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Adjusting to Motherhood

Some years ago, I decided I wanted to be a mom. But not the kind of mom who owns a minivan. I was too cool. I could have kids and still drive something red and sporty. And through Child Number One and Child Number Two, I stayed van-free. My car was a Honda Accord, not a Lamborghini, but at least, I told myself, it didn't have sliding doors.

Then came Child Number Three. I struggled every day to bend over and squeeze a bulky car seat between a complaining 8-year-old and a seat-kicking 6-year-old. Within five months, I broke down and faced reality: We needed a van. Now that I'm the proud owner of a shiny white one, guess what? The world didn't stop, my life isn't over, and no one has even noticed that I'm not quite as cool as I used to be.

At least I'm not the only mom eating crow. Whether it's "no minivans," "I won't take drugs during labor," or "I will never hire a clown for a birthday party," most of us go into motherhood with a whole list of preconceived notions. But do you really need to get hung up on a declaration you made as a well-meaning but, let's face it, clueless childless person? Here, a few of the many things that'll probably turn out just fine, even if you once said, "I'll never...":

"...give the baby a pacifier."

Abby Carr of New York City was vehemently opposed to giving a Binky to her son, Stephen, now 4. "I loved the image of holding my child and comforting him myself," she says. "When he got fussy, I let him suck on my little finger." But when Stephen's sister, Lila Jane, was born less than two years later, Carr realized that a pacifier might just be her ticket to sanity. "The realities of having a second child never dawned on me until I had a newborn and a toddler who still had to be fed and diapered and played with," Carr says. "She had a pacifier at three months." The good news: Both children are happy, healthy, and normal -- and their mom is less frenzied.

"...give up my career."

Whether you plan to head back to a daily commute after maternity leave or stay home 24/7, one thing is certain: You have no way of knowing the rush of emotions you'll experience until you're in the middle of them. "I had my mind made up: I was definitely going back to the office four months after my first baby," says Ann Douglas, a Peterborough, Ontario, mom of four, and author of The Mother of All Baby Books. "I was dead set against being a stay-at-home mom. I thought I would feel trapped." But before her maternity leave was up, she had an unexpected change of heart. "I just couldn't do it," she says. "I couldn't imagine leaving that baby with anyone else. Motherhood completely swept me off my feet."

"...go back to work."

Denise Mussman of St. Louis had always pictured herself as a stay-at-home mom -- at least before she had Phoebe, 8, and Camille, 4. But once she was mired in diapers and spitup full-time, she missed her university job teaching English as a second language. "I was surprised at how much I needed to work in order to maintain some of my self-esteem and sanity," she says. "At home, I felt I had very little control over my own time; as much as I loved my daughter, I had a hard time getting anything done, and my marriage was suffering because I wasn't happy." In the beginning, Mussman felt guilty about going back to work and leaving Phoebe in daycare, but she soon realized that she had made the right choice for her whole family. "Now I'm much more relaxed, my feelings of self-worth are much higher, and even my relationship with my husband is better," she says. "I never thought I'd go back to work full-time as a mom of two kids, but it turned out to be the best solution for us."

"...stop going to rock concerts/grown-up movies/nice restaurants."

Recently, Sue Reddy and her husband went to a Tim McGraw concert and a nonanimated movie within the same week -- a rare occurrence. "We used to go to every festival, movie preview, art show, and wine tasting," says the Plantation, Florida, mom of two. "That changed drastically once we had kids. We started renting DVDs and going out only on special occasions." Although she misses her old life, Reddy now truly cherishes her evenings out and jokingly admits that she "worships" her babysitter. "We might not go out for months at a time, but it's not the end of the world," she says. "The first time your baby smiles at you, the feedback is better than any night out you can imagine."

"...stop seeing my childless friends."

One of the things I knew wouldn't change when I became a mother was my devotion to two of my friends, both single, both childless. We'd been pals for 20-plus years, and no baby was going to come between us -- right? I completely underestimated the emotional pull of an eight-pound infant. It's not just that I wasn't available to check out a cool coffeehouse, I was no longer excited about it. My friends weren't particularly fascinated with my teething stories, and I couldn't relate to tales of blind dates. So our relationships went through a retooling process while we searched for common ground. We're still friends, but we see each other much less frequently. Our talk tends to center on current events and movies, rather than our personal lives. I save stories of preschool traumas and nursing nightmares for my mom friends.

"...let my child eat junk food."

Before her daughter was born, Sally Kolodziej of Chippewa Township, Pennsylvania, used to tell everyone, "She's not going to eat fast food, and she's never having sugar." Now she admits that her kids -- Carly, 8, and David, 3 -- are semi-regulars at fast-food restaurants. "Banning junk food just wasn't realistic," she says. "Now my husband takes the kids as a special treat, and it's a thrill for them. The ironic thing is that they get much more excited over the toys in the kid meal than the food."

You don't have to cave in entirely on things that you feel strongly about, like nutrition or bedtimes. "You can tweak your rules," says Mimi Doe, author of 10 Principles for Spiritual Parenting and a mom of two. "Serve the pizza with carrots, so they get a vegetable, and light candles, so it's a special occasion. Later, kids won't remember the food, but they will remember a relaxed, happy mom."

"...call my mom every day for advice."

When I was pregnant for the first time, I scoured the Internet for prenatal advice, quizzed my ob-gyn about every ache and pain, and committed What to Expect When You're Expecting to memory. Although my mother had managed to raise four children to adulthood, I never considered her a realistic source for parenting information; after all, in her day obstetricians recommended a 15-pound pregnancy weight gain and mothers were giving babies cereal in their bottles. But there I was, exhausted and sore from a long labor and emergency c-section, trying to nurse a baby who refused to latch on. My mom sat by me, reassuring me that everything was going to be all right, and Mathilda would indeed nurse like a champ. My mom, a lactation consultant? I knew, vaguely, that she had breastfed us, but I had never put two and two together -- that her insight and experience might actually benefit me. To my surprise, I had the best possible parenting coach right at my side.

"...give my kids Barbies or toy guns."

How many of us have said confidently, "My kid will never play with weapons," only to have our sweet toddler grab a block and bonk a playmate on the head? Laura Hughess of Sewickley, Pennsylvania, knew there was no way her daughters were going to live the Barbie lifestyle. "Then Cate got one for a birthday present, and I couldn't hide it," says Hughes, the mom of three girls and a boy. She softened her anti-Barbie stand when she saw how much her daughter enjoyed playing with the doll. "I realized that at age three, it's not about body image or role models. It's about taking the clothes off and putting them on a hundred times in a row."

My own children have an arsenal of toy swords and daggers (and yes, a few guns) in the toy bin. Still, they're among the kindest, gentlest children I've ever known. (This isn't just my boastful opinion; their teachers and soccer coaches agree.) Bottom line: If kids became everything they pretended to be, we'd live in a world populated with cowboys, Power Rangers, and Care Bears. A little fantasy play -- I'm not talking about obsessive, violent acting out -- is not a catastrophic event; it's a normal part of growing up.

"...allow them to watch TV."

Many well-meaning parents have proudly banned television before their babies have even opened their eyes. "I studied the effects of television on kids in grad school, and I saw how bad much of it was for them," says Mimi Doe. "When I became a mom, I wasn't even going to own a TV." One problem: Doe's husband is a sports junkie and wouldn't hear of giving up the tube. Then she made the discovery that Mister Roger's Neighborhood was a balm for her toddler daughter. She adds, "Of course I didn't want to tell anybody I let her watch it because I had been so vocal about no TV!" The point is that television -- or video games or computer time -- doesn't have to be all or nothing. Yes, a nonstop diet of television is bad for kids, but an hour here or there probably won't have any lasting effects. (Besides, forbidden fruit is usually more attractive later on.)

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