Courtesy of Sabrina Joy Stevens

My Mom-Self Proved My Pre-Mom Self Didn't Sh*t

I was a perfect mom before I had kids. My kids never laid eyes on a single screen, or touched anything that wasn't immaculate, or made a mess, or drew any attention to themselves in public. This was an easy accomplishment, since my kids only existed in my fantasies about how superior I was to the actual parents whose paths I crossed in real life. Since then, there have been plenty of times when my mom-self proved my pre-mom self didn't know sh*t, and I'm very grateful for every reality check I've received since becoming a mom.

When you're not totally responsible for another person's health and safety, it's much easier to believe all the myths and illusions and what it means to "have it all together," and to aspire to (and even accomplish, occasionally) totally unrealistic standards. However, babies aren’t born with anything resembling a clue about the silly things we make up to convince ourselves and each other of how impressive we (think we) are. And if they do have a clue, they definitely don’t care in the slightest.

Fortunately, what kids destroy in vain illusions, they more than make up for in their uncanny ability to reveal all kinds of strength, ingenuity, and wisdom we never even knew we had. Mom Me is far smarter and more compassionate —to myself and to others — than Pre-Mom Me ever was. Times like the following have proven that to me over and over.

When My Youngest Puts Things In His Mouth, Even When They've Been On Our Floor

I’d seen plenty of research that it's adaptive for babies and young children to be exposed to germs by putting things in their mouths. However, germaphobic, control freakish Pre-Mom Me still couldn't imagine that actually being OK, even in my own home.

Then I had a baby, and that baby became mobile, and it became physically impossible to stop him every single time he picked something up and put it in his mouth (unless I wanted to do nothing at all with my day). Now I know it's easier to make sure the things in his reach are reasonably clean, than to try to control everything he does. Mom Me understands that I can control things, but I can't control people. Not even the ones I make myself. (Pre-Mom Me would've benefited mightily from this knowledge. Better late than never, I guess.)

When My Toddler (Or Anyone Else) Is Running Or Dancing Around In Public

Pre-Mom Me had alllllll the judgment in the world for kids who ran in public places — and the parents who let them — even when doing so was perfectly safe. Ditto for anyone who would actually dare to move to music they hear in public places that aren't clubs, concerts, or actual performances for which one has meticulously prepared. How ridiculous. Safety considerations aside, it always seemed undignified somehow; too uncontrolled and joyful and when life in public should be more serious or cool than that.

Now that I have my own totally free, happy child, whom I want to stay free and happy, I realize that I resented those kids and their parents for feeling less inhibited than I always did. Now, as long as it's safe for us and others, we both move in the world however we'd like.

When I Have To Figure Out How To Manage Life With A Family

I never thought I could be a stay-at-home mom, or any of a number of choices I've made and grown into since becoming a stepmom and a mom. Mom Me has realized that the “right” choice for a given situation is often really well hidden until you're actually in a situation and have to figure out WTF to do.

When I Make Plans For The Day With A Toddler

Pre-Mom Me thought I needed to be the boss at all times, which meant being totally in control of my own time, and in total control of how I and any future small children would move through our day. Clearly, anyone who struggled in this area was a feckless wimp.

Mom Me knows that my toddler may not know much about the world, but he's still an autonomous person with his own independent will, and he can absolutely derail our day if I don't build enough flexibility into it. That whole "bend so you don't break" thing? It's not about trees. It's about parents.

When I Have To Make Decisions About Screen Time

My child will nevah watch TV or play on a tablet,” Pre-Mom Me would say, while judging parents around me for letting their kids have screen time.

“I'm sorry,” Mom Me says to those parents, now that her toddler absolutely does watch TV from time to time, and who knows how to use my and my husband’s Apple devices almost as well as we do.

When It's Bedtime

Pre-Mom Me never imagined sharing a bed with a baby or toddler. “That's just not how things should be,” I thought. Pre-Mom Me also never knew just how unnerving a child’s cry can sound, or how mind-shreddingly awful it feels to be chronically sleep-deprived (especially when dealing with a fussy child). Mom Me knows sleep is way more important than “should.”

When It's Time To Change An Existing Family Routine

Pre-Mom Me read a lot of books, and relied on a lot of external rules, and made a lot of lists to make decisions and move forward in life. Mom Me knows some important stats and figures, but listens first to her body and her people to figure out what to do and not do when it comes to things like sleeping and feeding arrangements. If an idea that previously seemed ridiculous results in more sleep, we consider it. Once that's no longer working, we figure out how to change it. We're healthier, and there's a lot less crying and aggravation that way.

When I Need To Rest But My To-Do List Is Unfinished

Pre-Mom Me suspected that maybe her body was important and even knowledgeable, but listening to it was optional if work or other obligations needed to happen when sleep normally does. This foolishness landed me in the hospital on multiple occasions.

But Mom Me? Mom Me puts nothing above all too precious opportunities to rest.

When I Need Help

Pre-Mom Me never wanted to be seen as weak or needy or incapable, so she never asked for help if she could avoid it, and rejected most offers. Mom Me knows that is stupid AF. Humans need other humans. I never like or love anyone else in my life less for needing my help, so it's totally reasonable to assume they don't like or love me less for needing theirs.

Also? Mom Me also knows that even if they did like me less for needing their help, f*ck it. I'm tired, so I’ll accept their help anyway. Shame can have all the seats, especially if it costs me even a minute of sleep.

When I'm Tempted By Perfectionism

Pre-Mom me strived to be invulnerable by always doing everything right. Mom Me knows that was never possible, and it'd be totally useless even if it was. My job as a mom is to teach my kids how to successfully be their perfectly imperfect selves in an unpredictable world. A perfect person would be totally unqualified for that job.