I feel like as a mom you should get trophies for simply surviving. Get through that first month with a newborn? Gold star! Make it past the three-month mark? Bust out the trophy! Survive a sleep regression, developmental leap or sickness? Get that girl a cake. Because although we all hear time and time again that “parenting is hard,” you don’t really know until you do it. (Which is another cliche, but dammit if it’s not totally true.) So, with all that in mind, my sleep-deprived brain has put together the top 25 things I learned during my first year of motherhood.
Some of them may seem like contradictions; and they are. But they’re all true. Welcome to the mind-fu*k that is parenthood, ya’ll. It’s gut-wrenchingly trying — and the best thing you’ve ever done.
Now somebody give me a freakin’ celebratory cupcake.
25 Things I Learned During My First Year of Motherhood
1. You’ll rarely know what the hell you’re doing. I almost titled this post “I have no idea what I’m doing.” And it’s true. A good part of time during my first year of motherhood, I was simply getting by. Simply figuring it out. Simply trying anything that might work. Come to think of it, I still am.
2. And if you think you do know what the hell you’re doing, get ready to eat some humble pie. The moment you start to feel like you are ROCKING THIS MOTHERHOOD THING (and, OMG, let’s have 100 more babies!) is usually the moment you get pooped on, the thing that always works to calm your baby down stops working, there’s a tantrum brewing or a number of other possibilities that throw your life into chaos.
3. There are universal truths to motherhood: babies are babies. They cry. They throw food. They smile. They giggle. They wake you up at night. The first three months of their lives, they wish they were still in the womb. After that, they want to do all the things. This is why the internet and mom groups are great.
4. But every baby is different. What may work amazingly well for your friend’s baby may make your baby scream bloody murder — and vice versa. This is why the internet and mom groups can make you worry: “Is my baby normal? Am I normal?” (Yes, you and your baby are likely normal.)
5. Follow your intuition. That little gut feeling that you should take her to the doctor RIGHT NOW or that she needs another nap or wants to be held in this particular way? Yeah, follow that. Trust that.
6. But don’t freak out if your intuition is out on lunch. Let’s go back to No. 1, shall we? Mom intuition is a thing, but it’s not a light you can turn on and off. So if yours is off, even permanently, relax. It’s normal.
7. It takes a village. And then some. Rely on everyone in your life that you can. Parents, family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, other moms. If they offer to help you cook, clean or watch the baby while you nap or work out or do whatever you want/need to do, take them up on it. No guilt. No shame.
8. Sometimes you’ll be a really crappy friend/family member/employee. It’s impossible to keep up the same level of existence that you had before your baby. And that’s okay. Tell the people in your life you love and appreciate them as often as you can. But if you miss a birthday, a text, an event, cut yourself some slack. Mom brain is a real thing. Do not expect perfection from yourself. (Also, see no. 23.)
9. It’s okay to cry, get frustrated and even totally pissed off. You love your child. You adore your child. They are your everything. But, man, the motherhood gig can be emotionally exhausting. Know when you need a break — and walk away if need be.
10. Everything is a phase. Having a baby is like the weather in the Midwest. Don’t like what they’re doing? Wait 20 minutes. Or a week. Every sleep regression, developmental leap or phase is not forever. Remember that. Recite it as a mantra as you need to. (And, during the happy baby moments, remember this, too, and be extra 100 percent grateful and in the moment!)
11. Smiles, kisses, hugs and adorableness are the life blood of being a mom. Funny that as soon as you think you’re at your breaking point, your little one will do something so heart-melting that you forget that there’s anything more important in the world than you and them, right then. That first smile/kiss/hug/mama, makes it allll worth it.
12. It’s a damn physical job. It’s a workout. Seriously.
13. There’s no way you can prepare to be a mom — or even fully know what to expect. You can read all the books and buy all the things and get all of the advice, and they’ll be helpful, but you won’t fully know until you’re there. And that’s part of the adventure.
14. It gets easier. And it gets harder. I found that each month, I could breathe a little more easily and settled into motherhood. I got used to my new schedule and having more demands on my time and energy become normal. I was lucky enough that breastfeeding became routine. That said, as time went by, other things got harder. Like my dog freaking out about Gwen becoming more mobile, or Gwen busting out of her swaddle and throwing her binky repeatedly through the night, or ear infections. Once you figure out one thing, it’s on to the next.
15. You don’t need half the stuff you think you’ll need — but some of the stuff you won’t be able survive without, at least for a time. I stressed SO much about my baby registry. And some of the stuff we used the heck out of (swaddles, bouncer, changing table, bibs for spit-up), but other things (fancy clothes, cloth diapers, some toys) we hardly touched. And then, there are the binkies that are STILL magic to her. You just never know. You can’t know.
16. You’ll spend money on more than just baby stuff. That coffee and wine budget is going up, too.
17. You’ll forget who you are. This wasn’t a terrible thing for me, but it definitely happened. Being a new mom is totally all-consuming for those first few months. So much so that ALL I cared about was her and her happiness. It wasn’t until around my daughter was six months that I truly felt like an individual again.
18. You’ll redefine who you are. You won’t be better or worse than you were before. You’ll be the same you, just evolved.
19. You’ll see yourself in your child. In so many ways and in so many lights you’ll see your own image projected back to you. It might be a smile, a laugh, a set of wiggling toes or even a lack of patience or some sass.
20. You’ll realize they are their very own little person. As much as they may look like you or your partner, do not forget: they are an individual, too. And that sometimes has nothing to do with you. (And that’s kind of magical and awesome, no?!)
21. You’ll worry. So much. You’ll worry if they’re eating too much or not enough. If you should go to urgent care or wait until the morning. If it’s gas or something worse. If they need Tylenol. Or gripe water. If they should be crawling already. If you’re there enough. If they’re independent enough. The worry train is strong in new moms. You can try not to, but it’s kind of impossible, so just know that it’s normal.
22. You’ll become fearless. While you may be hormonally prone to worry about your child all the time, you’ll become fearless in other ways. Solo trip to Target with a fussy baby? I can do that. One-handed bring the groceries in? Got it. Getting a baby to sleep while on a business call. Consider it done.
23. You’ll realize that you can’t have it all. Want to be the perfect mom, employee, wife, friend and family member? It’s impossible. You cannot have it all unless you want to have nothing left of yourself. Which is not an option — for anyone.
24. Plus, having it all is overrated. Do we really want to show our children that “living” means rushing around and being slaves to our to-do list or the images of what we see our house “should” look like on Pinterest? Remember to let it go and just play sometimes.
25. Your good enough is good enough. The No. 1 thing your kids need is your true self — not the person you think you should be. You’re awesome, mama, and you’re doing great.
As I embark on my second year of motherhood, what do I have to look forward to next, mamas? —Jenn