This Mother’s Day, millions of moms can expect handwritten cards, proudly presented bouquets and maybe even breakfast in bed – but being a mom isn’t always hearts and flowers. There are times when you just don’t know what decisions to make as a mother, especially when it comes to the long-term best interests of your child. Add to that dilemma the different phases of development and you’ve got the perfect formula for angst-filled days and sleepless nights. The good news: You can take a tip – or two or three! – from those that have already been there and made it to the other side.
When you’re pregnant, nine months feels like an insanely long time. The joy of knowing you have a new life inside you intensifies as the baby grows and kicks and hiccups. But along with the wait comes the worry. Each twinge and tickle make you wonder if something is wrong. You just want to gaze into your baby’s eyes, count their toes and know that everything is alright. And then, before you know it, they’re here – and your world is forever changed.
“Nothing beats super sloppy baby kisses,” laughs Cristina, a mother of five girls ages 5 to 15. “I also loved nursing my kids,” says mom of two Nona. “It made me feel like I was giving them something special that they couldn't get anywhere else.” Snuggling your baby, smelling their hair and watching them fall asleep in your arms is amazing, and fun firsts like giggling, walking and talking make every mother swoon. The not-so-happy facts of life at this stage? Epic exhaustion. Remember: Sleep deprivation is used to torture prisoners of war. “I once went to the grocery store with my shirt on inside out,” says Cristina. Her 3-year-old helpfully pointed it out, “but not until after we got home!”
Aside from having to run on empty, the temper tantrums, potty training and limit-testing that also mar this period can (and will!) try the patience of any mom. Key to getting through it is letting go and trusting your gut. “Life with small children can be repetitious, even boring,” says Cathy Cassani Adams, parenting coach and author of The Self-Aware Parent: 19 Lessons for Growing with Your Children. “There is a lot of watching and waiting and worrying.” And though seemingly everyone you meet will tell you what they think is the “right” way to do things, “their approaches may not work for you,” says Nona.
Watching your child become independent is truly a joy. “Each year on the first day of school I shed a few tears, but they’re happy tears because each year brings new experiences and knowledge to my children,” says Cristina. At this stage your kids will begin to choose their own friends and make decisions without you, but they’re not grown up yet. “My children still like me to tuck them in and lie down with them at night,” says Nona. “I treasure that. My son now claims he’s too old to hold hands in public, so I just sneak in hugs on the sly.”
As a parent, learning to let go of control is challenging. Kids spend much of their day in school and you can’t take up residence at the adjacent desk. It’s difficult not knowing what’s going on with them 24/7. To ease your anxiety, good communication is a must.
“Listen to your kids, be curious and ask questions,” Adams advises. You may be spending less time together, but you can still stay tuned in to their interests. And while you’re at it, nurture some interests of your own, she says. If you don't spend time alone, you won't know who you are anymore. So practice self-care and set a good example for your children at the same time by pursuing personal passions.
It’s gratifying to see the results of your earlier teachings – such as kindness, respect, creativity and achievement – take seed and grow, and this is the stage where that really happens. “It fills my heart with great pride to see what an amazing person my teenager is becoming,” Cristina enthuses. Maggy, mom to two twentysomething sons, says she enjoys their holiday homecomings because “I love to listen to them interact with one another. Despite the sibling rivalries they had growing up, their bond of brotherly love is very apparent.”
Stepping back to let your children follow their own paths is the move you need to make at this stage, no matter how much you’d like to continue to chart their life’s course for them! Instead, let them tell you who they are rather than telling them who to be.
Trials & Tribulations
Rest assured, when your kids are going through a difficult phase, it’s natural to wish they were at a different stage of development. We also tend to favor the stage that plays to our strengths; maybe you feel comfortable dealing with your kids as infants but fear the terrible twos (and threes). Or you may sometimes wish that your children could grow up overnight, so you could communicate with them more rationally and on an adult level.
When those wishful thinking moments happen, tell yourself to reflect on the joys of today and remember that being a mom is – and always will be – an everyday challenge. “My 7-year-old is very strong-willed,” says Nona. “But when she curls up with me while we read Fancy Nancy, I realize that those tough moments pass.”