The Steep Learning Curve of Motherhood
Ever since my last blog, I have been trying to think of something to write about. I usually write about revelations I have based on experiences, for the purpose of helping or encouraging others who are going through the same thing. However, I have not been able to put my finger on a topic or point as I have never, ever felt more out of my depth than I have since becoming a mother. I have never felt so little self-assurance. I have never been in so many minds. I have never been so unable to process and produce.
As I write this I am sitting on my bed listening to my son crying. He is a beautiful and charming young boy with a sweet smile but is horrible at sleeping. I have been going back and forth in my mind about whether or not to sleep train him. He is not a big screamer or crier and I’ve done what I could to prevent him from having to cry too much and too hard — always being with him, responding to his needs and paying close attention to his personality and cues so that I don’t let him get too frustrated. So sleep training was a very scary thing to consider. But I read about all of the options and the gentle method takes weeks. Knowing how my schedule is and that some days we just can’t do the exact routine, the gentle method will probably never work for us. The cry it out method (let him cry himself to sleep until he learns to fall asleep without your help) is harsh but supposedly lasts for 3-4 days. Anytime I’ve implemented a change in his routine he has taken to it well, so I’m hoping that he is quick to take to this. I write this at the start of the sleep training not the end of it because I am uncertain it will work and I am assuming I will have no authority on the topic after trying it. I won’t even mention if it works or not after the fact because suddenly, days or weeks later, all may be upheaved.
I just do not know.
That is the reality of motherhood.
And I feel, with most things with my baby, that I will never really know what will work, why it worked or not and what the problem or cause was in the first place that made it need fixing. So as a result, I am the furthest thing from being able to boast. I’m so far from being able to speak confidently of my own knowledge and efforts. I am truly incapable of patting my own shoulder as I’m always having to look over the next one.
This reality has led me to change my views on two things and that is what I will talk about on this blog.
These are my mini-revelations:
Being a mother is truly, truly one of the most respectable ‘jobs’ there is.
I say job but I don’t like the word. I rather say role but it doesn’t have the same meaning. That’s because people the world over completely disregard how intricate and complex the job of a mother is, how all-encompassing, time consuming, life consuming, emotionally consuming, mentally consuming… just plain consuming! Yes, we all hear about the sleep deprivation but that’s just the handicap, that’s not the job. Being sleep deprived impairs your mental capacity and can cause depression or low moods, yet with this serious handicap a mother still needs to raise a life.
The crazy thing is that people, can understand the frustration of sleep deprivation but totally disregard the ‘raising a life’ thing. How do we all forget that we were once babies who could do nothing for ourselves?
So here I am going to try to explain the role of a mother in a few sentences, otherwise I would be writing all day:
A mother is an every-second problem solver, making her like a doctor who has to understand and be able to spot illnesses and treat them, like a psychologist who has to be in tune with the baby’s personality and feelings in order to manage their fragile psychological experience and intense development, like a teacher who has to know in depth the developmental stages and skills of the baby in order to help teach them those skills and practise with them as well as support them through the frustrating phases of not being so good at the skills before mastering them, like a scientist who notices the finer details — when everyone just sees a baby who either smiles (is happy) or cries (is not happy) mothers know it’s far, far more complicated than that — and one who daily creates hypotheses and goes through iterations and experiments and research in order to find the solutions to her baby’s problems, like a manager who plans intricate schedules and networks in order to ensure her baby has the social experiences he needs to develop confidence and feed his curiosity, like a stylist and consultant who has to find the most suitable toys, clothes, books and learning aides for the child. Finally, like a shift worker, who enthusiastically works all of the shifts (non-stop), for little to no pay while also sacrificing her body, mind, soul and spirit to feed her baby, love her baby, nurture her baby, clean her baby, clothe her baby and support her baby in every way possible.
I know, I know, I know it has been said many times and this won’t be the first blog you read in support of mothers but if none of those previous blogs made you think differently, then maybe read the preceding paragraph a few times over.
I went into the job of mother planning to do a part-time masters alongside it and build a business partly because I was afraid doing the same thing every day would be monotonous and boring and partly because I thought so little of the value of being a mother as a job that I thought it necessary to put things in place to keep developing myself. But neither have I had the sort of time I hoped I could, the mental space I needed, my usual level of creativity nor a second to feel bored. Being a mother is far from monotonous. After 28 years of being the most flighty person, no period of change could ever exceed this one in its intensity. For someone who always loved change, I’m delighted to find that this is my reality.
Oh and on that point I’d also like to mention that on top of all the things a mother is (and I’m pretty sure I only covered 10% of it), mothers also have to go through a colossal 180 degree change in their lives while watching their husbands and friends and colleagues going about life as normal.
And onto my second mini-revelation:
Being a mother forces you to a beautiful place where encouragement becomes your bouquet of flowers, a delightful, much needed surprise whenever it is given unsolicited.
Of all failures and bumps in the road and difficulties and periods of being jobless and broke and relationships that have ended and heartbreaks and sup-par grades and challenging tests and the physical and mental strain of high-level sport and being a small fish in a big pond, of all the things that have humbled me, being a mother has surpassed them all!
Despite the fact that I have had MANY reasons in my life to doubt myself and lack confidence, no experience nor challenge has managed to wreck my ego as has this one. And to that truth, I have to raise my hands in true gratitude. It’s a beautiful thing. Here’s why…
Previously when someone complimented me I felt bashful, mostly because I found it awkward as I generally agreed with their compliment but didn’t want to come across as arrogant. So for a long time being complimented was just plain awkward. A few years ago someone told me I should take compliments more gracefully so I began to say thank you with my head up and a big smile. That stopped the awkwardness but was ultimately just a way of boosting my ego and removing any barrier to complete narcissism.
But in the last few months, something has happened to me that I’ve never experienced before, and I do not exaggerate. I have started to really, really appreciate, often need, and always be revived by compliments. And actually I don’t consider them compliments anymore, I consider them words of encouragement. The difference is that ‘compliments’ focus on how amazing you are while ‘encouragement’ feels more like acknowledging the fruit of your effort and blind faith. When I was complimented I though ‘yay me’. But when I am encouraged (which has replaced compliments in my mental vocabulary) I think ‘praise God’.
Every time someone tells me I’m a good mother I think ‘by the grace of God’.
Every time someone tells me I’m doing a good job I think ‘by the grace of God’.
Every time someone tells me my child is well-behaved, cute or sweet I think ‘by the grace of God’.
Being a mother has wrecked my ego and by the grace of God it has given me a new humility that welcomes encouragement wholeheartedly. I love existing in this new space of relying totally on Jesus to be fruitful, purposeful and have the wisdom I need to be effective as a mother. I hope this will make me overall less arrogant, more compassionate and impact my relationships across the board. That would be a true blessing and when that happens I will know for certain that I have blossomed into a great mother and woman by God’s design.
There is no book nor article that I have read, no person I have talked to, no outcome I have had, nothing that I have tried, no experience that I have gained along the way that is right and true enough to make me boast in myself as a mother. And from what I can see from other mothers further on, there never will be.
But by the grace of God, I have this all-encompassing, life-changing role.
By the grace of God, I am a gentler, kinder, more generous, more patient and humbler person because of it.
By the grace of God, being a mother has forced me to throw my hands in the air and admit that I don’t know everything, will never know everything, need loads of help and support, need to trust and listen to and be guided by others, need unequivocal faith and owe all that is good in my life to… the grace of God.
‘Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need’ Hebrews 4:16
Photo copyright Maisie Walker, 2016.