I’ve had several conversations lately (with other moms and with myself) that revolve around this concept of being <i>honest</i> about <i>motherhood</i>. I am not sure if I can articulate all the complex and sometimes incongruous feelings and thoughts that make up this concept in my own life, but that is why I decided to try to write about it for myself – since historically, that is how I figure out and order what I think about something. We’ll see – I feel a little rusty at this – but so much keeps swirling around in my brain and I want to attempt to sort. There are a lot of stages to this whole motherhood thing, even though I’ve only been at it for a few years – so I think I will tackle this idea in installments. I will also likely only have shards of time to scratch out my thoughts about <i>being</i> a mom in between the actual, well, being a mom, part. The irony.
I am mainly interested in trying to reflect on and voice the complex mix of feelings and change that this new identity of mother has meant to me – and be honest (using truth and love) about it all. I don’t think I am alone when I say that there is a lot of pressure from a lot of different sides to experience, evaluate and perform motherhood in a certain way, based on who you are around and what voices influence/judge you. Some people seem to not be able to fathom negative reactions to a pregnancy, or comprehend the emotional ups and downs a new mom may go through. Other people judge women who become mothers as no longer anything but a mother, or as someone whose motherhood is the primary defining characteristic of who she is; in some crowds this new primary identity is held as one of the highest goods, while other crowds think it’s pitiful. Voices seem to argue that not loving all the tumult caused by motherhood could lead to not loving your child. I firmly reject that dichotomy in my own life and am trying to integrate an intense love and gratitude for my daughter, right alongside a significant amount of struggle and questioning about where this ride called motherhood is taking me. So, what does honest motherhood – my own voice in the middle of a sometimes charged topic – mean to me right now?
I have had a mental list going for some time of the things that I never really understood before being a mom. The ways, small and large, that my life landscape now looks very different then it did pre-mommyhood. So I’ve started my documentation of ‘honest motherhood’ by trying to capture this running list that I’ve had in my head on paper. I wrote the list out on our family blog and also re-posted it below here (called “Honest Motherhood – Some ‘Backward’ Advice,”) in the form of a list of things that the ‘present me’ would love to go back and tell the ‘pre-mommy me. ‘ It astonishes me that even though I know me pretty well, that the ‘pre-mommy me’ just would not be able to see things the same way as I do now. I also have a running list going of things that my former self wants my present self to remember – which is another list for another post – but I think for me, this whole concept represents an intense internal shift that has taken place. Other people gave me great advice, showed me their wisdom, and I was open to understanding and learning much of it before I was a mom myself; but there is something about this phase of my life where I think God is teaching me to be led, to learn as I go, and to trust – because there is just no way to really ‘understand’ it all ahead of time. I just have to live some things. Even if I could have gone back and told my ‘former self’ these very words, the meaning and intent that the ‘current me’ places on the words would have been lost. How crazy is that? I mean, I know myself pretty well, and I could not even explain this to myself! So – here are some of my first thoughts about honest motherhood….
Things I Wish My Mommy-Self Could Go Back and Tell My Pre-Mommy Self:
– You should appreciate sleep more. A lot more.
– You should also appreciate going to the bathroom, doing email, getting dressed, and eating – by yourself and when you want to – more.
– You have a lot of free time right now, even though you always feel pressed for time.
– You also have a lot of time to spend with your husband and friends. For example, what women with kids call ‘date night,’ you currently do most nights of the week.
– You have a relatively clean house/room/office/stack of papers right now, even though you sometimes wonder if things will ever stay organized; you probably won’t ever be this organized later on.
– You should be nicer to your body/health; it will get more worn down and have more asked of it than you can understand right now (even considering your occasional all-nighters.)
– As well as appreciating all that you have right now, know that your life as a woman without kids is still very valid, very full, and very meaningful. When other women doubt this, reaffirm this truth to them as well. As you have always suspected, you do not need to have children in order to be complete.
– If you do have children, it will be a BIG adventure, more things will change then you think, and it will call forth things from you that you had no idea you could do. Or would ever have to do.
– Keep hanging out with a diverse mix of people – single and married friends, women with kids and those without, both women and men, etc. Having different voices and perspectives help shape your expectations and your capacity – and lets you help shape theirs.
– You are in a great marriage and have a wonderfully supportive and wise husband; not every women is in this place, and not all will have the resources you will have as you (and he) transition into parenthood. Be aware of this, be grateful for this, and hold on to this gift tightly with both hands.
– Good job on the schoolwork, professional development, and ministry work that you’ve done thus far. You should sit back and accept the accomplishments that you have made as valid, important and part of who God has called you to be. (In other words, relax a little more.)
– Give parents with kids more slack, and suspend most (90%) of your judgments about how a mom/dad does this weird or doesn’t do that the right way. Watching someone in a restaurant/mall/church for five minutes does not tell you anything about how they actually parent. Even hanging out with friends and family who have kids only gives you a glimpse into their real world. There are many good ways to parent; there are also many seasons that families go through and you are seeing only a teensy-weensy part of it.
– Tell moms and dads (when these are true statements!), that you like their kids, that you think they are good parents, that you notice they are juggling a lot well, that she looks good after having a baby.
– You can learn as you go how to be a mom. You do not need to research the hell out of it beforehand to know every possible outcome. There are many different ways to be a good mom; mostly Eva will teach you.
– Do not listen to voices that aren’t helpful to you as a new mom. Pick and choose the encouraging ones, the ones that know you best, or carefully choose to hear the critical voices only if they are pointing out something that you need to hear for your health.
– Flat out ignore anyone who says that he/she is glad you’re finally becoming a mom so that now you can become a real woman. Just ignore them.
– Make up funnier responses to the question, “Why haven’t you and P had kids yet?” Consider working the phrases ‘bird flu’ and ‘million dollar contract’ into the answer somehow.
– Keep writing down stuff that you’re thinking, experiencing, working through as you become a mom. Keep taking photos and do things to savor the present and keep time well.
– Keep talking and listening to your mom, your mother in law and your friends who are moms – and know that you will appreciate all of them in an entirely new light after you yourself become a mom. Certain things you just can’t see until you’re in it yourself.
– Be nicer to yourself in your own head. Here, I can help with some ideas – good job on taking that trip to Italy while you were pregnant, exploring Ecuador and South Africa and France and most of DC, and taking risks and being open to an unknown future. Good job trying to listen to God as life unfolds and jumping into projects, ideas and communities that call to you. Good job on nurturing your relationships, habits, knowledge and fun pastimes. Even if these things feel different in the future, the foundation you have made matters and the person you are becoming will rely on this past, as well as on your not-yet finished future.
– Having a baby will be really hard on you in some ways, and really life-giving and beautiful in other ways. In most every way it will forever change you. This may feel sad, or make you feel out of control – but try to believe me when I say that the baby WILL sleep longer, your body WILL feel better, your mind WILL clear up, and you WILL still be there when the smoke clears. Promise.
– The ‘you’ that you bring to motherhood will help shape the mother that you become; and the mother that you can’t yet see in yourself will also shape the ‘you’ that you brought in. Trust that both of these women are amazing, powerful, and gracious women. Just trust it on the hard days.