Tuesday, November 25, 2008

TO A YOUNG MOTHER, or WHAT I WISH SOMEONE HAD SAID TO ME

I went visiting teaching. My partner is a young mother—just had her second child and the first is two. When I’m with her, hearing about her life, all I feel is overwhelming pity. I really doubt I’ll ever be one of those old ladies who says, “Cherish those moments—they are the best part!” Because they’re not, for some of us. For some of us, those days were just plain old hard. Physically, intellectually, spiritually and emotionally. Especially emotionally. I know there are women out there who don’t feel the same, who revel in life with young children, who seem to have been born to mother little souls. But so many of us are crippled with guilt because we find it, frankly, BORING! Is that so wrong? The benefit of being someone more like me is that you find that parenthood keeps getting easier, more interesting and more fun the older the kids get. (Hopefully that will continue into teenager-hood, but we’ll see.) I have no understanding of the sense of doom that other women feel when they think of their kids going off to school. For me it’s a celebration, mostly. Not just because now I have time to myself but also because I am so excited for them to have new adventures, and to start turning into the people they will be. They just get so much more interesting to me as time goes on.

So here’s what I wish I could say to all young mothers who struggle the way I did, or what I wish I could have heard someone say to me in those very dark days.

1. It’s OK to feel sad and depressed post-partum. If it’s really severe, get some medication to help. Forgive yourself for it because it isn’t your fault—it’s your screwy hormones. And lack of sleep.

2. If your baby is a screamer, you’re not evil if sometimes you reach the end of your patience and think about shaking the baby or throwing him out the window. You won’t do that—you’ll carefully put him down and leave the room, or hand him off. But don’t beat yourself up for feeling that way—it’s the effect of your crazy hormones and lack of sleep and feeling of helplessness. Forgive yourself.

3. Having little kids is hard. Hard, hard, hard. You’ll meet people who don’t think so, serene mothers who truly love all aspects of the job and are angelic at it. But they are the exception. And there’s nothing wrong with you if you are tired, frazzled, bored, bored, bored most of the time. Don’t feel guilty because you are not a natural at it. Especially don’t feel guilty when the little old ladies with the misty memories tell you that this it the sweetest time of your life and you’d better enjoy it because it’ll be gone soon and you’ll wish it back. Most of us DON’T wish them back. Many of us find that parenting gets easier when the kids are a little older, and many of us are having more and more fun as time goes on.

4. You’ll do your best to have consistent rules and high expectations. You’ll do your best to be a good example. But in the end, how your child turns out will have much more to do with their own choices and ways of learning—things that you have no control over—than with how successful of a parent you are. Be the best you can, and then trust the atonement and your own child’s heavenly nature to pull through on the rest. It may take longer than you want to see results (maybe even longer than this life). But you can’t judge your own success by how your kids turn out. Really.

5. You’ll make mistakes. You’ll be painfully aware of them, too. Trust that the atonement will make it so that your kids don’t pay any eternal price for things that are your fault (although there might be a temporal consequence). God sent them to you knowing what you are. He’ll help them find a way to Him in spite of you, but you’re probably doing much better than you think.

6. You can’t help judging other people’s parenting styles. It’s part of caring so much about what you do—you are constantly looking for new things to try, evaluating what you see to see if it will work for you. As long as you don’t gossip with others about what you do and don’t approve of that someone else is doing, you’re OK. Notice how others parent and whether it seems to work, then ponder it in your heart and adjust yourself according to what your heart and the Spirit say.

7. Learn to be grateful for the little nudgings of the Spirit that tell you where you need to correct yourself. Repent and move on. If guilt does anything other than cause you to stop sinning, it is not from God.

8. Remember that your own parents are still learning how to parent you. Forgive them for what they did back then and for what they do now, too.

9. Ask God to help you notice the things that you do right throughout the day. He will help you. He’ll send you occasional warm fuzzies. Enjoy them—you deserve them.

10. Do whatever you can to preserve your relationship with your husband, even when you’re not feeling great physically. If you sometimes don’t feel much love for him, remember that you like him. If you sometimes don’t like him much, remember that you love him. The feelings always come back!

8 comments:

myimaginaryblog said...

Those are all great insights.

I visit-teach someone who had two children who were both born very premature and are consequently both developmentally delayed. Because of her complicated pregnancies she was not planning to have any more kids, but was surprised by a third baby -- and blessed, for once, with a perfectly healthy, full-term pregnancy. The baby's a couple months old now. The last time I was at her house it was bringing back memories of just how difficult and confining those days were, and just the thought was exhausting. I am very grateful my visiting teaching companion's kids are grown and she's a lot of help with the new mom's preschoolers, because I'm enough still in the young-kids stage myself that, while I'd like to help, I don't have a lot to offer. I can now leave my 11-year-old in charge for quick nearby errands, and that alone has opened up a whole new world of freedom for me, but I'm still barely managing to keep my own family afloat.

I am even one who really does love many things about the baby stage, and I DO try to take joy in the journey -- but at the same time I really look forward to increased freedom, later. And I hope I would never say anything to a young mom that would minimize how challenging and exhausting it can be.

girlsmama said...

All good advice. We all have those feelings, even if we like the little kid phases. Thanks for sharing!! You should submit it to this blog if you haven't
http://motherletter.blogspot.com/

Marj said...

I also tried to take joy in the journey. I loved my kids as babies and toddlers although I do remember it being hard at times especially with my husband working so much. I remember feeling very ornery and frustrated and impatient. But I feel that way now too. It is nice having them older for different reasons but I sometimes miss them being young but I'm trying to enjoy each phase even though kids/teenagers have their moments as well. I can't say one phase is harder than the other. Just different.

Ang said...

Dar, I so agree with you. There's a reason you're my friend :-). (You say everything so much better than I do, though).

Michelle said...

Fabulous! Send it to Mormon Times.

Christopher Bigelow said...

Funny, I could tweak a few words in this post and it would pretty much apply to my missionary experience

Windybrook Spinner said...

I love the missionary comparison. I have some baggage from my mission that this helps with. Thank you for your wise words. I am a mother of young children and I am very much "in the trenches" as an older friend of mine called it. I stave off the boredom by knitting and I use the tv to distract them when I have to--without feeling guilty! It really is a day-to-day survival and it's so much better when I remember to ask for the Spirit's help. I am looking forward to things improving some in the next few years. My two older children are becoming a lot more interesting, as you said, and easier to deal with in a lot of ways. It's always nice to know you are not alone.

Joey/Denny/Emma said...

This is a great post full of practical and realistic advice. Thanks very much, Darlene.