My niece recently had her first baby, and as we talked about taking care of a newborn, I was reminded of several huge insights I had when I was a new mother.
1. Learning how to be a mother is harder than it looks. I’d been warned about the messiness of motherhood—babies spit up and diapers leak, but I was pretty surprised by what my body was undergoing as it made the transition from baby on the inside to baby on the outside.
People also told me about the intensity of taking care of a newborn, but I really couldn’t comprehend what that meant until I experienced it. The unpredictability was hard—we might have a calm day followed by a crazy day when nothing seemed to work.
I recall thinking, “I’m this child’s mother. I’ve tried everything the books said—feeding, burping, changing, rocking, singing, swinging, walking, and he’s still crying. Shouldn’t I just know what to do?” Umm, no. Most new mothers don’t have secret instinctive wisdom, but fortunately, we figure out what to do after a while.
Realizing I was not in charge—the baby was—took a while to sink in. Once I accepted that, life got easier.
2. My Mom is a genius. When I became a mother, I gained newfound respect for her. She knew so much—from how to soothe my son who hated to be undressed to how to keep from freaking out when both kids were crying.
Over the years my respect for my mother grew. I finally understood how much effort it takes to prepare good meals night after night—planning, shopping, and cooking—whether she felt like it or not.
I learned how hard it is to stay on top of all the details: getting school supplies and baseball gear, signing permission slips and carpooling, making sure schoolwork and chores get done.
I discovered the pains she went to make our birthdays special—tracking down cool gifts and staying up late making a cake and wrapping gifts.
Although my three siblings and I have different personalities, Mom managed each of us with wisdom and a light touch. One brother loved science and engineering but disliked authority. The other loved sports, parties and math (in that order). My sister loved pretty things and just wanted everyone to be happy, while I was shy, sensitive, and fiercely independent by turns. I marvel at how rarely she lost her temper when she dealt with my stubborn teenage self.
Even with four kids Mom was always so sane and so nice. Although I can’t claim that, I do share her view that mothering is the hardest but most rewarding thing I do. I hope my niece makes the same discovery.