My second daughter turned three years old four days ago. Since that day, I’ve been thinking a lot about time, growth, and motherhood.
I’ve been thinking about these things. And I’ve been looking at this amazingly, complex little girl, this little person who, aside from her bright eyes, seems nothing like the child I thought had three years ago.
I was convinced when I gave birth to her that she was a “textbook” baby. She would be my child to predictably adhere to the rules of what “most babies do.” Given her predictability, I rationalized she’d be an easy “fill in” for me to finally test the waters in Perfect Parenting.
I never read baby books until I learned I was pregnant with her. I never opened a book because my personality is such that I am skeptical about more complex things in life ever adhering to any formulaic equation leading to success. So with my first daughter, it wasn’t a book that led me to my obsessive compulsive tendencies relating to her growth and development. Nope. Just hard worn anxiety and a perfectionist spirit to not screw up someone’s life.
It was that, I realize now, rather than intuition or any other holistic understanding of life that spiraled my trips into alternative, non-mainstream, nature-y strains of parenting.
But with my second, I wanted to be different. I had to be different to make having two kids under two work. And in that I became obsessed with the idea of doing things right.
When my second daughter was born, I tried following common wisdom from American culture for what should work with most babies.
I put her down for naps, in her crib at night, used white noise machines and swaddling and tried hard not to listen to any instincts that suggested that sometimes, maybe just maybe, I try to do otherwise.
The end result of this was a baby who appeared, at least by my books’ estimation, to be right on track for perfection. Before she could walk, she slept through the night. She enjoyed her crib and fit in perfectly with the perfect life I was trying to create as a family of four.
But the more she grew into herself, the more things changed. Or maybe I just changed. Or maybe things were changing all along but because I was ignoring everything that didn’t fit into whatever parenting formula I was using at the time, I didn’t see them.
I stopped reading the books around this time. This came after me finally realizing the books couldn’t tell me what to do when, for instance, it’s clearly nap time but instead of sleeping, your baby is in the crib crying to be held. And you’re listening to this on your couch with your three year old at your side. But rather than sitting there and listening to her crying, she, the toddler, tells you it’s okay to do what you’ve wanted to do all along.
“It’s okay, mommy. Just go get her. Go hold her.”
You can’t then tell her about my books because that makes no sense. It makes no sense that you’re (at the time) almost thirty and can’t see that your baby isn’t tired, that she just wants to be awake like everyone else, held like everyone else.
Just go get her not because it’s what you’ve been told is right, do it because it feels right.
What the books, most of the books (minus ones like this one which I HIGHLY recommend), leave out is that being a parent is about feeling. It’s subjective, an endeavor that grows easier when you become more in tune with the value of your feelings, your intuition, your heart. I don’t know how to raise perfect children. But I do know that in order to raise children confidently, you have to eventually get to a place where you trust your heart to know what to do with your children. And what you do with your children will never be the same all the time.
There are no prescriptions or theories or equations for good parents or good children.
Being a parent, being a mother, is not about getting it right all the time. It’s about being human and making mistakes and fixing them, breathing, forgiving yourself and saying “I’m sorry” to your children and everyone else who is undeserving of what happens on your bad days.
Being a mother is about trusting the universe, or God if you believe, enough to know that the child you were given is perfect just as he or she is. You need not fix them into something they aren’t or feel bad about who they are. Just love them and yourself enough to trust that this will always be enough. Your best intentions, intentions from your heart, are always enough.
The books leave out that there’s more to being a parent than perfect naps and lunches and bedtime routines. There’s a relationship that grows everyday between yourself and your child and if you let go of how this should be, you’ll see how it is more clearly.
Leading up to my second daughter’s third birthday, I kept getting sentimental, mostly at nights. It would get sentimental about mistakes I’ve made and about how it goes by so fast, and about how I don’t regret any of it, any of these years, this time spent.
In case I don’t say it enough out loud, to strangers who marvel at my babywearing and toddler-hand holding skills, I often do have days in motherhood, in parenthood, where I feel stretched thin. Emotionally. Physically. Mentally.
Even after three children, it is still hard in that way. And I suppose it will always be.
It’s hard because it taxes your heart. You love so much in motherhood. You give so much in motherhood. You go so deep into and out of yourself in motherhood. When you are really in motherhood, when you’ve accepted where you are in motherhood and love it, you willingly let things go. You let go of your ego, your pride, the idea that your body is anything but miraculous, friends, sleep, and sometimes, if only at times, your sense of self.
But you gain,too. You get this when you put the books down and can really see, in gratitude, the one beautiful blessing or blessings you’ve had all along.
My second daughter told me the other day that she feels cozy in my arms.”So comfortable,” she said in nuzzling against her face against my chest. I don’t know how I once did it, but I can’t imagine her in any other way. but in my arms. with her mama.
Now please excuse me while I cry some more about it really being three years since I gave birth to my second baby girl.
Just kidding, kind of. Love, Jessica. ♥