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Happy Mother's Day from a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom

Living things change. They adapt and grow and die. Trees leaf out, snakes molt, babies grow up into frat boys. It just happens.

Aren’t you glad I picked this picture instead of one of a frat boy?

So why is it I thought the moment I had a baby that I would be a full-grown mother?

It came to me a few months ago when I was talking with an adoptive mother at the park. She brought home her baby boy 4 months ago, and he was now a year and a half old. “It’s been hard to relate to the other moms with kids his age because we’re just hitting the 4 month mark of having a kid,” she said. Without even thinking, I said, “Yeah, I mean, he’s an 18-month-old baby and you’re a 4-month-old mom.”

That means I’m a 2-and-a-half-year-old mom. And back when I was wondering if I would ever feel like a “natural mother,” I was a 3-week-old mom. A newborn. I was 4 months old when I was white-knuckling through my exhaustion, anxiety and depression.

My maternal grandmother, who we called Dee Dee, was most definitely a full grown mother when I knew her. Since she had a son and a daughter who were 61 and 59 when she died, I’d say she grew to the ripe old mom age of 120.

Thinking about my mom age this way makes me feel better. It helps me have more compassion for myself in those first few disorienting months. Things often felt wobbly and strange. Am I doing this right? Is it supposed to feel this way? We don’t expect newborn babes to come out of the womb quoting Shakespeare. So why do we expect the equivalent of ourselves as mothers?

And here’s my dear friend E. Who will become a 2-year-old mom this August and give birth to kiddo #2, growing her mom age by leaps and bounds ahead of mine.

So for my Mother’s Day gift to myself and to all of you, I’d like to let us all be the mom age that we are.

For a mom in her toddler years, I feel like I’m doing okay. I don’t have everything down to a science, like my 7-year-old mom friends, but I’m starting to have fewer tantrums.

How old of a mom are you? Or if you’re not a mom yourself, how old of a mother is the mom that you’re closest to? Does thinking about mothers in terms of their mom age change how you feel or think about motherhood?

What becoming a mother looks like for T at 3 weeks post-partum

Remember the video I posted of my conversation with T when she was 38 weeks (roughly 9 months) pregnant? Well, here she is a month after we had that first talk–3 weeks after giving birth to her baby boy.

I love her willingness to share and how she captures that kind of floaty, coming-back-down-to-earth feeling that I remember from my first few weeks after J was born. Even at more than 2.5 years post-partum, I still feel the challenge that T talks about: to “connect my life before with this new life.”

How are you managing with that epic challenge?

What I thought motherhood would look like

Other than a couple brief moments of rocking a swaddled newborn to sleep, I just started having some moments of, “now THIS is what I thought being a mom was going to be like.” And J will be 2 and a half next month. Do tell, what were the images you had in your head of what being a mother looked like? And what do they say about the whacked out ideas (or not?) our culture has about “motherhood.”

Also, here’s a link to the “Becoming a Mother” video series I’m producing.

On judging other parents

I met a friend for beer the other night. It felt pretty momentous. She was the friend I vaguely referenced in an earlier blog post with whom I’d had a schism.

my artistic rendering of "friends meeting for beer after schism"

Our schism was about our children, and our different styles of raising them. And after a couple of emotional conversations, several weeks of emails and both of us taking some time to get perspective and lick our wounds, we met for beer.

It was such a relief to see her again—as if a strange magical spell that had turned her into a monster had blown away. And there she was. Just my friend, with her bright face and her wavy hair and the purposeful way she walks. As we talked about what had happened and how we both felt about it, it struck me that we were doing something pretty impressive. We disagree and are making different choices about certain hot button parenting issues: to cry-it-out or not, co-sleeping, daycare. And rather than just using the old to-each-their-own, who-am-I-to-judge approach, we’re actually having the messy conversations that naturally come when two people that deeply believe in what they’re doing and disagree choose to talk about it.

It hasn’t been easy. We’ve had many a time when we had to circle back around and remind the other one about how something she said was really hurtful and clean up the mess. But we’ve also shared some incredible insights and have developed a strong mutual respect and fascination for each other.

This is something I really want to create space for in this blog. Everyone is allowed to be judgmental here. Since we all already do it anyway, I think we could actually use it to our advantage. I think that we’re all (well, everyone but the super-evolved-Eckhart-Tolle types) judging each other all the time, even when we claim not to. And while it IS true that every child is different and we all need to find our own way of parenting, I think that sentiment is often used to glaze over and avoid a perfectly fascinating, provocative conversation. Because we want to be kind and because we understand the risks of our judgement, we’re skirting around the issue and cheating ourselves of some really valuable connections.

It’s scary to be judged. Because let’s face it, this parenting gig has the highest stakes ever. And we all know that, and we try really really hard to do what’s best for our kids. So when someone even mildly expresses that they think we’re doing the wrong thing, they can push that terribly zingy button in us that says, “STEP OFF! I’M DOING THE EFFING BEST I CAN. I BET YOU’RE SCREWING UP YOUR KID TOO.” And I think that zingy button is really covering for this fear: “Am I actually making the wrong decision? Am I doing something that is hurting my child or my relationship with her?”

When my friend and I have talked about our differences of opinion, we’ve definitely hit the zing button. Many times. And the thing that has allowed us to keep talking even though we’re hurt or scared is that we both feel and know that we care about each other.

So.

I, for one, want to break out of the everyone-has-to-parent-in-the-way-that-feels-best-to-them conversation silencer. Because while I DO believe that everyone has to parent in the way that feels best to them, I ALSO believe that there is much to be gained from allowing ourselves to disagree in a caring way. And to follow our curiosity about why different people do things differently. Maybe in being more transparent about our judgments with other parents we care about, we might not get so polarized and snippy and, well, judge-y with each other.

As my friend said that night over beers, what would happen if we were allowed to say, “You know, I will never raise my kid the way you do, but I’m totally curious about why you do it that way.” GOOD EFFING QUESTION.

Who would you like to have this conversation with, and what would you talk to them about, if you knew they would still like you when all was said and done?

On taking care of myself

Before I became a mother, I was grotesquely good at taking care of other people. I credit my naturally empathetic, sensitive nature, my incredible-caretaker mother and my co-dependent upbringing. In the months before I got pregnant, it dawned on me that my constant tracking of other people’s emotional and physical needs could be an asset as a mother. What didn’t dawn on me: it would also be my downfall.

In my first few days post-partum, I sank right in to tracking J’s every need and even making some up.  When I wasn’t doing that, I was trying to make sure that A, my partner, was getting enough sleep and staying generally well fed and happy.
In return, I became completely desperate for A to take care of me with the same obsessive empathy. The result of this whole dynamic was bad. I felt used-up, pathetic, un-loved and despondent. A felt confused and somewhat mistreated and underappreciated.

Add all that to the typical sleep deprivation of the first few months and the hormone roller-coaster, and we were all pretty screwed.

Things have stabilized since then. We all sleep more. I think A understands more about my plight during those first months. And I see how I my strengths in caring for others have created a huge blind spot. I am the blind spot.

In all of my endless scanning for how everyone is doing, the person I most often pass up is myself. And when I finally do notice my own need for help, I’m usually pretty far gone. Desperate, really.

So I’ve been working on that.  I regularly hear something my therapist said to me in those first few disorienting months post-partum:

Do you know what every new mother needs?

A mother.

So the project of becoming a mother to J has also turned into becoming one for myself.

Last night, I was feeling pretty crappy and sad and vulnerable from a recent schism between me and a friend. So I came home a little early from work thinking, “Hanging out with J and A is just what I need right now.”  The minute I opened the door, I started taking a supremely judgmental inventory on all of the things going on that were making my life worse:

A was being a super lazy dad and watching TV with J.
A had not fed J dinner or started getting him ready for bed yet.
A obviously does not care about me at all.

I managed to keep all of these things to myself and ask, “Has J had dinner yet?” And then I just sat down and rested my head on our dining room table and tried to limit the damages of the horror story going on in my head.

In the end, A took care of dinner and bedtime for J. I ate ice cream while watching a show on the couch.

At some point after that, A asked if there was anything he could do for me. My mind spat, “OF COURSE THERE IS, YOU IDIOT.” And I managed to get my mouth to say, “Will you go get me a glass of wine, the leftover Stilton cheese in the fridge and those big round crackers?”

Chalk this night up to victory.

It IS the longest shortest time!

In those newborn days, as I was beat about the head and shoulders with glassy-eyed smiles and it-all-goes-by-so-fast proclamations, I finally broke down and recorded my first video blog. I didn’t know what planet everyone else was living on, but it seemed like some of the slowest time I’d ever waded through in my life. I must admit that in the months since then, there are times when I’m looking at 3-month-old J pictures that my very own brain thinks it actually IS going by quickly. Here’s the shocker: BOTH things are true. Thanks to a link that was included in a comment on THIS VERY blog, I discovered The Longest Shortest Time. And with a title like that, I knew that this is my kind of gal.

On intuition vs. experience

I thought I was ahead of the curve when I opted to read less how-to parenting advice and use my maternal instincts more. But for things like newborn sleep, toddler tantrums, my instincts have failed me royally. Turns out that in situations like these, nothing replaces the sage advice of a skilled expert.

Resources I mentioned
For baby sleep:
The Weissbluth sleep book, Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child
Our post-partum doula, Denise Macko
For toddler tantrums:
Happiest Toddler on the Block DVD (rent it at a local video store or Netflix)

My First Honest Mom Video Blog

My experience as a new mother has sometimes been how I expected it to be and more often alot grittier–which has led me to wonder, why don’t parents talk more about “the dark side” of having kids?

More food for thought:

http://nymag.com/news/features/67024/

http://www.twentytworeviews.bonniefortune.info/index.html