Some events bring you full circle. One of those for me has been our annual family trip to the beach. Last year I was a month away from my due date. This year, we have a chubby-armed baby who tentatively tests the waves and the sand. Gone are the days of sitting and reading leisurely. Also gone is any chance of boredom. Everything is new, and this is wondrous and also exhausting.
It makes me think about what my biggest advice to my new mother self would be. Adjusting to motherhood seems to be a tremendous struggle in our culture. Some of this is hormonal, some of this is related to cultural attitudes, but I think the vast majority of this has to do with expectations.
I’ve mentioned before that I expected one child wouldn’t change my life tremendously. Little did I know my baby would be very colicky (something I hadn’t thought to fear). We spent evenings singing and carrying until we thought we couldn’t hold him anymore. Even without the colic, I didn’t realize the extent of sleep deprivation or how much my plans would be thrown off every single day.
In a strange sort of muscle memory, babysitting had prepared me for evenings walking the floor, singing and swaying a baby to sleep, and playing endlessly. Most importantly, babysitting prepared me for one of the main keys of motherhood: You must hold your plans loosely. Very, very loosely.
I already knew that putting an infant to bed for the night or for a nap doesn’t guarantee a certain number of free hours (and if I expect otherwise, it’s certain to end in disappointment). I knew how exhausting it could be to spend a full day with a baby. I knew that keeping the house clean–though it would seem so simple now that I was home each day–would be anything but. Babysitting eased my transition to motherhood tremendously, but nothing could have fully prepared me.
So here’s what I would tell myself as a new mom (and what I keep reminding myself of even now):
Don’t have high expectations for what you can get done.
Don’t set a time for when things will be “back to normal.” Normal is ever changing.
Don’t expect naps or nighttime sleep to be certain things. If you need carved out hours, think about hiring a sitter.
Don’t expect any particular routine to last very long the first year; every month brings such intense chagnes.
Holding things loosely dramatically improved the adjustment to motherhood for me though I have always loved structure and craved routine. The days when I fought against this–when I tried to hold my plans and desires too tightly–always ended in the most tears and frustration.
If you lean into the newness and the unexpected, it can be wondrous. I’ve learned that these past few days at the beach. I may not be able to carry a book to the beach and leisurely read for hours, and there’s a certain loss in not being able to stay up late playing games without paying for it the next day. But there are unexpected times of rest and beauty and play even in a world that seems so new. Playing in the sand with my baby is more delightful than any story. And watching how my son adores my siblings is a tremendous gift.
I love what Nina Planck, author of Real Food for Mother and Baby says,
Let go. Having a baby is stupendously wonderful, but things may not go as planned. If you have no fixed expectations, nothing can surprise or disappoint you. The ideal stance is a kind of gentle wonder, now and again brimming over into radical amazement, as your story unfolds.
I want less and less rigid expectations and more and more of that gentle wonder–the same wonder my son has–in a world that’s new for both of us.