Throughout life we learn several important lessons which (hopefully) makes us a little smarter and a little wiser. Personally I felt motherhood was such a milestone in my personal development, and when I started to think about it there were several lessons I learned which will also help me later in life. This is why I would like to share these 5 life lessons I learned since becoming a parent with you. They might sound familiar, or they might give you some insights as well!
Purpose gets a new meaning
In my twenties I struggled with the concept of purpose. At some point I found out my sense of purpose and self-esteem were directly linked to my job as a freelance creative – which was in a demanding, high regarded and harsh branch of business. My intense passion for my work was precariously balanced with the trouble and effort it took to climb the career ladder, and for years I lived and breathed what I felt was my purpose in life.
When things were going well I was over the moon, and aimed even higher. When things didn’t go as smoothly, I felt insecure and pretty much useless. Although I had been taking measures to take on a more stable approach towards my job, motherhood is what changed my view completely – and for the better.
Becoming a mother made me realize that before everything else, I am to care for my daughter. When she was a baby she relied on me for food, care and comfort. As an impending toddler she now also relies on me to be her example, to provide her with protection, and to set healthy boundaries. And in the time to come she will rely on me to prepare her for the life she will live, and to become a balanced adult.
Compared to everything else I’ve done in life, I feel this is my most important job of all.
I don’t want to say parenthood is man’s biggest purpose, as people don’t need children to do great things. But to me, becoming a mother gave me a more humble and less individualistic sense of the concept. Which was very welcome, indeed.
Not all advice you receive is actually advice
A while ago I started my morning with a wonderful article by one of my favorite (Dutch) bloggers. She recently became a mother, and as I followed her pregnancy on her blog and social media I was delighted to read how she was doing. She talked about her first month of motherhood with similar bliss as I did: Everything’s going well, the new structure a baby provides is a little tiring but mostly refreshing, and her bliss is illustrated by a range of beautiful baby pictures.
She noted another thing which reminded me of my first days of motherhood. And one thing that struck me was, how she mentioned that people described the first month of motherhood to her as “a matter of survival”. An image – I was happy to conclude – that couldn’t be more different from the relaxed family dynamic she showed and described.
I received similar remarks during my pregnancy. For instance, someone insisted that sleeping would become a luxury as soon as my daughter was born. And that lack of sleep would dominate my thoughts months, if not years on end. “I’d be craving z’s like a junkie, so I’d better get my fix now I still can.”
I took this woman’s ‘advice’ as I felt she had the experience to back her words up, but her remark (and several other pieces of advice like these) provided me with more unrest about my impending role as a mother, rather than a sense of much needed confidence about what was to come.
I know that not every new parent can say the same, but when my baby proved to be a sound sleeper any worry on the topic of sleep was obliterated. And even when she demanded multiple night feedings from month 5 to month 10 I didn’t look or feel like much of a junkie (the permanent half moons under my eyes notwithstanding). Sure it wasn’t easy, but I simply wasn’t that frustrated.
It made me think of the concept of receiving advice. Especially advice which isn’t particularly useful or constructive. Can you really call remarks like “forget about your social life / night rest / romantic endeavors / free time – when the baby is born” advice? What about passive-agressive remarks like “I bet your baby’s feet are cold” when she manages to peel off her socks for the umpteenth time in the stroller, or – one of my favorites – “no wonder your baby’s growing so big when you breastfeed her like that” (like a well-growing newborn is something left to be desired)?
In hindsight, the woman I mentioned earlier must have been reflecting her own hardships on me, rather than providing me with helpful tips on how to deal with what she considered one of the most troubling aspects of parenthood.
Although babies, children, and becoming a parent in general seem to be topics everyone has an opinion about, I feel this is a lesson I need to take with me for future reference. Not all ‘advice’ you receive, is actually advice.
Self-care makes you a better person (and a better parent)
As I just mentioned, becoming a parent has made me feel less individualistic. Unfortunately, it took me a while to realize I was starting to feel less like an individual too.
The rush of motherhood made me forget I was more than a stay-at-home mom – no matter how important and precious I find this profession to be. In fact it still occasionally takes me some effort to realize that between caring for my child and running the household (which are naturally rather limited to what revolves in and around our home) I am also an enterprising, artistic woman with a constant drive to increase my intellect.
This is where self-care comes into the equation. And I’ve come to realize it’s about much more than taking relaxing baths and finding time to have the occasional sleep in.
Self-care is all about allowing yourself to pin-point exactly what you need, and making a deliberate effort to achieve these requirements. To allow yourself to thrive. Not only to live a happier and more fulfilling life, but mainly to be a better and more well-rounded person. And to be a better and more well-rounded parent.
Being flexible is a necessity (and it’s more fun)
When I just became a parent, I felt I had to do a lot of meticulous planning to make sure everything would run smoothly. Baby’s do well on a regular schedule, so I felt feedings, nap times and nappy changes ran our days. I would drift from our routine a day or two a week – mostly during weekends when we would have family visits – but I was sure to generally keep our schedule in check. My thriving daughter was the living proof that this was a good choice.
But when my daughter reached the solid foods stage I felt tempted to withdraw in an even more rigid schedule. I felt introducing her to fruit and vegetables and cooking and preparing her healthy home-made meals was a big responsibility, and I took my job to execute this to perfection very serious.
It didn’t take me long to find out that (even well-meant) rigidity is the enemy of flexibility. And let’s be honest: Being flexible is more fun, providing you with more room for spontaneous endeavors and less stress about meeting all your self declared rules and deadlines.
So I started preparing meals in advance, freezing the little portions in ice-cube trays* to make sure I would always have an emergency meal prepared. I also stocked up on (biological) baby meals in handy packages for the road. This alone gave me the sense of freedom we could spend our weekends acting on a whim, without being tied down by our baby’s meal times.
* This is by far one of the best parenting hacks I learned!
And the more flexible we became, the more flexible our child became. She soon got used to long drives and taking her naps in the car (when she was very little with the help from this handy car-mirror which allowed us to easily see her face while driving). We became pro’s at breastfeeding discretely underway or in public, providing her with her final milk requirements. When she grew a little older, she got used to eating in restaurants, which made festive family luncheons and dinners a regular occurrence. We even took her to a late-night jazz performance, which she thoroughly enjoyed.
And now that she’s 14 months old it’s not uncommon for us to spend entire days outdoors, hopping from café to museum, restaurant to festival, birthday to family barbecue, all with a happy and curious child in tow. By simply keeping an eye on a healthy balance (by planning travel time during her naps, or by afterwards reserving a couple of days of quiet time at home) we make sure our daughter keeps the same sense of regularity from when she was a baby.
Flexibility has given the three of us a liberating sense of opportunity we all enjoy. And she hasn’t lost one meal or one hour of sleep over it.
Intuition is a power to be embraced
Although I refrained from reading up too much about babies and raising them when I was pregnant (mainly due to my pregnancy complications) I now use the internet as an inexhaustible source of information on the topic. Baby has an infected eye? A rash-that-is-not-quite-a-rash? Needs new stimulating, but not too stimulating toys? Needs to be sleep trained? Never fear, the interwebs is here!
I know written articles considering your child’s health should come from a trustworthy source (and even then, an online consult can never match seeing a doctor or trained professional in person), but I always found it reassuring to read someone’s opinion or solution to my problem.
But, as much as I am an advocate for studying online on the topic of parenthood, being a mother has taught me one thing: To trust your intuition.
Intuition is there for a reason. In fact, our gut-feeling warns us about subliminal details which your head simply can’t, or doesn’t want to acknowledge. And as a parent you are blessed with a new kind of instinct; one that wants to protect our offspring from harm.
There have been days where I kept her inside because I felt she was under the weather (only proven to be right the next day). I’ve been on walks where I spotted a dog in the distance, from which I simply knew he would try to jump on top the stroller. And there have been people who I suspected would be too jittery to hold her as a newborn, whom I heartily allowed to stroke my daughter’s cheek with a finger – but safely in my own arms.
We are all blessed with a sense of intuition, but when you become a parent, it’s the perfect moment to embrace this often under-appreciated superpower.
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Are you a parent? Were there lessons in particular you took to heart?