I’m having a hard time wrapping my mind around the fact that ten years ago this morning I was waddling into the hospital—absolutely terrified—to be induced with my first baby. Roughly four hours later, that fear was obliterated as my screaming daughter was placed onto my chest and promptly pooped on my stomach. I was still clueless and unsure how I was going to keep such a tiny, helpless human alive. But one thing was certain: this was a love like no other.
A whole decade with this girl and the sister who came after her has taught me a lot. While it would be absolutely impossible to collect it all into words, I thought I’d share a few of the most important motherhood lessons I’ve stumbled through in the last decade.
No one knows anything.
Seriously. Everyone pretends to be an expert. Especially when it comes to other people’s problems. But when it comes down to it? We’re all completely clueless and winging it.
You know how scared you were at the thought of keeping a newborn alive? That’s how scared I am about navigating the terrifying waters of tweendom. That’s how scared I’ll be about middle school mean girls and high school parties and college and everything.
The second you seem to get your bearings and you think you understand this whole motherhood thing is the same second they catapult you into a whole new phase of scary.
The things that you worry about the most will make you laugh a year from now.
When Ellie was a pudgy little infant, she slept a lot. Now, normal people might throw their hands in the air and praise the gods. But new mothers? They’re not normal people. Instead of being thrilled that baby number two slept infinitely better than baby number one, I completely freaked out. I even went so far as to call my mother, bawling. I was terrified that Ellie was missing major milestones because she was spending all of her time sleeping.
Right now, I realize how hilarious that statement is. But back then I was completely terrified. I was convinced that I could see into the future and the path ahead was rocky and full of developmental delays… all because my baby was sleeping. I mean, her big sister never slept. She loathed sleep from birth and rarely succumbed to it without being held in my arms. That brings me to my next lesson.
Don’t compare your children.
It’s really easy to. I know that. It almost seems natural. But what two human beings do you know that are one hundred percent alike? None. Which means that when a new baby comes along, you need to throw out the idea that you’re a pro. There are some things that might be similar and lessons learned from baby number one that will come in handy. But you have a completely new human to learn about. This new human has her own sets of likes and dislikes and quirks. It doesn’t make her any better or worse than her sibling. It makes her her.
Moms who judge other moms are some of the worst humans on the planet.
I wish this wasn’t a thing, but it is and it sucks. There are moms out there who sit atop high pedestals of perfection and look down their noses, throwing rocks at the rest of us. The secret at the root of it, which they would do anything to hide, is that they’re not perfect. None of us are. The difference is that they try to hide their imperfections by pointing out the flaws of others. Because if they pick apart every misstep I’ve made in my mothering, it must mean they know more and are better at it, right? Wrong.
Do not be that mom.
Instead, be the mom who rushes in to support the mom who looks a little lost or like she’s at the end of her rope. Don’t be a know it all. Don’t try to solve her problems. But let her know that you see her. That you’ve been there. That we all have. And that she’s doing just fine.
There is no one thing that works for everyone.
Everyone wants to dole out one-size-fits-all parenting advice. Don’t listen. It’s complete bullshit. If someone claims to have the magic solution to colic or getting babies to sleep through the night or potty training or separation anxiety, they are seriously deluded.
There is no wand you can wave or super secret incantation that solves a problem for all humans.
Just like you shouldn’t compare your children, you can’t expect the same thing to work for children everywhere. Different personalities respond to things differently. Sometimes what works for one family would be straight up madness for another. That doesn’t make it wrong. It just makes it different. Take every single piece of advice with a grain of salt. If something doesn’t work, don’t feel like a failure. Instead, adopt Amy Poehler’s mantra: “good for you, not for me.”
Being a mother means being a master manipulator.
When I was little, I was pretty sure my mother knew everything. Now that I’m a mother, I know that’s not true. None of us do. What we do learn to do really well though, is to manipulate our children. Seriously. If you want to pretend that’s not true, that’s fine. But you’re a liar.
Mothers are masters of distraction. Do you know the quickest way to diffuse a meltdown? You make a kid focus on something completely unrelated. When you see your child on the verge of an explosion, you ask them a totally random question. Or offer a cookie. Or pull up a funny video on the iPad. I’m not judging. This is the trenches. You do what you have to to survive. Most of the time, that means manipulating the tiny little creature that you love so much so that you get the outcome you want.
You’ll still do this when they’re older. Instead of easy distractions though, you have to be a little more on your toes. You offer options so they feel like they’re in control. You plant the seeds of something in their minds before really addressing it. You let them have twenty minutes of FaceTime with their friends as long as their room is clean.
One lesson I wish I could learn is to let go of the mom guilt. I wish I could just let it float away like a lost balloon, but it’s not that easy and weightless. When there’s something that you want so desperately to be good at, it can be difficult to see what you’re doing right. Instead, all that jumps out at you is all of the little times you’ve failed or lost it. But be gentle with yourself, momma.
And when all else fails? Chocolate.