I recently got a gift certificate for a massage for my birthday—one of the best presents ever!—and since I couldn't remember the last time I'd had one, I rushed to set up an appointment. But as I lay down on the massage table, my mind was racing with the million things I was supposed to be doing. I also felt exposed in my body that hasn't bounced back from my last pregnancy.
I glanced up at my massage therapist, whom I've known for about 10 years, and I couldn't help but notice how her hair had turned a complete silvery gray since the last time I had been in (which she informed me was two years ago). We started to catch up, and she asked me about work, my kids, and how my life was going in general. I answered, and she must've heard my stress and apprehension in the tone of my voice. She looked at me and said, "I'm going to turn 60 very soon, and there are so many things I wish I had known when I was your age."
She shared her advice with me—a mother 23 years her junior—and what she said really resonated with me. So much so, that I decided to ask other women around 60 years old for their advice. Here's what they want us younger moms to know:
1. Let it go.
One woman told me that she wishes she had known to let things go from time to time—in all areas of her life. Instead of obsessing over a clean house or getting in a daily workout, she wishes she had just relaxed and enjoyed the fleeting moments of her kid's childhood. She told me that eventually you have time again for the things you didn't before, so enjoy the moments that go by so quickly.
2. Don't compare.
A veteran mother and grandmother told me that she wishes younger mothers would realize that comparing themselves to each other isn't helpful. Every mother has her own unique gifts and talents. There's no need to feel "less than" when you notice that your friend is a better cook than you are or that your other friend is an amazing professional who juggles work and home life flawlessly. Everyone has her special talents and by banding together, moms can accomplish so much.
3. Stop trying to be the perfect mother.
A recovering perfectionist mom and grandma told me that mothers need to spend less time trying to be the "perfect" mommies. She advises us to remember that our instincts are usually right about how to parent our children, so we should use them to create safe, secure, comforted, and loved children who are ready for each new phase of their lives.
4. Give your children space.
Another mom told me that while being diligent, firm and protective with our children is important, it's even more important not to hover. She believes that kids really need enough space to figure things out for themselves. You can try to cushion the fall, but sometimes, your child will need to fall, literally or figuratively.
5. Just let your kids know you love them.
A mother who tried very hard to balance work and home life told me that she will never regret going the extra mile to spend quality time with her kids. It was hard, but she really tried to stop whatever she was doing to hold, soothe, listen, or play with her kids when they needed it. She suggests creating special moments when you can and remembering that the best memories are usually the simplest, like making popcorn together for family movie nights.
6. Try not to feel guilty for working.
A mother who had a full-time career outside of the home wants us to know that we shouldn't feel guilty for working, whether it's by choice or a necessity. Our children will know that we are providing for them and following a passion.
7. Be kind to yourself.
Maybe you haven't lost all of the baby weight and maybe you never will. Maybe you forgot to put gas in the car or you were late for work after a crazy morning wrangling the kids. Some days you might feel like a failure, but a mom of three told me that it's so important to be kind to ourselves and model self-love. If we don't, how can we expect our kids to love themselves?
8. Be active in the education of your children.
Another mom said that while most schools and teachers are great, a child's education is partially the responsibility of the parent. She knows life gets busy, but if you can, volunteer at the school or be present at activities because it makes a big difference for your kids.
9. Remember to take care of yourself, too.
All too often, moms put themselves dead last. A mom I talked to wants us to remember to take care of ourselves when we can. Go for a coffee with a friend or take an extra-long bath with a cup of tea. She reminds us if we don't take care of ourselves, we won't be able to take care of our families.
Kara Lawler knows that mothering can be another way to explore identity, and she talks about that on her blog, Mothering the Divide. She's also been published on Huffington Post, Today Parents, and Scary Mommy. You can also follow Kara on Facebook.