Last Sunday I was talking with a new friend who had her first baby just seven weeks ago. As my kids gathered around, we admired the sweet bundle asleep on her chest. Addressing my oldest daughter, I pouted and said, “I remember when you were that tiny! And I was like I don’t know what I’m doing!” Turning to my new friend, I added, pointing to my oldest daughter, “And look! They still turn out OK!” Seeing my friend starting her path as a mother brought back so many memories. One day you’re just a girl with a belly full of baby, and then BAM… a brand new person is in your arms, and you begin a crash course in motherhood. Tomorrow will mark the twelfth anniversary of my initiation into Mom-life. My first baby is turning twelve. Wha..?!
Here are some pics from my daughter’s first year (from the fat and elaborate scrapbook I somehow had time to make for her but not for any of my other kids… you know, back when people were still scrapbooking with actual printed photos and actual paper… and the photos were taken without a digital camera, and half the roll of film was always out of focus or just bad shots…ha).
Becoming a mother was tough for me. There were many moments in those first few weeks when I thought to myself… “How do people DO THIS?!” Transitioning to my role as a mother was probably the toughest thing I had experienced up to that point in my life. As I moved forward, often feeling prompted to take the “path less traveled” in my mothering choices, I spent a lot of time questioning myself. I wondered for years if I was doing it all wrong… if I was messing up my kids… if I should have followed the advice in my free-subscription baby magazines more closely.
If you haven’t seen the movie Babies, I highly recommend it. The film is “a look at one year in the life of four babies from around the world, from Mongolia to Namibia to San Francisco to Tokyo.” Not one of the mothers in that film follows the same mothering mold. They are all incredibly different. The message I took away from the film when I saw it several years ago was this: There are so many ways to be a great mom. So many! There is no one right way. All of those babies adapted and learned and grew into toddlers, regardless of the vast differences in their mothers’ nurturing styles. All of them were healthy and happy, whether they went to mommy-and-me classes or spent most of their days exploring with little adult supervision.
Now I have four and a half kids, and they have all received a slightly modified style of mothering as infants, unique to our life circumstances at the time and their individual needs. And they’re all great kids… even and especially my first “guinea pig” who experienced my lack of experience so much more. I didn’t screw her up! She did learn how to fall asleep without assistance and sleep through the night (when she was ready). She learned to eat solid food, speak her native language, use the toilet, clean up her toys, and read books. She did outgrow the needy-clingy-high-needs phase… hallelujah! If I only could have known as I muddled my way, worrying, those first few years as a mom… if I only could have had a glimpse of who my daughter would become. I would have relaxed. I would have stopped worrying so much.
So if you’re a mom who’s worried she’s doing it all wrong, I’m here to reassure you. Relax. You’re doing great. Trust your instincts. Take it one day at a time. Remember that the phase of life you’re in will not last forever. It’s just one chapter. The day-to-day tasks and tantrums will fluctuate with intensity and change as time goes on. My mantra for many years was this: All you can do is all you can do, but all you can do is enough. It’s enough. It really is.
I worried so much twelve years ago… when I struggled to breastfeed, struggled to soothe my baby’s cries, struggled to get her to sleep. But we got through all of that, and so much more. And guys… she’s awesome. Despite my failings, despite my inexperience, she blossomed anyway.
The Beatles were right… Love is all you need.