Motherhood: Does it get easier or do you get better at it?

This morning at the day camp bus stop, as a group of parents greeted a mom who had recently had her second baby, we chatted about whether it is harder to go from zero kids to one kid or from one kid to two kids. Which leads to the question, does the transition from two to three children break you all over again, or are you able to let things roll off your back more easily, due to experience? Or perhaps that skill is only sharpened when you add the fourth child to your family.

Maria Bailey, a business woman and mother of four, spoke at a conference I attended in Berkeley last month. She said that motherhood does not get easier, but you get better at it.  I wrote that down.

Now I’m trying to decide if I agree.

I have probably told mothers of  newborns that it gets easier. Is that because you get better at it or you get used it it? In two years time, a new mom may be less exhausted, less hormonal, and used to the idea that dawdling at a cafe or bar after work comes with a price — babysitter fees — but she’ll still feel challenged in her role as Mom. “How do I get this kid into a big bed/off the pacifier/onto the toilet? If I get promoted, will I need to work more hours? If I work more hours, how will we ever have dinner? Why does my son bite his friends? Is all this whining my fault? I cannot hear myself think. Stop. Asking. For. Snacks!”

What I believe gets easier is living with uncertainty, with chaos, with yelling, throwing, and the relentless, never-ending task of putting on shoes. Over time, you get more tricks in your toolbox: the joke that makes your child laugh; the bribe that gets them out the door; the mantra that calms your own temper.

Does motherhood get easier or do you get better?You get better at having a conversation filled with interruptions. You get better at shrugging off a meal that consisted of four Wheat Thins and half a strawberry. It’s not that these things don’t bug you, it’s that you get used to it.

However, I’ve been having trouble sleeping at night myself lately, worried about my kids’ behaviors and blaming myself for not being consistent, not being strict enough, giving them so much attention that they may wind up like those entitled Millennials everyone is talking about: expecting to hear “Great job!” for showing up at work on time. This week, it doesn’t feel like it’s getting easier.

Most of what I have read and experienced that resonates with me has to do with lowering expectations. Deborah Spar, who is the president of the college I attended, has a new book coming out called Wonder Women: Sex, Power, and the Quest for Perfection.In it, she emphasizes that Wonder Woman is not a real person. No one can do everything perfectly. She shares this bit of wisdom:

A recent issue of Everyday Food offers a sigh-inducing recipe for Harvest Vegetable Pancakes With Greens and Goat Cheese. I tried it. An hour and a half later, I had a burnt and bedraggled creation. My mother, older and wiser, opens a package of ground beef, mixes it with a package of Lipton’s onion soup, and makes a perfectly lovely meatloaf. My advice to my students: Listen to my mother.

For me this is a metaphor, because I am not actually open to eating meatloaf made of beef and soup mix, but I appreciate the sentiment. One of the commenters on an excerpt from this book that was posted on today, fed up, I presume, with the discussion of “having it all”, responds, “Just be happy. Then you have it all. Stop complaining.”

More easily said then done, but I appreciate that perspective also. Circling back to the question of whether parenting gets easier or you get better at it, the same approach could apply: Enjoy the parts you like. Dislike the parts that bum you out. Stop rating your performance. That’s how it gets easier and you get better at it.


Related posts: Mantras of a triplet mom, How I learned that bribing works