This is a guest blog post by friend and colleague, Dr. Mary Risacher who is an Assistant Professor of Education for Southwest Minnesota State University in Marshall, Minnesota. Her background includes teaching Early Childhood, Kindergarten and serving as the Director of an Early Childhood At-Risk Program with an emphasis on pairing young children and families to needed resources. She currently teaches introductory educational and Early Childhood licensure courses for the School of Education at SMSU, as well as serving as Director of the Early Childhood Extended Learning 2+2 Program. You can find her on Twitter @MaryRisacher.
My Mom used to tell me, “You’re a good Mom.” I miss hearing that and wish at the time I had taken it in the spirit in which it was said; sincere and from the heart. I didn’t take it that way at the time because I thought she had to say that because she was my Mom and she was probably trying to talk me back from the edge of an “episodic mother breakdown.” What is that? A condition that new young mothers suffer from when they have met their match and feel overwhelmed and inadequate, usually accompanied with tears and occasional sobs. Been there, done that!
It has been 25 years since the birth of my first-born. I still remember that out-of-body feeling and thinking… is this for real, as I held her for the first time. It hit me, I was now responsible for the life of another human being. I took all the classes, had a degree in early childhood, surely, I knew what I was doing…right? After all, how hard could this be? I had been told all the wonderful stories of how it such a beautiful time and you feel so great being pregnant. It sounded euphoric. Although I teach an Infants & Toddlers course to undergrads, I now know the little shared truth about being a mother, it is one of the hardest things you will ever do and there is no training manual or course that can prepare you. It is on the job training.
I traveled back in time in the past weeks as I went to visit a friend who had just had her first child. The memories came flooding back the second she met me at the door- her eyes told me the story…exhaustion, feelings of inadequacy, I could even see a hint of, “oh my, what have I done?” While the pain of child birth has faded, I can still remember those feelings…exhaustion, overwhelmed, inadequate. Everyone had kept telling me how great this experience was and I knew when I met my friend at the door it was time to share the truth with her—motherhood is hard.
Before delving into a deep conversation, I could see the first thing my friend needed was a nap and selfishly— I wanted to hold that baby! I did not have to offer twice, when I asked if she wanted to go rest for a bit. So off she went and I commenced to rocking. Now this was euphoria, a baby in my arms and all I needed to do was rock. True peace is the only way to describe it. I knew, however, that for “first-time” moms this is far from how it can feel for them. I remember being scared to death that something would go wrong and it was not peaceful. It was up all night for what felt like around the clock feedings, with no break in-between, as one feeding would end and you would begin to settle back in hoping to sleep …and the lovely little babe was hungry once again. It felt like the cycle went on with no end in sight. On top of that you worried… is she eating enough? She cries a lot-should she cry that much? Why doesn’t she poop more? Yes-pooping became very central to the existence and happiness of our home. Gas too for that matter. Every question you had, became a nagging worry! No one ever told you any of this. Not to mention what has just happened to your own body! Looking back to when my own children were babies, I realized I was too consumed with the duties of motherhood to enjoy the moment. Well not today! I am rocking, walking, and chatting with Mr. C! I loved every second.
My friend stumbled from her slumber after 3 hours stating, “Wow I can’t believe I slept for 2 hours!” I didn’t even correct her. 🙂 My heart was joyful and my bucket full!! As she retrieved Mr. C from my reluctant arms we talked. We laughed about her worries and I reassured her that she too was, “a good Mom” in spite of her doubts. She too was a good mom even if she was not experiencing full-on joy at every second that she is being sleep deprived, serving as a feeding factory, and not always feeling so wonderful. I also explained that anyone who tells her that motherhood is a completely euphoric experience is on medication and should share it or is lying. There is so much pressure to do this perfectly that it is difficult to find the joy.
Not all education comes from a book. Some of my best teachers were my own children. They taught me how to be good at mothering. I now accept that accolade that my Mom tried to share with me so long ago and I do realize that I am skillful at being a mother. “Skillful at being a Mother”…when I wrote that line I edited about 10 times because it seems so arrogant-but I will try to embrace the title. That is not to say I am without fault, just ask my children ;). As my instructors, they have seen some epic-mothering-bombs; meaning there were times I just blew it with them, but as good teachers do, they gave me second chances. Today I look at my adult children and feel pretty confident saying that I raised them to be good humans. My children are the best of me!
Moving forward I want to share the message with newcomers to the scene of motherhood;
You are a good Mom and it is okay to not do this perfectly. This is hard and there will be stumbles, even fall on your face moments, and that is okay. Being a good Mom is enough! Give yourself a break, enjoy the moment when you in it-don’t wait 25 years like I did to be proud of what you have done. When someone says, “You are a good Mom.”…just smile and nod.
In my Infants & Toddlers course, I am teaching my undergrad students about the developmental stages and milestones of this very first stage of life. We review theory and best practice for the early childhood settings for which my students one day will be licensed teacher. While this course provides a solid foundation for those students seeking licensure in birth through age eight, it does not teach about becoming a mother. Unfortunately, the only real preparation for that is when it happens.
Stay Calm & Parent On!
Profs Dr. Wendy & Dr. V.