Hard truths about being a mom
The letter I needed to read sixteen years ago.
When I first wrote the letter you are about to read, it was written to me for me — a private review of my first 15 years of parenting. It is something I wished a trustworthy, loving confidante had shared with me as I stepped into the abyss of motherhood.
One of the biggest challenges on my personal parenting journey has been feeling alone in my confusion, self-doubt and comparisonitis. And my deep desire to hide, minimize and deny these feelings is the exact reason I know it’s important to share them.
Because I know I’m not alone in feeling these (and other) hard things, I’d be honored if you would consider this a loving letter from me to you, too.
Dear ‘pre-mom’ me,
Honestly, I’m not sure what you’re hoping to hear, but the truth is this mom-gig is the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
Which is saying something, because you’ve done quite a few things that might be considered hard by some standards.
~ Packing up and moving across continents and across oceans, starting over more times than you’d prefer hard.
~ Two Masters-level theses (despite hating every minute of writing) hard.
~ Living alone, traveling alone hard.
~ Admitting you were wrong hard.
~ Estrangement from family hard.
~ Crawling on hands and knees to the bathroom hard.
~ Digging holes, pounding fence posts, yardwork at 100+ degrees hard.
(You haven’t always been terribly smart, but you haven’t shied away from hard.)
Of course, these ‘hard things’ are simply some of YOUR hard things. Someone else’s list will look and feel and sound very different. This is no time to compare and minimize. Another persons admirable list of strengths and achievements despite adversity does not negate yours.
And won’t change the fact that being a mom has by far been the hardest thing you’ve ever done.
Today, love, I want to share with you some of the hard-lessons-learned over the past 16 years so you can feel prepared, and so much less alone.
Most moms do not have their shit together
When you first became a mom you were terrified. It’s no exaggeration to say there were times you will feel frozen with fear that despite your best intentions, you might accidentally murder, misplace or mess-up your newborn infant.
(Fast forward fifteen+ years and two more children, that feeling won’t change much).
You will constantly worry about saying or doing the wrong things, feeding at the wrong times, wiping the wrong way. Becoming a mom — instead of being swathed in miraculous mom-hormones of love and cuddles — will put your anxiety into overdrive.
Added to this, mom-brain will make you extra forgetful, extra anxious and generally sort of a bumbling version of your former self that will start to forget important dates like birthdays and Mondays.
This forgetfulness will never completely go away.
Yes, motherhood will magnify your weaknesses and insecurities (good luck with that).
Please notice sooner than later that most other real-life moms don’t have their shit together either. It feels much better to be part of the real-moms club.
Submit your application, pronto.
(Don’t forget) You are human
It’s confusing as heck being a mom. On one hand, you will think nothing of stepping in front of a dump truck if it meant saving your childs life. Simultaneously, you will feel angry and sometimes resentful that your whole life changed overnight.
You have a life of our very own before becoming a mother and WHAM! — your whole perspective, life, relationships and identity will change, seemingly overnight. It’s like waking up suddenly in someone else’s life and body. And even though your life and body are just fine (more than fine… really!), it will sometimes feel like you’d like to go back to your previous life. It was comfy there. Predictable. Much more boring, but definitely safer. And there was a lot more sleep happening there.
Don’t spend too much time feeling guilty about all of this — it’s perfectly normal to have some resistance to life as you know it disappearing overnight. In fact, that feeling of resistance doesn’t completely disappear so you might as well make peace with it.
More importantly, know you’re not alone if you feel torn, guilty and ashamed of having those feelings. Just try not to drown in them.
Yes, you are an amazingly loving, attentive and invested mother and a little bit (or a lot) sad about the loss of the life you once had. The ability to be ALL feelings instead of either/or is one of a moms magical superpowers.
Be the unicorn you are.
You are magical
Now, I’m not saying that moms are the abracadabra kind of magical, but becoming a mom definitely kicks in some magical powers (or at least, puts them into overdrive). You see, that whole ‘eyes in the back of your head’ is real. Okay, not completely, but you will be in awe of how much your intuition is heightened.
Without asking or looking, you will seem to just know when your kids are doing something they shouldn’t (…things are much too quiet in there…. ah, you were cutting your sisters hair). But more importantly, motherhood seems to have ramped up your ability to sense when your kids need you most — and not just for making them lunch or finding their shoes.
While you might not always know how to respond in the perfect way, trust me when I say that you will learn that even a jumbled up effort is enough to have your kids feel safe and loved.
PS: You’re gonna think your intuitive superpowers are freaking cool.
You have baggage (still)
You’ve had therapy, lots of it. And you’re feeling that being a psychologist has prepared you for motherhood (because your own childhood came up short). I hate to break this to you like this, but your life-long quest to understand people, relationships and yourself better will not be enough to suppress all-of-the-baggage. It’s still there.
While in a vulnerable, sleep-deprived state, you are going to come face-to-face with all of your insecurities, vulnerabilities and unhealed wounds. The beauty of becoming a mother might distract you from your past, for a time your wounds may become less important… but don’t be shocked when at times they will even seem bigger, thornier and definitely inconvenient.
Trust me when I say this: the sooner you realize you need to reach out for help to deal with this stuff, the sooner you can be the mom you want to be rather than the mom you are going to be trying to juggle trauma with daily drama.
(Don’t say I didn’t warn you).
Moms mess up regularly
Sometimes it will be from the aforementioned unresolved life-stuff, sometimes it will be from exhaustion and a lack of sleep. Whatever the reason, you will mess up regularly.
One day, in the midst of a period of angst and self-doubt, you are going to remember one of the most helpful things you ever learned during your years in therapy school, which is that how (or if) we choose to repair mistakes is much more important than the fact we made a mistake in the first place. This knowledge was a real lightbulb moment for you, but it’ll really apply once you start messing up with your kids. It will feel as if the pressure to be perfect is removed, making it easier to just do the best you can. The sooner you remember this the better. Yes, you can afford to mess up sometimes without it causing long-term trauma for your kids.
We all make mistakes. It’s inherently human to make mistakes. Remind yourself frequently that mistakes are how you learn best.
Remember how much you wanted to hear “I’m sorry” from your own parents? It’s going to feel awkward and unnatural to apologize to your kids when you mess up, but do it anyway. It’ll be therapeutic to give your kids what you never received.
Yes, kids deserve apologies too.
(It’s true) Some moms are shitty moms
You won’t be able to count the number of times you’ll feel like a shitty mom. But there is a vast difference between feeling crippled by self-doubt and insecurity, and actually being a shitty mom.
Many moms are legitimately doing more harm than good. Mostly those who haven’t addressed the baggage (mentioned above). Being a shitty mom usually comes from a place of unresolved pain — a truth that doesn’t make it a valid excuse.
Yes, you’ll mess up. But trust that all the work you have put in will pay off dividends in your being attentive to your shortcomings (to a fault). Honestly, if I thought you’d listen, I’d advise you to spend way more time dancing with your kids and less time worrying about messing up. But you probably won’t listen because fifteen years later you’re still obnoxiously stubborn.
Give yourself grace. Ask for help. You deserve to feel and be better — and your kids definitely do, too.
The good news is — there’s always time to repair and heal. I’m still constantly revisiting that point. But if you could trust that this is the case, I’m pretty sure you’d be much further ahead than you are right now (I mean me, of course).
Don’t worry — I’m still contributing to the girls therapy fund.
I love you. And no, you’re not a shitty mom. Please believe that.
You always do the best you can, every day.
You’ll realize soon that there will be very few moms come into your life that believe they are doing enough. There’s always something moms feel like they could or should be doing differently, less, better, faster, more or sideways.
No, it’s not just you.
You’ll realize after many, many attempts that you’re never going to be Martha-Stewart and will always dislike glitter intensely, your singing game will continue to be sub-par, you’ll be a mediocre-at-best hair stylist, and soft-and-stretchy will continue to be your fashion choice. Having three daughters oddly enough will not miraculously change these facts.
The good news? You will learn a to do a simple french braid, whip up a good and nutritious supper and sing along off-key in the car (much to your teen girls annoyance). In fact, while there are many things you do imperfectly, some you do better than average.
Watch closely the REAL LIFE moms around you and you’ll quickly realize you’re doing just fine. Even if another moms best doesn’t look like yours, trust that you and she are killing it, daily.
Breathe, and trust you are enough.
I know you’re scared right now.
Redefining yourself is hard.
Rediscovering yourself is hard.
Reinventing yourself is hard.
Motherhood calls on us to do all of these things, and more.
But I know how brave you are, and you’ve done so many hard things before.
Trust yourself, and remember you are not alone.
I love you mama,
Original version of this story published at https://www.tanyatinney.com on June 15, 2021.