It's been 504 days since I became a mama. That's technically less than five percent of my life, but it's everything. It's the pinnacle, the peak of the mountain, the fulfillment of a dream. In these past 504 days, I have become more "me" than ever; I've loved Mark more deeply than ever; I've seen God more clearly than ever; and I've needed Jesus more desperately than ever. It's been different and harder than I expected but most definitely a million times better and more beautiful than my wildest imagination.
It's been a few months since Hudson turned one, and baby Hazel is now past due, but I wanted to share a bit about my first year of being a mom before I forget what it was like to be in the thick of it! Although I certainly don't and never will claim to have it all figured out, there are a few elements that I believe have helped make the beginning of my motherhood journey such a positive experience. I hope to keep reminding myself of the importance of these rhythms in this season of raising young children. Here are seven things that have made all the difference for me in my first year of being a mama...
One of the greatest gifts my pre-mom self gave to my current self was an awareness of what makes me happy, what I need for my bucket to feel full, what triggers my anxiety, what I want out of my life, my boundaries, my strengths, my weaknesses, my faults, my purpose, my yes's and my no's. I try to stay curious about what makes me tick and why I feel or act the way that I do, always noticing new things as I change and as I move out of one chapter of my life into another. What makes me feel successful? What makes me feel empty? What drives me crazy? What makes me laugh? What makes me feel good or terrible about myself at the end of the day? What coping strategies work for me when everything goes wrong? I've taken more than my fair share of personality tests (Myers-Briggs, StrengthsFinder, DiSC, etc.), partially because I've worked at a few different companies that all did personality testing in their new hire trainings and partially because I just really love this kind of stuff! Out of all of them though, the most insightful by far has been the Enneagram. I'm a type 7, an "Enthusiast," and that explains SO MUCH. Our small group at church did a study on the Enneagram this spring, and it has helped me better understand my deepest desires and deepest fears and how motherhood plays into all of that. It has also helped me to understand and appreciate the way my husband Mark, a type 9, a "Peacemaker," sees life. It's different than the way I see things, and that can make us a stronger couple rather than working against us since we really try to put ourselves in each others shoes. Putting the time and effort into reading and journaling and praying and chatting about who I am and what I want my life to look like has been key in feeling like I'm not a victim of the challenges of motherhood. I'm still me, and I love this life!
Something I know that I need in my life is routine, not so much that I feel stifled or restricted, but enough that I feel like things follow a flow, that some consistent habits are woven together in a way that feels familiar. I figured the first few weeks of Hudson's life would be pretty haphazard, but I wanted to aim for settling into some kind of routine by six weeks or so. I'd say by then, we had definitely found a groove where things were usually happening in the same order at the same times each day - wake, eat, play, sleep, repeat every three hours. I really hesitate to even mention any specific books or resources because I can't say that I wholeheartedly endorse any single one of them, but when creating a framework for our daily rhythms, I drew inspiration from Moms on Call, Bringing Up Bebe, Babywise, and Secrets of the Baby Whisperer. At first, I couldn't really think beyond meeting our basic needs, but eventually, we built in regular times for me to workout, for us to get outside, go to music class, meet for play dates, and attend school/work. Of course, just as everything falls into a good pattern, something changes, and rarely does anything ever go as planned (see point about resilience below), but there's still something very reassuring to both adults and children about having some level of predictability to rely on.
Our first few weeks with Hudson didn't look like what I thought they would. I was joyfully surprised that he was so lively and jolly and also slept so well from day one. I was not so joyfully surprised that he became hysterical every time I tried to nurse, had terrible projectile-vomit-inducing reflux, and blew out every time I put him in the carseat. One of my sisters-in-law shared a meme that motherhood is like one "Are you ******* kidding me?!" moment after another. TRUTH. You have to learn to laugh, to pivot, to restart. Planning for all of the possibilities of the day and packing our bags for all the worst case scenarios definitely helps, but inevitably somebody gets covered in poop or runs a fever or doesn't sleep when they're supposed to. And somehow we have to figure out how to make a good day out of it. I'm learning to recover quickly when things don't go the way I expected. Sometimes it's as simple as taking a deep breath and just rearranging the day in my mind. Sometimes we load up and go for a walk or turn on the hose on the back porch or get in the bath or have a dance party in the kitchen or break out the popsicles or the play dough or the watercolors. Sometimes I turn on Daniel Tiger for Hudson for a few minutes and focus on accomplishing something that I've been dying to get done. AND IT'S OK. That's where that self-awareness comes in. What is it going to take for me to move forward with love and peace and cheerfulness in my heart? How can I let go of how I thought this was going to go and make the most of the cards I've been dealt today? We'll see how well I do with this when I've got a toddler and a newborn throwing all sorts of curveballs. Eeek!
Play is such an important part of resilience. And it's important for bonding and for brain development and for emotional regulation. When I'm frustrated or overwhelmed or disappointed, we play. When I feel disconnected, we play. When I really don't want to clean slung lasagna off the walls, we play. Now that Hudson is 16 months, he can make it really clear how he wants to play - "book," "round and round," "guitar," etc. In the super early days though, it can be hard to figure out how to "play" with a newborn. I was so thankful to have songs, books, nursery rhymes, fingerplays, and “I Love You” rituals as tools for building our relationship and having fun together. I remember how easy it was to get wrapped up in pumping and sleep training and researching what to do about Hudson's reflux, and so sometimes, I would start the day by writing out three small ways that I could make a point to play with Hudson during his wake times. Being intentional about playing together has been one of the most meaningful parts of motherhood so far.
Y'all. I'm all about some apps. I have lots of frenetic energy, lots of thoughts and ideas and goals. I need places to park and bring order to all that information so that I can focus on being present in the moment rather than juggling to-do’s in my mind. I'm just going to list some of my favorites that either save my sanity or my time or my money in some way!
In addition to organizing information, organizing (and purging) my stuff has been game changing for me. When you have kids, you have STUFF, and your house starts to feel real small. I love The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up and am perpetually asking myself, "Does this spark joy?" The lack of clutter in my environment brings me so much peace, and I need every ounce of peace I can get!
I really love creating. Sure, I mean all the crafty things like paintings and pottery and paper mâché pinatas, but I also mean creating in a larger sense - making meals, designing my home, writing lesson plans, leading worship music, and planning play dates. I enjoy the feeling of contributing to my family and to my community. Sometimes it looks like homemaking. Sometimes it looks like work. Sometimes it looks like hobbies. Either way, I've found that it's been important for me to continue being creative even when it seems like there's no time. When I make time to create something that didn't exist before, it's satisfying and it's so good for my self-esteem.
I mean, this really should be at the top of the list because I couldn't imagine being a mom without a solid village of people who check in on me, babysit, cook, invite me to try new restaurants, pray with me, and recommend good music, books, and podcasts. It's so clear to me that God has hand-selected the people in my life to bless me with just the exact truth and encouragement that I need and so that I could be blessed with the joy that comes from being a good friend to them, too. I'll be honest and say that it has taken work on our part! Especially when you have little bitties at home, investing in friendships, especially new ones, is downright inconvenient. Since I've become a mom, I've had so many people demonstrate crazy loyalty, generosity, and thoughtfulness towards me, and I'm so inspired to show up for people in the blink of an eye, to pray for their needs, to plan quality time together, to ask better questions. I know that showing up and leaning in even when I'm tired is so fruitful.
So there. Seven things that have made all the difference in making my first year of motherhood my most favorite year yet. Seven things that I hope might inspire someone to find joy in a really challenging learning experience. Seven things that I hope to continue returning to as we grow our family. What has made all the difference for you?