Like many mothers, I began motherhood in a postpartum rose-colored-glasses type of intoxication. My sweet baby girl was rather pleasant, slept relatively easily and cried very little. She suffered no indigestion; she napped like clockwork. And in my narcissistic naiveté, I took all of the credit. As I patted my baby to sleep on my shoulder at play group, while my friends wrestled with their sleepless, colicky or reflux-stricken babies, I secretly thought to myself that my baby must be so even-tempered because I was really good at this parenting thing.
It’s OK. You can say it. I know now the foolish bliss of ignorance. When I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant again, when my daughter was 9 months old, I must say that the realities of parenting set in shortly after.
My son, born when my daughter was 19 months old, screamed for hours. He rarely slept. I had dozens of pictures of my daughter sleeping — on the floor, in the car seat, in the swing, in my arms — but of my son, I have only two pictures of him asleep, and I confess that they were taken purely as evidence. I don’t remember marveling at his sweet baby cheeks or his softly rising chest; I only remember thinking that I needed to get the picture before he woke again, realizing that I would have to spend yet another hour or two pacing to get him back to sleep.
He cried so much that I kept him in a baby carrier for most of the day, constantly jiggling him, standing on the balls of my feet as I tried to wash dishes or tend to my daughter. She would copy my funny bouncing stance, putting her dolly in a small baby carrier across her chest and jiggling her baby just like Mommy. My son’s ear infection after ear infection made it next to impossible to let him cry it out. He constantly required pacing and patting and ibuprofen and warm milk to ease his sore throat.
I was more tired than I could have ever dreamed of being. It was so hard. I felt alone in the night and like a walking zombie all day. Month after month, I would wince when someone would say, “This is only a season,” or “This, too, shall pass.” Too often their words of comfort felt hollow. They hadn’t experienced an all-nighter with my baby only to wake up and manage two little ones all day. Those rose-colored glasses were shattered.
This awareness that I did not have it all together was humbling. I was forced to mature and to realize that children often behave in ways that have very little to do with our parenting. I became a better, less-judgmental friend because of it. I wish I had also gotten better at asking for help because I sure could have used it. And that can be a painful realization for a mom who felt that her skills would help her avoid all that is difficult about parenting.
I also learned that the difficult things about parenting can be blessings in disguise. My son did not sleep through the night until he was almost 2 years old. Those hundreds of hours over months and months of staying awake with him crafted a bond between us that even today is very strong.
It also gave me a different kind of patience. When he finally had ear tubes put in at 18 months, they put him briefly under general anesthesia, and when he woke up, he screamed for the better part of an hour in the recovery area. Him crying for an hour was not a new experience for the two of us. We had a thousand hours of practice under our belts, so I held him tight, cradling his head on my shoulder and soothing him while we paced the hallway. After about 30 minutes of his screaming and my calm pacing, one of the nurses commented to me, “My goodness, you have such patience. You should be a nurse here!” I smiled at her, nodding in thanks for her kind compliment, but in my head I thought, “No, my patience is only because of this little guy.” I realized in that moment that the trials I face in motherhood might give me a few tools I did not know I would need. And, after all of that struggle, I cherished a small victory.
So, here I am, the mother who started out thinking she had it all together, learning day after day that I really don’t most of the time. But that is OK. Knowing that I don’t have it all together makes me a better person — not better than anyone else, just better than who I was before. Parenting has made me grow up in so many ways that I didn’t even know I needed.
Motherhood can be hard and even painful. But also tender and beautiful. I go in now to kiss my son’s rounded 7-year-old cheek while he sleeps like a rock. While I don’t miss the lack of sleep, I do think back to those endless nights and miss that toothless baby smile, his warm weight in a footed sleeper against my chest and his soft hands on my neck, all telling me that he was grateful that I had come to rescue him in the middle of the night.
Question: What have been your most challenging parenting struggles to date?
Challenge: Think back to the silver linings you have seen in the midst of difficult times in your life. Note what you have learned from them and how they could apply to your current trials.
This article is courtesy of Power of Moms, an online gathering place for deliberate mothers.