Motherhood is no exception. In fact, motherhood is packed with moments that are ever-evolving. Every day seems to bring some sort of shift, within our kids, within ourselves.
We asked several moms to share the many lessons that mothering has taught them. You’ll find their wise, illuminating insights below.
I’ve learned to stop chasing the Pinterest version of parenting. “I learned, do not go after the Pinterest/Dwell magazine (or whatever your jam, even “Hip Mama”) photospread of parenting,” said Elizabeth Sullivan, a marriage and family therapist who works with moms, and is currently writing a book called Mother Development: A Journey to Female Empowerment.
She stressed the importance of focusing on your personal ratio of self-care, care for your kids, adult relationships and experiences that really enliven you and bring you joy.
Sullivan cited this research, which found that mom’s happiness predicted her child’s happiness. “It matters for moms and for kids that moms nurture themselves along with everyone else.”
I’ve learned that our marriage is the foundation of our family’s well-being. “When my husband and I were close, connected, communicating well, the boys tended to cooperate more, follow directions, play nicely together, and overall seem happier,” said Meredith Hansen, Psy.D, a psychologist dedicated to helping couples and families thrive. However, when her marriage hit a bump, the boys talked back and misbehaved.
Hansen also noticed that when she and her husband were more affectionate in front of their sons, they became curious about love and affection. “Children learn about love, relationships, and connection through their parents. If we model positive interactions and healthy relationships, they are more likely to have healthy, satisfying friendships and romantic relationships in their own lives.”
I’ve learned to hold conflicting emotions—and be OK. Lori Mihalich-Levin, JD, a healthcare attorney and founder of MindfulReturn.com, has simultaneously felt the glee of watching her youngest son graduate from daycare, and “the sadness and nostalgia that her baby is no longer a baby.” She’s felt the excitement of attending a work trip that’ll advance her career, and the heartache of missing her kids. She’s felt “the immense frustration of temper tantrums wrapped up with a recognition of how short this season of life really is.”
I’ve learned I am stronger than I think. “Labor, delivery, and recovery are no joke, but also I’ve had to step out of my comfort zone many times to advocate for my family, to protect my kids, or even just meet new ‘mom’ friends,” Catherine O’Brien said. O’Brien is a licensed marriage and family therapist that helps couples transition and thrive in their new roles as parents by focusing on communication and building their support circles so that they can feel confident, connected and happy with baby.
“And the more I do it, the easier it gets.”
I’ve learned that I can do it all—just not at the same time or on the same day. Hansen knows many, many women who feel like failures if they’re not “successful” moms, wives, friends, employees or business owners. “Since becoming a mother, I have struggled with this myself.”
Hansen felt overwhelmed with trying to be available to her sons, work on her marriage, build her business, tend to her clients and find time for her friends. She frequently felt like she wasn’t doing any of it well.
“[O]ne day I was listening to a business-related podcast and the guest said something that changed everything for me. Very simply she said, ‘You can be it all and do it all, just not on the same day.’”
Some days, Hansen is a great mom. Some days, she’s a great psychologist. Some days, she’s focused on her health. Some days, she’s focused on her marriage. “If I just acknowledged the role I was taking care of in the moment and kept all of my goals clear, I realized that I was doing it all and being it all, just not all at once.”
I’ve learned to empathize. “Being a therapist, I think I can be pretty good, for the most part, about not making assumptions or judgments about others,” O’Brien said. “But being a parent I think opens us up to so many more opportunities to judge and be judged.”
She’s learned to “expand, accept and empathize with others.” She’s learned that there’s no such thing as the ultimate, universal best way to parent. Rather, every family and every child is different. We don’t know where another parent is coming from and why they choose to do things a certain way, O’Brien said. “Having two children now, I really understand that what works for one child doesn’t always work for another.”
I’ve learned that I am more effective at my job because I am a mom. “Parenthood teaches amazing skills—prioritization, delegation, responding to needs of inarticulate clients…the list goes on—that are indeed translatable at the workplace,” said Mihalich-Levin, also author of Back to Work After Baby: How to Plan and Navigate a Mindful Return from Maternity Leave.
I’ve learned to trust my instincts. “With the abundance of information that exists, I realized early on that I had to limit my reading and learn to trust my instincts,” Hansen said. When she has a specific question, she does some research, but then stops reading.
“While there are many theories on parenting and strategies to handle different behaviors and developmental phases, it has to be authentic to you.” Which is why Hansen stressed the importance of checking in with yourself and finding what resonates with you.
I’ve learned the power and necessity of community. O’Brien has found that motherhood is much easier with support. “Finding a community to support and love you through all the ups and downs is so important and makes things so much more bearable.”
For Mihalich-Levin, the love she receives from her community inspires her to be even more connected to her sons. Plus, “whether it’s spending time with my amazing husband, with other working parents at the office or from my daycare, or with my circles of female friends, I take great comfort in knowing there’s a village that supports me,” she said.
Sullivan was fortunate “to have a mentor who valued my humanity and happiness over the martyrdom and poison-perfection of corporate mother branding.”
Her mentor would say things like: “Why should a 35-year-old woman enjoy the same things as a 1-year-old boy all day? Being present with your kid does not mean you have to give up your own life and your self and hover over him at all times. If you play Legos on the floor for 15 minutes and then want to read your book, that is a good balance. Later you will make a meal and eat together and talk. You are not obliged to do everything for this being, or live his life for him by always ‘helping’ and it is not good for him if you do. Some frustration, boredom, and failure is good for people.”
I’ve learned that everything is a stage. “In the beginning everything is overwhelming,” Hansen said. However, realizing that everything is a stage made things more manageable and helped her survive. “Teething comes and goes, sleep improves, breastfeeding ends, they start crawling, walking, talking, you start having date nights again… you start to feel like yourself again, you start to find yourself again.”
Hansen’s mantra has become “This too shall pass,” which helps her get through the challenging phases.
Motherhood is magical, maddening, meaningful, miraculous, and so much more. It changes us. It changes different moms in different ways—all of which are valid. But if there’s one unifying lesson, one universal theme, it’s that whatever you’re feeling, whatever you’re thinking, whatever you’ve experienced, whatever you’ve wondered at 3 o’clock in the morning, whatever mistakes you’ve made, you’re not alone. You are absolutely not alone.