A grandmom, mom and little boy embracing as they look off into the distance

I want to write a manual, a not-so secret manual, passed from mother to mother that contains the collected wisdom of what all women wish they’d known about motherhood. There would be chapters on what happens to your identity and in your body. Chapters on what happens to your mind and your heart as you undertake this incredible role.

There is no destination point for mothers. One day you just become one, but as a mother, you continue to change as all the good and hard parts of life and having children shape you. You’re constantly evolving as you raise your children, who are also in their own constant state of evolution. It can feel dizzying at times, like you have no idea what you are doing because oftentimes you really don’t.

As a mother, you continue to change as all the good and hard parts of life and having children shape you.

Here are some of the first lessons I’d include in that manual for all the things I wish I’d known about motherhood:

You have no idea what you are doing. That’s OK.

You will literally learn on the job, and then, the job will change over and over again. As soon as you think you’ve got it—a new sleep pattern, new hormones or new friends will throw everything into disarray again. That’s normal. When you accept that you’re learning as you go and that you don’t always know what to do next, you’ll be more gentle with yourself.

You will literally learn on the job, and then, the job will change over and over again.

You’ll never be the same person again.

Stop with the pressure to “not lose yourself.” No matter if you are together or apart or whether your child is young or grown up, you are now inextricably linked to another human being. It is a disservice to mothers to tell them that they must “bounce back” and be who they were before.

Expand into all of it. Don’t feel the need to justify it, shrink it or make yourself less of a mother. Wear it with pride. 

Your kids will trigger you.

No one ever mentions at the baby showers how your kids will push your buttons. Your child’s behavior may remind you of a tough sibling relationship you had, or it may be hard to let them cry when you were told you shouldn’t as a child.

Being triggered by your child doesn’t make you a bad mom. It just means you have some healing to do and that process will be good for you both. 

Your motherhood experience will be unique.

It doesn’t matter how the other moms around you feel about motherhood. They’ll never mother your children. You may not enjoy playing pretend or cooking with your kids, but you may love reading to them or taking them outside.

The stereotypical molds of motherhood are damaging myths. What kids need more than anything is an emotionally engaged mom.  

The stereotypical molds of motherhood are damaging myths.

Motherhood is a developmental process.

After judging myself too harshly as a first-time mother for all the things that were normal—worrying a lot, being particular about who and how my baby was cared for—I finally exhaled one day. I simply embraced the fact that I was a first-time mother.

Allow yourself to be exactly where you are when you’re there: a first-time mother, a mom crying or rejoicing on the first day of kindergarten or a momma fretting over a child turning into an independent teen. If we spend more time embracing where we are and less time questioning it, we’ll experience more peace and joy in the process.

If we spend more time embracing where we are and less time questioning it, we’ll experience more peace and joy in the process.

Lead with curiosity.

If you allow yourself to change and grow, you’re more likely to allow the same for your child, too. It’s easy to trip yourself up when you decide who you want your kids to be or who you should be as a mother. Let them tell you instead. Curiosity without an agenda feels a lot more like love. 

I have lived and seen the literal exhale that comes when we tell each other and ourselves the truth about motherhood. There are so many things I wish I had known. More than anything I find that most mothers are doing a lot better job than they think.

Naming things you wish you’d known welcomes the mother you are. It also validates the mothers around you.

What would you add to the manual of things no one ever told you about motherhood? How has your motherhood journey differed from the women around you?

Image via Martha Galvan, Darling Issue No. 15

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