Thinking ‘Smaller’ Helped Me Adjust To Motherhood When I Felt Like I Was Failing

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Doddy Nugraha/Reshot

When I had my first daughter, things went pretty seamlessly. She was easy in almost every way, so I got pregnant with baby #2 as soon as she turned one. At that point, I was convinced I had mastered the art of motherhood. I didn’t understand what could be so difficult about raising children, or why people found it hard to achieve balance. I literally thought I knew everything about babies.

So the universe, doing what it does best, decided it needed to check me. As soon as my second daughter was born, I was put back into my rightful, less sanctimonious place. The transition from one child to two rocked me with the force of a thousand angry, crying, screaming babies. I realized very quickly I didn’t know what I was doing.

For the next couple years, everything unraveled. Working full time and taking care of two young children was the most mentally and physically exhausting thing I’ve ever done. What little energy I had went into taking care of my kids, and every other thing went to the wayside.

I was both physically and mentally out of shape. I hadn’t lost any baby weight, and my midsection was a giant collection of rolls. No matter what I did, I looked five months pregnant. My double chin was now a permanent feature of my face. But I couldn’t fathom fitting exercise into my life. I could hardly drag my ass up the stairs into bed, let alone find spare time to exercise during the day, even though I knew it would make me feel healthier.

Mentally, things weren’t much better. I felt like a loser. It seemed like the only thing defining me was my motherhood. I didn’t partake in any hobbies or have any special interests. My job wasn’t a career. There was nothing “interesting” or “unique” about me any more. I wondered what my children had to look up to.

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Looking back, I know I wasn’t alone in my experience. Motherhood, especially during the early years, is all-encompassing and exhausting, and finding “balance” is a privilege that most of us don’t have. During these days, the only things you want to accomplish are shutting off your brain, and resting your body – most other things feel frivolous.

So at that point in time, I was just a mom who spent week after week repeating the same monotonous routine with my kids. Eat, sleep, work, parent, and repeat. That was all there was to me, and I loathed myself for it. I felt like a huge failure, but at the same time, I didn’t know how I could possibly fit all the things I wanted into my life.

Everything felt hopeless, until one day, I came across the idea of thinking small instead of big. The notion is straightforward: it suggests that if you are looking to make changes, or set goals, that you keep them small, simple and easily attainable. It also suggests only focusing on one item at a time – never more.

As a mother, this idea resonated with me. Of course I didn’t have time to crush goals and make big progress. I was still in the early throes of motherhood – ain’t no mommy got time for that. But I realized that with smaller steps, I could at least begin my march forward.

For me, my main goal was simple: find small ways in which I could feel like my own, unique person again, and make changes that were beneficial to my health. Every single thing I did was small, and it has taken me years to work my way towards where I am now. At first, it didn’t feel like much, but when I look back, I can’t believe how far I’ve come – did my little steps really take me this far?

I began with reading and writing – two things that had always defined who I was and what I loved, but that I’d long given up. I started off by subscribing to Audible, and devouring book tapes whenever I could listen. I tried to read before bed as often as I could. Next, I enrolled in an online diploma program, but I only took one or two classes at a time. Then, I decided to start writing about motherhood, and submitting my work online. I bought some beginner piano books, and began learning how to play. I started drinking more water and going for walks. I gave myself an earlier bedtime. I deleted half my social media, and filtered the excess noise from the rest. And earlier this week, I joined a yoga studio.

Now, am I crushing any of these things? Absolutely not. It took me over three years to finish school, and I have yet to find a new job, but I’ve never felt more proud of myself. It sometimes takes me months to write a new article, and I’m often turned down, but I’m so excited to be writing again. I’ve been working on the same piano song for over a month now, and I still can’t play it perfectly, but heck, I can play the piano!

And this week at yoga, after a six year hiatus, I took a long, hard look at myself in the mirror. Instead of seeing a loser, I saw a beautiful young mother with stunning curves and glowing skin. I saw a woman who was taking herself back slowly. I saw a girl who deserved to give herself grace. I saw a wonderful, devoted, loving mommy and a unique person of her own. I saw a woman who had made progress through small means.

My message to the other mamas out there who feel like they’re struggling, sub-par humans, bogged down by the chaos of motherhood: You are so much more. There are special things about you, and you know what they are. They reside in your heart, even if they aren’t active in your life right now. You are capable of making changes. Start small, and stay small, and remind yourself that every minute step is another move in the right direction – forward. Know that it’s so much easier to get back up after a small fall than a big one. Little trips will happen, but that’s okay, you can pick up right where you left off.

Our society puts far too much value on big goals, and the idea that we should constantly be striving for more. However, this is not attainable for the vast majority of people. Most of us are good old fashioned, average humans, and that is perfectly okay. It’s fine to make modest changes, or simple goals. It’s alright to take your time. In fact, things come together so much more perfectly when they’re done slowly and surely, with carefully focused, balanced steps.

So go ahead mama, think about something simple you want and take a deep breath, because whenever you’re ready, you can start your journey of small, easy steps.