13 Things I’ve Learned in 13 Years of Motherhood
As it was Mother’s Day on Sunday, I thought I would write a post about the things I’ve learned in 13 years of motherhood. Last week I wrote about the what I really wanted this Mother’s Day. You can read that here.
If you follow my blog, you’ll know that my daughter, Shalini, recently became a teenager. It was an emotional time for me and I wrote an open letter about how I felt as this milestone approached.
My little – or not so little – boy Shivam, is nine. These last 13 years have been quite an adventure. The journey has been fruitful, with plenty of ups and downs. There have been tears, laughter, joy and struggle.I’m sure most parents agree that what you thought you knew about yourself may completely change as you tackle parenthood.
There are so many things I have learned as a mum, both about myself and the people around me. These are in no particular order.
1. SLEEP IS NEVER THE SAME
Growing up I loved my sleep. As a teenager, I wouldn’t surface before 10:30am on weekends. My mum and sisters would literally have to rip the duvet off me and force me to join the land of the living. Even when Sukh and I first got married, lying in was a necessity and because we lived alone, there was no one to answer to. I could be as lazy as I wanted. But now, boy is it a different!
Having a baby means sleepless nights; we all know that. But it hasn’t got easier as my kids have got older. There’s still the odd nightmare and when they’re unwell, you’re constantly on call. Pre-kids I was able to stay asleep for the duration of the night but now I am a terribly light sleeper. The slightest noise or light will wake me. It may be motherly instinct – that you’re never really off duty. But the precious sleep I was used to, disappeared in my late twenties never to return.
2. I’M NO LONGER MY NUMBER ONE
I was never really maternal. I knew I would have kids one day but I didn’t have the faith that I could – or would – be a good parent. Sukh and I were at the top of the list and it was difficult to imagine it any other way. But as soon as I held my baby girl in my arms, we shifted down the scale. My life revolves around my kids. Whether it’s buying them things, taking them places. They’re always front and centre in my mind and everything else slots in around their needs.
Initially it was always all about the kids but the last few years, I’ve made sure I pencil time in for just me too. It’s OK to have me time. In fact, I think it’s a must. I used to feel so guilty but I don’t anymore. If I’m not at my best, how can I give my best to my loved ones?
My kids still come first but now I schedule just that little bit of time for me too – and Sukh.
3. MY HUSBAND IS TRULY MY PARTNER
Sukh and I have been together nearly 19 years. He’s a good father to our kids and a good husband to me. But it’s easy to be a husband, it’s difficult to be a good life partner. For me, a partner means someone who is equal to me, someone who shares the load, someone who is there for me every step of the way, someone I can talk to and rely on, someone I can expect to pick up the pace if I’m slacking.
If Sukh is on a day off from work, he will have dinner prepared for when I get home and take the kids to their after-school activities. It’s not something that’s discussed, it’s just something we do. When one is having a busier day, the other will do as much as possible to lighten the load. That’s what I mean by having a real partner.
4. MEAL TIMES ARE IMPORTANT
Growing up, we would always sit down together and share our evening meal. My parents were very strict about that and I’m glad because it’s made me follow that same rule as an adult with my own family. It’s our one chance to connect as a family and talk about the day we’ve all had. Even if the TV is on in the background, that’s the one moment in the day when we’re all together.
There are some occasions when this isn’t possible, when one of us is out or working late, for example. When this happens, even for a day, it seems like too long a time before we’re all in the house together, doing a shared activity. Home-cooked meals are really important to me too. As the kids have got older, I ask for their help in the kitchen. It’s important they learn how to cook for one, and secondly as a way of bonding with them.
5. EVERYONE HAS AN OPINION
When you fall pregnant, everyone has a bit of advice for you. When the baby finally comes, suddenly there are people you would never consider your confidantes dishing out advice and giving you a list of things to do and things to avoid. Some advice is welcome because I did need some help in those initial days – especially with my first.
But after a while, it becomes exhausting listening to so many conflicting pieces of advice. All I started to hear was ‘don’t do it like that’ or ‘I did it this way’. When I had Shivam, the ‘advice’ continued, even though I had already had a baby four years earlier. But this time, I was able to block out the unnecessary noise. I learned to take what I wanted and ignore the rest. Remember you’re on your own journey, so don’t give yourself a hard time.
6. ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL
When I was pregnant, I read a lot of stuff online. I was even gifted a couple of baby books and would spend a lot of time researching. But once Shalini arrived all of that went out of the window. No amount of reading and researching will really help you because what’s true for one baby may not be true for another. People will tell you to do things a certain way because that worked for them but it might not work for you.
You will learn what your baby’s needs are and adapt to them. Your motherly instincts will kick in and even if you don’t know what to do straight off the bat, you will learn day by day. So take it one step at a time and just like above, don’t be too hard on yourself. You weren’t born a mum, so don’t expect to know all the answers.
7. THIS IS A LOVE LIKE NO OTHER
You will never know another love like this. Yes, you may love your partner, parents and siblings deeply and couldn’t imagine life without them. But your love for your child is on a whole other level. My love for both of my kids is intense, probably because I feel the need to protect them each and every day.
I’ve always been a strong person but my kids bring a vulnerability in me that I never knew existed. They drive me absolutely crazy at times but if I haven’t seen them for a day, I feel something is missing. And most of all, I love them more than anything because they’re a part of me and my husband. I grew them inside of me and nothing can match that feeling.
8. I’M ALWAYS EXPECTING TO BE SURPRISED
Kids say and do the funniest and silliest things. They can shock you, upset you, make you laugh, make your heart surge with love and knock you for six – all in a single day. I found this rollercoaster of emotion quite difficult to deal with for a long time. But when I embraced the fact that they will continue to surprise me, I began to enjoy the ride.
I don’t ever expect anything to go as planned, no matter how organised I am. You can’t plan when your child is going to be sick, when they’re going to have a nightmare, when they’re going to say something that has you in stitches or when they’re going to embarrass you. They can catch you off guard from one moment to the next, so always expect the unexpected!
9. IT NEVER GETS EASIER
I always believed things would get easier as my children grew older. Boy, was I wrong! It doesn’t get any easier at all – just different. Your kids still need you. They still have tantrums. They still take up the majority of your time.
Let’s face it. Your kids may always need you but the things they may need from you change. As a teenager, Shalini doesn’t need hours of my time but she needs those quality one-on-one moments. I’ve written about ways to build a strong bond with your teen. Shivam needs me more than his sister but as a nine-year-old, his needs are different to when he was a baby. The issues you face are different because their problems or obstacles are.
10. A NEW-FOUND RESPECT FOR MY MUM
My mum did a wonderful job with my sisters and I, even though I couldn’t see it growing up. Sometimes my day feels so long by the time we get the kids off to school, do a whole day at work, back home to take them to any after-school activities and prepare dinner.
As well as working for my dad’s clothing business at home, my mum always had the meals prepared and even after we’d gone to bed, she would be back on her sewing machine meeting deadlines for orders. Her struggles were different to mine but she never complained or said she was too tired to cook, or put something off for another day.
I still need my mum as an adult now. Whenever Sukh and I need some time out or have to work during the holidays, she’ll happily have the kids. When my kids exhaust me during arguments, I silently apologise to my mum for putting up with the same from me.
11. THE WORLD FEELS SCARIER
I read so much terrible stuff in the news. I see things happening in the world that frighten me to the core or disgust me. You want to protect your kids from the big bad world, which suddenly feels a lot scarier now that you’re a parent.
Sukh and I talk to the kids about the dangers outside, things happening around us or in the wider world. Of course, we keep the chats age-appropriate but we feel it’s important they know how to stay safe. Sometimes they have a lot of questions about things going on and we face them, answering as carefully as we can so as not to scare them rigid, but to educate them.
There’s not a right answer to how you handle this but as your children grow, you realise just how much you will do to protect them. Suddenly things you could used to shrug off or were immune to, affect you deeply. But be careful about how you deal wth this in front of your kids because you don’t want to communicate your fear to them, so that they feel anxious or threatened.
12. ACCEPT HELP
Don’t be afraid to say yes when someone offers to help. I was lucky to have a lot of support with Shalini. I needed a lot less help when I had Shivam because by then Sukh and I had the hang of it. There is a fine line between people actually helping and people hanging around creating more work for you, or telling you how you should do things.
But if you need help, lean on those family members and friends who really want to make things easier for you. When I returned to work full time, my mother-in-law looked after Shalini until she reached pre-school. When I had Shivam, my mum would have him a couple of days a week. Even now, my in-laws collect my kids after school. Be grateful for the support you have. It doesn’t make you a weak parent if you have help. Quite the contrary. It actually gives me peace of mind, so I can save the best of myself for my kids when I’m with them.
13. LEARNING TO ENJOY EVERY STAGE
This is said so often it sounds like a cliche but it’s so true. Time flies so fast. One minute you’re cradling a baby and before you know it they’re in high school! Every moment is precious so enjoy it. I know it’s difficult when you’re exhausted or your kids have said something to upset you. I wish I could have those early years again with both my children, no matter how crazy they drove me.
That can never happen of course, so rather than look back in regret, I look back with fondness at those special stages. And I remember that in a few years, I’ll look back at the stages they’re at now and feel the same. Each age group comes with it’s own challenges and joys, so embrace it and enjoy watching them grow.
Let me know what you think of the 13 things I’ve learned in 13 years of motherhood. Do you agree with some or all of it? Maybe you’ve learned completely different lessons that you’d like to share. Feel free to drop any comments below. I read and appreciate each and every comment.
Click here to read about the 16 things I’ve learned in 16 years of marriage.