I’ve experienced many circumstances in life that required me to dig deep and find the strength I didn’t think was there. My deepest longing had always been to be a mother, but not long after having my daughter I felt utterly out of control and profoundly afraid at the daunting task set before me.
As a kindergarten teacher, I could wrangle 20 five and six year olds with grace and patience. I set clear expectations and boundaries, teaching them to be self-sufficient problem solvers. I received kind words from parents and undying love from my students. So when I became a mother at 36, I thought I had it figured out and I would be a great mom. I had years of experience and lots of love to give. But I quickly learned that nothing can prepare you for being in the trenches of motherhood. The tiny little human that grew inside me didn’t care how proficiently I had run a classroom. She certainly didn’t care how many hours I had poured over books or scoured the Internet looking for the perfect sleep training plan. And the positive reinforcement from colleagues, parents and students was a thing of the past.
I spent the first couple years of my little one’s life a struggling mess of insecurity and fear. Everything I’d read came back to haunt me with the word failure hovering over my head. I was so afraid my daughter would never fall asleep on her own if I rocked or fed her to sleep. I thought for sure she would harbor deep seeded resentment toward me in her subconscious if I let her cry it out. So much of my sleep deprived energy was spent worrying. In every decision, I would waffle and debate with myself or my husband over the right choice to make, and often, it ended with a puddle of tears. There had to have been some mistake when I was chosen to be this little girl’s mama.
But along the journey I began to realize that she could sleep through the night and wouldn’t be forever damaged if I let her cry for a bit. My little girl was growing and thriving so something had to be going right. I began to see that every decision didn’t have to be a make-it-or break-it scenario. I realized that much of my struggle was in my own mind and had more to do with my perceptions than reality. Here are a few other ideas that have helped me to see more clearly.
1. Don’t compare yourself or your situation to someone else.
We are so quick to measure ourselves against other people and find ourselves lacking. But I needed to remember that we are all individuals with different personalities and gifts. Our children also have their own personality and ideas. Know yourself, study your child and do what is best for your family. Read books, seek advice and try what aligns with your values. If it doesn’t work, tweak it or try something else. There will be a lot of trial and error in parenting and mistakes don’t mean failure.
2. Find friends that you can trust and be honest about your struggles.
Participate in story time at your local library, join a play group at a church, or get involved in mommy-baby programs at your park district. Being a mom can feel isolating; we need to be involved in a community. There is strength in meeting other parents and, despite what our culture tell us, admitting weakness. There is freedom in confessing your frustration with your infant’s sleep problems or your toddler’s tantrums. Be willing to be vulnerable and you will find that you are not alone in your struggles and fears.
3. Trust that you are loved and uniquely gifted to be a mom.
The most significant change in my heart and, therefore, my parenting developed through realizing and trusting how much God loves me and how he created me for this role. God loves you too, and has made you to be a mother. The freedom I found in this fact has been life giving. It allowed me to rely on someone bigger than myself and find hope in the journey.
So be strong and courageous Mama, but not by yourself. We are in this together. Root for each other, encourage each other, cry and laugh together. We can do this. We are not alone. You are not alone.
Annie Wiesman is the co-author of “Education Begins at Birth: A Parent’s Guide to Preparing Infants, Toddlers, and Preschoolers for Kindergarten.” She is a former kindergarten teacher turned stay-at-home mom who enjoys traveling, hiking in the mountains, and creating memories together with her husband and little girl.