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Mothering Lessons I’ve Learned So Far

Jean Merrill, Maryland

Isn’t it fantastically therapeutic to brainstorm with other like-minded mothers traveling down the same bumpy mothering road? That mother-to-mother sharing of ideas is profoundly valuable. You troubleshoot together, take what works for you, your baby and situation, and leave the ideas that aren’t a perfect fit. Learning from each other makes us all better mothers; everyone has an idea or experience that the rest of us can learn from.

After years of scheduling play dates, attending La Leche League meetings, devouring parenting books, and plenty of learning by trial and error, here are just a few of the important mothering lessons I’ve learned so far:

Trust your instincts. As a species, the biological drive plays a big part in child rearing. Since human beings have not only survived, but have thrived, it is clear that our mothering intuition is pretty successful. Your instincts will not lead you wrong. Beginning almost immediately after birth, a mother’s body responds hormonally with the release of oxytocin and the beginning of lactation. Those hormones of the early days help us to follow our biological drives, which are built in to help our species survive. As our children grow, following those same gut reactions is equally as important. Nobody knows your child better than you. If you aren’t finding the answers that instinctually feel right, keep asking.

Take time for yourself every day. Caring for little ones is often exhausting.  Over time patience often wears thin, and even the most loving and patient mother can tend to get pretty snappy. Nobody can be the best mother when feeling “tapped out.” Because diligent, purposeful, loving guidance is important, I’ve learned that taking some time for myself helps to reframe and refresh and approach mothering with some fresh perspective. This doesn’t have to be time for yourself away from your children, either. In fact, it might even be beneficial for children to observe their mother taking some time to pursue something to replenish herself. Take a bath while the kids play nearby, set them up with a simple arts and crafts project while you read a book, or lie down and nap while they are napping. When caring for others, we can’t forget to care for ourselves.

Support other mothers and accept their support in return. Mothering is a hard, worthwhile, messy, fantastic job. Learn from each other, and talk things through with like-minded trustworthy mothers. The fresh insights can help you gain some much-needed perspective. We can’t know it all, and just when we think we do, our children throw us a curve ball. Finding a mothering village to support you can make all the difference.

Make mistakes, admit to them, and learn from them. Parenting is a learn-as-you-go behemoth of a job. No amount of reading and preparing will equip you for every circumstance. Meltdowns and other less-than-ideal behavioral challenges will happen, despite the best efforts to avoid them. The first parenting reaction to these unpredictable moments might not always be the best reaction. Upon later reflection, a little damage control is sometimes necessary.

Apologizing to children can actually be good parenting: you have a ripe opportunity for a teachable moment. You get the chance to explain what lessons were learned from the situation and how you would handle it differently in the future. You have the opportunity to role model for your children how to handle mistakes they might make. You are setting an example about how to think about a hot topic situation objectively, how to understand the situation from a fresh perspective, how to make amends, and how to make better choices in the future.

Remember that it is all fleeting. They grow up really fast. Every stage comes with amazing discoveries and unique challenges. Just when you think you’ve conquered a challenge, a new one arises, but the fun is in the journey. A journey filled with adventures, and fun, and tears, and lessons, and sweet moments with these precious little people that we have the opportunity to love. They will never be this little again: live in the small moments with them. You will never regret leaving the laundry or the dishes for a few extra hours, but you can only breathe in that lovely baby scent, or play peek-a-boo (over and over), or feel the trusting heaviness of your sleeping toddler today.