Motherhood: 12 Lessons From The First Year
Today when Hayes awoke from his last nap I looked at him standing there confident, strong, and giggling and I realized we no longer have a baby. This next week Hayes turns 1. I now realize how important these year markers are for mothers as much as they are for the child. In fact, this year when we celebrated my birthday with my parents I told my mom, thank you and made sure she knew how much I understand what me turning 30 marks for her as well as it does for me. Becoming a mother has changed me dramatically and somewhere along this journey has made me feel completed. I feel whole in some strange way as if I finally have found my larger purpose in this world.
This first year as a mom has brought some hard days and some achingly beautiful ones as well. As we approach the day we welcomed Hayes into the world, I finally feel as if the journey of entering motherhood has come full circle. Sitting here I am thinking of how I felt a year ago scared of what the future held for me the closer I came to birth and motherhood. I remember feeling anxious to meet him but unsure of the experience it would take for him to arrive. Then the day arrived we would meet him. We wake up early and drove in for the induction and then only hours later met him and experienced the rawest moments of my life thus far. It was transformative but only the beginning of the real journey.
Now, here at the ending of the first year I am looking back and seeing how far I have come and just how much I have learned. Some things funny and some things serious. All of which are important. Motherhood is always a mix of laughing at yourself, crying too easily, and always being slightly exhausted but I wouldn’t trade it for anything. Now, I couldn’t imagine life any other way than having a wild toddler ripping apart my house and then running at top speed to cling to my leg and beg for a hug. It is the best thing in the world. So, to help any of you other mamas get through the trials of the first year, I have pulled together 1 lesson per month from my first year of motherhood. Read them all, absorb them, because if I could have had this list for myself a year ago things might have gone smoother sooner ha.
Any other moms making it through the first year, add some of your lessons and things that helped you thrive instead of survive…okay maybe survive but you know what I mean haha. So happy to be able to share some of my lessons learned in hopes it makes your first year as a mom more blissful and yes full of uncertainty, but even more excited to hear other’s as well.
- Give yourself you time:
There is nothing more important in being a mother than having time for yourself. You give of yourself all day. Early on you give everything of yourself night and day and you are the sole provider for so much and in return you don’t get a lot other than sweet sounds and cuddles. In many ways that little one is still very much attached. It shifts as they grow, but still you must preserve yourself not just for that little one, but for you partner, the world, and most importantly for yourself. Choose something every day that is solely for you. I would ask for things like the freedom to shower and take care of myself alone and in peace for at least 30 minutes. Nowadays I make sure to set aside creative time, time alone whether showering or working out, and then girl’s nights and dates. All of these things are important in preserving myself and my mental health. If you fail to do this all the other advice means nothing. Care for yourself first. Pamper yourself. Give back to yourself and recharge. If you are like me you will learn the hard way where that line is, but make sure you find the time and find a partner or friend to help you achieve it
- Don’t ever wish it away:
You will pull them out of bed one day and they will be longer, grown out of their 3-6 month clothes, and have all new tricks. One phase will have ended and another begins within a blink of an eye even when you believe it will always be very hard. Each stage has its difficulties. Don’t wish them away no matter how hard. I promise even months down the road you will long for when they would fall asleep on you or the cooing sounds they made or the way they looked at you first thing in the morning. These moments though at times hard are so incredibly precious and important in their growth and in your’s.
- Look to do your best, not be perfect:
I have always been someone tries to find the beauty in the imperfect and though I was pretty frightened by motherhood this last year every month eased my fears. I found comfort in it more and more, but the thing I told myself from the start was to realize there was no such thing as a perfect mom. I had to love him as best as I possibly could, give him my best self, but let him always know that I fail too. I told him the day he landed on my chest “buddy, this is a new experience for both of us. We both are going to screw up. You are my guinea pig and we are going to do this together.” I have kept to this since then with him. I tell him I am learning just like he is every day and I am not perfect. We all embrace imperfection in our house because we know imperfect is where we are human. Do the same for yourself. You will find calm quicker and you will find yourself connecting deeper with your child as they grow up. Every day I have to remind myself to be vulnerable and okay with learning.
- Managing expectations:
The place I found myself falling apart most in this first year of motherhood was with my expectations of big and small things in my life. Those days were the worst. It took me time to learn how to manage expectations. My first lesson was in my birth experience, but then every few days I had my expectations shattered. Everything from my body bouncing back to how I would get back to work to even how my mind would work and creativity would come back to me. That was just the surface of it all. Then there were the experiences of when he would sleep through the night to how life would look with a baby to how we would travel to everyday moments. This is where I struggled the most in my first year. I still struggle with it, but I have learned that expectations are easy to control if we do the upfront and daily legwork. This is why Mike and I talk about our days every day before Hayes wakes up. I talk through what I need and what I don’t. I tell him about any hidden things I am expecting, which are the typical day ruiners I have had to become self-aware of this year. Nothing ever really goes as planned, but what I found is that when we stop trying to make it fit in a box we are more likely to see the beauty of the moment. Everything from sleeping through the night to whether your baby will nurse to even how going back to work will be. Openly discuss your expectations with your partner and yourself and then figure out how you will handle ahead of time if it doesn’t go as you expect.
- Take photos and videos…no matter what:
Even on the days, you feel ugly take a selfie with your little. No matter the double chin in bed, take the picture. They matter, they are moments and they pass so quickly. I have been cherishing looking back on Hayes’s photos and videos from this last year. They are so special. Even this above one. I didn’t know it at the time, but it was the last week he nursed and the last moment I captured of this phase in our relationship. He pushed away a few days later and decided he was done.
- Find support:
My gosh, I wrote a whole post about a couple women who I couldn’t have done this whole thing without. But my circle is much larger than just them. There are so many women I have relied on and found comfort in since becoming a mother. Motherhood is a hard and beautiful part of being a woman one that we have the amazing opportunity to experience, but we were never meant to go it alone. We were meant to birth amongst and with the help of other women, be supported through postpartum by our mothers and sisters and friends, and then to raise our children amongst a community. It is vital as a mother to have people you can call to cry on their shoulder and tell them you are struggling. It is important to know there is another mom you can text at 3 AM when your baby vomits and has a fever. You need someone to be there that is not just your partner, but another person that aligns understands the crazy of what it means to be a mom at times. Though every child is different, some of the things I have learned to help Hayes sleep better or have confidence to tackle new skills have been because of other moms who have supported or suggested things in love. It has made all the difference this year.
- Don’t listen to anything but your heart and your gut:
I just used this the other day when planning a trip with Hayes this spring. I was wondering what people would think about some choices we were making, but I was making them our of concern for his safety and that was when it clicked, my gut said to do it…so do it. End of story. Mother instinct isn’t a fake thing it is real and if your gut says this is what needs to happen, do it. I can trigger when Hayes is getting sick and the difference between a fever or just waking up a little sweaty. I know when he is hungry or needs a nap and can even sense when he is getting into trouble or danger even when I cannot see him. So if you are hearing different things, but you know otherwise trust your gut don’t listen to anything or anyone else but yourself.
- Don’t compare:
Yup. Stop right now looking at other moms and wondering but how?!?!? It is so easy to find ourselves as new moms and not so new moms in the comparison trap especially with the frames of Instagram. Every woman is going through something different and will have challenges at different times in motherhood whether she chooses to show them or talk about them or not. It is easier to take photos of the good moments than it is to capture the tough ones. No one is perfect so find a way to be content with your life. I promise you even in the muck of some days there are beautiful and incredible moments you can find joy in. If you took and framed those moments on Instagram it would look like one hell of a perfect day even if most of it was spent fighting a baby to take a nap that didn’t want to or having fussy little one because they are sick or working on some new things. I had a hard time with this especially when I saw other moms with younger babies that were sleeping through the night or so on, I wanted to be angry with them. I realized it made me feel this way because I was comparing their perfect frame to my whole day. It would make me feel like a failure even though I wasn’t all failing in relative nature of motherhood. Everything happens with time, the important thing is finding the joy throughout the journey.
- Function over form…just commit to it:
This is in reference to your purchasing habits. Just knock it out of your head that your kid will love wood toys or won’t own anything that sings. The first time we bit the bullet was with Hayes’s doorway jumper. It was ugly, but it was cheaper than the other one out there that “looked cool” so I went for it. Sure enough, that thing stuck with us from 3 months till 10 months when he started walking. It was the best $35 we ever spent. Nowadays, I kind of love the mess of his toys because they all bring him joy. He loves the chicken that clucks and lights up. He carries a toy channel changer my parents got him and I know every song. But that is just toys, we haven’t even touched anything else from bottles to blankets and more. Find things that serve function first and then if you can find a similar one that is beautiful and affordable go for it, but if you can’t, buy the bright green sippy cup cause the function is great. I had to trust that I probably had a lot of crazy 80’s early 90 kid color things that ended up somehow making me who I am, so it will most likely not ruin him in any way. Our biggest lesson in this was with our high chair. We have a stylish highchair, but the function for us wasn’t working at the stage he is at right now. Eventually, it will work for us, but not right now, so for now we use a cheaper chair that cost $30 that works perfect because everything can detach and washes easily with no fuss. Though we love the look of the other chair this one serves us better now in our life. I know it may not make your life as “curated” but trust me if it means you have a baby who sits happily or learns to feed themselves or has a high chair that is easy to clean the three times of day they make a COMPLETE disaster then you don’t care.
- Everything happens in due time:
This is the one I just really feel I recently got a hold of. I would always be wondering two steps down the line things like how will it go when I transition him out of a swaddle? How will I know when to wean him? What if he doesn’t crawl? Is he sleeping too much? How do I get him to sleep through the night? All these questions were endless in my head. Even now I am wondering how will it work to transition him to a toddler bed? Will he be okay when we switch from formula to whole milk? All these things are constant, but every time I felt we were nearing the moment of transition he would either do it himself or beg for it to happen. I now know that if he doesn’t there naturally transition then there is a chance he may not be ready so we will step back and try again when the signs seem right. Everything happens in the time it should for babies and children and that is okay. Our goal is to support them and give them the tools they need to get there and be ready to move on those things when they are. It gave me a lot of ease once I noticed this rhythm in our relationship.
- .This Too Shall Pass:
These words have been the words of my life this past year even days or weeks before becoming a mother. I had many nights in those early days holding him that he didn’t want to sleep so I held him and sang to him and even in my exhausted state mentally reminded myself this too shall pass. That phrase saw me through those nights that felt endless, days where he was sick, he was not sleeping at all and I was just beyond exhausted, days I wouldn’t get any work done, days I felt alone, days I felt lost, or even on those days that weren’t hard. When he runs around the house screaming and giggling I think my gosh this too shall pass. One day he will be driving and doing things completely on his own or he will be getting married. Every single moment passes quickly whether it feels hard to believe it will or you don’t want it to go too quickly. This phrase is the perfect reminder to stay strong and present as a mother. Hold it close to your heart and remind your girlfriends of it as well. It will get be your mantra.
This is one of my only regrets from the first 4 months. I read so many books and things about the importance of making sure your baby gets used to sleeping independently, not being held too much, not sleeping too much on your or in your arms. Though I held Hayes a lot and would snuggle and sleep with him in the mornings and more, I also put him down more than I wish I had. What I learned is that sleep training and worrying about them being in your room and so on isn’t your job in those first 4 months. Your job is to cuddle, love, feed, and carry that little one close to you. In all honesty, I never felt Hayes noticed where he was fully until after 4 months so I know those days we cuddled in bed or slept together never messed with him like I feared they would. I know every kid is different, but when #2 comes along that baby will be attached to me because I know now it won’t do much damage that cannot be reversed gently with love and care if at all. I know now how sweet those first few months are and how quick they go even in all their struggles.
So ladies what are some of your lessons from the first year? Oh, and let’s hear about living with a toddler. We are jumping head first into it since he is now running not just walking everywhere and is showing just independent he is. He watches our reactions to things he does that are naughty even. I am trying to figure out how to move forward into this new stage with love and grace. The next level of parenting is coming our way and I am open to any books or suggestions you have!
Top Image by Brett and Jessica