Nobody Ever Said It’d Be Easy
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What “they” don’t tell you about motherhood
Author Elizabeth Stone says, “Making the decision to have a child—it is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” Raising the future generation is the most important thing we will ever do. Our investment in our children has an impact on the forever. It is a place of ultimate power, beauty, love, and pride.
It is also a place of extremes: high highs and low lows.
When our kids are small, the sheer physical impact of caring for them can feel exhausting: sleepless nights, long days, sickness, teething, potty training, bedtime battles. As they grow, the focus shifts to homework hassles, playground scuffles, friendship issues, and, ultimately, career choices, questions, and life-mate commitments, the “forever” in Stone’s quote.
A wise woman told me “The days are long, but the years are short.” Truer words were never spoken. So allow me, as an older mom with “grown” kids, to share some of the important lessons I’ve learned along the way and offer a sort of road map for wherever you are in your “momming.”
This motherhood thing doesn’t come with instructions. Wouldn’t it be great if you were handed a manual that covered everything you’d ever need to know for at least the first 18 years as you bundled your fresh person into his car seat for the maiden voyage home? Sorry. Trial by fire. But don’t we learn better that way? The hard way? This is where you learn to trust your instincts. Where you begin to realize this mystical bond between you and your child. So, be easy on yourself. No one is perfect, but every human is unique. What works for you may not work for anyone else, and that is OK, maybe even magnificent.
Learn to say, “I’m sorry.” We all make mistakes. When we take responsibility for our actions (or inactions), our children learn to do the same—that is huge. Also remember it is OK to say, “I don’t know,” or “I’ll think about it.” I’ve never liked being put on the spot, so we had a rule: do not call to ask permission to do something in the moment or in front of your friends. Particularly as a Solo Mom, I needed time to think through the ramifications, scheduling, and impact on the others in our family.
Remember that your children are not your clones. They are unique individuals with their own personalities and preferences that should be celebrated. Enjoy experiencing the world through their eyes. If they have different goals and gifts than you do, don’t take it personally. Find the great joy and excitement in their wonder and interpretations.
Be present because you will never have that exact moment again. I treasure the hours spent with my son when he was learning to drive. Our best conversations happened unexpectedly while he was navigating through the traffic on the road and in his head. We’re different in many obvious and not so obvious ways, and his wisdom differs from mine. I learn something new every day.
Don’t get caught up in comparisons. With social media all around us, it is easier than ever to see what everyone else’s kids are doing, wearing, and achieving. Always remember the images you’re seeing are shiny, filtered, and Photoshopped, and don’t reflect everyday reality. You are doing just fine. Life is not about sameness. Life is about being real.
You will have days when you feel like a horrible mom. You’ll make decisions for you your kids don’t like or that affect them in unforeseen ways. That’s OK. The quote “We don’t remember days, we remember moments” kept me grounded when I was struggling just to stay on the “Horrible Mom” ledge and not hurl myself into the abyss of “Worst Mom Ever.” Most of the time, my kids didn’t think it was that huge a deal; weren’t scarred for life; and maybe, just maybe, learned a thing or two about being real and human.
There will be pain. Know that you will never feel pain like you do when your child struggles or hurts. As moms, we want to fix every situation to make things easier for our kids. But we can’t, and we shouldn’t. That is how they learn, and, if we’re being honest with ourselves, that is how we learned. It is painful and it sucks at times. And we can’t control it. From the first needle stick to a broken heart. But we can be there, and there is great comfort in that—for both sides—even when it is the hardest thing we’ve experienced to date.
Let them go. When our children go down a path where we see the hazards that lie in wait, our first instinct is to hold them back, yet that not only gets us nowhere but also can damage our treasured relationship with them. So we hope and pray and make ourselves available to wipe their tears and listen to them vent. We hold our “I told you so” or “I knew this would happen” because they are beating themselves up already and need our steadfast love and support more, even, and especially, when we don’t agree with their choices. Hopefully, small consequences along the way taught them resiliency in facing the big ones. Hopefully.
These are for you, Mamas:
Hold on to your power. Hand it to no one else. Your kids didn’t ask for it and don’t want it. It’s not their job (or anyone else’s) to validate you and make you feel good about yourself—that’s your job. They are busy trying to grow up and figure themselves out. We must do the same. We must do our work.
Keep growing and investing in your own life. Develop and maintain friendships with grown-ups. Have hobbies and interests outside your life as Mom. Someday, sooner than you think, the kids will leave the nest. Good job! They move on and out, and we are left with ourselves. If our lives revolve around our children and our egos become enmeshed with their successes and failures, loneliness will take their place. If we have created and maintained a full life of our own, we can greet their independence as an exciting new chapter of our life instead of dreading the quiet.
So, amazing Mama, enjoy every new phase of this ultimate Mom adventure. The joy is heart bursting and the pain, heartbreaking. But, as one who has gone before you, the pain is so worth the joy. The “I love you, Mom”; “Thank you for being there”; hugs; snuggles; and kisses make the hard moments all worth it. We do get smarter in their eyes. Marveling at these people we have been privileged to nurture as they venture out and make their place in the world leaves us speechless and grateful.
It is the hardest job there is, and yet . . . I wouldn’t trade a second.
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A certified professional life coach and professional singer, Nancy Jo Nelson lives in the northwest suburbs of Chicago. Her nest is emptying, as her daughter, Jillian, lives in the city and attends North Park University. Her son, Sam, still lives at home, along with Winnie the Wonder Mutt and Bolt the Mighty Chihuahua. Her first book, Lessons from the Ledge, is available on Amazon.
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