Thanks, Katie, for your refreshing outlook, your witty humor, and for knowing exactly what a new mom needs to hear.
Please be sure to stop by Housewife How To's and say hi to Katie!
Ask most new mommies what their favorite pregnancy or parenting book is, and they'll probably mention the What to Expect When… books. You know, the ones that go month by month during your pregnancy, or year by year after your child's birth, telling you what to expect at each stage? Yeah, I hate those books. Well, maybe not the books, but what they do to our minds as moms: they teach us, from the moment we know we're pregnant, to compare ourselves to someone else's standard.
To listen to these books -- or to TV talk shows, parenting magazines and certain lifestyle blogs -- it's not enough anymore that a woman give birth to a baby and shower it with love and affection. No, these days she also needs to launder cloth diapers by hand (preferably those she made herself with her treadle-operated antique sewing machine picked up at the thrift store for $2). She needs to grow her own heirloom fruits and vegetables (organically, of course) and make them into gourmet baby food (but not Alicia Silverstone's way, please, that's just gross). All the while, she should be reading Proust to her baby (in French) with Mozart playing softly in the background (streaming via Bluetooth from the media room she impeccably decorated herself), as a loaf of bread bakes in the oven (which she won't eat, because in addition to Pilates and training to run the marathon that's on her Bucket List, she's also low-carbing).
Is it any wonder new moms are so stressed out these days? Why, when I was your age… Oh, wait. Let me start that part again.
Back in the olden days, things were a lot less stressful. We had time to feed the baby while we waited for our 9600 baud modems to dial up to the interwebs so we could check our AOL home page. As the page loaded, we could wipe off the kitchen counters or get some other quick chore done. At night, we had two and sometimes three full minutes of commercials (no skipping them back then) to fold laundry, rock the baby, snuggle with our husband, whatever. In short, we had time.
Know what else we had back then? A wonderful parenting book written by, of all things, a man named Dr. Spock. (Not to be confused with Mr. Spock of the green skin and pointy ears.) Let me just share with you the first two lines of his book -- two lines which, I might add, have been described as the most important thing anyone needs to know about becoming a parent: "Trust yourself. You know more than you think you do."
Oh, sure, he went on to provide a lot of additional information that parents need, much of which has been updated and revised over the years to keep pace with product safety and scientific developments. But the wisdom in those words has not changed.
Those two sentences, I believe, are the single most important ones any new SAHM needs to hear, too. Whether she's wondering how often she needs to clean house, if she really needs to wash a load of laundry every day, if she's a bad mother because when the baby finally takes a nap she's too tired to spend that precious hour sewing onesies by hand and embroidering them with cute sayings: the answers are already within her -- within you.
For instance, you already know these five things:
- You know what's important, and what's not. Feeding, holding, rocking and loving the baby? They're important. Teaching the baby to speak two languages, in addition to baby sign language, from birth? Not so much. Yes, multilingualism is a wonderful skill… but when on earth did we start telling ourselves babies should have skills? (Answer: when we started reading books about what babies are capable of and confusing "potential" with "ohmigosh, we're so behind everyone!") Spend your time on the things that are important. You'll be laying a foundation that will, in years to come, give your child the security and confidence needed to explore languages on his or her own, and the certainty that you'll be there to help with the learning.
- You know you can't "do it all", and that it's not fair to expect you to do so. I'm talking about that teeth-grinding, throat-clenching stress you feel when your cell phone dings as a text message comes through... right as you're sitting down to feed the baby... only to come eye-to-eye with the pile of breakfast dishes that you put off washing... because you needed to brush your teeth during the two moments of peace and quiet you had. You knowyou've done your best. Now, remember the second part of that: it's not fair for anyone -- including YOU -- to expect you to do it all. Ignore the text message. The dishes can wait. Make meal time a relaxing time for your baby (and you). The time you take today will set the pattern your family will follow in years to come. Do you want your teen to use the phone during family meals, rushing through them to get to better things? Of course not. You know better. Don't try to do it all now. So very much of it can wait... except the snuggling and the hugging. Get them while you can, because they really do turn into teenagers before you know it.
- You know you don't need anyone or anything making you feel bad, because you're already doing your best. That needy friend who calls you with all of her problems because "you're home with the baby, so you have time to listen"? Of course you feel bad that you don't always want to take her call; you're a nice person! But maybe, since you're busy raising a new human and all, it's time let her do a little growing up of her own by not taking every one of her calls. (Trust me, she'll find someone else to vent to.) That judgy former co-worker you were always a little bit competitive with, who now wants to stop by to bring you "a little something for the baby"? Maybe now's not such a good time for her to come to your home. It's your HOME, after all, the one place where you shouldn't have to measure up to anyone! Take some pressure off yourself by meeting her at a coffee shop. (If she starts acting snippy, you can cut the visit short by saying the baby needs a nap. You'll get out of there with both a new baby gift and your self-esteem.)
- You know you need to do what works for you, and your family. Sure, your BFF goes on and on about the joys of Feberizing while you're more of an attachment parent, or maybe you're the Feber fan while she's had constant skin-to-skin contact with her baby since it popped out. Do what works for you, and don't make apologies for it. The same goes for how you keep your house. Are you comfortable with the lived-in look? Or do you find it impossible to relax if there's clutter? It's your home. Find out what works for you and politely ignore suggestions to do it someone else's way. Trust me, five years from now it's not going to matter that today's breakfast dishes got done after dinner. What will matter is whether you spent those five years developing an ulcer and sinking into depression from trying to live up to someone else's (impossible and often imagined) standard.
- You know you can't do it all at once. You didn't go from being pregnant to having a baby all in one day, and your baby didn't go from birth to making that sweet grin at the sound of your voice in one day, either. Things take time, they happen in stages. The same thing applies to cleaning house, cooking meals or doing any of the other things you think a SAHM "ought" to do. Stop pressuring yourself. (See #2 and #3 if you need a reminder.) So you feel like the house is a mess? Tackle one room a day, and work your way around the house until it's done. Or tackle one task per day: maybe laundry on Mondays, floors on Tuesdays, bathrooms on Wednesdays, etc. The reality is, now that you have kids, your house will never be perfectly clean all at the same time again until the kids are gone to college. (And, as I've learned since my oldest moved out, it's not going to be perfectly clean until all of them are gone.) But, really, is it that important to have a spotless house? Wouldn't you rather have a comfortable home filled with laughter and memory-making? Give yourself a break, Mom. The only one who's looking for perfection out of you is… you. Why would you do that to yourself?
- You know not to believe everything you read (or see), particularly on the internet. This, more than anything else, is a pressure I'm grateful not to have gone through when I was a new SAHM. We didn't have lifestyle bloggers showing off (carefully cropped) photos of their freshly painted Henredon dining sets, picked up for free from the side of the road, and topped with a vase they'd made out of a lightbulb. At the end of a long day, when we finally got the baby to sleep, we didn't hop on Facebook hoping to find sympathetic friends only to read everyone's updates about the fabulous tropical vacation they were on while we stayed home scrubbing spit stains out of our clothes. Don't compare yourself to the image created by other people's online activities: their updates, their Tweets, their blog entries are just moments carefully cropped out of their day to show you the best part of themselves, much like that dining room picture. They aren't intentionally coming across as do-it-all moms. Chances are like you, like me, they're doing what works for them, while other things get put on the back burner-- things neither you nor I will ever know about. Chances are, they're not trying to set a standard for you to live up to; they're just as likely looking at your life as the standard they'd like to achieve.
Phew. That was a whole lot of words just to get across one point, but I hope it's a point you take to heart, especially if you're having "one of those days".
Trust yourself, Mom. You really do know more than you think you do. And you're awesome.