Monday, September 9, 2013

The Motherhood Probationary Period

When I first became a teacher, I was told that the first three years are probationary years. You won't really know what you're doing half the time, and when you have huge feelings of inadequacy and more questions than answers- that is normal. That fourth year seemed to be some sort of magical time horizon when things seemed to settle out and a stronger sense of confidence accompanied your teaching. Not that you stop learning- or suddenly have all the answers. It's just more of a comfortableness with what is expected of you and more thorough knowledge of all your classes- since you have taught them all the way through multiple times by that time. Is this fourth year promise true? No clue. I never experienced that fourth year. I taught three years exactly and then became a stay-at-home mom. (I will give loud testimony to the probationary part though.)

But it dawned on me the other day that I think this same principle might apply to motherhood. My oldest isn't quite four. But these next few weeks marks four years of when my heart was broken for the first time as a mother. Four years ago I was halfway through Addison's pregnancy and learned that she was going to be born with an extra chromosome. The words Down syndrome meant something to me for the first time four years ago. Four years ago my motherhood ideal came crashing down in flames- for the first time.

And I have noticed lately- around this four year mark- a new comfortableness in my job as mother. Not that I suddenly have all the answers or stop learning. No. I just have a better sense for what's expected of me because I have lived the same scenes over and over again.

An inspiring blog post is nice. Books of knowledge are important. Older moms to impart wisdom are invaluable. But there are some things that I had to learn by living them.

Things like- your house won't always be perfectly clean with small children. It probably won't even be close to perfectly clean most of the time. The laundry won't always get done. There will be neglected spaces in your house. But it's OK. No one can do it all. You do the best you can. And when things don't get done? You go to sleep. Get some rest. And try again in the morning.

Things like- your toddler WILL throw food back in your face, collapse into a screaming fit right when you need him/her to behave the most, play/paint the walls with their poop, and hide the keys/hair brush/shoes that you really need to leave for your appointment right now. But it's OK. Those are not failures as a parent. Those are opportunities to teach. (and oftentimes- laugh)

Things like- other mothers will be better at things than you. Doesn't. even. matter. At the end of the day, you have your successes- your beautiful children- your strengths. You can admire another mother's skills without feeling lousy about your own. This is life and crops up in every profession. You can enjoy two different types of music without saying one is good and the other bad. No. They are just different- with moments of beauty and stand-up-and-cheer excitement all their own.

Things like- it's OK to take a nap. Even when the house is falling apart and you have a dinner party to prepare and your to do list is longer than your two toddlers stacked on top of teach other, head to toe- there is no guilt in needing to recharge and take a nap while your tots are sleeping (especially when you are growing the next babe/infant/sleepless stage- no. guilt.) These things will get done faster- and with far less stress if you take care of yourself first.

Things like- it's important to make time for friends. Even when nap schedules don't line up, germs might be passed back and forth, and you dress your children all cute but end up wearing pajama-like attire yourself. If you rely solely on the company of babbling tots- you will go crazy. Not because you're a bad mother. But because everyone needs to hear articulating voices outside the ones in their head. Sanity requires it.

Things like- your children will walk, talk, be potty trained, and recite the alphabet backwards at different times than your friends' children will. This isn't a competition. And if my child walked at 27 months and yours walked at 9? More power to both of them. If my two year old son isn't potty trained and yours is? I am ecstatic for you and will probably come to you for advice when he is ready. We are happy when it happens. We celebrate with our friends on their babies' accomplishments without feeling any pressure towards our own. They are all different people. They will achieve at different times. Nothing to be ashamed of or push to happen sooner out of a sense of having the "better" children. Show me a child who is being trained to be thoughtful, kind, and accepting of other children no matter their differences- and the other details seem to fall by the wayside.

Things like- your children's fever will disappear as soon as you get to the Pediatrician's office; you will pack the wrong snack for preschool; you will sometimes forget to put a diaper back on your baby; you learning to walk/climb/run child will fall a lot; you will almost break your foot on an errant duplo in the middle of the night; you will be wrong- a lot; you will be right only when no one's around to notice; you will lose that other super cute baby shoe; your tots will make a gigantic mess while learning to feed themselves; and you will use a Signing Time DVD as a toddler distraction so that you can get something done- none of these things are barometers of good mother/bad mother. They are just facts of life. Like gravity and breathing and little girls named Addison loving chocolate.

I find myself settling into this three and a half/fourth year mark- more confident. More easily able to brush aside seeming failures and recognize that they are just knocks that come with the job. I laugh at myself more. I enjoy my kids more. I keep learning. I keep growing. But those first three years when I constantly felt like a failure/inadequate/worst mother in the world (including that last half of the pregnancy when I thought I failed pregnancy)? I am calling them my motherhood probationary period.

I am moving on.

Children vomit. White laundry turns pink. Recipes fail. Pinterest makes me use bad words. Switching from crib to toddler bed may include more crying than warm fuzzy feelings about how fast they are growing up. But at the end of the day I am still a good mother. Because I know that none of these things define me. Or the job I'm doing.

I am still a new mother. Yes. But I refuse to let myself live in the shadow I created for myself of "doesn't know what in the world she's doing" new mother any longer. Time to woman up. Accept responsibility for these last four years and acknowledge that I am doing a good job even if my basement storage area right now could be on an episode of hoarders. It will get done. Everything will not be done at the same time all the time. That only happens on TV shows when a crew set up the fake house where the fake mother sits with her actor children and pretends to be overwhelmed by the sink of fake dirty dishes to wash with her perfectly manicured nails which never seem to chip.

(And if you read this thinking that you haven't struggled in any of these areas or faced any of the same inadequacies or ever thought these things? Rock on, sister! I can only speak for own experiences on this matter.)

Tomorrow when my children make me pull all my hair out, destroy my house, and my Pinterest recipe poisons us all? I will come back to re-read this. And remember. Motherhood is so much more than the things we do, day in day out. It is an attitude. An acceptance. A way of loving that has nothing to do with laundry, dishes, and crayon colored walls.

And I want to focus on that as I continue to grow and learn as a mother.

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