Preparing for my daughter’s recent school camp was a time of excitement, list checking and shopping for items. Nerves about what sort of bag should be taken and endless reminders of what the teachers did and didn’t say students could bring were forthcoming. In that time I also wondered about the impact of being one kid down, particularly on the demands on my time from my other daughter given her companion would be missing in action. Parents of one-child families often report the constant demands to keep their child company is what they find hardest about parenting.
The reality of camp week was far different from my expectations. Following this, I reflected on four key parenting truths I have learned since becoming a mother:
1. One kid is definitely easier than two.
Over the camp period I learned parenting one child was easier that parenting two, in so many ways. Fewer instructions and reminders in the morning and evening, less meal preparation, less laundry and, blissfully, there was no need to manage sibling rivalry. My home felt calmer and more manageable. Spending time with my daughter felt easier and we were able to focus on the things she enjoyed.
2. Not all help is helpful.
It definitely helps to have a support network when you raise a child but on the flip side of this, not all help is helpful. There are some early parenting books that will say accept any offers of help. This statement is used to encourage those of us who do not like seeking help to accept offers help. The problem is, help is only helpful if its increasing the quality of your life.
Help that is offered on a transactional basis or that makes you feel less than is not helpful. It’s OK to say no to help in these situations. A common issue is help that is offered with a truckload of unwelcome advice or a sense of ownership over the child due to the help given. This can sometimes have the effect of weakening a new mother’s sense of competency. Avoid offers of help that require you to be dependent on another.
3. You will never really feel like you know what you are doing and that’s probably a good thing.
I work with a lot of new mothers and most are desperate to find their feet, to know they are doing it right and to feel confident as a mother. The thing is, it’s unlikely to ever happen. A discussion with an acquaintance who recently became a grandparent cemented this for me. She shared that she was feeling uncertain in her role and was working out how best to parent a child who was a parent, knowing she did not want to be like her own mother.
The real confidence of motherhood comes from knowing you may not know what to do, but you can find out or try things and see what works. The reason I think this is probably best is because the kind of mothers who know what they are doing without question are the kind of mothers who aren’t flexible and may not be able to take their child’s perspective. Being right becomes more important that finding what truly works. If you doubt yourself, you’re open to trying to find solutions that work for you and your child.
4. Motherhood can feel like the best and worst thing you’ve done (sometimes at the same time).
I recall blissfully telling a friend who came to visit when my first child was a newborn, “This is definitely the best thing we have ever done, it’s the most amazing experience of my life.” Three months later, I sat alone in my home felling lonely and under-stimulated and I thought, “This is the worst decision of my life. What was I thinking? I hate being at home.” I longed for my old life with the realization that, for the first time in my life, I was stuck with this job. There was no way out of it, only through it.
On this journey through motherhood I have had times when having kids felt like the best decision of my life and other times where my old pre-children life looks like a beautiful dream I would give anything to return to. There are even times when what is happening can make motherhood feel like the best and worst thing at the same time. There have been times when one kid is making me feel like I am an awesome parent and the other is making my life a living hell and I start scrolling the internet for parenting classes.
In the maternal mental health unit I once worked in, we had a poster in our office that said, “The first 40 years of parenting are the hardest.” In my pre-child days, I used to think it was a bit of a joke but now I see its message clearly. Each age and stage of parenting has its challenges. It’s a journey rich with meaning but full of boredom and frustration and also pockets of joy and ridiculous moments. Parenting is an endurance event in which we are always learning and knowing ourselves and our children in different ways. What truths have you learned along the way?