What Mothers Do: Nothing Prepares You


This is reflection two.
When interviewed, many mothers use the word “shock” to describe their initial feelings of being mothers. Why? Because your entire life changes 180 degrees in a moment. I relate it to culture shock. Suddenly, you are solely responsible for a little being, a little being that is needy and freaked out and can do very little without you. Even if you’ve cared for children before, there is a certain amount of uncertainty and awkwardness when getting to know your own child. What if I break him? Is he still breathing? How can I stop his crying? And, in all things concerning the child, the buck stops with you. This means that the weight of your life and your decisions, feels heavier because a small helpless person will receive that which you cannot carry.
The culture of a new mother completely shifts, and this can create feelings of loneliness for many women. Being independent before, now it takes significant planning to get you and the baby to an appointment without being out of sorts. Friends may not understand you anymore (and you may have difficulty connecting to them now as well). Many old activities aren’t conducive to having a newborn (like surfing… that one’s hard to do). Suddenly, your husband is talking to you and you don’t hear him because you’re thinking about the baby. When you go to the store and your time triples because you brought a baby. If you take a shower, it gets cut short because of a crying baby… Suddenly, the woman’s mind is working double time to figure out how to do basic things with a baby in tow. In addition, the woman is, for a time, dependent on others for survival (depending on the kind of birth she had and how she intends to make money after the baby is born). A once independent person, now has a youngster clinging to her and relying on her for nurturing and sustenance. Granted, as the mother develops skill and an understanding of her baby, she can work through many of these issues, but the initial shock in the first few weeks is very strong.
Many American women are raised by parents and school systems to be workers, not mothers. We go through school learning arithmetic, science, and writing. I think that is fantastic, and I enjoyed learning all of those things. What happened to the Home Economics type classes that used to be offered? These classes taught young boys and girls how to raise children, prepare meals, handle finances, maintain a home. Why are these types of life skills not an educational requirement anymore? It seems that school has prepared us for working, but not for parenting or other life skills. What then, of the men and women who did not have strong parenting figures growing up? They are left to grapple and muddle through fatherhood and motherhood, kind of playing it all by ear or seeking advice from friends and experts.
I still remember when Josh and I brought Caleb home from the hospital. He was in his car seat, we brought him in the house, and were both like, “Okay… now what?” Caleb was sleeping at the time. Josh immediately started organizing our house (cleaning, going through the mail, etc.) and I started ridding our home of all signs of pregnancy (maternity clothes, the giant pillow I slept with, etc.). That was so weird. Then Caleb woke up and I was like, “Okay, I guess I should feed him.” We muddled through, which was probably the best way to do it. It was so weird. Even though I had read books and we had taken classes and we both had great parental role models, it all felt so foreign to us. Eventually, we established more of a rhythm and routine for our house, so there was more predictability. But, man, those first few days were so bizarre.
The next thing that I did not prepare for was the division of friends. Suddenly, people who used to be great friends, seemed judgmental of your parenting decisions or didn’t understand how things changed for you because you had a newborn. My mom even mentioned to me that they lost several friends after their first child was born because they couldn’t understand why they didn’t just dump my brother off with a sitter so they could party all night. Yeah, let’s see you leave your newborn baby with a clueless teenager! I even am finding my own opinions on parenting very strong. For example, I can’t stand to hear a baby cry and will attempt to comfort the baby as much as I can. Others believe in the “cry it out” method, which drives me nuts! Again, I just can’t stand the thought of a baby crying alone. But, are parents who do that “bad” parents? Should I really cast my judgment on them, even though they are just trying their best to grapple through parenthood the same as me? I am learning to feel confident in my parenting style without casting unnecessary judgment on others.
The funny thing about experiencing the parent shock is how the opinions you had before becoming a parent, may shift drastically after having children. This experience makes for books like I Was a Better Mother Before I Had Kids and I Was a Really Good Mom Before I Had Kids. I have already found that many of my pre-baby opinions about parenting and being a stay-at-home mom are pretty much worthless. Clean house? Ha! Dinner on the table for my husband? I’m happy if I brushed my teeth some days. Thought I’d ease smoothly into parenthood? Nope. But I’m loving every minute of it.