Thirteen Years a Mother

So, my baby turns thirteen today. 

Thirteen. I have been a mother for thirteen years.

Apart from occasionally choking up over her beauty, intellect, wit and general independence, I think I'm doing ok. Spending these years with my girl, witnessing and nurturing every aspect of her life and development, bearing burdens, sharing experiences, adventuring, laughing, struggling. . . . its about the sweetest thing ever. Our children really do grow and become our best friends and confidants, and to be for this girl, to be privileged to launch her into the journey before her? Overwhelming grace.

There is, not surprisingly though, some reflection and mama soul-searching going on over here too. I have no regrets. Who I am now as a mother and all my deep convictions were forged little by little along the way. But, when I look back at my 22 year-old new mom self in this photo? I wish I could hug her and let her know a few things. The wisdom of years from where I sit now would have made life so much easier for her- and maybe more meaningful in the long days that consumed her. So, for all my friends at the beginning of this road (or anywhere along the way, really), I offer a veritable passing of the torch: thirteen things I wish I'd known about being a mom right from the start.

1. The time your children are little goes by too fast.

No really. Its not just something your grandmother said all the time. They fly by. These years pile up and in no time at all you really are sniffling over the fact that you aren't helping anyone to take a bath or go to the bathroom. The small moments are the big moments. Don't miss them. There will be a day when your child doesn't want you to color beside them, when there are no more imaginary tea parties, when they would rather text a friend than snuggle close to read a story with you and even...when they will just walk into their room and go to sleep without giving notice. Its beautiful and weird, but mostly just gone too quick.

2. No amount of advice will ever replace your gut. 

We read the books, we talked to friends....everyone swore by a method, and so we decided to play the let-her-cry-it-out game. The thing is, I hated every single second of it. It worked for nearly everyone around us at the time, but it didn't work for me. It certainly got the job done, we had a baby who slept like a dream, but I didn't feel right, I didn't feel like me. I fought my own instincts hard on many issues like this. I wish I'd leaned in and just trusted what felt right for my personality and my family. It takes a while to gain courage as a mom, to get in the habit of how to choose what works for you, which is probably different than what is working for your best friend or your sister. I can promise you though, its worth fighting for and its glorious when you realize that diversity rocks, and that your difference of opinion on child-rearing is what makes life sweet.

3. As tired as you are with babies and toddlers underfoot, enjoy it. It is nothing compared to the exhaustion that is coming.

I know you don't want to hear that, but its true. When your children are little, you have a certain ability to control their schedules, keep everyone together, catch some zzzzzzzs or get things done while they take a nap. All that goes away as they get into school, begin playing sports, take dance classes, and you then you are shuffling them between all that and hang time with their friends. You will wake early and make lunches and get everyone out the door, or prepare your home for the day of learning ahead and desperately want to fall asleep by 9pm. You will collapse right at the precise moment your tween needs you to listen to their heart with rapt attention, and you will stay awake to soak it all in night after night. You will literally have to fight for self-care and margin and sleep. Somehow you will still love and adore it all.

4. You are stronger than you think you are.

You can do more, do it faster and do it on less sleep than you ever thought possible. You will grow into your mama skin. You will build muscle in mind and body and spirit that will sustain the work that will fill your days.  

5. Establishing habits and rhythms early will save you later.

This job gets sweeter, but also crazier. More and and more gets added in. Take time now to refine the grooves of your days as a family so you have a sure foundation. The same goes with those little foxes that catch us up- the eye rolling, the shoulder shrugging, the little things that are borderline endearing, yet totally diva like in a young child? Those things don't go away, they just get bigger. Deal with them now while they are small. Lead your child in the way she should go. Such care and attention is a gift to her, and to you.

6. Every child is different. Don't let comparison into your heart or home. It will crush you.

From first words, to baby sign language, crawling, walking, reading, riding a bike . . . . every single child is different, even amongst your own. Stop comparing right now. Look your child fresh in the face, really see them for who they are, recognize the glory of this little person and be okay with their pace. Every child will learn to eat with a fork, will eventually write their name and master their multiplication tables. You will never regret making a choice to focus on helping them enjoy the process, and not just reach the goal.

7. You can't do this alone, and your children will be better off if you don't try to.

My 10 year old used to ride her two wheeler like a champ. She was 6 when we moved and had only been at this big kid skill for a few months before transitioning to life in NYC. Our move shook her up, and as much as my husband and I encouraged her and offered rewards, she stubbornly refused to ride again. She believed she didn't know how and wouldn't let us tell her any different. 

It took a visit from grandma and grandpa to get her cycling again.  Without mom and dad, she took in a special date with her grandparents in the park, regaining her confidence and overcoming her fear. My in-laws were able to communicate with my daughter in a way her mommy and daddy could not. They have a bond with her, and share a love and and wealth of experiences with her (and all my children), of which I am not a part.

In my early years, I wanted to be up in every single aspect of my children's lives. I wanted to observe, approve and micro-manage them every moment. I struggled to trust anyone else with their care, or with their hearts.

The thing I've learned after all these years is that I can't do it all. I can't be everything. My children need other adults who are invested in them, who love them, who are on their team. They need trusted community to turn to when they have questions, they need other adults who pour into their lives in ways that my husband and I just can not. I need them too. I need to pick up the phone and have help. I need wisdom. Sometimes I just need to know there is a safe place for my kids to go so I can get a breath. 

It is worthwhile to cultivate their relationships with a bevy of relatives and friends who can bolster their hearts and come along side your family. I wish I had done it much, much sooner.

8. There is no "right" way to do this mothering thing.

I homeschool. I'm home all day with my crew. It works for me. It works for my kids. It doesn't work for everyone. Some of my dearest friends send their kids to school. Others work with incredible diligence and skill, bringing their gifts to the marketplace. Some have nannies and friends who pitch in and help with the sweetest love and abandon. Some of us reading here are classical educators, others montessori. Some still, love their kids something fierce and yet have zero opinion about what they are doing in the classroom with their teachers each day. Some of us use time outs, others count to three, some eat organic, gluten-free, sugar-free, dye-free, free-free. None of us are right, or wrong in these gray areas. We are all doing the best we can. We all care.

There is wisdom, and there are principles that we must build our lives around and nurture our families within; there are wise choices to be made and consequences when they are rejected, but there is also great freedom. There is no such thing as perfection. Your puzzle is unique and one of the greatest (and craziest) parts of being a mom is learning how to make it fit together each day. Don't be afraid to re-jigger and change. There is no perfect, or best way to do this job.

9. You don't need to be so serious all the time to be serious about motherhood.

Your children want you to laugh. They want you to be silly and twirl and sing at the top of your lungs; they want you to giggle so much your sides hurt, to play and run and do cartwheels and get dirty. They want to see you enter their world with lightness of heart. They will learn how to do this themselves from watching you.

10. Your children are not perfect. They will mess up. A lot. You will do well to be really comfortable with that.

Its not a reflection on you. Its a sign that they are human. Give them grace. Give yourself grace. Remember the patience and love offered to you by God when you struggle and rest in his promises for your kids. This is the long game, the epic story of a beautiful life lived. No life will go by without heaps of mistakes. Don't be shocked by their sin. The times when they struggle are the times they will need you to believe in the very best of them more than ever. They will need you to remind them of their true selves. You must.

11. Little things really are little things. Let them go.

Messy bathrooms, untidy closets, the mayhem that is your kitchen every night after dinner- don't let it get to you. Sibling tiffs happen. Bad attitudes are guaranteed after little sleep or worn down immune systems. The lists you likely have in your mind this very moment, full of small tasks that need your attention- don't let them consume you. There are bristly, uncomfortable moments in every family, little things that we all wish we could change, and by God's grace, day by day, some of those things will change! But some of them won't. Some of the things you think are a big deal? They're not. Bust out like Ilse and just Let. It. Go. Really.

12. Your relationship with your children is going to look really different than your husband's relationship with them- Lucky you!

For so long, I thought that being a team with my man in this parenting thing meant that we were going to do everything together. That led to a lot of conflictMy days with my kids and the type of care and nurture that is a part of my relationship with them is distinctly different than my husband's. We work in sync, we pray for one another, we communicate and connect and have a shared vision for life in our home, but our roles are really different. There is great beauty in that. He will never fully 'get' the balance and swing of my homeschooling and housekeeping days, the juggling and transporting that goes on for me every day. Its not his job. Thankfully, that means he is freed up to enter into the evening routine here with a freshness I happen to lack at 6pm each day! He is able to focus on areas of development that I am not, see things I don't see, and care for our kids in ways that don't come naturally to me. The gifts and talents yourhusband will impart to your kids are going to be different than the ones you pass on. The way he relates, jokes, questions and encourages them is probably going to be completely different than the way you would do it. Lucky everyone!  Because remember? You can't do this alone, or be everything to your children . . . . and that's a good thing. 

13. To everything there is a season.

You don't have to cram everything you've ever wished for in your life into one small stretch of time. Its okay to put some things on hold and focus on the season of life with children in your home. Pace yourself and don't miss the gifts right in front of you. 

Because just like that? Your baby will be a teenager too.

What would you add, mamas? What have you learned along the way? Drop your wisdom on us in the comments!

Kristen Kill