Children go through a series of stages they must understand before moving into their next stage. What we experience with our children and what they go through are interconnected. Grief is a process. Acceptance is an ongoing journey. Celebrate all your children's stages as essential to their development, challenging and enriching, joyful and fulfilling.
This weekend marks the last weekend I have a 4-year-old. And I'm feeling alllllll the feels.
I've been reflecting on my experience as a parent and what it's meant to me. I've been thinking about how different each stage has been and how much I've learned from each one. And as I was sitting down with my 4-year-old today, trying not to cry as he told me all the new things he'd be able to do now that he's going to be 5, I decided it was time to sit down and write this post.
So in honor of my son's fifth birthday, here are 5 Lessons learned in the first five years of motherhood:
1. Patience is a life skill that's learned, not inherited.
We were taught to be patient when we're young--to wait your turn and be a good sport.
But it's not until you have your child that you realize how much of that patience is really about learning to wait for things that may never come or that may come later than expected. Waiting until your child is ready to learn something new; waiting for them to understand what you've been trying to teach them; waiting for them to be able to ride your favorite childhood rollercoasters, waiting for them to be able to get themselves breakfast at 6 am on Saturday so you can sleep in. So often, we find ourselves eager for the next stage of their childhood —the next milestone, the next thing for them to learn or do. And then we get frustrated when it doesn't happen as quickly as we'd like. But if you look at it from the perspective of waiting—and not just waiting but permitting yourself to be patient with their pace and expectations—it's a lot easier to accept that things don't always go according to plan.
And the moment you blink, the moment is gone. So instead of waiting for the next achievement, the next chapter--be patient. Live in the now. And savor the stage you are in for this moment. Not only for your own benefit but to model a healthy patience and appreciation for life in each moment for your children. When they see you savoring and placing importance on each moment of their childhood, they will learn to do the same.
2. Your words matter, so use them wisely.
Being a mom has been the most rewarding, challenging, and challenging thing I have ever done.
It has changed me in ways that I never thought possible. I have learned so much about myself, as well as my son, over the last five years. I have learned that he is watching me more than I ever realized, and I did this for a living even before becoming a mom!
They are learning from my words, actions, and reactions to situations. They are learning how to treat others by watching me treat others.
I have learned that kids repeat what you say, so use your words wisely.
If you want them to speak politely and appropriately, then model polite and appropriate speech yourself. If you want them to respect other people, then model respect for others yourself as well!
This doesn't mean "clean up your potty mouth and never drop an F-Bomb in front of your kids. Actually, quite the opposite. My philosophy on curse words is "there are no bad words". But that doesn't mean our words don't hurt people. So we focus more on the intent and impact behind our words. Are you using a word to talk about someone or calling someone a name? Including yourself? My 5-year-old will get more correction and attention from me for saying "I'm stupid" than letting a "shit" slip if he stubs his toe.
The first time he dropped an f-bomb on me, I was so impressed that I couldn't be mad. It was entirely situationally appropriate, and he wasn't using it to be mean or hurtful. Maybe I'll tell the story on the podcast; what do you think? Let me know if you want to hear it!
I didn't draw attention to it or tell him he shouldn't say it. In fact, I don't think I've heard him say it since! He sometimes asks about "bad words" after hearing them talked about with peers, but I always remind him that in our home, there are no bad words, only bad ways to use words.
I also learned that kids pick up on the way we speak about ourselves and others, and it has become so apparent how important it is to model positive self-talk and compassionate language.
This became ultra apparent in a recent long-term lesson that I've been learning at Rowen's expense.
Rowen has always been a sensitive kid. From the moment he was born, he wanted to be sure we knew he was unhappy with his eviction and insisted on holding his breath. The good news is he learned how to breathe moments before they were going to take him to the NICU, so he got to stay with me. Some people call this dramatic, but I just say he knows how to express his needs and advocate for them. Like he was saying, "I am very upset, and I want you to know you did me wrong, but also, don't you DARE take me from my mommy."
Thankfully, the older he's gotten he has been able to learn ways to communicate those needs that don't involve health scares (usually). And allowed me to see the impact of my words. He started getting anxious and apologizing for everything in the past year or so. And he sounded all too familiar. It was me, I was always apologizing, whether it was necessary or not, making myself small.
So when he started anxiously apologizing, I stopped and corrected him when he apologized for being a kid or having fully human emotions. He has now started correcting me when I apologize, "you don't have to be sorry for just an accident." This both breaks my heart that I have passed on some of my anxiety to him, but also makes me so proud to be his mama. Because I know he will be able to overcome anything in his path with love and grace.
Which leads me straight to the next lesson I've learned...
3. I am much more broken than I thought
And also capable of so much more than I ever believed.
You see. When we see our insecurities reflected in us in a human being we admire and love with our whole heart, it can do one of two things.
It can trigger you into continuing the cycle of generational trauma. Whether it's through your actions, thoughts or words, it can trigger you into continuing the cycle of trauma that has plagued your family for generations.
It can cause us to see the full humanity in ourselves. See that that behavior we did as a child that that teacher or family member shamed or beat out of you was a beautiful and vulnerable expression of your humanity. It can show us that we are capable of so much more than we ever believed possible. When we see our insecurities critically reflected in us, we can use them as an opportunity to forgive ourselves. We can see that all these things that society tells us are bad about ourselves and are beautiful and human expressions of our vulnerability and strength.
While no individual is responsible for generations of cultural and familial trauma that we all share in some way, it is important to recognize that our actions are powerful and can be used to perpetuate or dismantle oppressive systems. We have the power to hold ourselves accountable for how we participate in racism, classism, sexism, ableism, ageism, transphobia, and other forms of oppression. And we do that through healing our own trauma and recognizing how we participate in systems of oppression. We must also be responsible for educating ourselves on how to dismantle these oppressive systems to work together to build new ones that are more inclusive and just. When we do this, we create a more equitable and just world for our children. And they deserve that.
4. Play is King
My five years of motherhood have taught me a lot about play. As a childcare professional, I've always known play as an important part of childhood, but so often felt my job was to facilitate and plan activities and ensure a "learning" component to each activity rather than supervise unstructured play. But what I've learned is, Play is king, play is the real work of childhood, and play is the most important thing our kids can do, don't overschedule, don't over plan, and leave time for unstructured play. I am not saying that you can't be organized or plan ahead, but there are so many benefits to unstructured play that I want to share them with you.
Benefits of Unstructured Play
1) It fosters creativity - when we give our children time to just explore on their own, they come up with some amazing creations! They can use their imagination and problem-solve without us telling them what to do! They will come up with ideas that we never even thought about!
2) It builds confidence - when our children engage in creative play, they build confidence by seeing that they can come up with ideas on their own! They also build confidence by seeing how other people react to their creations! We all like being complimented on our work right? If we give our kids the freedom to engage in creative play, we will get lots of compliments from friends and family when they see what our kids have made!
3) It teaches them new skills - when our children engage in creative play, they are learning all sorts of new things like how to use different materials, how to problem solve, and how to work together with others!
Play is king — not only because it makes us feel good but also because it's very important in our development as human beings. Play is the real work of childhood; it's our job as parents to make sure our kids' basic needs are taken care of so that they can learn through play.
5. My Needs are important too.
Honoring my own needs and passions IS being a good mom, not neglecting my job as a mom.
I have a lot of needs. I need to be able to go on dates with my husband, I need to be able to spend time alone, I need to be able to spend time with friends, I need to be able to explore my passions, and I need to be able to sleep.
I can't meet his needs as a mom by neglecting my job as a human being and not caring for my own mental and physical health. Honoring my own needs and passions IS being a good mom. It's not neglecting my job as a mom. It's not being selfish. It's not putting myself above my son. It's not neglecting my responsibilities as his primary caretaker. It's modeling healthy balance in relationships and life. Seeing me play and explore my passions, he learns it's okay for him to explore his interests too.
Being a mom isn't just about taking care of your child 24/7 — being present in their lives every second is not healthy for either of you! You also need some time away from them (whether it's 30 minutes or an entire weekend). The more balanced you are as a person, you'll be as a parent.
Being a parent is challenging in many ways, but it's also the most rewarding experience. The day to day might be hard work, but chances are you'll look back on those early years with nothing but love and appreciate the person you've grown into because of them. So here's to the next five years. Here's to my little man, who has been such an incredible influence on me, growing up before my very eyes.