At least, that’s what I tell myself every time I feel like I’m not like the other moms. I don’t understand why I can’t get my child to sleep throughout the night. I’m frustrated that I feel anxious when I’m trying to balance a screaming baby on my hip while also trying to get dinner on the table. I’m ashamed that my body looks different after giving birth and will likely never look the way it did before I got pregnant. I’m worried that my child appears to not have much interest in crawling or sleeping in his crib throughout the night.
I’m just not…. enough.
As I go out and share my feelings with other mothers, I’ve started to come to the realization that I’m not alone in my fears and insecurities. These feelings are not exclusive to only me, and motherhood is far more complex than I could have ever imagined. Yet, it is a complex journey that all mothers go through.
Each of us have moments when we might feel that we’re falling behind or are struggling to balance everything, and that’s okay. It’s human to feel this way. And, most importantly, it means we care about our children and only want to give them the best. Perhaps, if we engaged in more open and honest dialogue with each other, we might learn to go a little easier on ourselves and remember we are all trying our best.
I recently reached out to four amazing mothers in the Columbia area who I deeply admire and asked them to share their personal feelings about motherhood and the lessons they’ve learned along the way.
Meet the Moms:
Sandra Arrieta, Library Youth Services Specialist and mother to a newborn daughter
Mila Burgess-Conway, Therapist and mother to a young son
Gene Carter, Project Manager and mother to a teenage son
Kelly Reese, Elementary School Principal and mother to a young daughter and son
Columbia Moms Tell All:
What is the most unexpected thing or the greatest lesson that you’ve learned while being a mother?
Sandra: The greatest lesson I have learned surrounds finding a new balance. A new normal. Of course, that’s because my balance was way off-kilter immediately after the birth of my daughter. Unexpectedly, I found finding balance starts with self-love, letting go of perfection, and true love and respect for all contributing members of my family. To be less nebulous, I realized I am a control freak and I needed to be nicer and let my kind and willing family members help me with raising our little girl. As surprising as it still sometimes is, people do things differently, and it manages to work out in the end.
Mila: For my entire pregnancy, I was so nervous that I’d be a terrible mother that I wouldn’t break any cycles and that I would perpetuate all of the dysfunction I had known as a child. My irrational thoughts ran rampant, and no matter how much my husband, friends, and therapist challenged them, it was a constant battle for me. Now, Io is three-and-a-half, and when I reflect, I realize that I was breaking cycles by even going to therapy in the first place. Currently, I practice positive parenting to the best of my ability, and I periodically check in with myself about all the ways my irrational thoughts about my motherhood continue to be proven wrong! I guess the lesson is that you can change the surface of a pond with even the smallest rock.
Gene: The most unexpected thing I’ve experienced in being a mother, is the reciprocity of our relationship. Entering motherhood as a very young adult, I had a preconceived idea that I was taking on the role of an omnipresent caretaker, shouldering the responsibility of the life lessons we would both experience, together. What I’ve experienced instead, is a reciprocal relationship in which I have been both teacher and learner and giver and recipient of unconditional love. My son has expanded my world view, challenged my beliefs, and has been instrumental in my own growth.
Kelly: As a new parent, I was looking at this little baby and trying to figure out allllllll the things. It was unlike anything else I had ever done, and I realized immediately, I could only learn through doing. From the beginning, this has meant lots of mistakes and do-overs. As my children have aged, my view of my own parents changed, too. I realized parents are just regular people. They make mistakes and are imperfect. I’ve learned to admit when I’m wrong and be transparent with my children. I find myself often saying, “I’m sorry. Moms mess up, too.”
What is the most difficult thing for you as a mother?
Sandra: The most difficult thing for me has been returning to work. My daughter is four months old, and I had to return to work last month. My husband is on paternity leave and home with her until she turns five months old. We’ve been on daycare waiting lists for months before she was born, and I have recently been touring different places to prepare for the inevitable day when she has to leave our home and go to be with strangers each day. And the hardest part is just that: trusting strangers.
I am really digging deep and trying to see these facilities through a less critical lens and come to terms with the fact that I will never find the perfect place. But how do you truly come to terms with anything less than perfect for your sweet and innocent child? It is seemingly against every fiber of my being. My fears and guilt are compounded when I read blurbs from the American Academy of Pediatrics recommending not to place children under the age of one in daycare, when possible. Well, it isn’t possible for our family. So, yes, all of the emotions surrounding daycare are very difficult. More difficult than I ever anticipated because there is not a solution. I can’t fix this problem unless I quit my job and then struggle financially or somehow inherit money from a long-lost rich relative — and that is humbling.
Mila: The most difficult thing is balancing my own self-care and personal boundaries with Io’s needs. My husband is an absolute champ and looks out for me. Also, it has gotten easier since Io’s older and more independent, and I can explain my need for “quiet time.” But there are moments I want to hide in a cave and sleep for days but can’t because a tiny human needs me to be present.
Gene: Maintaining balance, in many different facets. At times I find difficulty in managing competing priorities between work, motherhood, and making time for myself. In the past I’ve suffered from mom guilt and loss of my own identity. I try to counter that through mindfulness and giving myself more grace. In being more intentional with self-care, I’m able to give my best at work and at home.
Kelly: I’m not sure I can narrow it down to just one thing, but a big challenge for me is the constant worry of whether or not I’m making the right decisions for my children. In a world where everyone’s lives are on display, it’s easy to compare the different lifestyles and expectations of families. The rational part of me knows every child is different, and what works for one family may not work for another. There isn’t a perfect formula, and what works today, may not work tomorrow. That fluidity makes parenting really challenging at times.
What is your greatest hope for your child(ren)?
Sandra: My greatest hope is that she will grow up to be a balanced and generally happy person. I want her to explore everything she desires and excel in the vocation she chooses. And, of course, be in my life, in some way, always.
Mila: Io has such a joyful light in his eyes. My greatest hope is that he keeps it for his whole life. And can share it with the world, too, in whatever way he was meant to!
Gene: My greatest hope is that my son continues to be an open-minded, compassionate, and empathetic human being and that he is well-equipped to navigate adulthood with what’s been instilled in him and the lessons that we’ve learned together.
Kelly: This one is really easy. I want them to be happy, and, while that’s a really easy answer, that’s a really hard thing to achieve. It’s easy to get caught up in competitive sports, academic achievements, and even thinking about college and career aspirations. But, at the end of every day, I want them to be content whether they are nine years old or 39 years old. I hope they find the kind of joy and contentment in their lives that I’ve found in mine.
After hearing these mothers’ thoughts, I could see that while their answers are unique to them, the heart of their answers are quite the same. Each of these mothers want their children to be happy, just as I want my son to be happy and live the best life that he can possibly live.
Navigating motherhood is quite the experience, and it’s one that no one will ever truly master. However, we must all remind each other (and ourselves!) that we all want our children to be safe, healthy, and the very best versions of themselves. We’re not failing. We’re learning and evolving, while we build up our children and ourselves. Being a mom is a wild ride, but you’ve got this, Mama!