My Motherhood Bests and Tests

Motherhood is filled with stories.

There’s stories of the amazing, unequivocal joy of raising children that might send you running for the nearest available method for obtaining a baby. There’s also stories of struggle and total complete meltdowns that might make you think twice before throwing away the birth control.

And of course, motherhood is both. You might not hear about all those ups every time, or all the downs every time, but they’re there. And somehow, even with all those downs, motherhood does what little else can: it grows and grows, filling our hearts with love and worry and joy and sorrow, which is all part of life itself. Motherhood simply magnifies it all.

So here are some of my personal joys and struggles of motherhood:

Bad news first: What tests me about motherhood

1. Broken sleep
I’m a heavy sleeper and heavy dreamer, from eyes closed all the way to my vibrating (or shouting children) alarm. The only times I used to wake at night were when I was on my period, sick, or uncomfortable for some reason. So when I’m waking multiple times at night, every single night for weeks and months on end, well–cue monster mom.

2. Leaving the house with kids
Gone are the days when I could grab something from the store in a heartbeat, attend some event without scrambling for a babysitter, or do something spontaneous. Now before heading out the door I first must feed, clean up, and dress four people; make sure I have all the kid stuff to keep everyone happy; and strap three kids into car seats. (Takes longer than it sounds.) And once we’re there, I need to rein them in the whole time. The entire shindig is exhausting. By the time I get home, and unbuckle the kids from their car seats, I can do nothing but enter my house and collapse on the couch . . . and then it’s lunchtime!

3. Cleaning certain bodily fluids
Between a shag carpet and tile flooring, cleaning up Number 1s and 2s is one of my absolute least favorite things in the world. An accident here and there, you know, I can handle. But if the child is regressing and unloading her night’s worth of liquids onto the bathroom floor morning after morning, it takes all I have not to explode and confine the child to the bathtub all day long. Instead I have to steer my anger and grief into furious texts sent to my husband at work, even though I know he can only respond with sympathy and sad emojis.

4. The lack of an emotional and mental break
Rest is important, but quite often, the physical break alone isn’t enough. I need to do more with my brain than answer need after need, pick this up or clean that, or referee little ones, all day long . . . how do I find the balance between kid time, hubby time, and “me” time? If I had just two hours a day free from my kids, I would exercise, write, or organize something without interruption. I would take myself to a quiet spot to be alone and just think. When my kids are in school, that time will come–but I may just lose my mind before then.

The good news: The best parts of motherhood

1. Freakin’ cute little kids
Kids and babies dish out cuteness in huge doses. From their babble and toddler speech to their innocent little ways, they are adorable. Even though I’ll never remember every cute thing they do (except what I catch in pictures and video), they melt my heart every day. God made babies and little humans cute for a reason, and all I can say is–thaaaank you!

2. Being their mom
I love having a baby to call “mine.” I love being the one whose lap my girls always want to sit in, the one who can always get all three kids to smile. I love being the one they hide behind when we meet new people–I am their comfort and protection. I love being the one who understands their needs. While my wonderful husband has the job of providing financially, my day job is a SAHM who provides security and guidance–which is my night job too, only my husband is also there to help with that. 🙂

3. When my children are happy
Baby giggles, playfully wicked chuckles, tickle laughs–I will treasure these moments forever. They’re happy when they’re playing, when their mommy or daddy snuggles them into bed, when they do something hard, and when they do something new all by themselves. I know now why parents wish they could take away their childrens’ struggles, and the hurt they’ll feel throughout their lives. Thing is, we just can’t. But I sure hope, no matter what happens in the future, that my children will always know the sheer joy I feel when they’re truly happy.

4. Seeing my children grow
Witnessing firsthand the development of babies and children is fascinating. It can make my day just chilling on the couch and listening to my four-year-old’s imagination run wild. I smiled as my 18-month-old imitated everyone and everything, and I smile now at a two-year-old experimenting with pretend play and her own personality. And nothing unites the family like cheering on the baby when he achieves his next milestone!

-Shauna

Turn the Voices Off

There’s this thing called “mommy guilt.” Google this phrase, and you’ll find blog posts and books galore on the subject. No mom is alone in feeling this, and no mom will make it very long unscathed once a child enters her care.

(Except, of course, the moms who abuse, neglect, and harm their children. They don’t seem to feel any guilt–at least not enough to stop their horrible behavior towards their children.)

So let’s start there: mommy guilt means you care about and love your child. Congratulate yourself for doing so. Seriously, do it.

Now then, what causes mommy guilt? A lot of things, but here’s one of the culprits:

With no roadmap for parenting, how do we know we’re making the best decisions for our kids? There’s no one way to do things. No one way to potty train, get your kids to eat, or even to feed your baby. Breastfeed? Formula? Pumped breastmilk? ALL OF THE ABOVE IN ONE FEEDING? (Yep, done it.)

How do we know that, as their mother, we’re doing, thinking, and feeling all the right things? What does “right” even mean in these situations?

To help us navigate this parenting maze, we turn to the voices–voices that come from TV, the Internet, friends, family, and even strangers at the park. Other voices can lift us up, and grant us strength. They offer direction.

Unfortunately, other voices can also have the opposite effect: they can crush us. They tell us we’re not doing or feeling the right things. I’m not talking about, like, simply telling a parent that they’re not strapping their kids into their carseats properly–this is universal among our nation.

I’m talking about those paths of motherhood that are NOT universal, yet are believed by others to be so. These can be the paths that we feel unsure about, and hearing that our way is the wrong way can lead to even more uncertainty. If we’re already feeling insecure, depressed, or exhausted–all of which are seeds for growing plenty of negative thoughts and feelings–then those voices can also make us feel guilty.

What do we do? We can’t get rid of those voices because we’re not the only people on this planet. However, when we’re feeling low, we can turn them off for a time.

Turn off the voices you read online

The Internet can be a great resource. We can search online at 3:00 in the morning to confirm that our newborns won’t suffer permanent damage from twenty-minute-long hiccups. (I’m not the only one who did this, right?) We can read experiences just like ours. We can find support.

But there’s also a lot of criticism and opposing opinions. Comment sections, articles, companies pushing their products at us–there can be a lot out there saying that our way isn’t best, that our way is lacking. We can often be the victims of bad timing if we’re struggling with some aspect of parenthood, and then we hear or read something online that makes us feel totally guilty about it.

The good thing is, these are the easiest voices to turn off. Disconnect from it all–from the opinions, from the strangers on Facebook judging parents who have tragically lost their children, from those who insist that there is only one way to do things. Turn them off for a while.

Turn off the voices that criticize or speak without thinking

When friends or family give unwanted advice, criticism, observations, or speak without thinking, sometimes their voices can sound as loud as bullhorns blowing your failures in your face.

They say: Oh, I think anyone could give birth without an epidural.
Mom who got an epidural every time: I must be a total wuss.

They say: Well yes, fed is best, but breastmilk will always be superior.
Mom who always used formula: So my children are inferior?

They say: My child never did that.
Mom whose child is doing that: I’m a failure.

None of those statements were probably meant to be insulting, but neither were they spoken in consideration of someone else with completely different experiences. They send the message, “You’re not doing the right thing.” Such voices can be crippling if we’re already feeling vulnerable.

Since we can’t mute people, or undo their words, you can do the next best thing: make time and space for yourself later when the opportunity comes, and turn their voices off. Replace the stinging words with the smiles of your happy children. Give those voices the benefit of the doubt: maybe they didn’t realize how their words would sound. Remind yourself that even though some people are bad at putting themselves in other people’s shoes, everyone DOES have a zillion different experiences and perspectives.

Most of all, think of your giggling baby–all he or she asks of you is food, sleep, some good cleansings and diaper changes, and love. I bet you’re already doing it.

Turn off the negative voice in your own head

Only we can navigate the complex maze that is our own strengths, weaknesses, and ability to make decisions. A guilty voice can motivate us to change, and even help us teach our children about making mistakes and forgiveness. But if that guilt starts to eat you up inside, and steer your life into a downward spiral, then turn your voice off. Listen to those who say you’re a good parent. Listen to your children telling you they love you, even if they can’t talk yet.

The hard moments will happen, simply because that’s life. Being a mother will lead to hard moments. But the key is to not let those hard moments define how you see yourself, or how you see your children. Turn the voices off from time to time, see the awesome that is you and the amazing children you get to raise, and smile away that guilt.

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