The Rules of Motherhood or How I Came to Love Being Insane

I just found this in my old files. It is something I wrote a few years ago when friends became pregnant with their first child because, in my experience, I was SO confident that becoming a mother was going to be easy. After all, I had three younger siblings, 13 younger cousins and countless babysitting jobs. In reality, it was hard. Really hard. Some of these rules are no longer applicable since our boys are older and new rules now apply but the biggest rule I’ve learned is that parenting is about doing your best and forgiving yourself often. I need to give many thanks and recognition to all the women- mothers or not- who helped me readjust my expectations and get the hang of mothering. Most of the advice in here comes from what I learned by finally reaching out for help/advice/support. And of course, the most important thanks go to my mom.

Birth and your body– Trust yourself and what you need. Don’t make this moment the moment to become competitive or decide that everyone else knows better than you. Do drugs if you need to, don’t if you don’t want to. Don’t let yourself or your partner lose sight of the larger goal- a baby. Also, be prepared for the moment when it’s all over and you look at yourself in the mirror and you see someone else’s body staring back at you. I cried bitterly that I was saggy, wrinkled, stretched, hurt and disgusting. I PROMISE you will get your old body back and you will feel normal again. It just takes a while.

Breastfeeding advice– Ideas about this can bring out the worst in other women. All I’m going to say is that either way, you are sacrificing something and and gaining something else. Either way, you need to be confident in your decision. We did a combo approach and neither of our boys have told us that it was a bad idea.

Also, although I never really admitted it, I did get the baby blues for a little while. And I got the major-life-change-leave-everything-behind-and-move-to-a-new-state-blues pretty hard. So if you’re home with the little bundle and you’re on the verge of leaving him/her on the neighbor’s porch while you hop a plane to Jamaica, call me. I’ll know exactly how you feel and I’ll probably join you.

Finally, I have noticed that child-rearing has become one more arena for competition among women. We spent our 20s bashing each other about weight/style/men and careers and now we’re entering the Baby Brawl. Stay far, FAR, away from those women who say things like, “Oh, you still use diapers? Well we potty-trained Benetton at 6 weeks and he hasn’t had an accident since.” Or “We ONLY use the Ferber method. So when little Jicama gets up during the night, she knows to get her Baby Einstein books and alpaca blanket and snuggle back into her BabyStyle crib. I haven’t had a sleepless night since coming home from the hospital.” Those women say those things because A) they’re insane, B) they’re totally confused about motherhood and C) they’re insecure and need to feel like they’re right and you’re an asshole.

The Rules:
Rule 1: No one, but no one, does it right. And that’s ok because it means we all get to do it the best we can. Remember on those dark days when the hormones are raging and the baby books are haunting you and the adorable newborn you were holding 10 minutes ago has turned into a screaming monster, that you’re doing the best you can and that’s FINE. If he’s changed, fed, clothed and loved, he’s going to be just fine- he will NOT hate you/need therapy for the rest of his or her life. All the rest will sort itself out in time.

Rule 2: Read all the baby books and then ignore everything. The books like to make it sound like if you don’t do things the way they suggest, then you’re going to pay for it in the future. Bullshit. I didn’t schedule either boy’s feedings and they figured out his own routine. I nursed both of them to sleep and now they fall asleep on his own just fine. I didn’t do anything that any of the books suggested and our oldest slept through the night at two months. I didn’t force feed them peas at 5 months and at least our older one eats veggies like they’re going out of style. Our younger one is another story. Which brings me to my next point.

Rule 3: Babies are not repeatable experiments. Just because on Monday you changed him at 9am, read stories at 9:15am, patted his head and sang to him at 9:30am and he slept until noon, doesn’t mean that the same things will elicit the same response on Tuesday. You’re about to embark on the delicate balancing act of reading all the signs and learning as best you can to fulfill his needs while simultaneously acknowledging that his signs and his needs will change by the day. It’s damn frustrating. Especially when you’re completely sleep-deprived and can’t think straight anyway.

Rule 4: Choose your battles. You don’t want to do a pacifier? That’s great but it means he’s gonna want SOMETHING to suck on and that just might be a bottle or a boob or a thumb. You want to do a pacifier? Fantastic but be prepared to do battle at a later date to get it away from him. You want to let him learn to sooth himself and fall asleep on his own? Fine but be prepared for a few months of hell. Don’t want to let him cry it out? Fine but be prepared for night-time wakings to continue for a long time. (by the way, personally, I think 5 months is the youngest that a child should be expected to cry it out but ignore me too). Decide what is most important to you at that moment and be ok with the fact that it might spark some later battle. I remember one night I was trying to get our oldest go to sleep in the bassinet when he wanted to sleep with me on the couch. He was crying hysterically and I was crying hysterically. Ian finally intervened and gently asked, “What’s more important, your sleep or your principles?” Obviously sleep prevailed and the little guy and I fought it out a few weeks later when I was feeling stronger.

Rule 5: Call the moms that you admire and trust. And don’t be afraid to ask A LOT of questions. OR just sob into the phone.

Rule 6: The psychological process of becoming a mother takes a LONG time. I’m still wrestling with this one. I remember initially being SO shocked that even the simplest task like going to the bathroom when I wanted to was a huge hurdle. I couldn’t get up and get a glass of water if I felt like it. I was a slave to this tiny, larval thing that gave me very little in the way of positive, intellectual feedback. And it sucked. And so I worried that I didn’t love him enough or that I didn’t deserve to be a mom or that there was something really, really wrong with me. I also found that the early stages were boring as hell and again, I worried that I wasn’t a good mom. But as he or she becomes more interactive and more responsive, things get a LOT more fun and you learn to love him or her in many ways.

Rule 7: Most mental health professionals agree that it takes a YEAR to adjust to a major life change. And babies definitely fall into the category of major life changes. Don’t despair. That doesn’t mean you’re going to be living in your pajamas, with unwashed hair and no time to eat for the next year. But what it does mean is that you need to be patient with yourself and be ok with the fact that you don’t feel like yourself for a while.

Rule 8: All baby equipment is interchangeable. High chairs become play pens, car seats become beds, play pens become cribs, swings become beds, cribs become play pens, bouncy seats become holding pens, socks become chew toys…you get the idea.

Rule 9: Your short term memory went the way of all mother’s short term memories. It’s the same place where socks disappear to from the dryer. If you’re dealing with another mother, they’ll COMPLETELY understand. And probably forget in five minutes.

Rule 10: You’re not bad parents for wanting to occasionally hit the baby. You are just bad parents when you actually do. Good friends of ours, the Eklunds, told us that one. There were some dark hours when our oldest wouldn’t sleep, wouldn’t eat and wouldn’t stop crying and in my sleep-deprived state, I wanted to lash out physically and give him something to cry about. Erika told me she once fantasized about bouncing her son off a wall after he had been crying for 11 hours straight. We’re good moms because we knew better than to actually do that.

Rule 11: Having kids keeps you in the present like nothing else ever will. I stole this one from my Masters advisor. There is no more important place you need to be than with your kid. All the clichés are true. Enjoy it while you can. They grow so fast. Time will crawl for a few months and then it will fly. I have one particular memory of a day in mid-October when our first was having a good day and I was feeling good. I had showered and eaten and we were sitting in the rocking chair in the living room with the autumn sun streaming through the windows. He was asleep, snuggled against my neck and suddenly, there was no where else on Earth that I belonged. There was no reflecting on the past or worrying about the future. There were no chores, lists, errands, or other distractions. There was just that moment. And it was perfect.

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About Adrienne Gilby

I am a teacher/writer/mom of incredibly active boys who is trying to make sense of life's twists and turns.
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7 Responses to The Rules of Motherhood or How I Came to Love Being Insane

  1. I can’t tell you how much I loved this post.

    And how true it is. So perfectly stated, so smart, so real. And how your last rule made me cry. Because my son is now 18 months old, and I can see the next 18 years flashing by so quickly I want to hold on.

    I remember a night when he wouldn’t sleep, and he wouldn’t sleep, and wouldn’t sleep. I rocked him for hours. And I was SO MAD. I hated him. I hated that he wouldn’t sleep. I hated that I wanted to walk away and let him figure out where he’d land.

    … and then I realized that 2 years from now, or 10 years from now… all I would want was to be able to hold him again. I knew there would be a time when I would give anything to rock him to sleep again. And I cried. And he fell asleep.

    Thank you SO much.

    • Mandy- Thank you thank you thank you. I hesitated for so long before I posted this because I wasn’t sure how true it was for other people. I just know how true it is for me. I have gone through the same realization that soon I will give anything for my guys to fall asleep in my arms. I already do.

  2. Adrienne, even as a childless male, I love this post. I’m sure you’ll have plenty of moms read this and refreshingly compare it to their experience. I read it and compared it more to my experience not having children.

    I feel like I’ve heard too many stories from the Baby Brawler types where everything about being a parent is superior to being childless. How having kids is absolute perfection every moment of the day (granted, it’s the same argument I might say about being childless…I mean, we all have a tendency to try and defend our lives, right?). But, as Mandy points out, your post is real. It’s tangible. Raising a kid is hard work, but the reward is amazing.

    I’m over-reading, but maybe it also serves as a nice little heads-up on what parenting might be like. Maybe we’re not all made to be parents (or, maybe I’m again trying to justify my childless life). Well, whether we are or not, you’re definitely a mom I admire and trust (and love). Thanks.

    – Pat

    P.S. Rule 12: Don’t use your child as a pom pom.

    • Pat, That means a lot to me. I’m always worried about this blog becoming too narrowly focused and the fact that this spoke to you is important to me. The older I get, the more I respect those who remain childless. When it comes from an honest place, the decision not to have a child is very, very admirable. Kids need all kinds of adults and role models in their lives and you are a unique and important one to our kids as well as your other friends. If you are able to provide a source of guidance and support to kids because you are living the kind of life that makes you happy, then you’re doing a world of good. And yes, I will add #12 to my list. A very sage piece of advice.

  3. Okay, the end made me cry. It is so true… all of it.

    Pat, I think everyone (even parents) go through moments when they feel they weren’t cut out to be a parent. I know I have those days on a regular basis: when the kids test my patience beyond my limit, when they just won’t listen, when they deliberately do something I told them not to do and I lose my cool.

    Thanks for the reminder, Adrienne, that we all go through the same things, and we’re all doing the best we can.

  4. Reena says:

    Beautiful, absolutely beautiful post. Not a word you say here is un-true. Now I know what you told me to read it on the phone the other day. I feel I have gone through each and every word in my life. The blues, the mommies competing with each other, the terrible running away and hating and destroying the world feelings LOLL I am already feeling that they grow up so fast A- when friends/strangers on the street said that to me a few years back, then I didnt realize it but now I do. I do and it scares me. I want my kids to always need me like they do now. I need them, I know that. Remember how you had saved me from my awful, awfulest baby blue days? I had confided in you (was very scared as to what you would think) and said that I could just kill her now and you had given me the Eklund’s example- I dont think I can ever explain to you what an impact that was on me. It changed me. I remember having called you from the car and you had said ‘that’s the difference between good and bad parents’ and that ‘its OK if R doesnt brush his teeth’ and then you came home with Kit Kat! That’s why I gave them to you this time as a heartiest thanks (though if I know your memory right you probably didnt relate to it :)).
    Love your writing so keep posting dear!
    Love you lots,
    R

    • Reena, I thought of you a lot as I wrote this those few years ago and thought of you again as I posted it. As the competition and nastiness becomes more intense, moms like us need to keep reaching out and giving each other Kit Kats!

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