I'm not sure there's ever a time in your life that you will be so full of joy, confusion, stress, and questions as when you have your first child. I must confess that it's very difficult for me to remember exactly what I felt like with Madison (a.k.a Baby Number One.) That was nearly 9 years ago... I've lost years of sleep since then.
In a parenting group I have been attending for YEARS now, a great question was posed by our moderator:
"If you could give your 'first time mom' self advice, what would you say?"
What WOULDN'T I say?!
I would tell myself to get up and get moving. I do recall feeling like exhaustion would do me in. I remember sitting on the couch, overwhelmed by my sleepy state and my housework. Things that used to be so simple now seemed so difficult: dishes, laundry, showering... making sure to brush my teeth TWICE daily. It took me having baby #2 (aka: Carter) to figure out this little trick: Just get up. I know... you're tired. I know... you didn't get any sleep. Trust me - if you have a similar personality to me, you won't nap well anyway. You'll feel more exhausted when you get up - so just get up. Find a place to start and get going. You will feel so proud of yourself when you learn how to get at least half of your "to-do" list done each day. Promise!
I would tell myself to chill out. I worried too much about Madison. Not just as an infant, but as a toddler, and as a child. I didn't want to leave her EVER. "What if she cries for me?! What if she wants me and I'm not here?!" Guess what... she was fine. I was stunned when I left her with my mom for the first time for a few hours to go out to eat with Clayton. We were gone for maybe an hour... Madison must have been close to a year old. I was so worried the entire time. "I just know she's sad that I'm not there!" We get back to find her totally delighting in Nanna and Papa's full attention! I don't know who was enjoying it more.. her or them.
This is a lesson I wish I had learned much earlier - let them go. I know.. most of what I write about deals with attachment parenting, and if you take it to an extreme you could think it's never healthy to EVER leave them. In my opinion, the exact opposite is true. I now feel I've given my kids an amazing GIFT because they love staying with Nanna. They might miss me, but it doesn't hurt them. They don't cry for me, and they have all the confidence in the world that I'm coming back. Time away is GOOD. Letting them build amazing bonds and securities with people that you trust is GOOD. You should see all three of them do the happy dance when we load up to drive to Little Rock. They can't push Clayton and I out of the door fast enough!
"Bye Mom! Bye Dad! Love you! See you tomorrow!" (and I'm sure they know that the faster we're gone, the faster Nanna will bring out the ice cream and cookies! Yes mom... I know you do it.. that's okay. You know how to keep them happy!)
Here's a biggie: Spend time with your SPOUSE. Without your kids. This goes hand in hand with the above. I pushed my relationship with my husband way back on the backburner for years and years because I was too nervous to leave our kids overnight. Took me until Baby #3 (aka: Samuel) to get this one. My how things could have been if I would have just gotten over it and left them sooner. When Samuel was night weaned, we started staying one night at a time away every few months. The first couple of times I enjoyed it, but was still nervous. Now, I LIVE for those nights away. One night away with your spouse can send you immediately back to those awesome dating years. Not a care in the world. Waking up to just each other and having no demands on either of you... it is awesome. It's necessary if you ask me. Don't deprive yourself or your husband of this... I promise you.. your kids will do great - and so will you!
The absolute hardest lesson ever for me to learn: It's okay for your kids to be upset sometimes. Shocker..I know. My daddy was right... life isn't fair. Kids have to learn that. Sometimes there aren't enough pink popsicles... sometimes there's only 1 blue cup and two kids want one, sometimes more is expected of older kids than younger kids. *always actually*
Kids can be mean, some kids don't share, some adults don't like you, sometimes people are different than you are and it makes you uncomfortable. That's okay. Child of mine, you have the inner strength to deal with it. To handle life. And because I FINALLY learned to let you fight *some* of your own battles with the bully at the playground (with words.. not fists!) and told you "that's okay.." when you complained that -so and so- in your class doesn't like you, you're already learning how to handle yourself. Kids do have to learn to handle life's little problems early... because guess what. Life's little problems grow exponentually as you get older. So, don't feel too guilty for letting them fall and pick themselves back up from time to time. Learn when to step back, and when to step in. Be their biggest fan and their toughest defender - but only defend when you must. Watch them grow an amazing self esteem when they work through their discomfort, their issues, their concerns and realize "Hey! I did that!" Yes sir... you did! Great job!
My most abrassive piece of advice: Stop making excuses. This is what I would have told myself for a lot of things. "I wouldn't yell if they'd listen the first time." "I wouldn't be stressed if they wouldn't throw tantrums!" "I wouldn't have this much baby weight left 2 years later if I had the time my husband does to go exercise." Blah, blah blah... that's what I'd have told myself. Suck it up, Sister. You brought these kids into the world.. they didn't ask for you as a mom. So you CANNOT make excuses. You MUST be a good mom. You MUST keep your cool... you are the grown up. Show them how to be, don't tell them.
Last night my husband had to go to West Memphis to help work crime scenes of the horrific sites where two police officers were murdered by two gunmen. Being home alone with the kids is nothing new for me... but I felt my stress level rising as each hour passed. One hour away from bedtime I wanted to run away and hide somewhere. I stopped and realized I was mentally making excuses again. It wasn't the kids fault that their daddy had to go... it wasn't their fault I was home alone with them. They didn't deserve to have my stress taken out on them with my words, my tone, my looks, or my bad attitude. How you parent is a CHOICE. If you want to settle for being a crazy, crying, out of control parent.. that's your choice. (I say this b/c I've been there!!) Guess what - the good news is - you can choose to NOT be that way. OH THE FREEDOM OF FREE WILL! I know.. it isn't easy. But you can do it. If I can do it, anyone can do it. (and remind me of this when we get our first mega-out-of-control foster kid and I'm curled up in the fetal position behind the sofa..)
The final thing I wish I could go back and tell my former self: Let go of guilt.
I felt guilty over everything. If I left her for an hour with my mom to get my hair cut, if I didn't feel I spent enough time in her face each day, if I wasn't watching closely enough and she fell and bumped her head. Oh first time mom Mandy... it's okay! Kids don't HAVE to have you spending 100% of your time with them. In fact, I've sort of come to the conclusion that spending too much time with your kids can actually limit their ability to play alone, to form their own imaginations, and there is such a thing as an older child being too dependant on a parent. (and this was something I'd have never said back then..) I'd tell myself, "You love her, you want everything in the world for her, and you're doing a great job. Let go of the guilt. She won't know you weren't perfect today unless you tell her... and who knows - maybe to her, you were perfect."
Now that I have my first born turning 9, I realize that I have amazingly tons of control over who she is, and yet, almost no control at all it seems. She's gone to school hours each day of the week, but our bond is rock solid. I'm the first one she pours her heart out to, I'm the one she trusts with all of her "secrets", and I don't have to be perfect to earn that. I just have to be there. Ready to listen. Ready to discipline. Ready to accept her as she is, and help her to form into the young lady she is becoming.
First time moms out there - your uncertainty is normal. Your concerns are valid. Most of us have been there. Please, be encouraged! This parenting stuff really isn't "that" hard. If it feels wrong.. it probably is. If you think something is best, your gut feeling is usually right. Your child WILL love you no matter what. Even seriously abused children always want to go home to mom... no doubt that your child.. loved, safe, cared for, will want mommy's arms over any one else's. Relax, enjoy, and love that new baby with all of your might. Just as everyone tells you - it's gone so fast, and your writing about your first born turning nine years old.