A friend asked me a question the other day about things that I would tell myself about motherhood in twenty years – what things would make a perfect mom story, really. As I sat in my living room with a pile of Angry Bird’s toys strewn across the tan two tone shag carpet that I love with sounds of playing on the verge of fighting coming from upstairs, I mulled over what things I would tell myself. What would be those perfect motherhood moments? They weren’t really about the best clothes, perfect parties, or me being polished all the time. They were, in fact, some simple mindset shifts that embraced the imperfection of life and allowed that imperfection to be beautiful.
Here are ten things I thought of.
1. Give yourself grace to learn. Motherhood is an adventure for everyone who walks it. I didn’t know how to parent a toddler until I had a toddler. It’s like the naive mindset I had before I endured labor (and yes, I’m using that word because that is the truth) for the first time. I prepped, took the classes, thought I knew what pain was, but, until one is in the midst of labor feeling trapped in their own body, one simply doesn’t understand labor. Same with parenting. You can read about toddlers, preschoolers, grade schoolers, middle schoolers, highschoolers, but until you actually have one and walk the journey you simply don’t know what works. And, just like me, you’ll mess up. But, instead of thinking that it’s messing up, perhaps give yourself the grace to learn. Learning doesn’t guarantee it’s easier (let me tell you labor never got easier), but it does give perspective and increases endurance. Give yourself grace to not have everything perfect, to make mistakes, to brush yourself off, and to keep going.
2. Look them in the eye. Yes, this. I’ve learned (see there’s that grace in action) that it’s easy for me to breeze through the day with uh-huhs, in a minutes, that’s great, etc…. and to not really slow down enough to look my kids in the eye. There’s an amazing connection when one stops what one is doing and looks someone in the eye while they speak. It’s a heart connection that emphasizes how much one values the other’s opinion. So make it a point to look your kids in the eye (not all the time, of course, I mean if the macaroni and cheese water is boiling over and the doorbell is ringing and the toddler screaming for another fruit snack that is not the moment to simply get down on one’s knees and look in the eye) and to show them how interested you are in what they have to say. But make it a point to step out of your own busy and to give them the beautiful gift of you being completely engaged in what they are sharing with you. Those words give you a glimpse into their hearts and their important things.
3. Have less things. More stuff equals more work equals more managing equals more frustration when it is not managed. Less, less, less. Honestly, I think my kids are the most content when we go to the tiny cabin in northern Minnesota for a week and they’re allowed one backpack of toys/books. Most of the time they don’t even open the backpack – they’re outside roaming through the woods or catching minnows in the lake or just playing. The toys are great, but too many overwhelms. Our kids brains are allowed the freedom to exercise more creativity when they have less to pick from. So even if you do have a toy section that rivals Toys R Us, put some away so that they can really play with the ones they have out. And here’s the other thing about less stuff – at least for me – it creates less aggravation throughout the day. Nothing can get me more frustrated then coming home from a quick trip to the store and finding a room that was just clean now have boxes of toys dumped out in a pile. Less is truly more.
4. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. A couple days I wrote an entire article about asking for help and that it is truly good, but I’m reiterating it today. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is no gold star for pushing oneself through motherhood doing it all by one’s self. When the offers for meals come accept them. And asking for help can be simple as well – asking for advice for the toddler who refuses to stay in their bed or for the eleven year old who all of a sudden has decided that moms are idiots and won’t reason anymore (ah, yes, this is normal) or for what to make for dinner. Sometimes I learned that the sweetest help came in the encouragement of friends when we’d call each other up in those times when counting to ten and breathing deep didn’t work anymore and we wanted to sit on the front steps and cry. The battle of wills can be wearing. Reach out. (Read why accepting help is beautiful)
5. Expect the ordinary. Most days of motherhood are rather ordinary. If I could tell that young mom of me who had all of these ideas and thoughts about motherhood I probably would tell her to find beauty in the ordinary. And that it is often times a truly challenging thing to do because parenting can be one of the most challenging, wanting to pull your hair out, and crazy adventures out there. The ordinary can be beautiful, but one must be willing to look at life with the filter that appreciates the little gifts in the everyday. Appreciate the silly toddler hair in the morning, the exuberance of a four year old, the fact that your table is clean for fifteen minutes, or that you only have two loads of laundry to do. Find joy in the ordinary. Make it a posture, a habit, to end your day looking for the little beautiful things. Write them down if you can, but just look for them. They give life perspective.
6. Take time for you. Motherhood isn’t about losing you. Now, you’ll never be the same – those kids test, push, mold you and cause your heart to love in a way that you didn’t think possible – but you must cultivate you as well. Keep your interests, read your books, take time off to just breathe and regain perspective. This is about that grace – allow yourself grace to sit in a coffee shop with friends and to just laugh about life and to be. Paint, play piano, garden, read books, write, journal, create, do – just make sure to guard you and your heart in the midst of the journey as well. You will be a better mother when you allow yourself the gift of time to continue to grow you and your interests. Don’t deny you in the midst of motherhood.
7. Schedule time with them. The to-do list will be overwhelming. Let’s just put that on the table. In fact, the to-do list is rarely ever done. And, in fact, you could probably go online and find a zillion more things that you should be doing, haven’t done, messed up on, or should have done to add to your list. Put your kids on the list. Schedule times to talk, to walk, to play games, to watch movies. Life has a funny way of slipping by and those toddlers grow into seniors into highschool getting ready to leave. Do you know what I wish I had done more of? I wish I had said no to the silly urgent things that I too often allowed to take my time and yes to more of the time spent together. Take time. Schedule it. Even if it is simple things like reading for twenty minutes or going for a bike ride. Put them on your schedule. You will not regret those minutes shared.
8. Learn to adapt. Let me repeat that: learn to adapt. It’s that learning posture of a heart, in a way. You may have it figured out how to get a baby to sleep through the night and then the next one comes and you’re sitting up by a bedroom door just praying for that little one to sleep for just a moment. Kids are different. Life changes. Seasons change. One of the greatest things I’ve discovered is that my perfectionist self needed to be willing to let go of the perfect schedule, parenting book, plan and be willing to embrace the adaptations necessary. You can be on time to go somewhere and then that three year old can dig their heels in the ground and all of a sudden you’ll be late. Life switches in an instant. Being willing to be flexible and not letting change define your mood is a great skill and gift to learn. And along with it, learn (and this is a challenge) to not let the adaptations define the tone of the day. So you’re late, don’t dwell on it, move on, and so forth. A positive outlook goes a long way.
9. Celebrate your journey. Your motherhood journey will different from mine which will be different from the mother in your kid’s preschool class and so on. Different is truly beautiful. That’s what makes pinterest so amazing (see? It can be awesome) – it’s this incredible collection of ideas and creativity meshed together for all to see. It’s a celebration of design, words, thoughts, and different things. Motherhood is like a giant pinterest board of different things with the heading of mother, but with unique and beautiful stories. Celebrate your story, your journey. Don’t let comparison creep in and let it rob you of the joy of your story. Comparison will etch away at the beauty of your own life. Instead, celebrate what you do, your journey, and the life that you get to live.
10. Be prepared to be amazed. At your own strength. At the challenges that you’ll face but will get through. At how much seemingly little things can make you feel like you’re going to lose it (I mean, come on, haven’t we all had those last straws – the milk spilling on the floor – kind of moments). Be amazed at the depth of emotion that you can have in a day – and really be amazed at the depth of emotion and the numerous emotions a preschooler can go through in fifteen minutes. Be amazed at the journey, the stepping forward, moving through life, journey that you will be on. The plans, well, they’re fabulous to have, but so often life diverts one from those plans. Expect that. Motherhood is a an amazing thing that one often doesn’t see until the end. You may not be amazed at the everyday, but I can guarantee you there will come a day where you will stand back and look at what you have done and you will be amazed.
It’s not about being perfect. It’s about embracing the journey, remembering to savor the little things, knowing that not all moments are awesome, and giving grace as one runs the motherhood marathon.
So now, now I’m curious what YOU would tell yourself about being a mother. What one thing would you change? Do different? Or embrace?
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