I’m a first time mom raising a 19 month old son with my husband in a foreign country I am only starting to call home. The journey of parenthood itself is already an enigma, a hotchpotch of emotions ranging from happiness, triumph, ambivalence, anxiety, apprehension, and utter exhaustion. Raising a child in a foreign country in an interracial marriage also brings lots of opportunities for misunderstandings, comic relief and an endless amount of writing material. What isn’t lost in translation is our love for one another and for our son.
I’ve tiptoed around making direct comparisons between American and Dutch parenting because it is treacherous ground, mined with stereotypes and sweeping generalizations rich with incomplete truths. Becoming a parent and being a parent, after all, is a universal shared experience. Regardless of what all the parenting articles, books and classes tell us (with all the conflicting messages from experts abound), chances are that our children might land in therapy anyway. The uncomfortable truth is that we’re all flying around a bit blind, especially in the beginning. In fact, each subsequent pregnancy and each child might be different experience all together, eluding the one-size-fits-all mentality.
The only way I could self-assess whether or not I was being a good enough mother was seeing how happy my non-verbal bundle of joy appeared to be and to commiserate with other moms. While nothing can compare to real world, first hand experience of attending a play date and sharing a much needed caffè macchiato or a glass of wine with other mommy friends, I love getting lost in the world of parenting articles and books. It’s often not very easy or convenient to arrange play dates with the three and under crowd. Scheduling a play date based on respective children’s temperaments and nap schedules requires a certain finesse and a bit of mental gymnastics. Opening up a parenting book, or reading an article is a lot more forgiving to the whims of a babe (reading = when baby/toddler is asleep).
I’ve decided to pass it forward with love, thinking about my overseas BFF who just became a new mom, friends who are mommies-to-be, mommy friends and moms in general who may need a pick-me-up or two, or simply a resounding Amen. I hope that some might also speak to you as a parent, and if not, that’s okay too- I can’t stress enough that there is not a one-size-fits all mentality for parents and children. For parents who are avid readers, a lot will be familiar because these are the very articles and books that come highly recommended.
Here is some collective wisdom about parenting and mothering I’ve gained and that the universe (family, friends, acquaintances, and writers) has kindly bestowed upon me in the past two years:
Being a mom is enough.
Writer Rachel Marie Martin honestly shares, “Somehow in this mixed up media world of things to do and places to go and dreams to follow the beauty of simply being a mother is completely lost.” Parenting isn’t really glamorous, but neither is real life any way. The moment we can admit that and let go of the illusion of perfection, the happier we (and our children) are going to be. I’m a firm believer that the majority of life, especially parenthood, is a sum of all the ordinary days composed of the randomness and spontaneity that children bring. Simply being a mom to my 19 month old son is enough.
Breastfeeding concerns are shared by almost all new moms.
By all means, take the breastfeeding classes and read all the recommended books by moms-in-the-know. Theory and real-world application, however, are two very different experiences. Breastfeeding in reality, however, can be a lot more challenging than what moms initially suspected and have been led to believe. Despite the World Health Organization’s recommendation to exclusively breastfeed for at least six months, only 16% of infants actually are. If it wasn’t for my sheer tenacity and prior request for a maternity nurse who was also lactation consultant, I probably would not have succeeded in breastfeeding. Kellymom has been a life savior in my darkest moments, arguably the most comprehensive resource for breastfeeding mothers in the entire web.
Be kind to your postpartum body and hormones.
Speaking of maternity nurse, one of the wisest words of wisdom she shared with my husband and me is “Remember that it took (in general) 9 months for your body to accommodate and nourish a beautifully formed human being. Be kind to yourself and give yourself time. This also applies to hormones.” Learn to embrace the skin that you’re in as a mother, a new woman.
Learn to graciously accept unsolicited advice.
There’s something about the journey of parenthood, whether you are pregnant, holding a baby or running after a toddler, that inspires everyone (family, friends, neighbors, random people and even childless people) to give you advice. Though, in all honesty, I have a sneaking suspicion that unsolicited advice will continue to linger regardless of what age my child is. While it’s also well known that the road to hell is paved with good intentions, sometimes it’s best to just be diplomatic. Also remember that just because someone voiced their opinion doesn’t necessarily mean you have to take it into consideration. In one ear, out the other.
Whether you decided to be a stay-at-home mom, work full-time, work half-time, or work at-home, there is no universal, ready-made solution.
I recently posted on Facebook “How does a mother balance her own ambitions while trying to be the best mom she can be to her child with all the conflicting messages out there? The four options seem to be stay-at-home, work-full-time, work-part-time, work- at-home. All of which are supported, or negated by current research and personal opinions from people.” I wasn’t surprise that I got different responses, some included light-hearted suggestions of cloning and the possible package of mommy guilt. Everyone unanimously agreed that there was no universal, ready-made solution and we simply have to choose what’s best for our family and for ourselves.
What is important to also address is that the real mommy wars isn’t about career moms and stay-at-home moms, cloth diapering vs. disposables, bottle feeding vs. breast feeding. Rather, as Mikki Kendall insightfully declares, the really mommy wars are about “the war on poor mothers, on disabled mothers, on indigenous mothers, on trans mothers, on mothers who are not in heterosexual relationships, on mothers who are migrant workers, on mothers doing the most with the least.”
A lot also depends whether or not you have a partner and who that partner is. Sheryl Sandberg’s controversial second message in her Barnard commencement address (and book Lean In: Women, Work and Will to Lead) was: “I truly believe that the single most important career decision that a woman makes is whether she will have a life partner and who that partner is. I don’t know of a single woman in a leadership position whose life partner is not fully—and I mean fully—supportive of her career. No exceptions.” If we can get past the controversy Sandberg’s provocative suggestion, it is an opportunity to redefine traditional roles and allocation of household duties and child rearing.
This particular line completely resonates with me and speaks to my spirit. It’s a challenge to articulate what it is about Kahil Gibran’s poem On Children that moves me.From the moment my son was born, he had his own personality and a very strong will. As parents, it’s our duty to provide him with the right environment for him to grow into his own person. We cannot determine his full potential or try to steer him in a certain direction – it’s up to him to discover who he is and what kind of person he wants to be. It’s really all about the passion of parenting.
The way we talk to our children becomes their inner voice.
In the first chapter of Mary Sheedy Kurcinka book Raising Your Spirited Child, she shares “the reality is that children learn who they are from others in their lives.” All too often children, especially those in the tantrum phase, are given deconstructive labels such as “demanding, unpredictable, loud, argumentative” rather than uplifting ones such as holds high standards, flexible, and opinionated. The daily words we express to our children have an untellable impact on their psyche. It’s important as parents to help your kid’s inner voice be a kind one. I highly recommend the book to all parents, regardless of whether or not their child falls under being spirited.
And seriously consider the simple words “I love to watch you play.” in your daily repertoire with your children.
Parenthood and childhood is a marathon, not a sprint.
Writer Jen Hatmaker once wrote, “You will never have this day with your children again. Tomorrow they’ll be a little older then they were today. This day is a gift. Just breathe, notice, study their faces and little feet. Pay attention. Relish the charms of the present. Enjoy today, it will be over before you know it.” It’s time we stop saying hurry up and try to enjoy the small moments before our children’s childhood is all but a distant memory. It’s also important to be reminded what every four year old should know – the answers might surprise some of you.