The first year of my kids' lives is kind of a blur. When I look at their baby pictures the majority of my new-mom moments sort of blend together. It's not that my kids weren't amazing, or that I didn't love them, it's just that I was utterly exhausted. Fortunately, I came to realize that every single day, in little ways, my babies all tried to tell me to take a break. I actually learned to take every single one of my little ones up on their offers, too.
Now that I have been through that grueling first year of mom life more than once, I've realized that it does get incrementally easier. Eventually your babies don't need you to touch them, hold them, or feed them 24 hours a day. And when it seems like they still need more than you can give, you learn to recognize the subtle ways they're trying to tell to relax. As a result, you realize you can take a moment to breathe, take a shower, change your shirt, or drink a cup of coffee while it's still hot.
I've also learned the hard way that we, as moms, have got to start taking breaks. After 40 weeks (more or less) of pregnancy, an untold number of hours of labor and delivery, and postpartum life, we deserve it and we shouldn't feel guilty for not losing ourselves to motherhood. At the capacity that we care for our children it's impossible to keep up with their needs if you are burnt out, exhausted, or sick. Eventually something has to give, and in my experience it's usually self-care. It doesn't have to be that way, though, and even our babies are trying to tell us to prioritize our health and wellness.
When They Let You Put Them Down
I pretty much held my daughter constantly for her first three months of her life. I didn't realize that I could put her down, and I, honestly, didn't want to. I needed to, though, so she could learn to sleep, play, and be OK without touching me all day long. Once she started letting me put her down, I actually got stuff done and was able to enjoy a break here or there.
When They Finally Fall Asleep
My babies have all been crappy sleepers, so I kind of got in the habit of staying awake way too late or waking up multiple times in the middle of the night. I also learned that even a little sleep is worth having when you are an exhausted new mom. So when your little one finally enjoys eight hours, they're silently begging you to do the same.
When They Sit Calmly On Their Own Without Touching You
As a new mom it was so hard to let my babies be alone on their mat or in their swing. But seeing them stay calm, or even smile, and hearing them chatter or coo, let me know that they would be just fine if I checked Facebook from across the room.
When They Let Someone Else Hold Them
Speaking of holding babies, my youngest babies definitely had a preference for me. It was cute, sure, but it was also exhausting. Once they started letting my husband, mom, or babysitter hold them, it was so wonderful. I mean, I could actually leave the room without hearing them cry and you know, pee by myself.
When They Finally Stop Crying
Hearing your baby cry makes you feel so helpless. Like, you are willing to do anything to help calm them down. When they finally stop, though, they are sending you a clear message.
When You Successfully Put Them Down In Their Crib
Transferring a baby from your arms or their carseat to their crib without waking them up is pretty much expert-level parenting. Nothing says "you deserve a glass of wine" like your baby staying asleep while you back out of the nursery and close the door.
When They Play Independently
At some point, my babies all started to sit with toys and play by themselves. OMG it was so amazing to realize that I didn't have to entertain them all day long.
When They Self-Soothe
Sleep-training, in my experience, involves a few days of unbearable anxiety, followed by a lifetime of having a short break every single evening. When my baby started falling asleep on his own without being fed, rocked, or held, it was kind of shocking. I wish I had sleep-trained my older kids, honestly.
When They Feed Themselves
Being entirely responsible for another human being is exhausting. So, when they start feeding themselves and stop relying on you to give them all of your attention at mealtime, you might actually get to eat something, too. It's so amazing to eat real food while sitting at a table and at a time when meals are normally consumed.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.