My little brother and his wife recently welcomed their first child, a beautiful baby boy. After enduring over 24 hours of grueling labor, followed by a miserable week of struggling to breastfeed, and a few seemingly endless nights where the baby refused to nurse and cried nonstop, my overwhelmed sister-in-law found herself wondering, “What in the world have I gotten myself into?”
Every mother can probably relate to that feeling of being in over your head (I sure can), but we also know that it does not last long. All that baby has to do is give us a first “smile” or curl his fingers around our finger or look up at us dreamily while nursing, and everything we’ve endured suddenly becomes worthwhile. Still, the first few months with a new baby are rough, especially with your first. During the long sleepless nights, it’s hard to imagine life returning to normal, or that you will ever feel like more than just a milk machine or diaper changer.
Regardless of the number of books you read or the advice you receive before the first baby arrives, becoming a mother is a lot like culture shock. Nothing can really prepare you for motherhood other than experiencing it yourself. In recognition of Mother's Day, we asked a few IFS contributors who are veteran moms to share their wisdom about those first few weeks, months, and years of motherhood. Here are 10 tips to encourage new moms on their motherhood journey:
1. Embrace a new normal—Melissa Langsam Braunstein, freelance writer and mother of three (ages 7, 4, and 1).
“It’s so important for new moms (whether they’re on maternity leave or planning to stay home) to know that the rhythm of their day is about to completely change. As you’re adapting to the newest member of your family, don’t worry too much about the fact that you’re accomplishing less than you hoped to or than you used to do in a day. Keeping a tiny human fed and healthy is plenty of productivity for one day.”
2. Get connected to other moms—Wendy Wang, IFS research director and mother of one (age 3).
“Being a new mom can be lonely sometimes, so try to join (or start) a mom’s group and connect with other moms in your community.”
3. Don’t be ashamed to ask for help—Alysse ElHage, IFS editor and mom of two (ages 12 and 6).
“With my firstborn, I struggled with some depression, and I remember feeling so ashamed about that. How could I feel sad while holding this beautiful baby girl that I’d prayed so hard for? When I finally found the courage to talk to my midwife about it, she reassured me that feeling sad did not make me a failure as a mom, and I was able to get the support I needed. If you are struggling, don’t hesitate to reach out for help.”
4. Have a positive attitude—Anna Sutherland, editor and writer, and mom of two (ages 1 and 3).
“When you're doing something that tests your patience—feeding your newborn at 3 a.m., managing a toddler's tantrum, answering your preschooler's 47th ‘why’ question of the morning—you can do it because you have to, with gritted teeth, or you can do it because you love your kid and they need you. You'll be happier as a mom if you strive for the second mindset."
5. Take the long view—Luma Simms, fellow with the Ethics and Public Policy Center and mom of five (ages 24, 19, 14, 10, and 7).
“Try not to parent out of fear—it leads to extremism, short-sighted decisions, and an unhealthy atmosphere in the home. Take the long view; they are small human beings, so parent little by little. Respect them, love them, and show them goodness. Let the law of kindness be on your tongue.”
6. Know that motherhood makes you stronger—Naomi Schaefer Riley, senior fellow at the Independent Women’s Forum and mother of three (ages 5, 9, and 11).
“Beyond the newborn stage, if you can get through potty-training, you can get through anything! It’s the first time that you have absolutely no control over whether your child listens to you or not. It’s a battle of the wills—and good preparation for adolescence.”
7. Take care of your relationship with your child's father—Rhonda Kruse Nordin, senior fellow with the Center of the American Experiment, and mom of two.
"Whether married or separated, single, divorced, or co-parenting together, the relationship between parents is so important to the child's well-being. The decisions you make as parents on behalf of your family determine the course for each individual member and collectively has a broad ripple effect throughout your lives."
8. Remember that motherhood is one season of your life—Amber Lapp, IFS research fellow, and mom of 3.
"The advice I've been trying to live by is to think of my life in seasons and not feel that I have to accomplish everything I want to do all at once. That approach has helped me to enjoy the moments of motherhood more, instead of worrying about what I am not doing right now."
9. Rest in your secure identity as "Mom"—Laurie DeRose, IFS senior fellow, research director of the World Family Map, and mom of 5.
"I would emphasize the 'being' in being a mom. While you will do many, many things as a mother, simply rest in being a mother. There is more to a human being than a human doing."
10. Enjoy this time because it doesn’t last long—Naomi Cahn, the Harold H. Greene Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School and mother of two (ages 22 and 23).
“Remember that the days are long, but the years are short! Looking forward to a new baby or looking back, you will be amazed that you can spend so much time just watching your child sleep. My children have been my guides to their maturity. It’s been a privilege to watch them become who they are.”
Editor's Note: This post was modified to include two additional insights on motherhood.