Just the other day, while I was perusing social media, a friend who is becoming a new mom in the next few weeks asked for advice on items to take to the hospital that no one may have told her about. This isn’t anything new, as moms often take to the internet to ask the advice of veteran mamas. It’s something I see quite a bit from day to day (you probably do too), and it got me thinking back on the past 20 years that I have been a mom. What are some things that have happened to me, and so many other people I know, that I never would have thought about before giving birth? I decided I might share my gained wisdom in the hopes of helping other moms know that they are not alone in what will greet them along the road we call “motherhood”
- Your family is never going to be “The Brady Bunch”, but it very well may be “The Simpsons”. If you have more than one child, there will occasionally be chaos that cannot be solved by forming a family singing group and harmonizing “Kumbaya” over s’mores in the back yard. Your children will, on occasion, treat each other like opposing members of the Crips and Bloods (or Sharks and Jets of you are a fan of musicals like me). This one I should have known, because my younger brother and I got into trouble for fighting on pretty much a daily basis until he got taller than me and I decided maybe we should call a permanent truce. But it still amazes me every day the creative and horrible new ways my children seem to dream up to torture each other. I know around my house “sibling rivalry” is a phrase on par with “crack addict”, and it seems to be about as hard a habit to kick.
- You will, at least once, get “That Call” or “That Email” about your child. When I was growing up, I never really knew when or if someone from my school reached out to my parents, because it was typically done through a note home or a private call before I was even off the bus in the afternoon. Now let me start by saying, I was never a discipline problem past second grade when I couldn’t help but talk to my neighbors in class because, well, they were so close! I do know, however, that there were some things I did that got back to them by one means or another. I recall a complicated incident involving me and an attempt to smuggle a secret love note to a boy I had a crush on that was foiled by my teacher. And I’m pretty sure when I got home that day, my mom had a smirk on her face and asked me, with full knowledge of the answer, if anything had happened at school that day. Obviously, the embarrassment was immense since I still remember it over thirty years later. But I have gotten that call or email about every single one of my children over the years, sometimes for silly things, sometimes serious. Kids will mess up and you are likely to hear about it. Prepare yourself now and know that it happens to us all (unless you homeschool, and then, I suppose, you’d have to be pretty hard on yourself to get a note home from the teacher).
- At some point you are very likely to call your mother to apologize for everything you’ve ever done. I have done this a few times that I can recall. As I mentioned above, my brother and I were far from angels. I distinctly remember my mother on occasion throwing up her hands in frustration and chiding me with the “Mom Curse” – “I hope someday you grow up to have children just like you!” Well, my mother is quite a lucky woman as the local casinos can attest to, and so her wish came true. It’s really a horrible realization to get utterly and completely frustrated with something your child does and then realize you did (or still do) the exact same thing. So sometimes at the end of a hard day I will call my Mom, and let her know, once again, how sorry I am for everything I did. And she accepts my apology and says she survived and so will I. But I never try to place the “Mom Curse” on my own children, in the hopes that maybe, just maybe, the insanity may skip a generation.
- It’s ok to have cereal for dinner, just not every day. If you are the parent of children who are not in school yet, you think your life is busy with preschool and playdates and tumbling classes, but you ain’t seen nothing yet! I used to have good balanced sit down dinners for my family on a pretty regular basis, and thought this could continue until we were empty nesters. To say I was naïve is an understatement. I won’t bother to list the 2364 different activities my family engages in on a regular basis, but let’s just say that my dream of a nightly Rockwellian dinner burst a long time ago. It’s kind of difficult to be running errands or working or volunteering most of the day, help kids with homework, and have the time or energy to put a nice balanced meal on the table in time to have everyone eat and still get little Timmy to a 5:30 basketball practice. There are times when I not only don’t have anything I can fix in the house, but I don’t even have time for takeout. Thus, the occasional cereal (or squeeze cheese and crackers, or peanut butter sandwiches on leftover hot dog buns) dinner will happen. You’ll make up for it with a grand, home cooked meal – eventually.
- You will not escape technology. Unless you live in a commune in far reaches of the rain forest, your children will be exposed to it everywhere they go. TV shows and movies, Ipods and Ipads, computers and smart phones, it’s everywhere. And once your child starts school, it will be there even more. You can try to say, ”Oh, my child doesn’t need any of that, he’ll be fine using his imagination.” That’s true, your child doesn’t “need” most of that, but he will “want it” and want it hard. And at school he will be required to use it. Welcome to the 21st century. You’ll have to find your limits. For me, my kids don’t get phones until they are driving. I have a “family” cell phone they can use if absolutely necessary, but otherwise they really have no need for one of their own. If they want expensive games, toys and gadgets, they have to save up for them, the only exception being if it is required for school (my children’s high school, for example, requires all students to have an Ipad). You will hear that “Susie has this” and “Eddie got that”, and you have to decide if you want to also provide all the latest gizmos and gadgets to your child, or if you need to be strong and learn to repeat the mantra “That’s very nice for Susie” then ignore the whining and arguing that is sure to follow. You have to find what it right for you and your family and stick to your guns.
- It is likely that at least once in his life, your child will tell you that he hates you. It’s like a dagger to the heart when it happens and, while you know he doesn’t really mean it, it doesn’t ease the pain. I recall being a bit of a self-absorbed teen (shocker) and if I didn’t get my way, I would hurl those dreaded words at my mother. Even if I felt bad about it later, I would never try to make amends because that would mean admitting I was wrong. The first time my oldest son said he hated me, I hid in another room and cried. For just a moment, all my deepest fears of being an inadequate mother came to life through those three simple words. Every one of my children has said the same thing to me at least once I believe. I have learned to take a deep breath, and simply say “Even if you hate me, I still love you and that’s never going to change”. We all say things we don’t mean sometimes when we’re upset or angry, and children are no exception. They have no real idea how deep words can cut. We as mothers have to learn to put on our emotional armor as we fight the battles, big and small, that go along with being a parent and setting rules and boundaries for our children. I have quite a few friends whose children have said this to them on many an occasion during tough times, and as I always reassure them, “If your child never tells you that he hates you, you aren’t doing your job”.
Motherhood is not for the weak. Barbara Walters once said “Motherhood is tough. If you just want a wonderful little creature to love, you can get a puppy.” The good times are easy and wonderful and everything you ever dreamed of. The most important thing to remember is, during the rough times, you are not alone. The hard times happen to everyone, and you will get through them with the support and understanding of your friends, family, even strangers who may hear your story and say, “Been there, done that.”