Once I became a mom, I was the mom of a baby, then a toddler’s mom, then a mom of two little ones, a preschool mom, a grade school mom, and soon, the mom of tweens. That is how life works. I didn’t get diplomas at any of these graduations.
In the past ten years, I’ve moved from rookie status to all-star status, and even though it still feels hard sometimes, and the lack of “right answers” is frustrating, it is also my dream-come-true to raise these two children and watch as it becomes increasingly clearer that they will develop into adults who don’t think only of themselves, don’t need calculators to figure out tips, and can get lost in a good book. I am grateful to be experiencing my dream and have learned these ten facts along the way:
1. We are just mammals. Yep, the laws of nature govern our reproductive experiences, no matter how often we joke “There’s an app for that.” There is no app for the hormones that course through a birth mother’s body, that tells her to start lactating, that makes infants cry and sleep and wake in infinite cycles. The fact that babies sleep better on or next to their parents is hard to believe, but that’s an animal instinct. It’s shocking but true. Sometimes I use these biological facts to remind myself that my husband is attracted to me no matter how hairy I’ve let my legs get. His DNA tells him to be.
2. Pee is not a big deal. Before you are a parent, before someone hands you a naked baby, because that’s how he arrived in the world, you might think pee is a yucky, private thing. Well, it turns out it’s everywhere, all the time. You have probably gotten some in your eye. When your child pees on your lap, you’re glad it’s urine on your pants, not milk.
3. A green bean is just a green bean, not a gold medal. I shared this lesson after reading a parenting book. I wish we could all stop obsessing about the quality and quantity of our children’s meals. We’ve begun treating what our kids eat like a status game. Sorry, but you are not a Good Person just because your child eats salad by age three. We can only reach Good Person status by being compassionate, generous, and respectful to our communities. Making homemade baby food is for saving money and avoiding packaging, not for earning moral superiority points.
4. Childcare is really freaking expensive. If you have the opportunity to make a decision very early in your child’s life, or beforehand, to move to a place where you might have some family help, it is worth considering. Those of us who pay for full-time childcare are shelling out big bucks. I’ll just throw out some numbers like $12-$20 hour for babysitters in your home to $1200 per month for daycare at another location. So if your mother-in-law will do some for free, or at least offer backup when your babysitter is sick, you might want to move next door to her.
5. Parenting school-aged children is a bottomless pit of volunteer “opportunities”. I totally want my kids to have art and music at school and do Scouts and play soccer and um, wait, I need to do what? In my experience, public school covers the bare minimum and busy parents are working behind the scenes to make the rest of it happen. Whether it’s fundraising, helping Kindergartners open their lunchboxes every day, or storing thousands, no exaggeration, of Girl Scout Cookies in your garage, parents have to do a bunch of stuff besides go to work and feed the kids. Like work at school carnival booths on their own birthdays. See definition of Good Person in #3. Some parent has got to coach the first grade soccer team or there won’t be a team. Sorry.
6. Social media can make parenting harder. And easier. It’s harder when you make naive assumptions that a photo of a smiling family means that their house is clean, the children are cooperative, and they don’t eat Z Bars for dinner in the car every once in a while. It’s harder when you compare your life to someone else’s life and start to think their goals and priorities are yours. (Seriously, just because some of your friends seem to spend all their waking hours at their children’s baseball games, doesn’t mean you’re doing it wrong if you’ve never even thought of signing your kid up for a team sport.) Social media can be a life saver when you need to feel less alone. When you need a recommendation. When you really need to know that “What French Kids Eat For School Lunch Puts American Kids To Shame”, and you can, because every one of your friends seems to be sharing this questionable article. For realz, it’s really nice to be able to ask people if Cars 2 will be just as great for your 3-year old as the first Cars movie. (Answer: NO!)
7. Kids change. I have enough years to look back on now to know that you cannot predict what your child might be open to in the future. My daughter refused any dresses and skirts for over a year. She said she wanted to be a boy, and swam in public wearing only bottoms. She wore track pants and soccer shorts and told me the other stuff just wasn’t her style and to get rid of it, which I did. A year later, she did a 180 and asked me in an accusatory voice why her only shoes are sneakers. Sigh. So a kid might be one way for years and move out of that phase. I have seen some very high-maintenance preschoolers grow into easy going big kids.
8. Being an adult is just as awesome as I thought it would be. I see my kids trying to stay on top of their homework and I feel pretty satisfied that I finished all mine. About twenty years ago. And yes, I will eat chocolate ice cream on the couch after they’ve gone to bed. It’s my couch.
9. You cannot change the way someone else feels. It’s hard to watch my kids feel anxious, jealous, impatient, or very passionate about collecting stuffed animals, but those are their feelings and I have to accept them. Saying “Don’t worry”, or “You have enough stuffed animals” is totally pointless in my experience.
10. The best is yet to come. This summer, when I was driving through Utah in an RV with my husband and kids on a family road trip vacation, I was feeling the high of living out my dream. But I also remembered feeling that the payoff had arrived a couple years ago. So I know that there are even more magic moments in the future, where I feel so fulfilled and proud of the family I’ve created, that I think, “Now. Now is what I’ve been waiting for.”