perfectionist that likes to walk away when things don't come easily, parenting will be the biggest challenge of your life. Because you cannot walk away. And it won't come easily. Any ease and calmness will be hard won and tenuous. But oh, how you will grow if you accept the challenge.

“The trouble with being a parent is that by the time you are experienced, you are unemployed.” ~ Author Unknown

At The End Of The Day

My youngest, shortly after birth
My youngest, shortly after birth

What I am finally coming to understand on a gut level is that I have the answers inside. Not necessarily readily accessible in the exact moment I need them, but they are there. I've learned that my anger and frustration often stems from expectations I have placed on myself and my kids (and husband too). When I start feeling things should be a certain way, and they aren't, problems will follow.

As I grow into this parenting role, I see more and more how important it is to let go of the idea of control and to embrace the flow. To ride the waves and not struggle against them. Do you know what you are supposed to do if you get caught in a rip current that is pulling you rapidly out to sea? First, stop struggling against it. Then, swim parallel with the shore until you can feel that you can make your way back. It's the same with parenting. Stop fighting the challenges, stop wishing for things to always be calm and peaceful and idyllic. It will never be. But eventually, you can make your way to the shore.

At the end of the day, we think parenting is about raising "good" children that will become good and productive adults. But it's not. It's about growing ourselves into the best people we can be. Our children are zen teachers of the highest order and they will demand nothing but our best. And often, we feel drained and depleted of all our energy. But, I think, I believe, in the long run, it will be all worth it. The journey will be long, but by consciously putting one foot in front of the other, we will get there. With scars to be sure. But hopefully in one piece.

Tell Me About You? Do You Have Kids? - Ever wish you could give them away? For a while anyway?

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    • Laurabpeterson profile image
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      Laurabpeterson 4 years ago

      @CraftyStaci: I'm so glad people are beginning to share now...it really blindsided me. And exactly...I love my kids. I don't always love parenting. I also didn't know that there were things my kids would do that I wouldn't love (like habits or voices or ...) and that would irritate me! Never thought I would have moments were I disliked them all while loving them and that at the same time, those feelings of dislike or anger could switch in a heartbeat to feelings of understanding, peace, guilt or something else. It really is a ride... Thanks for sharing!

    • CraftyStaci profile image

      CraftyStaci 4 years ago

      No one tells you, before you have kids, that it's okay to not love every little moment of motherhood. My first baby was difficult and there were times I wondered if something was wrong with me because of the negative feelings. I didn't realize every bad thing would pass eventually. I survived it, she grew into an amazing young woman and I'm now helping her plan her wedding. Thanks for sharing this important info!