Editor’s note: This article was originally published on Em Erickson’s blog, Teach Me to Braid. It has been republished here with permission.
It’s quiet in my home right now. All I hear are the rhythmic tic-tocs of two baby swings, the whir of a fan … and a toddler bellowing “moooooommmmyyyyy!” from her crib upstairs. So it’s not technically quiet, but it’s “resting time” for another 15 minutes, so that’s good enough for me. If you were to stop by for a visit right now, you might be impressed. No dishes in the sink (although the stovetop is covered in pizza crumbs). No puddles of baby puke on the floor (the dog is useful for something). And the laundry is done (my mom did it). Although I haven’t showered since yesterday morning, I’m pretty sure I smell reasonably fresh because I took a dip in the kiddie pool last night. And I even made time to weed half the backyard a couple days ago. I’m leaving the left half the way it is so that I can see how far the right side has come. It gives a nice before-and-after affect.
But don’t be deceived. Although I may look like I have it all figured out (please sense my sarcasm here), this mom stuff is hard. Some days, it’s super hard. Like cry-into-the-fridge hard or snap-at-your-biggest-support-person hard. Some days, I’m nauseous and dizzy from tiredness. Other days, I’m full of self-doubt and self-blame. Some days are just-make-it-through days and other days are catch-up-from-the-just-make-it-through days.
Thankfully, I’ve got support. If I hit a tough spot and don’t know what to do, there are pep talks everywhere — from people who love me, people who have walked this road before me, people who are just straight-up wise. They give support. They give advice. They give pints of Ben and Jerry’s Salted Caramel Core. But there are other times when it’s just me, figuring this stuff out minute by minute. And during those times, I give myself a pep talk. I give myself some advice. And I probably eat that whole pint of Ben and Jerry’s.
So feel free to listen in. This is the stuff I’m learning every day, the advice I have to give myself over and over to keep myself on track when the (albeit priceless) monotony of motherhood starts to become too much.
You might be next — balancing your laptop on your belly as you read this. Or scrolling through these words on your phone as you empty your bladder for the 21st time today. You might be freaking out about the fact that you’re going to have a tiny little person who relies completely on you. Or maybe you’re having twins like I did. If so, I hope you can benefit from these words, not because I’m an expert on managing the littles but because I’m still in the thick of it. It’s great to glean wisdom from people who are on the other side — that woman behind you in the check-out line whose twins are 23 now. She’s got a lot of good stuff to say. But sometimes it’s nice to hear from the woman who has a fresh spit-up stain on her shoulder. That’s me. Each shoulder, in fact.
So without further ado, here’s the advice I give myself …
1. When you eat, make it count
It’s hard to find time to eat, so when you do make time to feed yourself, choose something that sticks with you. I never eat breakfast foods anymore. This morning, I had a salmon burger with no bun. Yesterday I microwaved a mini chicken pot pie. The day before that, I think I had a taco. It sounds weird but it helps a ton because it keeps me full longer and gives me a lot more energy than a bowl of cereal would.
2. Remember that dads make lousy supermoms
Andrew is a fabulous dad, but he’s not a baby person. In fact, the other day, he said that if he could just press a button and have the boys be 2-year-olds, he would do it. And I believe him. Because all of the baby stuff — it’s not his thing. He’s more of a wrestling, swimming, bike-riding kind of dad. The other night at about two o’clock in the morning, he was burping Louie, and Louie was screaming. “He wants you to stand up,” I said. But Andrew just sat there with his eyes closed and continued to burp him. After another 15 seconds of screaming, Andrew stood up and Louie calmed right down. “I hate that he gets to pick,” Andrew said. And I started to laugh. “He’s a baby!” I said. “He always gets to pick! That’s how it works!”
Another example — until recently, if the babies didn’t need to be held, he probably wasn’t holding them. This completely broke my heart in the beginning, but it’s getting much better. Mostly because he’s getting better about picking them up, especially when he can put them in the baby carriers and stay busy around the house. But I’m getting better too. I have stopped expecting him to approach parenthood the way that I do. I love the snuggling, blowing raspberries on their bellies, singing to them. And I want him to be just like me. But he’s not. And in some ways, that’s a very good thing.
We went through these same issues with our first daughter and I actually cried about it a lot. But this time around, I have a better perspective because I’ve seen him grow and come into his own as a dad. And seeing that happen reassures me that he will have a wonderful relationship with the boys as well. He may not be supermom when the boys wake up in the middle of the night, but he is certainly my daughter’s superhero. Any time we encounter a broken toy, a burnt pancake or a heavy box, she looks to her dad for help. The other day while we were stuck in rush hour traffic, she said, “Mom, call Daddy and tell him to come and move all these cars.” I love hearing that. I love that she thinks her dad can do anything. So I’ll let him be the superhero, and I’ll just be plain mom.
So if your baby is still tiny and you’re heartbroken because your husband doesn’t hold and stare at her for hours, take heart. Even without knowing your husband, I can almost guarantee — it will get so much better.
3. Get help
If you have family or friends or anyone nearby who is willing to help, let them. Seriously … LET THEM. Resist the temptation to do it all alone because you will become tired and bitter and your kids will suffer. Here’s an ugly truth about me — it’s really easy for me to fall into the trap of playing the martyr. But when the boys were born, I forced myself to accept help from anyone who offered it. And I’m so glad I did.
I’ll admit — it can be tough to have people in your home all the time. It’s embarrassing to have my dirty house exposed and have my laundry folded by someone else, especially because I still occasionally wear the massive underwear I was wearing at the end of my pregnancy, even though I’m now 60-some pounds lighter. (Hey, they’re comfortable.) But it’s worth it. I have felt so blessed by those who have come over to my house, sat in the middle of the mess with me, and loved on my kids. Whether it’s been a onetime thing or a weekly commitment, I couldn’t be more grateful.
4. Don’t get help
Sometimes, you just need to do it on your own. There’s going to be crying and nothing will get done that isn’t necessary for survival, but you have to do it anyway. When I take the kids out on my own, I often question why I’m doing it. It’s usually a disaster. But I need that boost of confidence that comes from facing into the chaos and saying to myself, “I can do this.”
5. Don’t play the mom-Olympics
One of my biggest pet peeves is when we’re out with our kids and somebody says, “Wow! Three kids 2 and under? You’re sure busy!” I don’t know why, but it just bugs me. I want to say back to them, “All parents are busy, whether they have one child or 10.” Or when another mom starts to share some parenting struggle with me and then invalidates her own experience by saying something like, “Well, I’m sure I have nothing to complain about compared to the work/sleep deprivation/diapers/whatever that you handle on a daily basis.”
I find myself doing it too — minimizing my problems when talking to a mom who has more kids than me or whose kids are younger than mine. Especially in the multiples community, it’s like you get extra points for having more kids or for having them close in age. It reminds me of the “degree of difficulty” component of gymnastics. You get more potential points based on how challenging the elements of your routine are. We act like motherhood works the same way. FYI — it doesn’t. And when we think that way, it devalues the experiences of moms who have one child (or two) and are struggling to manage the day-to-day stuff.
So if you’re tempted to measure a mom (yourself or somebody else) by how many kids they had in how many years, stop yourself. A woman may have one child and no partner, no friends, no nearby family, no savings account. Or a woman may have lots of kids and two full-time nannies. Thinking competitively makes us unapproachable and makes it very hard to support one another.
6. Don’t miss Jesus
Sometimes motherhood feels really, really hard. Like when I’ve only had maybe three hours of sleep broken up in four chunks and I realize that the sun is rising and I have a whole day ahead of me. Or when a baby just won’t stop crying. Or the toddler seems incapable of obedience. Or when I’m adding things to my to-do list with the full knowledge that they will never, ever get done. Those are the times that I can start to feel stuck, almost claustrophobic. But that’s where He is. Jesus is right there in the midst of those moments and I have noticed that the more my day-to-day life seems to fall apart, the more I need to lean on Him. I’ve started to recognize those moments of defeat as gifts because they bring me to my knees in humility and prayer. The opposite is true too …
Two Sundays ago, I got the kids to church on time all by myself. My husband couldn’t believe I did it all by myself and got us there on time. But as the music started and those around me entered into worship, I had such a hard time finding that place of communion and friendship with God. I was still pretty impressed with myself. And I realized how hard it is to have a worshipful heart when we feel like we have it all together. For me that Sunday, it was impossible. I had to spend the worship portion of the service asking God to humble my heart and remind me to rely on Him. All it took was one “successful” morning to turn me from someone who gropes for Jesus hour by hour into someone who is patting herself on the back while those around her worship. So bring on the tough days, bring on the failures, bring on the train wrecks. I’m not interested in perfection if the cost is that high.
So don’t miss Jesus. Look for Him in the most impossible, frustrating, defeating moments and He will always be found. Even better than that? He will give you the strength that you need to face into each and every day, no matter how tired you are, how emotional you feel, or how much you need a vacation.
Every single day, He will renew your strength.
So that’s the advice I give myself. Well, some of it. I have a sign on my wall that says “we can do hard things.” I intended to use it as a reminder for my kids when homework assignments get tough or when they have to wake up early or face an especially mean kid at school. But I’m finding that I’m the one that needs that reminder on an hourly basis these days.
Hard things … but good things. So, so good.