I feel comfortable declaring that there isn't a baby book, pregnancy pamphlet, labor and delivery documentary or online forum that I haven't studied relentlessly. As a new mom, I wanted to be as informed, prepared and self-assured as possible, and it's an on-going process as there are still things I'm learning as a mom to a now two-year-old toddler. What I didn't anticipate, however, is how a mental health professional would assist me in parenthood. There are things you learn in a therapist's office that make you a better parent; things I learned when I attended therapy that have directly impacted me not only as a woman, a friend, a partner, a daughter and a sister, but as a mother, too.
It took me a long time to feel comfortable going to a therapist and talking about my abusive past. In fact, for far too long I let the words of a toxic parent influence my thoughts on mental health and mental health treatment. I was told that people who go on life-saving and often necessary medications or see a therapist on a regular basis are "weak" and "lying" and "seeking attention," so I suffered in silence and endured what was later diagnosed as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety. Going to therapy not only saved my life (in a number of ways I won't inundate you with at the moment) but it prepared me for a life I didn't know I'd eventually live.
So, while the books and the pamphlets and the documentaries and the forums were all beneficial, it was therapy that truly prepared me for motherhood. The lessons, realizations and tools I gained in a therapist's office and from a mental health professional have, without a doubt, made me a better mother and equipped me with certain abilities that have made parenthood not only easier, but more enjoyable. So, with that in mind, here are just a few things therapy can teach you about motherhood.
How To Be Patient
The first time I walked into a therapist's office, I had the ridiculous notion that, in just one simple session, I would be "cured." I was looking to feel better about myself, my situation, my past and my potential future so desperately, that I didn't stop to think about the amount of work it would truly take.
So, learning that I had to see a therapist twice a week for an unspecified amount of time, force me to master the art of being patient. True self-improvement is never ending and, just like parenthood, the hardest things you do usually take the most time to complete. When it comes to my son, sitting through a toddler tantrum is nothing compared to sitting through two, one hour sessions for months at a time.
How To Be Vulnerable
I've never felt as vulnerable as I have felt in a therapist's office, and that includes the moments I was relatively naked, pooping and straining and trying to push my son into the world in front of a bunch of (medically qualified) strangers.
Learning how to be comfortable, or how to at least accept, vulnerability made the moments when I felt afraid or raw or even just uneasy and uncomfortable as a mother, a non-issue. I could step outside my comfort zone for the betterment of my son, because I had learned how to step outside my comfort zone for the betterment of myself.
How To Learn From The Past
I didn't realize how much my past was directly impacting my present (and how it could have potentially impacted by future if I didn't deal with it) until I went to therapy. Thankfully, I learned how to sort through certain issues that are no longer in my control, accept what I cannot change, and understand how to learn from certain situations so that they aren't repeated.
You guys, that's parenthood. In. A. Nutshell. So much of my life and my son's life is out of my control, so the best I can do is learn from the parenting mistakes I will inevitably make (and even the mistakes of others) to do the best I can with what I have. I have to accept things I have no control over, learn to let go, and take those hard-earned life lessons as they come so I can be the best mom I can possibly be for a tiny human who so very much deserves the best.
How To Handle Constructive Criticism
I won't lie; it's not always easy to sit across from someone you don't really know a whole lot about and listen to them dissect your life while simultaneously pointing out potential flaws and/or problems and/or mistakes and/or all of the above. My first few sessions were not easy, and I left my therapist's office feeling like I was being ran over (repeatedly) by a semi-truck.
However, I learned to handle constructive criticism in a healthy way, and improve myself by listening, digesting and learning from the insights of others. That's been so valuable, now that I'm a mother. It's not always easy to listen to someone tell you that they think you're doing something wrong or making a mistake. Yes, sometimes those people should be ignored (because unsolicited advice isn't always beneficial, and certain people just want to shame and judge others for no discernible reason). However, there are some moments when I've been so thankful that someone said something about my parenting. If I was strapping my son into his carseat incorrectly or making a bedtime routine change I really didn't have to make — and someone said something to me — I knew I could take their criticism, adjust accordingly, and create a better (and safer) environment for my kid.
How To Be Humble
If you can listen to someone talk about your past and the mistakes you may have made, and take their criticism without getting defensive or upset, I would say you're a pretty humble human being.
Humility is the name of the parenting game, in my opinion. I have been humbled more times than I dare tell you, dear reader, and I have only been a mother for two years. Learning to live with a healthy dose of humility has done nothing but improve my parenting. I'mall for telling my son sorry or admitting when I am wrong; I'm all for telling others I am sorry and admitting when I'm wrong; I'm all for setting an example for my son, saying; hey, even mom is human making mistakes is part of being human and, when you inevitably do mess up, the best thing to do is own up to it, apologize, and try to be better.
How To Find The Root Of A Problem
My therapist opened my eyes to the real reasons why I was struggling with so many things that other people just seemed to deal with naturally. I can't tell you how much she taught me, and why those lessons are lessons I take with me into motherhood.
I know that when my toddler is throwing a tantrum, sometimes, there's a bigger issue at play. I know that when my partner and I are co-parenting and growing frustrated, there might be an underlying reason we aren't addressing. Knowing how — and being willing to — look for "big picture" problems that could be manifesting into smaller arguments or tantrums, has been so beneficial and has assisted me in consistently making sure my home is a healthy, happy, and supportive environment for my son.
How To Improve
I'm of the belief that you should never, ever, stop improving. There's really no such thing as being a completely "grown up" human being; you will always have more growing to do. Therapy was another reminder that even though I'm an adult, I have work to do.
That simple concept has helped me forgive myself when I make those inevitable mom mistakes. I know I will screw up, but knowing it's part of being human doesn't make those moments any easier to accept. However, when I remind myself that I'm still a work in progress, and that I can always improve, I'm kinder to myself and quicker to forgive myself for making a mistake.
How Important Self-Care Truly Is
For far too long, therapy was the one hour, twice a week, that I could focus on myself and only myself. For far too long I didn't take care of myself, or really even care for myself, and that was such an unhealthy, unhappy and sad way to live.
So, after a few (read: many) therapy sessions and learning that making a martyr out of yourself is not only miserable, but really unnecessary and unhelpful to the people you are basically trying to kill yourself for, I have made it a priority to take time to take care of myself and regardless of what is going on in my life. That is easier said than done, to be sure and especially when you're responsible for another human, but it's something I won't give up. I can't be the mother my son deserves if I give give give and never take something for myself. I can't be a mom my son needs if I don't have anything to give him because I have bled myself completely dry in the name of some fictitious "superhero mom status."
How To Prioritize
Sometimes life can be so overwhelming and so complicated and so stressful, that it can be difficult to discern the necessities from the things that can simply wait. I learned a lot of wonderful skills that help me communicate, prioritize and stay organized so that life doesn't start to seem overwhelming, when I was in therapy.
Those skills are my lifeline, now. Those skills are why I can balance motherhood, work, a romantic relationships, my friendships, writing, self-care and working relationships that allow me to advance in my career. Those skills are why I don't get overwhelmed when things don't go "according to plan," because I can just ditch the plan entirely, reprioritize and save what doesn't need to be accomplished for another day.
How To Forgive
Growing up in a toxic environment with an abusive parent left me very angry. In fact, I din't realize just how angry I was until I went to therapy. Thankfully, after working through so many issues and reliving so many pats of my childhood I truly didn't think were worth even thinking about, I learned how to forgive that abusive parent. Not for their benefit, necessarily, but for my own.
I know that if I can forgive someone as hurtful and toxic as that person was and is, I know that I can easily forgive my son when he throws a tantrum, spills water on my computer (twice) or when he eventually tells he me hates me because I won't let him go to a party when he's in high school. When you've let go of something so huge and monumental and life changing for the benefit of your mental health, letting go and forgetting about the little things will be a piece of cake.
How To Ask The Tough Questions...
I was asked, and had to ask myself, some difficult questions when I was in therapy. It's not easy, I can tell you that. In fact, it's pretty terrifying.
However, I did it because important conversations aren't always easy, and starting them isn't always a comfortable process. Having a relative stranger ask me difficult questions will make asking my son difficult questions much, much, easier. I know that in order to truly get to know my son, help my son, protect my son and teach my son the things he needs to learn in order to become a productive, happy, healthy and respectful member of society, so many of our conversations won't be "easy." They'll be heavy and emotional and complicated, and they'll probably start out with some tough questions.
...And Accept The Difficult Answers
If you're used to asking tough questions, I think it's safe to assume that you're used to hearing tough answers, too. They go hand-in-hand, I have learned, but if you can deal with one you can deal with the other and, in the end, they will only help you improve upon yourself and your parenting.
How Soothing It Can Be To Have Someone Simply Listen
I won't lie and say that I was completely comfortable with therapy the first, second, third or even fifth time I went in for a session. I wasn't. It took a long time for me to get used to opening up to someone in such a raw, real, emotional and vulnerable way. However, eventually, I not only felt comfortable talking to someone for one hour twice a week, I liked talking to someone for one hour twice a week. It was beneficial; it was soothing; it was supportive; it was inspiring; it was enlightening; it was a slew of other things I didn't know I needed, but now know I deserved.
So, I understand the importance of having someone listen — and I mean truly listen — to you. I want to be that person for my son. I also want my son to feel comfortable seeking out that person in someone else (like a therapist if he needs or wants). In the end, every single person deserves to have their voice heard.