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!