5 Challenges of Motherhood No One Warns You About

dario_mamaWhen I was pregnant, I asked for, and received, a lot of good advice – everything from how to deal with the postpartum baby blues, to when you should start worrying about spoiling a child.

But here are five things people never told me:

  1. You will never be able to go out past 7:00pm again with your partner without paying someone. Even if you are one of those lucky families that has parents nearby who babysit for free, you will still have fewer opportunities to stay out past dark. My husband and I used to take walks every night after dinner. Now we feel extremely lucky when we can squeeze in a weekly “date night.” 
  2. A vacation is not really a vacation. Unless you leave the kids at home (and risk separation anxiety) or take a babysitter with you (really expensive), vacations are no longer relaxing. We recently spent a long weekend in Bermuda stuck in a small hotel room with our three-year-old while it poured rain outside. At some point, we even tried to force him to watch movies (a desperate step for parents who don’t even own a TV at home).
  3. You will have no more time to yourself in general.  I used to do pottery. It took up a lot of time but it was so relaxing. The only clay I touch these days is playdough, and I probably won’t have a chance to do pottery for another 15 years. 
  4. It’s not just parenting that makes life harder, but ALL your domestic responsibilities are a new level of hard . While pregnant, I was adequately warned about the sleepless nights and poopy diapers. What I didn’t anticipate was the added amount of extra housework and logistical planning. There is not a free moment where I am not picking up after my child, cleaning up his breakfast/lunch/crumbs/toys/clothes, scheduling doctors appointments, afternoon activities… and don’t even get me started on all the extra laundry. And the amount of extra domestic duties has not even gotten better over time (it has just changed in nature–refer to #5).
  5. Everything’s a phase and each phase presents new challenges. I had this notion that things would just get easier after the first year of parenting, but that’s not necessarily how it works. The challenges just keep changing. They move from sleep issues to behavioral issues, back to sleep again, and so on. Even now that my son is three, many challenges exist. Just as I’m getting used to him waking up at 7:30am, he decides to wake up an hour earlier. Just as he’s getting comfortable in his current daily routine, it’s time to start pre-school. Things change quickly, and it’s not always easy to keep up. That’s just the reality – once you have a kid, you have to learn to adapt to new challenges all of the time. 

Gosh. I’m making this whole motherhood thing sound pretty rough. So why do people keep having kids? Well, to be fair, it is hard to convey the rewards of motherhood in words. But I’m going to try, so without further ado, here are five great rewards I never anticipated :

  1. Every little milestone fills me with pride. Yesterday my son was strutting down the street in his new rain boots, so content, stepping into every puddle. He was singing some song he made up. Just looking at him, doing nothing special, but so fully formed, filled me with this intense love I can’t describe. I couldn’t believe that I made this cool little person that now just walks along singing.
  2. I feel my life has a greater purpose than it did before. This one is thrilling, yet a bit terrifying. There ia little person in this world who depends on me. I am his mother, and my parenting (and even just my actions) will inform much of the man he will one day become. That’s quite the feeling of a greater purpose.
  3. I’ve never felt I had a stronger community of family and friends. Good friends and family have never been more important to me than they are now. I appreciate my parents and in-laws more than ever. They provide me with much needed advice and help! I now understand why people move to communes — and why people say it takes a village.
  4. I see the world in a new way. By nature, I’m the impatient, efficient, all-work-and-no-play type. My son helps me to stop and smell the roses. Literally. He’s always stopping to smell the flowers. He helps me live in the moment and enjoy the world as a small child would see it.
  5. There is no one else I’d rather spend my time with. My son is three and I still miss him every day when I’m working. I like work, and I like having time to myself, but there is absolutely no one else I’d rather spend time with than my son. The best feeling in the world is when my son runs to me with a huge smile on his face when I come home. It feels so good to matter so much to someone.

Having kids means a whole lot of sacrifices, but it also means a new life that is more fulfilling in ways I never imagined. These moments with my child are indescribable, and I have experienced love in a way I never felt before. I’d happily trade a lifetime without ceramics, for just an hour with my son.

5 Things I Wish I’d Done Differently as a New Parent

IMG_1974My son is three now. So I’ve had some time to reflect on the parenting choices I’ve made over the past few years. I assumed that parenting was going to be intuitive and that I wouldn’t have many regrets. Nope. Although I think I’m a pretty good mom, looking back, there are a few things I wish I had done differently:

1. Prepared less for birth more for baby – Don’t get me wrong, I think birth preparation is super important (check out the expecting category of my Mamajamas list and you will see that clearly), but I went a little overboard. I must have read at least six books on birth, took an eight-week birth class, and spent days researching birth online and reading birth forums. So when my home birth dreams disintegrated into an emergent c-section, all those hours spent practicing hypnobirthing techniques seemed a little ridiculous. I also realized that I had done zero preparation for once the baby actually got here. So I’d recommend instead of six books on birth, read one or two. Also, check out some parenting books or classes while you are pregnant, and ostensibly still have a bit of free time on your hands!

2. Taught my baby to sleep by himself – I’m actually still a bit torn on this one. We co-slept from the beginning. My son is three, and he still comes to bed with me at some point during the night. I love co-sleeping — he sleeps great, I sleep great, and I enjoy cuddling with him. So what do I regret? I still have to put my son to sleep every night by physically laying next to him until he falls asleep. Some nights, it only takes 10-20 minutes and it’s wonderful bonding time. But other nights, it is an hour-long wrestling match. When I eventually emerge from his room victorious, my evening is over and I’m exhausted. And now that this routine is so ingrained, it’s going to be brutal to change. We’ll be trying to get him to sleep by himself soon. I’ll let you know how it goes. I’m not sure what approach I’ll take if we have another child, especially since neither my husband or I have much stomach for long periods of crying. (We attempted “Cry it Out” a couple times early on, but we hated it.)  So even though I love putting my son to sleep 50% of the time, if I had to do it over, I would have tried to teach him to fall asleep on his own earlier.

3. Bought less gear – I know it sounds funny coming from someone who started a baby product recommendations website, but I wish I had gotten less gear. I attribute a lot of my over-buying to not realizing that baby “phases” are ridiculously brief. For example, my son would only drool excessively for a couple months so I didn’t need to buy eight cloth bibs. Three would have sufficed. That’s actually one of the reasons I started Mamajamas, I figured that if I had had more collective wisdom from my parent friends, I wouldn’t have made so many rookie gear mistakes.

4. Gotten more help – There was a period when my son was about eight months old when he was still not sleeping through the night and I was attempting to start working again. I was also dealing with my own health problems (which we later found out were due to Lyme Disease) and a cross-country move during this time! My husband was an incredible co-parent, really going above and beyond, but he was also transitioning to a new, intense job and just as tired. Life was extremely stressful. But I had too much pride to try to get more help. The house was messy, I was sick, exhausted, and extra-cranky. Finally, I agreed to get more babysitting, ask my new mom friends for help watching my son once in awhile, and got a weekly house cleaner. After taking these steps, I regretted we hadn’t done so sooner. It doesn’t make you a lesser mother to take care of yourself or cede responsibilities to others — in fact, it can make you a better mother and partner!

5. Not have worried so much – This is something I’m still working on. More anxiety has been yet another unexpected consequence of motherhood. I worry about the well-being of my son a lot, and wonder if I’m making the best decisions for him. But I’ve realized how important it is to let go of the feeling of trying to control everything (which is simply impossible with a young child). I’ve also let go of the notion that there is a “right way” to parent. I have to trust that I’m thoughtful and doing the best I can. To keep my anxiety in check, I work to be mindful through meditation, and also to talk frequently with other moms about their experiences. I recently read this book called How Eskimos Keep Their Babies WarmIt discusses parenting practices in other countries (Kenyan disdain for strollers, Chinese early potty training, etc.). It underscored the fact that there is no universal right way to parent. There may be some global values that are important (unconditionally loving your child, for example), but it made me not worry so much about having the perfect schedule for my child or the perfect gear.

Parenting is an incredible journey filled with more than a few potholes. But it’s a wonderful ride, with great (albeit sometimes whiney) company. The trip is long, and mostly enjoyable. And I’ve realized it’s okay to make a few wrong turns and take a few detours.

Routine

ImageI read an article yesterday about a mom whose autistic son reacts really strongly (ala class A meltdowns) every time there is a break in his routine.

My husband and I just finished a marathon heart-to-heart the night before about how we can provide more consistency in routine to our own, particularly sensitive, 3-year old.

Now our situation is probably more of an edge case. While not autistic, we have always known our little guy is sensitive to changes in his surroundings (and his environment in general — for other parents with sensitive children, it was really helpful to read this book).

But even if you don’t have a sensitive child, I think all kids thrive on predictability and routine to make sense of a world that can be chaotic and overwhelming.

But anyhow, back to our situation, to further complicate matters, my husband and I have always preferred to live lively, hectic lives (the following may make you feel better about the stability of your own situation):

So, for example:

  • Our work schedules are flexible, but inconsistent. Even though we get to spend lots of quality time with our son, he often doesn’t know who is caring for him when, and what time we will be home.
  • We recently did a major home renovation which lasted six months, so there are still lots of workers coming in and out of our house.
  • He’s been on at least 75 flights (which does sound crazy — but it’s been mostly for family reasons and breaks down to about once a month over 3 years).
  • He moved 4 times in the first 2 years of his life — including across the country.

These breaks in routine have manifested mostly in sleep problems, but also in some recent intense cries during times of transitions. Travel is especially hard, and we usually suffer through about two tough days pre-travel and a week post.

So here is what we’ve done (or are trying to do) to create more consistency of routine for our little guy:

  • Cut all non-necessary travel (we tried to go with him to SXSW when he was 5 months old and vowed to never to do  a trip like that again — but then we continued to have a crazy travel schedule. But we’ve recently decided that we should only travel for important events, weddings, and family).
  • Try to have only one transition occur at a time. We’ve learned that combining events, like for example, taking away the pacifier a week before we have a trip scheduled, is a recipe for disaster. Now we plan each transition carefully (or try to), so they are spaced out and come one at a time.
  • Talk about “the plan” — a lot. As part of our bedtime routine, we always talk about what the day will be like tomorrow. We’ve also made a book that shows his routine and has pictures of his caregivers that can be swapped in and out of the day.

This is all still a work in progress for us. Please leave a comment if you have other suggestions that have worked well for you.

Video

R-E-S-P-E-C-T

I thought this video was pretty interesting.

Montessori is also big on “respecting the child.” The Parent-Child Class we’ve taken with our son here in Boston is all about this. It helped show me that my young child was actually more capable than I had assumed.

I remember being stunned when my 1 1/2 year old (who pretty much used mealtimes at home as a chance to explore Newton’s first law of motion) sat in a little chair with a bunch of other toddlers for snack time at the class. He ate nicely (using his spoon!), poured his water from a little glass pitcher and drank from a tiny glass cup. He even helped to clean up afterward!

Although, even with the Montessori class help, I can’t say I still don’t catch myself sounding like this guy sometimes… Parenting is hard!