If I could time travel, I’d go back to when my son was born, bring a picnic lunch, and comfort my younger self. When I had my son back in 1980, I made a counter-cultural decision to stay home and raise him as a full-time mom. I can still hear the incredulous voices of my colleagues in the elementary school where I was teaching at the time. “Why do you want to waste your master’s degree staying home and taking care of a baby?”
I don’t remember exactly what I told them, but I do remember how much I looked forward to being a full-time mom. I wanted to do all the things with him that my own mother had been unable to do because of her depression. And I set impossibly high standards for myself.
I remember the insistent voices in the media telling me that if I stayed home and raised a child full-time, my brain would turn into a mush of baby trivia. Somehow, the competent woman I had been in my personal life and my career would devolve into someone who only cared about finding the best playgrounds and whether or not to put my baby on a schedule.
I was only 28 years old when I had my son, and I had not yet learned to tune out the voices telling me what to do. Instead, I embraced the do-it-all ethos of the day. And when I think of his first year, I remember that I rarely enjoyed a day at home relaxing with the new little person who made me so happy. Instead, I learned to play golf when he was about two months old. I began reading non-fiction books about politics and history. I landed a part-time job by his first birthday.
But none of those achievements made me feel all right about staying home and raising children. I drove myself relentlessly, even after my daughter was born. I remember how I resented taking a nap every day because I just couldn’t get enough things done. It was as if my drive to achieve in the eyes of the world was more important than the secret joys I felt holding my children, reading stories to them as they book-ended me on the couch.
So as I approach my 35th Mother’s Day celebration, here are three gifts I wish I had been able to give to my younger self.
- Honor the Wisdom of Your Body: When you feel exhausted, take a nap. When you’re overwhelmed, decide to let go of something. Tuning in to the signals and messages of the body is one of the surest ways to take care of yourself. And it’s a valuable lesson to pass on to your children.
- Enjoy the Detours: Raising children is one of the best ways to learn flexibility and humility. Things rarely go as planned, especially when you are living with children who are curious and spontaneous. Instead of holding firmly to your idea of how the day should unfold, relax into the joy of the unexpected. My children have taught me that when Plan A falls apart, Plan B can often be a whole lot more fun.
- See Your Mistakes As Blessings: I can’t even count the things I wish I could do over if I were given the chance. More than anything, I wish I had believed in my own perceptions of my children’s gifts, rather than listening to authority figures in the schools. But because my children took different paths as learners, I’ve become a more compassionate teacher. When faced with parents of my students who are struggling in school, I am able to reassure others that their kids will turn out all right, especially if they take an unconventional path. And some of the stories about my mothering-mistakes that I share with my children have made for great memories that the three of us can laugh about. None of us would have those blessings without the mistakes.
Perhaps Anna Qunidlen writing in Conscious Moms places mistakes in the most helpful context when she says,
“Every part of raising children is humbling, too. Believe me, mistakes were made. They have all been enshrined in the Remember-When-Mom-Did Hall of Fame. The outbursts, the temper tantrums, the bad language – mine, not theirs… I wish I had not been in such a hurry to get on to the next thing: dinner, bath, book, bed. I wish I had treasured the doing a little more and the getting it done a little less.”
Happy Mother’s Day, readers. Be kind to yourselves. Be kind to your mother.
What do you wish you had known as a young mother? I’d love to hear your ideas, so leave a comment if you’re inspired.