It’s the holiday season and our family is going from one festive event to another, shuttling around our kids and hoping (and praying) to God that the Bean, now two years old, doesn’t have a massive meltdown. This past weekend, I’ve run into a bunch of friends and acquaintances who are seeing me for the first or second time after just having my second baby, most of whom are new mothers themselves, and the same question seems to come up: How do you do it?
Whenever that question comes up, I always sound like a bumbling idiot because I’m always at a loss for words because I equate the question as code for, “How do you not go crazy?” All I can muster is, By the skin of my teeth! or By the grace of God! or I have no idea! and most often, quite simply: It’s hard.
It’s a good question from one young mother to another. I have shied away from doling out anything that seems like parenting advice for the longest time, but I’ve had some time to think about it and this is how I do it:
I’ve learned to observe and be a quick study. I’ve read over two dozen parenting books on a variety of topics: sleep books, activity books, health books, behavioral books, etc. etc. Maybe two or three stood out and I use most of the principles in them to help me with the discipline and the sleeping. I won’t name them because they don’t really matter. Then, I’ve asked as many older mothers I could about their methodology and nobody could (dare I say, would) give me a straight answer except for one of my girlfriends who gave me the refreshing response of, “None of us know what we’re doing,” as she took a sip of champagne. So, I just started observing to see what worked and what didn’t; Trial and error, trial and error.
When it came to the practicality of the day to day stuff, I watched our former nanny, Laurence, a woman in her fifties who has cared for over a dozen children during her ten plus year career, and discovered what she did as she kept three children at a time. I learned that she keeps a strict daily routine of play, feeding, and sleep and between those events she fits in her chores and errands, cooking (preparing ingredients and dishes in advanced), and social time with friends. From observing her, I wrote down a schedule that worked for us and stuck to it. My childless friends giggle when they see it attributing it to my strict self-disciplined personality, but my childcare friends and babysitters say, “Oh wow, this is good.” Don’t get me wrong: no two days are ever exactly the same, but the bones are there and it helps me stay in line and get things done more efficiently. One would think that after two years I would have the routine memorized, but sometimes I have to go the fridge to see what we’re supposed to be doing and how much time I’ve got to take the kids out and back home before all hell breaks loose.
I keep the schedule, I work on educating the Bean with arts and crafts and teaching her French and English, but I don’t worry about filling every minute of the day with an activity or a lesson. As Laurence told me once, “Kids need to learn how to be bored. You’ll really see their creativity at work then.” I’ve taken that advice to heart and it keeps my mama-guilt in check.
One of the biggest things I’ve learned is to not get attached to any expectations of what it’ll be like when we go out or what the day will be like. I just go with the flow and see what happens as best as I can but, boy, can it be hard to be zen about everything. Some days seem to be the worst day of my life and other days go so smoothly that I quickly forget the tough days and say to myself, Parenthood isn’t that bad or Having kids is great!
Then, there is having the love, emotional support, helping hands, and material security of a partner and co-parent. Not everyone has a supportive partner or the means, but others have family or friends, and I believe that makes all of the difference.
Of course, there’s the most important rule I’ve learned after experiencing postpartum depression and that’s to take care of myself! This means going to the doctor when I need to, eating right (and enough), exercising, doing projects and work that fulfill me, and allowing myself to unplug from the kids and give up control so that Mr J can take over. For sure, there are days when I don’t think I have what it takes to get through another moment of mothering or I think I’m not patient enough or I’ve been too strict or whatever nonsense that causes me to underestimate myself and my abilities. I’ve learned in life that I don’t need to be perfect; I just need to be good enough for right here and right now and if I need help to be humble enough to ask for it and if I don’t know something to be curious enough to find the answer.
I have my husband, my role models, my inspiration, and my preferred sources of advice and information so that I can mother my way. I don’t allow myself to compare my methods too strictly to any other mother and I’m not too hung up on “how things must be done” so that I can remain flexible enough to give up old old tricks and pick up some new ones. All in all, I would have to say how I do it is summed up by having a routine, self-discipline, a positive attitude, and a lot of love (and compassion) for (and from) myself and my family. The only way that I’ve been able to enjoy motherhood is to simply embrace myself and to tell myself that I can do it – it being whatever life (and the kids) throw my way.
How do you do it?