According to “The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama,” “[Motherhood] means you have an opportunity to nurture, not lose, your true sense of self. You’ll discover superpowers you never knew you had. You’ll endure greater challenges than you’ve ever known.”
I can attest to this. My eldest is now 4 years old, and the person I am today is so much more capable, efficient, content, and loving than the pre-mom me.
And if I’m honest, it’s really been the challenges that have made me improve (and continue to do so), as well as the love. Motherhood is so perfectly and elegantly designed to help us reach our potential. It challenges us to our core, yet at the same time, the love we have for our little ones gives us the strength and motivation we need to meet those challenges.
Accepting the Challenge
One of the lessons of motherhood is to accept that your challenges as a mother will always be unexpected, and sometimes very different from the challenges of other mothers around you.
Comparison has its limits because what’s easy and natural for some may be difficult for others, whether that’s due to character, life experience, or life circumstances.
I have a perfectionistic and idealistic bent to my character, and this has made it hard for me to accept some of my shortcomings.
For example, when my second child was born, I found it very challenging to manage my very active toddler with my hands full with the baby. I wasted a lot of breath cajoling and threatening consequences. With the pure logic of toddlerhood, my son soon realized that Mommy was no longer able to back up her words with immediate actions, so he learned he didn’t have to listen.
For a long time, I had nagging mom-guilt about this weakness in my parenting and wondered whether I messed up something crucial in him during those critical, early formative years.
I don’t have this guilt anymore. I do regret my poor parenting moments, especially when I see him copying my exasperated tone of voice during minor conflicts with his sister. But I no longer worry that he might need therapy at 35 to overcome my bad parenting.
I don’t worry because I’ve come to see the amazing ability of people to grow and thrive when faced with challenges.
Reflection and Transformation
When we become mothers, we necessarily fall back on our own upbringing—both the wisdom and, in our low moments, the neurotic patterns—as a foundation on which to build our own mothering.
This has left me very grateful for my own upbringing and humbled at how difficult it is to raise another human being with patience and kindness.
Of course, there are things we won’t be able to change, such as our innate dispositions, but no matter where we start, we can model earnest striving and improvement.
Hans Watson of Elite University, who specializes in reproductive psychiatry, said he advises his patients to strive to be “good enough parents.”
“When you boil ‘good enough down,’ it is: if you teach your kids to self-reflect and then to be willing to change in ways that make your weaknesses become strengths, you will have a rock star of a child,” he said.
This is the key to resilience, something we really need our kids to learn if they are to succeed in life and be happy.
Part of resilience, though, is also understanding our limits.
Watson said that if you are finding yourself unable to have good days, it may be time to reach out for help. He also said that mental health during pregnancy and after birth can be very volatile, and sometimes you just need outside support.
And it can be a sign of strength to admit when you can’t do it alone—because none of us really can.
I have a lot to improve on in my mothering. Patience and kindness are top of the list these days. I get excited when I think about how calm and happy I can be in the future if I dedicate myself to these virtues. And this vision gives me strength in the present to be more so.
So I wish you Happy Mother’s Day and hope you find your own version of supermom.
For New Moms
Over the past couple of months, I’ve been thinking about women who are now becoming mothers for the first time during the uncertainties of this pandemic.
I reached out to Diana Spalding, a certified nurse-midwife, pediatric nurse, and co-author of “The Motherly Guide to Becoming Mama,” about how new mothers can better cope with the additional stresses of this time.
She said: “This is potentially one of the most stressful circumstances under which one can make their journey into parenthood—but that means it’s the most profound. You’ll dig deep, and realize that you are stronger than you could have ever imagined. And ultimately, when you dig deep, you’ll realize that the most significant emotion of all, is love. You love your baby, and your baby loves you, and that, it turns out, is the thing that matters most—during a pandemic or not.”
Watson also shared a few practical tips:
No. 1, after birth, if you are feeling overwhelmed or stressed by your child and it’s time to breastfeed, do it! The oxytocin that’s released will reduce your stress and anxiety and help you bond.
No. 2, keep reminding yourself to be good enough: With an infant, this means that you are meeting your child’s basic needs and working on improving some aspect of your parenting.
No. 3, reset your expectation of what a good mom looks like. You won’t right away be as good as your mother was because what you remember is the end of her child-rearing years, after she had had years of practice! You are starting from square one and the best way forward is to learn.