As parents, we spend so much time taking care of our children and our families that we often become the background noise in our own lives. We spend each day ticking off items on a list – appointments for the kids, a project for friends, maintaining our homes, work obligations…. At the end of those long tired days it is very easy to just snip off the end of list that we’ve put ourselves on and forget those tasks. But the easy way, isn’t always the best way.
As I stared down the barrel of what looked like sleepless nights and a plate fuller than what I thought I could handle, I started taking off the parts that were for me. When your days are already filled, it’s hard to imagine adding anything else even if it’s something you want and believe in. I thought taking away those parts would make me feel relieved and at peace, but instead it left me feeling empty. Yes, my days would be clear to fully devote myself to my children and my family, but there would be little room for myself.
Room for self – that’s an important part of being a parent that many people forget. It’s easy to do. From the time you become pregnant people’s reaction to you changes. It goes from, “Good morning, how are you,” to , “How’s the baby, have you picked a name yet?” For nine solid months your life will revolve around your growing baby and that growing belly. When the baby enters the world, your own focus is fully centered on feeding, diapering, bathing, and loving this new being. You will think of your child almost every single second of every single day. Their care will, at first, leave little time for your own. You may feel guilt when you leave them for the first time even and if you aren’t careful, you may very well lose yourself entirely.
The role of mother does not have to be the only one you take. It does not have to replace your role as wife, friend, daughter, co-worker, even business owner. While it can permeate each of your other roles, molding and shaping who and what you are, that isn’t a bad thing! Motherhood can teach you patience, compassion, and perseverance. It can show you just how strong you always were and how much you can accomplish when you are dedicated. It can teach you to be humble and you will learn to multi-task with far greater ease than you ever have before.
Last week I gave up. At least temporarily. I threw in the proverbial towel and I resigned myself to give up the roles I wanted for myself. Lucky for me, I’m not alone. I have friends, family, prayers, and a power greater than myself. Thanks to a combination of all these, I was guided back on track. I realized that deciding to give up on the parts of myself that were just for me might make completing all my daily duties easier, but it wouldn’t be living in its truest sense. When we exist without passion or goals, we aren’t truly living and I want to do more than exist – I want to truly live.
There’s a popular saying that God only helps those who learn to help themselves. In one sense, I very much believe this. I believe that God helps those in need, but I also believe we have to play an active role in bettering ourselves and our lives. When you’re given an opportunity – take it. When you’re given a chance to try something you’ve always wanted, you owe it to yourself to do it. To be the best parent you can be, you must also take care of yourself and learn to let go of guilt when you do. An evening away or a decision to take on roles in addition to that as a parent are good for you and your children.
One week (or perhaps just a few days) before Christmas, we were to find out the gender of the baby that I lost in September. Just as I had made an elaborate video to announce our new babies impending arrival, I had a big plan to reveal baby M3’s gender. I was so excited that the time was going to work out so that we’d find out right before Christmas. As soon as the ultrasound was done I was going to rush over to my favorite baby store and buy an outfit in the appropriate colors that screamed BOY or GIRL. Two outfits actually – one for my mother and one for my mother-in-law. And oh how a big part of me prayed for a girl. One tiny precious little girl among my rough and tumble, but painfully sweet boys. If that box had been filled with a pink outfit, my heart would have leapt higher and higher. Of course, if that box had been filled with more blue I would have rejoiced just as freely at having another protector. Another precious little heart for me to teach how to be kind and love. And who could teach me in things like superheroes, race tracks, and playing in the dirt as my other boys so love to do.
I can’t help but be a bit sad – occasionally weepy this holiday season. I am so blessed to have so much good in my life that it can often overshadow what I feel is bad. Yet in the quiet of the morning and the stillness of the night I’m often left alone with the thoughts of what could’ve been and it becomes a heavy burden. While there will be presents beneath my tree, there will not be the promise of another child’s birthday to await next spring. There is not a growing life in my womb to be celebrated…
As it so happens, my oldest son was born just two weeks shy of Christmas. It is always such a celebratory day for us. We celebrate this beautiful child who brought into our lives so much more than a new life. Through his labor hope and proof that miracles happen were born. He proved to us that dreams come true if you never give up on them. He was a beacon of light that pushed his way out of a darkness many mother’s sadly know about – but not all escape. His birth showed me that I embody strength and courage and still kept a soul gentle enough to be brought to tears by a brand new baby’s cries. Such a small baby, born three weeks before he was to come, just couldn’t wait to tell the world – we did it. My mom, dad, and I – we beat this infertility thing and we’re here.
I view my two boys as true miracles, it would be hard not to when you look at how many of their siblings failed to thrive in my womb. With so many living, walking miracles in my life I often feel guilty that I still pray for just one more. God placed within me a mother’s heart and that is one calling that I have never wavered upon. There were many times when the darkness in me called upon me to give up…but, I was never one to be told I couldn’t do something. My mother’s heart always won out in our battle to become parents. And, I do sincerely believe it will win out in our battle for “just one more”.
I’m not wrapping up any big news to place under the tree this year. The day that I was so impatiently waiting for will not be. I am wrapping up love and hope. I’m walking proof that perseverance is a trait worth holding on to and that if you want something to happen, eventually it can. I do not hold time’s playbook. I don’t get to peek under God’s Christmas tree and see what he has waiting for me. However, if I take the time to breathe, let go of my fears and anger, I can open my eyes and watch all the past gifts that mean so much play out before me every single day. For that I am thankful. I am clearly blessed….
My social media feeds are always filled with moms or things about parenting. Mom friends, mom blogs, parenting sites, parenting products…I’m bombarded with motherhood all day every day, even when I’m taking a ‘break’ from my own children. Most days, this is what I enjoy. I was born wanting to be a mother. I nurtured baby dolls from a young age and was overjoyed to finally get a baby cousin when I was older. I even pursued a degree in Early Childhood Education. I would say for many years, I was a bit obsessed with children.
Then I had my own. And yes, they are snuggly, often sweet, and always irreplaceable. I still love hearing about other people’s children and I still find pregnancy and infancy fascinating. Yet, as I sit here in my third pregnancy, I can say that after this baby, I think I am ready to close the chapter on ‘baby obsession’. I feel like I have fulfilled all the wants of motherhood, babydom, and ‘pregnancy euphoria’ that I could handle.
I am by far not the same person who gave birth to my oldest son almost four years ago. While some of me has remained the same, much of what I have experienced and learned has changed me. There is no more wild-eyed curiosity at all things baby. I no longer wish to stroll through baby stores and baby departments for hours. Almost every baby thing I need is packed away downstairs in my basement. Yes, I am excited to see my new little bean on the ultrasound screen. I am excited to feel s/he kick and move. To find out the sex, nail down a name. I’m more scared of delivery now than I ever was. After hemorrhaging on the delivery table twice, I’m left a bit scared of what’s to come. Granted, my doctors and nurses were amazing. The bleeding was stopped, I did not get dizzy until I stood up afterwards to pee, and I required no transfusion. So things went really well for me. But, hemorrhaging is still scary. Especially when you have two little ones already and tend to be the type of person who reads up on every potential bad outcome… It’s scary.
I spent yesterday in a horribly melancholy mood. As I scrolled through my social media feeds, I saw moms doing fun things with their kids. I saw birth announcements, newborn cloth diapers. I saw moms praising their children, some lamenting. Normally when I feel like I’m not being the best mother, those posts about what crafts, perfect outfits, or nutritious meals other mother’s children are having make me feel bad. Yet somehow, yesterday, they didn’t.
My children weren’t doing anything fancy. They played with scented stickers, watched some shows about letters and learning to read. They built forts, played mailmen, and chased our cat. We had peanut butter crackers and graham crackers for lunch. Yes, I let them drink juice and no, nothing was organic. We even had super, not healthy pizza for dinner and boy did we gobble it up! I wasn’t ‘exceeding’ any expectations yesterday, but I didn’t let myself feel the mom guilt I so often do. Why? Four years of parenting has taught me this…
What you don’t see in those photos of moms with manicured nails, perfect hair, and NOT in their pajamas, is that they have dirty piles of laundry too. There’s a room in their house where toys likely cover the floor. They have days they aren’t taking photos where they get stuck in their yoga pants and ill-fitting t-shirts just like me. While we love to take pictures of craft time, learning time, and ‘good’ days, we’re not taking photos of tantrums. We’re not taking photos of us crying in the bathroom because it’s Thursday afternoon and we’re lonely, tired, and need a break. There are rarely photos of poop explosions, crayon walls, and food covered kitchen floors. Yet these things make up parenting just as much, if not more so, than the other things.
My transition from idealistic motherhood to the real life thing was not easy. Find a mom who says it is, and I’ll bet she has a full-time nanny. The more I let my children guide me and let go of the expectations to be ‘perfect’ – the more we thrive. I don’t measure my worth as a mother by what other people, or other mothers, think of me. I don’t care if you bottle feed, breast feed, cloth diaper, baby wear, work, stay home, eat organic, vaccinate, or live off easy meals. What I care about is that you love your children. That you provide for them. That you teach them what it means to have love, respect, and compassion for our world and the people in it. I don’t devalue you if you need help from SNAP or WIC, we’ve all needed help at some point and it does not determine your worth as a parent or a human. I don’t care if you home school, public school, or send your kids to private school. Just teach them, in whatever way you can.
The point is, all these little things that others choose to judge us for – they don’t matter. What matters is that our children grow up loved, educated, and nourished. There won’t always be good days and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. If every day were filled with rainbows and lollipops, we wouldn’t learn. If we received everything we ever wanted, we’d know nothing of value, respect, and hard work.
Motherhood took off my blinders. The world isn’t always nice and pretty and there are certainly people in it who are out to destroy any piece of happiness and contentment you offer yourself. However, you don’t have to let others judgment change you. You don’t have to take it to heart. In turn, you don’t have to be the one who judges.
If you see a mom who looks like she needs a hug, offer her one. Offer the mom with two kids just trying to do her grocery shopping a hand, not judgment. Play peek-a-boo and make her kid laugh, it doesn’t take much effort. Stop rolling your eyes at the whining toddler, the crying baby. It’s stressful enough without a stranger’s judgment. Don’t sigh and make a scene when you get behind a mom or dad using WIC in the checkout line. Think about how you would feel if you had to humble yourself to ask for help to feed your baby. I guarantee you, it isn’t easy and they are doing what they need to do to make sure their child has what they need. Don’t turn your nose up at the kids munching happily on nuggets and fries. You don’t know their daily eating habits or how long of a day their parent(s) may have had.
Stop judging and start respecting your fellow human-beings… Stop judging yourself and embrace the world through the eyes of your child. They’re too young to care about those things that we place our value in. They see your value in its truest terms – how you treat yourself and how you treat others. As parents, that’s a lesson we would do well to learn.
Before I became a stay-at-home parent I had my own preconceived notions about what being one meant. I assumed that laundry was always caught up, houses clean, and there was a bit of leisure time once everything for the children was done. Clearly, I had never been alone in a home with an infant or toddler before. While some of my uneducated guesses did ring true, many did not. Here are the ways that my life as a stay-at-home mom is much different from what I imagined.
- Cleaning My Home
Before I had my first son, I could get away with cleaning the house about once a week. We’d fill up the dishwasher a couple times a week and I might have to run the vacuüm twice. I only really had to mop maybe once a month. In short, we weren’t really home enough to mess the house up much so it more or less stayed clean all the time.
When I brought my newborn home, I was amazed at how many bottles he went through in a day and how long it took me to clean them. I was washing bottles in the morning and at night, mountains of bottles. Our breastfeeding plans didn’t work out and I hated all this bottle washing. There were also burp cloths littered all over the living room, his bed room. He wasn’t even able to crawl or sit up, but he was already changing my tidy home into a messy one that I couldn’t keep up with.
When he was a bigger baby, my house did stay remarkably clean until I got pregnant with his brother and was almost too sick to move from the couch for the first several months. Now that I have a toddler and a preschooler, hahaha. Our house is clean, it isn’t always tidy.
Honestly speaking, this one didn’t change much for me when I first became aS AHM because I was no longer washing my work clothes and my ‘normal’ clothes. The babies laundry sort of took the place of my work clothes so the laundry was more or less the same. I did laundry on Fridays or Saturdays and didn’t do it again for a week. When I started cloth diapering my son at fifteen months, I added in a load of diapers 3 or 4 times a week.
Then we brought home our second baby and wow. I don’t know how that changed the laundry dynamic so dramatically, but I now do laundry at least every other day. There is one thing I will say, our laundry room always smells like fresh laundry. It isn’t always wrinkle free and my husband now has to pitch in and put a lot of it away, but at least we’re not suffocating under mountains of dirty clothes the way we did in the first few weeks as parents of two.
- Utility Bills
I had no idea that our energy and water usage would increase so dramatically. Sure, part of that is adding extra humans to your household. The other part is that now you’re home almost all the time. My house used to sit empty for nine or ten hours every day. It is almost never empty now. Toilets get used more, sinks, appliances. Our house is certainly lived in now.
I was never one to eat out a lot while at work. I’d pack my breakfast, lunch, and a few snacks. I worked an hour away from home which meant a two-hour drive daily so I was away from home for about 12-13 hours every single day. I packed a lot of quick things – cheap, processed things. I didn’t enjoy eating those things so staying home has allowed me to get back to real food. Real foods cost more, and we’re feeding more people now. So, obviously, our grocery bills went up.
We also spend more on things like hand soap and toilet paper. The toilet paper was crazy to me at first, I couldn’t figure out why we were going through it 2-3 times faster than before. You don’t realize how much time you spend at work vs. home and how that even affects how much toilet paper your house goes through.
I assumed being a SAHM would mean I’d get a few more hours of downtime every week. Time to relax, unwind. Oh man guys, this one slapped me in the face. Before children, despite working full-time and commuting 10 hours a week, I had a lot of downtime and didn’t realize it. My husband and I would spend Sundays lounging around the house after a night out on Fridays and Saturdays. We had a lot of fun, and a lot of lazy Sundays.
I have not had real downtime since before I went into labor with my son. In fact, labor was my last downtime. Seriously, it was the last time I didn’t have something I HAD to be doing chore or kid wise. Any hobby I do now is multi-tasked with cooking dinner or caring for my children. Date-nights are few and far between. And I sit through them thinking oh no, I forgot to tell them where this is. Oh crap, I left laundry in the washer. Did I remember to fill up the cat’s bowl? I mean seriously, there isn’t downtime as a SAHM. If there is, you’re using it to budget or clean out the kid’s closet.
Obviously, your finances change in a big way when you quit your job, forfeiting half your income. I assumed that it was going to be hard. And at times it has been. However, if I had continued to work, all but about $200 a month would’ve went towards daycare and my 10 hour weekly commute. Much of that would have also went into car maintenance. Our finances were going to change either way and $200 a month wasn’t worth me only seeing my son for a couple of hours a day for me. By the time I had a second child, I would have paid to work.
So yes, we have far less money coming in, but we have become better with our money. We have learned what we can live without and how that often improves our lives instead of hurting it. We are so rich in love and happiness, we don’t need ‘things’. Becoming a SAHM taught me a lot about money. We learned to budget, coupon, thrift/clearance shop, and enjoy the simpler things instead of always wanting a new material possession. I enjoy what we have learned about money, but never dreamed that being a SAHM would benefit us in this way.
I did not plan to be a SAHM when I gave birth. It wasn’t until my son was a few weeks old that I sat down to do the numbers and realized that it might be a better suited option. I had never dreamed I could be a SAHM. When a coworker or friend told me they were going to quit their job and stay home, I’d always think, “Well,that must be nice”. I pictured my children in daycare, and me spending all my free time with them. I saw them learning at daycare and playing at home. I thought SAHMs must spend all day doing ‘lessons’ and have a little preschool set up in their homes. Maybe some SAHMs do this, and I commend them.
My children spend much of their days playing. I do formalized lessons with my preschooler once or twice a day, but much of their learning is through play. We read, do flashcards, learn shapes, but we don’t have ‘school’. I pictured myself as the mother who was always doing crafts and learning activities, perhaps bouncing through play groups, but it isn’t me. I am not the mother I pictured. Sure, we do some of those things. But we don’t do them all the time. Some days I am just trying to float and not drown in all my responsibilities as mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend.
I’m not one of those super moms. I’m a normal mom. I love my kids, I want the best for them, and I do my best to give them a good foundation. I value lessons in love, support, and acceptance far more than lessons in math and science. Reading to my children while I snuggle them is one of my favorite things. There is no chalkboard in my kitchen as I imagined. There is a tidy box of workbooks, flash cards, and boxes full of crafts that we don’t touch every day. I’m not the mother I envisioned, but I don’t hate the mother that I have become.
I assumed that stay-at-home parents prepared nice meals for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. I thought, hey, they’re home, they have the time. Oh boy. Why didn’t any of these SAHPs that I knew warn me? They probably enjoyed watching me those first few months as I struggled to get my teeth brushed and find time to get out of pajamas (it didn’t always happen). I did prepare nice meals when I had one infant. Once he got more mobile it got challenging.
Once I was pregnant, had a toddler, and sick as a dog, I’m not sure I cooked a ‘nice’ meal for months. My husband handled dinner while I tried to eat anything that wouldn’t leave me sick. Some nights I cook something nice and some nights we do easy. My kids prefer cereal for breakfast. And their favorite lunch time fare includes things like peanut butter crackers, grilled cheese, and chicken nuggets. I can do fresh-baked breads, stews, and decadent desserts. Alas, I forgot that SAHPs have KIDS, who normally prefer something simpler.
The hardest part of staying home for me is friends. I feel like I never see mine and I lost so many when I stopped working. It stung and hurt like hell to see friendships melting away into nothing. I cried many tears and then I realized there wasn’t much I could do except try to reconnect or just let it go. I thought staying home meant I would have more time to spend with them. I do, but they’re at work. And I can’t cart my kids around to concerts or drag them out on Friday nights. Sure, I can get a sitter now and again. I cannot predict a fever or a sitter cancelling. People without kids don’t always get that. I miss my friends. I miss concerts, late nights just talking. I miss messaging back and forth at work, having friends over for sporting events, just because, or just laughing over dumb things that don’t matter. I would love for these people to come back into our lives and realize we’re not that different from our pre-kid days, in fact we’re way more laid back and fun. We still listen to loud music, enjoy concerts, and yes, I still have a potty mouth and a sense of humor. I miss being more than someone’s mother…
The flip side of this is the amazing mom friends I have made. They are fiercely supportive and caring. While most of our chatting is done online, they are a lifeline I didn’t know I needed. They have seen me through late night fevers, nursing troubles, postpartum blues, depression, and anxiety. I never expected to form these bonds and friendships with these women, many whom I’ve never met in person, but I am grateful that I did.
Naturally, your view of family changes when you have children. I think I had a close family before I had children and started staying home, but my open schedule has allowed me the freedom to grow closer to my family. I have bonds with them I didn’t have before. I can swing by for lunch dates, pop in on their days off, or have a little day trip that I never could’ve done without lots of planning while I worked. I didn’t fully expect or anticipate how much closer we’d grow. My extended family is amazing. My children are so loved and cherished. And I feel as though I could never repay all the kindness and support my extended family has offered to my little family.
- View of Self
I never realized how much my view of myself would change as a SAHM. I thought I would just be blissfully happy to spend my days in my home with my children. There have been times that I felt worthless. I have gone through periods where I felt like my lack of financial contribution and professional status meant I didn’t mean much to anyone. I have been reminded of all that I do contribute and do to keep our family running and happy. It has taken time for me to see this and value myself and what I do.
I have a confidence in myself I did not before. I also know that I have limits and imperfections like everyone. I know that my value is not tied to how much money I make or what job title I have. That’s a lesson I probably didn’t know I needed, but it has changed my view of the world and myself.
- My Marriage
I am amazed at how much my marriage has grown and changed in the last few years. Parts of becoming a SAHM were very hard on my marriage – the stress of changing finances and becoming parents can be tough. There have been dark moments and difficult arguments. There has also been growth and positive change. I am even more amazed at how we’ve matured and grown closer. I love my husband more fiercely now than I did before. There is no doubt in my mind that I can happily spend forever with him. We’re more honest, open, and closer than we were. Parenthood and the changing dynamics of our family fixed something I didn’t know was broken.
Whether parents work or stay-at-home, their lives change. Each time you bring a new child home, get a new job, even change working hours, your family changes and grows. Change can be scary, but it can also be beautiful. I’m supportive of parents who work and stay home. Both offer challenges and rewards that have to be tailored to each family’s needs. I’m blessed to have found the balance that works for my own family and to be thriving in our little corner of happiness.
Ahhh, birthdays. They bring forth so many emotions for parents. For one, we are thrilled that our children are growing and thriving just as they should. We are celebrating all that they (and we as parents) have accomplished in the last year. Sometimes we are just glad to have made it through a challenge and come out on the other side. For those of us still so close to the magical years of babyhood and toddlerhood, we are in awe of how quickly time travels through these all too short years. Part of us longs for a small bubbly baby or a bounding toddler once more. Part of us celebrates no more sleepless nights, bi-hourly feedings, or spit-up stained shirts. Overall, no matter how old they get, a birthday will likely be a reminder of a ‘labor day’ for many mothers. It is a day of great remembrance and joy.
My youngest child just celebrated his second birthday. My oldest will turn four at the end of the year. And me, I’m that mom. I am fighting against a force that I know I cannot win – Father Time. He will move swiftly through my life at times when I just need a few more minutes, weeks, or hours. And he will crawl at times when I want him to just speed up already. Such a ornery man Father Time. I spend a few weeks preparing for their birthdays. We make decorations, plan menus, and then we bake whatever celebration treat they want. It has become a tradition for me to me make them a birthday outfit to fit their chosen birthday theme. Through all this labor to prepare for their birthday parties, I am laboring in my mind on how I will not cry as they blow out yet another candle. I will not stifle their new freedoms and their growing maturity. I will celebrate in happiness and glee right along with them.
This is the first year I have prepared for a birthday and actually managed not to cry. No one warned me that I would strongly fight tears as I prepared the birthday banner or sang happy birthday to my child for the very first time. There was no warning about the lump the size of a golf ball forming in my throat and making my eyes water like a faucet…
I spend the weeks leading up to a birthday perusing through photos or rereading journal entries I made during my pregnancy. I will reread their birth stories at least once and dig around for videos of them in their infancy. During the actual day of the birthday I will often glance at the clock and oddly I can remember what stage of labor I was in at that time X years ago. Like how the nurse brought me a popsicle at 11:08AM back in December of 2010. I don’t know why I remember these things, but I do. They are likely tied my ‘new’ mom status and perhaps will fade with the years. I will remind my children of the exact time they were born and they will give me a blank stare and go back to what they were doing. But I, I will feel all those feelings of holding your baby for the first time all over again. I will steal a hug that lasts too long and a kiss on the forehead just as I gave at birth. After all, a birthday for them is also a celebration of triumph for me. A day we brought forth a child and added more light and energy to our family. A day we beat our infertility and losses. A day we won – in a big way.
Our children’s birthdays offer so much for celebration. Each year we gain more experience as their parents and get to bare witness to their personalities in bloom. We get a chance to look at how far they have come and imagine just how far they are going to go. While they are digging through presents and enjoying a day where it’s okay to have more than one piece of cake or another bowl of ice cream – we get to dig through memories and devour all those warm, fuzzy feelings of parental love and accomplishment. We get one day where people are happy to hear about what our child did at this age or that and we can share all the photos we want without that all too familiar sigh of, “Oh man, she’s in one of those moods. Get ready to be photo bombed.”
I am blessed with a large family who loves to celebrate my children almost daily. We delight in spoiling them on special days and sometimes just because. Birthdays for us all are quite special. I pray that we get many more to celebrate, winding through the memories of each one past until they all become a jumble of happiness and triumph. I may not always have those ‘new’ mom memories of just what I was doing on the day of their actual birth, but I hope I always carry those deep feelings of love and true happiness in my heart.
Happy Birthday sweet babies. You can grow to be 100 and in my eyes and heart, you will forever be those little bundles wrapped in a warm sheet and handed to me for the very first time.
I’m the strict mom. I can hear my kids getting into something clear across the house with the washing machine buzzing in my ear. If they hear me coming to tell them to stop, they will often stop before I make it to the room. Often, not always.
I’ve set rules with my kids from very early on. I am not afraid to tell them no or set boundaries. While it may not be something they like, it is something that will benefit them. The world is not out there to tell us yes all the time. There are obstacles to overcome, laws, and societal rules to follow. While some rules are meant to be broken, some of them keep us safe and even free.
This is not to say I don’t allow my children freedom to learn their own lessons and express themselves. I’ve allowed markers, paints, crayons, and even chalk to be around my carpets. There have been glitter bombs in my kitchen and many a spill off a piece of furniture or other climbable object. There has been life… Overindulgence here and there with a healthy dose of reality to rein us all back in.
My children are at times spoiled with toys, books, or candies for no special occasion. Other times they are told if they want something special, they need to use their piggy bank money or do some chores to earn it. My husband and I have tried hard to strike a balance where we set all these boundaries without squashing our children’s spirits and personalities. Sometimes we are told we are ‘mean’ and rewarded with a tantrum. Sometimes we wish we could say yes, but know finances dictate that we say no.
Our children are well cared and provided for. They have more toys than they need; enough clothes that I could probably go almost a month without washing if I had to. Their bowls, plates, and glasses are always filled when their tummies demand food or drink. As most parents do, we often wonder if we are doing enough. If we’ve met all their needs and what we can do to better them. I think learning those boundaries is as important for ourselves as it is for our children. What they need and what we feel they need aren’t always the same.
I’ve always been a believer that money or possessions do not dictate a person’s worth. Children don’t need lots of toys or clothes (or things) to be happy. They don’t need to always do everything their friends do or attend every event they want to. They have to learn that life is about balance and choices or life is not going to be easy once they’re out of our reach. They need love, support, and guidance. They don’t need the world handed to them on a silver platter. An afternoon spent with a box of crayons and a cardboard box can provide a much richer learning and social experience than an afternoon of movies or plastic toys. Those abstract ‘toys’ provide social interaction, use of motor skills, critical thinking, and imagination. Finding those moments to enrich your relationship with your children is far more important than a trip to the store for a new toy. A toy that will likely be forgotten in a few hours – landing at the bottom of the toy box with all the other ‘treasures’ they’ve acquired.
My children do not currently attend a daycare or other preschool program. I’ve been ‘selfish’ in their young age and chose to keep them at home. They will likely attend pre-k the year before they start school. I’ve been asked by other moms why I don’t put them in the twice a week classes for more social interaction and to be honest, I sometimes I feel offended when asked. I feel like it’s a personal decision and a boundary that maybe others shouldn’t cross. There is certainly nothing wrong with those programs, I think most of them are great. It just isn’t the right choice for our family. My boys interact among each other all day. We do our own lessons and learning exercises. We play…a lot. I feel that I get four years to have my children to me, and then for the rest of their lives I have to share them with the world. They get four years of life where they mostly play, and then they have to sit still in classrooms and follow several sets of rules. They get four years of one-on-one time with their mom and dad in their home. Four years where we still interact with the outside world, but they have no ‘responsibilities’ outside the home unless we choose. Four years… I’m doing my best to fill those four years with fun, morals, creativity, rules, laughter, guidance… I’m choosing those four years to try my best to instill in them the values I hope they’ll hold precious and use to help them navigate the big world that is going to be theirs for the taking (and sharing) very soon.
I’m the strict mom. The one who sometimes says no to having dinner out or sneaking a treat. The one who says you can’t take out ALL your toys at once. The one who makes you clean up your spilled food and put away your toys. The one who says get off that, don’t say that, go to time out. I’m also the one who teaches about saying you’re sorry if you hurt someone, showing them that sometimes it’s okay to color outside the lines or make up your own rules to the game. I’m also the one who teaches that race, religion, and even sexual preference don’t matter. That all humans deserve a chance and that these things are not a reason to judge someone. I’ve asked my children to love and appreciate, but also respect nature and all those in it. To pause for a moment to watch the leaves fall or the flowers in bloom. I’ve even shown them how to blow bubbles in their milk…
I’m the strict mom…but sometimes I say yes. Yes to toy villages sweeping down the rooms and hallways. Yes to coloring your swing set with sidewalk chalk. Yes to color bombs in the bath tub and bubbles that spill over the sides. Yes to skittles before dinner…just this once.
My job as their mother is to love and to teach. The most amazing part is that they often do the same.
A few weeks ago I hit one of those proverbial walls. I was on another week of my husband working too much overtime and I was done being mom. I wanted a break; I wanted my kids to stop ignoring me and stop destroying our house. I wanted to get in my car and drive as far away from all the chaos as I could get. Yet I was stuck, because I was mommy.
I’m unsure exactly what my breaking point was that Saturday morning, but when I hit it, I broke hard. I ended up in the laundry room, a huge sack of dirty laundry at my back, three baskets of clean laundry in front of me, and a running washer and dryer to my side. My back sank into the bag of dirty laundry, hard cold tile against my legs, and not one person was concerned with the tears that would not stop flowing. The kids were playing cars or super heroes, and I was sitting in the laundry room having a break down over spilled cereal or crayoned walls. At least that’s how it appeared.
What I was really crying for was understanding…compassion…comradery. When you’re stuck in the trenches of parenthood it can get lonely. On weeks when I have an extra day of doing it on my own it’s hard to push through. I will never know how single parents or those who have a spouse who is often away do it. They have a strength I admire, but don’t dare wish to possess.
I sat against the cold tile, the humming washing machine, and the towering laundry. I sat and I cried for the days when I had no kids. And then I thought about those days and how I had cried in corners of our home because it was so quiet and empty without kids. I cried for a career and friendships that went by the wayside of parenthood. I cried for mornings I used to spend laying in bed with the husband I felt like I no longer got to see.
My youngest son appeared, riding the little red car that has created roadways around our kitchen island and won many races up and down our hallway. He stepped off the car, came to my side and started blowing me kisses. Then he hopped back on his car and off he went. He had no idea that any of his childhood behaviors or actions could leave me hurting and wallowing in my selfishness. He saw me sad and he wanted to fix it with kisses. He was just being a child…exploring all this world has laid before him.
Those are the defining moments of parenthood. When your ass is pressed to the cold hard tile and all you want to do is give up…forget it all. When walking out the door feels like a real option because how unfair is it that you gave life to your children and now they need ALL of you? You can choose to quit, or you can choose to get up off your ass and quit feeling sorry for yourself. Sometimes you have to be hard on yourself to remember that you chose to be their parent and that means forever.
It doesn’t make you weak to have a moment of weakness…it makes you human. We’re all entitled to a selfish moment or a break from our children. We’re not allowed to quit on them.
When you reach those hard moments, don’t wallow in it. Don’t sit and tell yourself all the horrible things about parenthood. Give yourself a moment to feel bad and then brush it off and move on. Look at all your children bring to your life and think about the happy things that they do. Think about the way your hugs can cure any boo boo, any upset that comes their way. Think about how important you really are to them and how that is invaluable to their well-being and survival.
It is all too easy to get caught up in the bad… To think that the diapers, crayoned walls, and tantrums will go forever. They won’t. Your children and mine will grow and they’ll stop wanting our constant attention. Our hugs won’t always fix it all and one day we’ll cry on that laundry room floor for the problems we just can’t fix for them. We’ll have too much time on our hands and ache for the days when they were so little that they thought we were the rulers of their world.
Have your break downs, but make them brief. Our time in early parenthood is better spent kicking the toys aside and diving right into the chaos to join in their fun.
I can still remember just HOW BADLY I wanted to have a baby. Baby fever is a powerful, powerful condition that one cannot just easily squash. Once that idea takes hold in your mind, it doesn’t let go. But wanting to have a baby and wanting to be a parent are two entirely separate things.
Not once in the four and a half years that I wanted a baby did I stop and say, “I want to be a parent”. To the uninitiated, those two probably sound like the same thing. I can assure you, they’re not. The idea of wanting a baby often takes hold because we see just how cute and endearing those little bundles seem to be. We picture smiling, laughing six-month-olds; a five-year-old playing tea party; the eight-year-old learning to play baseball with his dad. What we don’t picture are diaper explosions, sleepless WEEKS, 3AM vomit parties… Those subtle differences are called being a parent.
Wanting a baby pictures all the good. It seems magical, mystical – it’s the ultimate unknown. Being a parent is real. Being a parent is also magical, wonderful, and full of good. It is also frightening, dirty, exhausting…hard. Most of us don’t think of those things when we say we want a baby. Sure, people who are already parents warn us that our lives are about to change forever. They tell us about the sleepless nights, the pain of childbirth, just how hard it is to be a parent. Yet, without having experienced most of this for ourselves, we just can’t mentally compute how true what they’re telling us is. We think they’re exaggerating, that it won’t be that way for us. We’ll be different, we won’t have kids who scream in public or throw tantrums over a dinner out. We’d never tolerate that behavior the way they do…
I wanted a baby so badly that I forget about all else for over four years. In those four years I started a career, I got married, took vacations, got a cat, bought a house, worked on a college degree… Truthfully, I remember very little of those four years except that all-consuming drive to have a baby at all costs. It was INSANE. I was insane. There is a reason they call it baby ‘fever’. It pollutes your mind just as an illness will. The spark was planted in me after a miscarriage that proceeded an unplanned pregnancy. We then got pregnant twice more, both accidentally WHILE using two different forms of birth control, and had two more miscarriages in that same year.
My journey into baby fever was really more of a journey into longing and replacing what I had lost. There had been life in my womb three times and three times I had been denied the chance at ever meeting these tiny growing beings. I was devastated and I was going to get my baby. There was a break where I decided to actually just live and be young. But we were on the TTC (trying to conceive for those non-polluted brains) bus in a few months and when that didn’t work, we met with doctors to find out what was wrong. We both had fertility issues, which was shocking for the two people who had conceived three times in one year while trying to prevent it. We did what the specialist said and still nothing.
Almost two years later, we were pregnant. Less than a week after the positive test, we lost the baby… At that point, I swore off getting pregnant. I was done. It hurt and I was convinced we’d be childless. I looked into foster parenting, put the idea aside and focused on school. We got back into TTC, this time taking a more relaxed, but serious approach with the charts, the temperature taking, the suggested treatments recommended by the specialist. And they worked. We had our successful pregnancy and delivery. We had a baby.
My pregnancy was so surreal. It was filled with the terror of losing the baby and then actual joy as we inched closer to our due date. Sure, there was morning sickness and more than one occasion of covering the interior of my car in vomit. There were moments of running to the restroom at work and feeling like my baby was trying to murder me from inside out. My water broke prematurely at thirty-seven weeks, but we had a healthy baby!
He was mine and I loved him. The reality of becoming a parent sat in the first sleepless night in the hospital. My body felt ravaged, my mind was fuzzy from the lack of sleep and the craziness that I had just experienced. I had expected to look at my baby immediately after birth and think that he was the most gorgeous creature I’d ever seen. I didn’t. I thought he was cute, but I wasn’t head over heels in love with him, not yet. Breastfeeding, bonding, becoming a mother – they didn’t come as naturally as I had expected. Between baby stores, what to expect, and birth – it all became glaringly real…and overwhelming.
Somewhere in the first week I wondered what the hell I had done. I was tired, sore; I just wanted to be left alone. I wanted some peace. But, when you have your first baby two weeks before Christmas, oh, well, you don’t get that magical, mystical break. You get to finish Christmas shopping with a one-week old. You get to be bombarded with people trying to hold YOUR baby. You get to be reminded a million times that you failed at breastfeeding, that you gave up on that ‘easily’. No one sees how your son just plain won’t latch on, they seem to forget that you can hear them talking about you because hello, you’re in the very next room.
After the shock of realizing that wanting a baby is so much more than those lovely bucolic images of a bouncing baby playing on a blanket in the grass…you realize, being a parent is setting in. And you want it! You don’t care that it’s now a challenge to get a shower. It’s becoming manageable to have a little being that depends on you for EVERYTHING. You’ve been peed on, pooped on, thrown up on. You’ve been screamed at, you’ve cried in corners of rooms in secret, and yet you’ve still managed to fall in love. You’ve began to love burying your face into those big chubby cheeks. You start to live for those tiny baby smiles, and then giggles!! He laughs, you teach him to roll. You are becoming a mother and you are loving parenthood…
Parenthood was exhilarating for me after the first month. I mean, I rocked it. I had his schedule down to a science and the house was pretty much always clean. There were some nights of tears when our normally good sleeper would decide to wake up or not want to sleep, but mostly, I rocked it. I rocked it so much, that I decided I was ready for another baby before he was even one-year-old.
If there’s anything crazier than baby fever, it’s second baby fever. Crazier still; we didn’t need fertility treatments this time, we got that baby on the first try… We managed to get pregnant on our four-year wedding anniversary and if that wasn’t symbolic of how it was meant to be, well then, what was? The second time around, you get the difference between wanting a baby and being a parent. In some ways, a second pregnancy is easier because you know all about what is coming your way. And then you don’t. Because now you have to add a toddler to the mix. You’ve never done that level of busy and crazy and it is scary.
I did fall in love instantly, head over heels with my second baby. I loved him as much as I loved his brother and I ached for all those firsts again. I knew not to rush them, to cherish them, and reach for the memory of them when I was having a hard day. Making the switch to two under two wasn’t easy, but it was doable. I lost a part of myself somewhere in the mix because I had no time to just be anything but their mother. But they grew and I found me again.
Life with a three-year-old and almost two-year-old is pretty sweet. It’s crazy busy and messy, but it is rewarding. Watching them interact and learn is amazing. Seeing my oldest call his brother his friend seriously makes me tear up. They work together, they argue, they love each other.
My husband and I – we got this. We know all about what it is to be a parent and how it’s hard, but worth it. We now know the difference in wanting a baby and wanting…a different life. That’s what parenthood is. It’s a different life than the one you had. It’s loving someone (multiple someones) more than you love yourself. It’s giving up everything you thought made you whole for little beings that make parts of you that you didn’t know you had light up. Parenthood is learning to balance what you had with what you got. And that magical, mystical unknown? Oh, it’s still there. And it’s beautifully real and equally fulfilling.
Before you say you want a baby, make sure you understand what you’re asking for is much more than a little being. They demand ALL of you. They take until you think you couldn’t possibly have more to give and then they fill your soul up with love. You’ll find strength when they’re weak and you’ll give it to them. You’d go hungry, truly hungry; to make sure they’re fulfilled. You’ll forget about having nice clothes, cars, or anything else if it means that they get to have all they need and most of what they want. You’ll learn that disciplining them isn’t mean, but it’s a part of teaching them to be good people, the kind you want to see in the world.
Most of all, they’ll show you that you are more than you ever saw. You’re their sun and moon for many years. And you are still their hidden strength, even when they have children of their own. That’s being a parent – a good parent. And it’s worth it…