5 things I wish I knew before I became a mom.
1. How much I would love being a stay-at-home parent.
Throughout my pregnancy I was anxious, really anxious. Many sleepless nights were spent reading online forums of parents who regretted having children. I wondered if I would be the same. To be honest, I had never really wanted children, not that I didn’t actually want them, but I was unsure how I really felt. Yet, there I was with a swollen belly that was only getting bigger by the day, and I was ready to run back to work.
Today my little one is 8 months old and it has honestly been the greatest time in my life. All my travels and volunteering, my studies, teaching students passionate about making a difference in the world, have all been part of life’s sweetest moments, but the very best ones are those I have everyday as I watch my child grow. I’ve waited for the desire to go back to work to hit me, but it hasn’t, not yet anyway.
My days are currently spent ‘following [my] child’, taking her interests and helping her develop new skills. It’s moments singing modified versions of ’The wheels on the bus’, ‘Row, row the boat’, and the ‘Hokey pokey’. It’s dancing to Taylor Swift or rocking her to sleep to a piano playlist. It’s creating an awareness of colours, numbers, comparisons, prepositions of place, and other simple vocabulary. It’s playing with food and sometimes eating it. It’s discovering different textures and walks in the park watching other children play, birds flying, and dogs playing. It’s reading the same books over and over again and seeing her joy at her favourite parts. It’s meeting other moms with their babies over a good cup of coffee and a much needed chat. It’s laughing, crying, and lots of cuddling. Yes, there are moments and days it’s hard and overwhelming, but oh, there is so much joy in the daily life of a stay-at-home parent and I’m so grateful that I have the financial security, health, and desire to do so.
However, I want to make it absolutely clear that I understand if a mother goes back to work soon after having her baby. For many years I assumed I would be a working mother right from the get-go. The fact that my desire to work is currently at 0% surprises me more than anyone else. And yet, if you find yourself wanting to work again, I completely support you.
2. How well-prepared I was to be a mom.
Knowing how much I feared having a child, you might think I had little experience around children. Not so. I have 10 siblings, was raised in a community where large families are common., babysat, nannyed, au paired, taught, and volunteered in orphanages, and still I wondered if I was up to the task of being a mother. Thankfully, I was more than prepared.
My experiences over the years with children gave me the confidence and know-how to do this. My husband had very little experience with children and came into parenting with much more fears. When discussing this post with him, he shared with me that the one thing he wished he knew before becoming a parent was to not be so stressed about the basics. For him, these are feeding, diaper changes, putting baby to sleep, and bathing. Maybe watch a YouTube video or two (I recommend finding one from a legitimate health organisation), ask your nurse and/or pediatrician, your parents (if they’re not in the business of giving out lots of unsolicited advice) or a friend, but don’t get caught up with ‘knowing’ everything because you’ll learn it as you go.
Truth be told, my biggest secret as a parent is not caring for perfection. I’m okay with not being a perfect parent. I’m okay with not being a super parent. I’m okay with giving myself permission to feel the hard days. I’m okay with reading parental books and online sources. I’m okay with asking others’ about their experiences and advice. I’m okay with following my instinct. I’m okay to learn as I go. And I’m okay in ‘following [my] child’. My motivation as a mother is to be engaged, give love and support, and help my child become her best self. A beautiful byproduct of it all is that my confidence has gone from strength to strength as a mother.
3. That I would sleep her first year.
Everyone said that when I became a parent it would be years before I enjoyed sleep again. As I have a chronic illness and often feel sleep deprived, this part of parenting probably scared me more than anything else.
The first few months there was little sleep to be had. She fed every couple of hours and feedings took anywhere from 45 to 90 minutes (I’ll share that journey another day), so I was stretched to my absolute physical limits. I remember nights feeding her in bed while resentfully watching my husband sleep. Sometimes he would sit up with me as an act of support and I would still be bitter that he even had the choice to sleep.
Over time though, I learned to sleep during the day when she slept. I learned to accept a messy house and gave into batch cooking. In addition, my husband gave me the gift of weekend sleep-ins as he takes full care of her until her first morning nap.
My sleep may not be what it used to be. Every night I’m woken up by one thing or another and that’s okay as I’ve renegotiated my idea of sleep: I don’t need a full night’s sleep, I just need enough sleep, whether it’s taken day or night. And when all else fails, there’s coffee!
4. That I would understand my baby’s needs, most of the time.
When spoken or written words aren’t an option, you have to rely on other forms of communication. Your baby will cry, and thankfully someone has already worked out the meaning of different cries (see here). However, if you’re really observant with your little one, you will see they also have other ways of communication. Watch their hands, their eyes, their gaze, and their behaviour changes. A Montessori maxim I swear by is, ‘follow the child’. You’ll discover their interests, you’ll meet their needs, and you’ll be in a better position to help them develop.
From our side, we implemented baby sign language for diaper changes, bath time, feeding, and sleep and we learned how important our body languge is for her. When she’s scared of someone or something, we’re careful to protect her in a cuddle, and at the same time show trust in the object or scenario. We’re gentle about her facing her fears knowing that trust takes time; sometimes she’ll be eager to face her fears only moments after expressing fear, and other times it may take a few days.
Sadly, you won’t always know how to help your baby when they’re experiencing distress and that’s okay. In those moments when nothing works, I cuddle her a little tighter. I want her to know that whatever challenges life gives her, she is loved.
5. That mom-shaming is alive and kicking.
It was during pregnancy when I was joining different online support groups for parents that I started to see it – the mom-shaming. It starts right at pregnancy when one is choosing the type and place of birth they want. Next is breastfeeding vs formula. Then sleeping. Vaccines. Screentime. The awful list goes on and on. I won’t say too much now as I believe this topic deserves it’s own post. Sadly though, too often we drop our opinions on new and sometimes older moms. We don’t know their experiences, their fears, their vulnerabilities. Instead of empowering parents we bring them down and destroy their confidence. Can we please. just. stop. mom-shaming!