What I wish I had known before I became a parent
The first 1,000 days of parenthood is a period I compare to an endurance race where you have to hold one precious, loud and unreasonable human baton with no one to pass it to.
You might not have trained as hard as you thought you had, but you will hit your stride at some point. Just remember as you are running along, take notice of the support team there beside you. They are often busy running their own races, but their voices can carry you at times.
I was asked to contemplate what it was that I wish I had known before I became a parent. I found that as a mother of three, mine was not a short answer nor was it easy to explain.
Before I had my babies, I was given a library’s worth of books to pour over so I could read how to parent. But (long after the newborn baby days) I now realise that while I certainly am a parent, I am still figuring out what it means to be a mother. I did not expect that. Here is what I know so far.
Becoming a mother is living a life of contradictions sometimes seemingly so opposed that they are impossible to reconcile.
For one, you are never alone, but can somedays be more lonely than ever before. It is amazing how adding a person (or three) to your family can be so isolating.
Despite generating a flash mob of cooing strangers around your pram in public and lifting your shirt whenever your baby demands to feed, you feel utterly invisible when you have never been more on show.
The baby blues and new mother haze will ensure you put your keys in the fridge at least twice and accidentally feed the cat some of the baby’s milk. The blue fog lifts often enough though to allow you to laugh at yourself and the happy chaos.
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You will probably never sleep through the night again. Sure, your babies will start to sleep through the night, but you will evolve into a guard who bolts out of bed every few hours with worry because they are so quiet. As they get older and move in to their big kid’s bed, you will still be jolted awake by them climbing in to your bed whenever there is a storm, they don’t feel well or they’ve had a nightmare. Your bed is their safe haven from nightmares. Your soul is eternally connected to another for you are their mother.
But the most daunting thing I did not know before I became a parent is that despite the incredible strength required, you are so very vulnerable. You have created and birthed a brand new human being, yet the power of a simple kind word can bring you to your knees in a heap of eternal gratitude. A remark that might otherwise be long forgotten will stay in your heart forever like a tattoo.
Bupa calls those these people your Nightwatchmen. They are sometimes the ones who have gone before you and recognise where you are in that moment. See, there are things that you just can’t know before you become a parent. Despite everything you read, you must still earn some of the knowledge by experience. Sometimes it can be your second or even third child before you have these moments.
My nightwatchman appeared as a mother at my eldest daughter’s ELC. We had not lived in Australia long and there I was a mother to newborn twins and a toddler. One day as I was loading the impossibly huge twin pram back into the boot of the car after having just constructed it a few minutes earlier to wheel the sleeping babies across the street to pick up their sister another car pulled up beside me with the driver’s side window rolled down. In the softest voice this woman simply said, “It gets easier...” and smiled as she drove away. It was all I needed in that moment. She was so confident in her statement. There was no pity, just the passing of a truth from one who had been where I was. She knew I had to run my own race and she slowed for a moment along her own path to encourage me.
See, the biggest contradiction of all is that even though people have been having babies and raising families for ages and ages, every experience is different. You will just have to see where your path leads. So despite writing much about what I wish I had known before I became a parent, I am not going to offer any advice other than to listen to your personal support team along the way. They could be your doctor, your partner, your best friend or even a mother at your daughter’s kindy. If you need to slow down to hear them, do. They are wise and they have your best interests at heart.
And as I stop to catch my breath at this point in my own race, I will smile at you and say:
It get’s easier.