Nine months pregnant with my 2-year-old in tow, I was leaving a diner after lunch. In the vestibule was a couple with a newborn, so I smiled and said, “Congratulations.”
I offered to hold the door open when my husband appeared with our older two children. I noticed the new dad before me as he was overcome with awe, recognizing I was almost a mom of four.
Wide-eyed, he blurted out, “Wow, that’s a lot of kids. You must be a parenting expert. Can you give us advice?”
There was an impulse to preach as the “expert” he thought I was, but before opening my mouth, I locked eyes with his wife. This new mom was a familiar stranger because, instantly, I recognized a woman consumed by something bigger than sleep deprivation.
I understood she was vulnerable but still hopeful she was doing a good job as the novice she was. More than advice, what she really needed was someone — anyone — to validate she was enough.
That mom once was me, so with compassion for this ghost of a motherhood experience past, I answered: “You don’t need my advice. Your baby is snug in her carrier sleeping peacefully, and you are out and about. That is a big accomplishment, which suggests you already have this parenting thing figured out.”
The new mom nodded with gratitude, acknowledging my compliment in lieu of counsel was perhaps what she needed to hear.
Recalling that I spent my new mom days managing an overwhelming sense of “failure,” I am glad I kept my ego in check. Postpartum is a time when we are hormonal, emotional, and irrational, so it’s hard to recognize triggers before they send us off the deep end, especially the first time around the block.
Yes, as a mom of four, I have a lengthy resume of experience. On paper, I can crush a mom of “just one” who claims she has paid her penance in sleep deprivation. But I am used to my kids interrupting my sleep, so it doesn’t affect me as much. In fact, I might be less exhausted now because experience lends peace of mind.
Technically, I have 50% more responsibility than a mom with say, “just two kids.” But I just don’t believe the extra laundry washed or vomit cleaned during a family-wide stomach bug makes me more adept. Yeah, picking lice nits out of four little heads is daunting, but it’s still manageable. And yet, this “expert mom” was so freaked out by a few little bugs, she had to call on her friend, a mom of “just two” for support.
It seems to me the frustrations we all grapple with are the same. Take last night’s pasta dinner, for example: I was telling one to put his butt in the chair and eat his pasta instead of his boogers while fielding complaints from she who wanted “red sauce, not butter.” Another insisted the pasta was “too cold to eat,” and the youngest was quietly throwing every other bite on the floor.
While my fervent prayer was to get through dinner without a complaint or negotiation and have a minimal mess to clean, civility continually proves an unrealistic request of my clan. And I’ll tell you, regardless of how many offspring you can tout, dinnertime alone will drive a mom mad.
The only difference I note now is that I experience multiple variations of the “I am going to be an asshole just because it’s dinnertime” theme simultaneously. But given I want to be a writer (when I grow up), I’ll chalk it up to a good problem to have because, in the end, it’s all material.
Okay, as a new mom I never would have allowed my kid to eat the pasta she just threw on the floor off the floor without a flinch. But now I watch my baby toddle around, scavenging for food, while I load the dishwasher. Then, I am relieved knowing my little peanut is still ingesting calories while I clean up, and I consider this multitasking.
So rather than pretend to be an expert, I’ll tell you that lately I am as confused as I ever was. My second-grader likes to tell me there is a lot of stuff in her brain (too much, she claims, to do another page of math homework). And after almost a decade of motherhood, I can relate because I feel the same way about parenting advice. My brain is already processing a lot, and if I read one more bit of research that contradicts everything I was convinced to believe long ago, I will throw a tantrum like my daughter did over Common Core, complete with a slammed door.
She was expected to regroup the numbers she just finished adding up, and all I can think is: #thestruggleisreal
This is the long and short of why I didn’t give that new mom entering the diner any advice.
In fact, I readily confess I have leaned on newbies like her. Only a few months back, I was complaining to my hair stylist/first-time mom of one about my nipple-biting baby (the floor scavenger). As my tresses were coiffed, I learned about the formula she weaned her kid onto, and without wasting a moment on research, I ordered what she recommended right there from the chair.
Why? Well, I was multitasking again, but truthfully, because this new mom overanalyzes every decision she makes (like I once did). Given our parenting values align, I trust her opinion. Ultimately, her advice saved my sanity…and my nipples.
So to the new moms out there: When you see me, the illusion of an expert with my four kids in tow, don’t submit for I am no better at motherhood than you. Frankly, I’m a bit cranky and too frazzled to keep up with the latest trends, which suggests you are equally as intimidating with your youthful energy and current research.
I’m totally guilty of touting that I am a “mom of four” in my writing profile, but only to catch your attention. Now that you’re reading, I’ll confess that I am not an expert. Instead I’ll suggest we all can learn from each other, but most importantly, we need to give new moms the respect they deserve.