Motherhood shifts your entire life — often your entire being. Now your days are different. Now your hours are no longer your own. Now you share your life with a miraculous being who challenges you in the hardest and best ways.
And you’re likely learning all sorts of lessons along the way. Lessons about who you are, about what’s important, about how to spend your days. Below, we asked various women to share the valuable lessons they’ve learned so far.
It’s OK to mourn your previous identity. The first 4 months of Arianna Taboada’s pregnancy were terrible. She spent most days by the toilet. “I felt like a shadow of the productive, motivated, and enthusiastic person I used to be,” said Taboada, a maternal health consultant who helps pregnant entrepreneurs babyproof their business, plan for maternity leave, and navigate working motherhood.
“I had to learn a whole new way of working and navigating everyday life given the discomforts of pregnancy.” She slowed down and became more introspective. She mourned the productive, outcome-driven part of her personality. Which actually helped her prepare for motherhood. Because she’d already released a previous identity, she’s remained open. “I’m still growing into my mom identity, and it is a process.”
To nurture your child, you must start with yourself. “I think the biggest lesson I’ve learned is that I need to care for myself if I’m going to be in any kind of shape to be a nurturing mother to my daughter,” said Kate Swoboda, the author of the Courageous Living Program and founder of the Courageous Living Coach Certification. Which is not easy to do.
Swoboda needs a lot of alone time to recharge. So she reminds herself that her ability to be patient, to be empathetic and to think clearly during challenging parenting moments is affected when she doesn’t get it.
She meets so many moms who believe they can’t ask their partners for help so they can enjoy a yoga class or coffee date. “I’d rather deal with the short-term guilt of slipping away for a break than the long-term guilt of knowing that my own standards around parenting had fallen because I was so in need of some time for myself.”
It’s important to know your strong yeses and nos. Mothering has taught writer Sarah K. Peck the power of having and expressing strong “yes” and “no” answers. Peck is the founder and executive director of Startup Pregnant, a media company documenting the stories of women’s leadership across family and work.
Before having kids, she’d wait to decide whether she wanted to attend everything from meetings to dinner. Today, if she’s waffling at all about an event or engagement, she declines. Because any wavering is a sign that it’s not a strong yes, which means it’s a strong no. And when it is a strong no, Peck communicates firmly and clearly that she can’t attend.
By making quicker decisions and being clear about them, her life has changed. “People can trust me more, depend on me, and know that when I say yes, I mean it.”
It’s important to offer yourself compassion. When psychotherapist Shonda Moralis, LCSW, has a mommy meltdown, she takes responsibility for it—and offers herself compassion. “Without self-compassion, we continue berating ourselves and remain stuck in shame, which is counterproductive to positive change.”
Moralis figures out where she got off track and how she can handle the situation next time. And she repairs the issue with her child (which often includes an apology and a long hug).
“By following these steps, my children learn through example that if I try my best, take responsibility for my mistakes and learn from them, and communicate with sincerity, relationships flourish,” said Moralis, also author of Breathe, Mama, Breathe: 5-Minute Mindfulness for Busy Moms.
There’s no need to sweat the small stuff. Moralis’s kids are 10 years apart. With her first child, she “worried way too much about the little things”—everything from the TV her daughter shouldn’t be watching to the foods she shouldn’t be eating to the school she should be attending. Her second child “eats frozen waffles while watching TV before preschool.”
Today, Moralis has found it helpful to ask herself: “Will this matter a week, a month, a year from now?” Most often, she said, “the answer is no.”
Not everything has to get done. Every morning Taboada checks her to-do list to see which home and work tasks she can remove, reschedule or delegate. She asks herself: “What will happen if I do not do this today?” or “What happens if I decide not to do this at all?”
For instance, instead of doing yet another load of laundry, going to the pharmacy and grocery shopping in one day, Taboada picks one task to tackle. As she said, “There is power in cutting down the to-do list and saying no.”
Support is pivotal. When Taboada’s son was 6 weeks old, a postpartum doula connected her with a local mom group. “[I]t made a significant difference for me. Sure, I still had my family, colleagues, and friends, but something about having a small group of women who were all at a similar stage in life was special. It made me feel less alone, more ‘normal’ and confident about the journey ahead.”
“We can’t do this on our own, and to pretend that’s the case sets us up for real loneliness and struggle,” Peck said. “[T]he more familiar faces we have at regular intervals in our lives, and the more help we can both give and receive, the sweeter it gets.”
What lessons have you learned?
Maybe you’ve learned something about yourself or about mothering in general. Maybe you’ve learned what refreshes you and stresses you out. Maybe you’ve learned what truly matters—and what really doesn’t. Maybe you see yourself in the above words. Maybe you don’t. Either way, consider regularly pausing and reflecting on what you’re learning about the wild, wonderful adventure that is being a mom.