Do you remember those girls who seemed to be natural-born moms? They oozed maternal instinct from a young age, feeding, bathing, and cradling their rosy-cheeked baby dolls, and disciplining younger siblings in their most authoritative voices. Grown-ups always smiled approvingly in their direction, and they became the most trusted babysitters in their adolescent years; the proverbial shepherds to the herds of the neighborhood children, if you will.
Ha! Um... yeah, I was never one of those girls. I traded my dolls for toys I found more interesting, or cut all the hair off the ones I kept to see if it would grow back. No one ever put me on speed dial as their babysitter, and my knee-jerk reaction to crying babies was to put headphones on to drown out the noise. Presumably, whatever that natural-born maternal instinct was, I didn’t have it.
My mom is my polar opposite in this department. Growing up, she was very hands-on, staying home with my brother and me as kids, and watching over cousins, neighbors, and friends as well. Even as a kid, I marveled at how much she was able to calmly accomplish in a single day. She could be cooking dinner with two toddlers wrapped around her legs, while asking my dad about work and simultaneously preparing for the next day. From the outside looking in, her life seemed like a delicate balancing act that she'd mastered proficiently enough to make it seem easy. Some days, she even made it seem fun.
I never stopped wondering how my mom seemed to do it all, or wishing that I'd end up being the same kind of caring, fearless, and totally-in-control mom to my own kids. So of course, if you fast forward to 2013 when I first saw a little pink plus sign on a pregnancy test, you wouldn't be surprised to find out that I immediately broke into a cold sweat and my head started spinning. Was I capable of offering the same confident care to my baby that my mom gave to me? Shouldn't parents be required to meet some other prerequisites before they're allowed to raise another human? I could barely remember to feed my cat!
A deer in the headlights, I confided in my mom. I was pregnant! And I was excited. And terrified. And not entirely convinced I was cut out for this challenge.
In true mom form, she assured me that what I was feeling was natural, and told me to wait until the baby was here when my instinct would take over. So what if I didn't think I was maternal? She reminded me that I had qualities that would translate well as a mom. I'm kind, organized, family-oriented, responsible, and loving. In my anxious post-pregnancy test state, I hadn’t bothered to realize the importance of these traits. My mom had a point.
I was pregnant! And I was excited. And terrified. And not entirely convinced I was cut out for this challenge.
Feeling a brief surge of calm, I continued peppering her with more questions, which increasingly skewed from excited to uneasy: “Will I still feel like myself?” “How will I manage work and family life?” “How did you do it, the whole motherhood thing?”
With that last question came not just an answer, but a new perspective on how I'd need to approach motherhood. My mom reminded me that when you maintain control, your confidence becomes unshakable, and to gain that confidence I was going to have to find my own balance as a mom. She recalled going through the same challenge of finding a balance as a new mom, and then again as a mother of two. As a working mom, and then as a stay-at-home mom. For her, balance was a constant work in progress, and it would likely be the same for me.
To be honest, our conversation left me with more questions than answers. Already in the throes of preparing myself for motherhood, the idea of maintaining a balance seemed like a far-off dream. But then I remembered the small, simple things my own super mom would do for herself, like the meals she put on the table, day after chaotic day when we were growing up. Cooking was something she enjoyed, and something she did for her family and for herself.
I remembered the way she made time to have a conversation with her husband every day when he walked in the door. He was her partner and the love of her life.
I remembered the dinners with friends that she said “yes” to, because a night out full of laughter with girlfriends can do a world of good.
None of this is to say she didn’t have little ones demanding things in those moments, but I realized my mom had maintained a balance prioritizing what she felt she should, and consciously making time for the things that were important to her. Doing these things, she told me, is what gave her the confidence to be the caring, fearless mom I was now aspiring to be.
By the time my first son was born, I still wasn't sure I could be the mom he deserved, but I did step into the mom role much more naturally than I anticipated. My sons are two and four years old, and I still regularly call on my mom for positive reinforcement. Like the time she came to the rescue to stay with my oldest after he was up sick throughout the night and we all overslept the next day, nearly making myself late for work. Or her recommending AVEENO® Baby for skincare, because their soothing products are proven to moisturize and relieve baby’s dry skin.
I've learned to strike a balance between being my kid's mom and being plain old me — because that's what's good for me, and what's good for my babies. I have cooked, because I like to cook. And I've said “yes” to nights out with friends, because it's good for my soul. These experiences have taught me that the whole "caring" part of parenthood comes naturally, but the "fearless" part builds over time. It comes with trusting your instincts, embracing the journey you're on, and knowing that you're exactly what your child needs — whether you grew up babysitting or not.
This post is sponsored by AVEENO® Baby.