How I Learned Not to be a Sanctimommy: Five Phases of Motherhood

I have been every kind of mom.

I’ve been the mom who didn’t want to make a big deal over a first birthday, and the mom who has stayed up until 3am making Pinterest-inspired cakes.

I’ve been the mom who stressed over every cough and rash, and I’ve been the meh-there’s-no-fever-you’ll-be-fine mom.

I’ve been the mom who gave my life to my kids, and the mom who gave myself a little of what I need too.

I’ve been the mom who cloth-diapered and the mom who was all disposable; the mom who only fed homemade baby food and the mom who gave up on feeding my toddlers altogether.

I’ve been the mom who wanted to be the mom who was patient and high-energy and on the parent committee. And I have been the mom who wasn’t any of these things.

Yep, I’ve been it all. And in being it all I’ve come to understand that motherhood has phases or stages that run parallel to the phases and stages of child development that you read about in books. And just as my children have progressed from newborn to toddler to child, as I have progressed—by times regressed—alongside them.

My own phases have looked something like this:

Phase One: The PreChild KnowItAll

Phase One began when I wasn’t even a mother at all. Over time I had built many perceptions on how children must be, how parents must be and how raising kids must be. I was very expressive in my opinions since I had oodles of non-parental experience to back me up. I honestly didn’t think kids were that difficult. In fact, I found them kind of boring and I was pretty convinced that raising a kid was on par with training a dog, and that if I could do one I could surely do the other.

I took a job nannying twins at one point, got the job without a hitch because of my oodles of experience. They were 12 months old when I started, total sweethearts, and everything was daisies and sunshine for a while. And then they turned two. And everything changed. What happened to the angels? How could they have become so demanding? What was with the tantrums? I mean seriously, who did these toddlers think they were? Their behaviour was unacceptable.

Around the same time my big sister got pregnant and had her first child, the first baby in our family. How awesome it was to have a baby around, how much I loved being an aunt, how connected I felt from the first moment I laid eyes on his crowning head in the delivery room.

And then he turned two. And… Well, see above.

If I ever had kids, it was gonna be different.

Phase Two: The First-Time-Expecting Expectation-List-Maker

Phase Two began the very moment I read a plus sign on the pee stick. This is where all my years of insight as a non-parent become hyper-analyzed in a calm and organized fashion.

On paper I made lists of purchases I absolutely needed to make. I obsessed over particular items as though the special co-sleeper bed would make or break my competence as a mother. I made lists of items to bring to the hospital, lists of gifts for my baby shower, lists of questions to ask my obstetrician and lists of phone numbers and reminders for my husband. I googled childbirth and birth plans as though planning actually made a difference.

What I didn’t write, but rather mentally listed, was are all the ways we were going to rock as parents and all the things I was going to do differently than my own parents. I knew just what kind of mom I was going to be. Other moms—older, already-been-there moms— offered me advice but I only listened with half an ear because, what did they know anyway? Because, for me it was gonna be different.

In essence, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on. It’s where I filled myself with hopes and dreams and aspirations and expectations; where I daydreamed about my children-to-be and about myself as their mother. I envisioned everything, from my birth story to lovingly breastfeeding to raising polite and well-balanced kids.

As I said, Phase Two is where I got my crazy on.

Phase Three: The Great Unraveling (a.k.a. The Great Holy-Crap-I-Don’t-Know-What-I’m-Doing-But-I’m-Going-To-Have-To-Fake-It)

Phase Three occurred from childbirth to around my 9th month as a new mother.

I remember telling a friend of the family that I had collected all seasons of Murder She Wrote to watch during night time feedings. She replied, You’ll be much too tired to watch TV! You’re just going to feed that baby and go right back to bed. I remember thinking, Well, who was she to know? (I mean, aside from a mom of three.) I had a whole vision set out in my mind of cuddling with my baby in the wee hours of the night, her softly feeding while I sat, quietly entertained by Angela Landsbury. Out of stubbornness I did watch for the first few weeks, just to live up to my word. But it wasn’t long before even the act of picking up a remote required more energy than I could muster. It wasn’t long before I was just bringing the baby into bed with me, even though I swore it was something I would never do.

Where in Phase Two the comments of others are annoying, in Phase Three they are crushing. When your baby develops colic or a rash from head to toe or doesn’t poop for ten days or will only ever sleep while being held, and when others make suggestions on your diet, when and when not to call a doctor, that maybe you should stop breastfeeding, or that you’re coddling your baby too much or that you should coddle more, and when you’re exhausted and covered in vomit and your breasts are leaking through your shirt, it’s kind of hard to maintain perspective. You’re all of a sudden responsible for the life of another being, decisions you make matter, and everything you thought would be easy actually turns out to be hard.

Phase Three is where I, an experienced and educated woman, become completely unglued. My confidence, my dignity, my ability to wear a clean outfit for more than two hours in a row, all were gone. This is where I began to get a hint, just a whiff, that perhaps I didn’t know as much about parenting as I’d assumed.

Phase Four: The Honeymoon 

From around nine months until somewhere between 18 months and 2.5 years, whenever the full wrath of the toddler began, there was a blissful lull when my firstborn was no longer so newborn-y that I worried about keeping her alive every second of the day. She’d gained weight, her head no longer wobbled, and she began interacting in fun and amusing ways. I started to feel like I knew my stuff as a mother. Each month she grew more and more, and along with it came more and more cuteness, and I posted photo after photo on Facebook because the love was so wild I just absolutely had to share.

The confidence came back.

This is also when I started to feel like a know-it-all again. I’d read all the books, I’d earned my badge of honour through my birth story, I’d survived the newborn days and now that my child was walking and talking I began to feel pretty good about this mothering thing.

My child was so adorably cute and generally amenable in Phase Four that whenever I looked at a mom with a kid who was acting out, the notion that my kid could ever act the same was incomprehensible. My kid had learned to say please, my kid liked to help tidy up, my kid didn’t fight me getting dressed. My kid my kid my kid…

Phase Five: The Fall-On-My-Knees Sweet-Mother-of-Mercy Awakening

So if Phase Four is like a bird sailing freely through blue skies, Phase Five is like that bird suddenly crashing head first into a patio door. One day my kid was a bubble of sunshine, the next a tantruming maniac. By then I also had a newborn in hand and between the two of them my brain would often explode.

My transformation in Phase Five began with a slow descent into oblivion, a space where I was more surviving than mothering. With each day of whining and tantrums and time-outs I descended a little further, then a little further, then a little further into the abyss, until the day finally came where all I could do was give in. My kids had done it, they had broken me down to the point where I was on my knees and at their mercy, humbled, completely, by tiny people.

What followed was a slow evolution upward. I was still the “hot mess” mom with the wild ‘n whiny kids, but my attitude had shifted. There was no space for judgment. I had learned the hard way— the hard way being the way I think most of us moms finally learn— that the only sane way to parent is to assume nothing and roll with the punches.

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Not long ago I was dropping my kids off at daycare and there was a mom trying to help her child out of winter gear and up to class. The child was doing the bacon on the floor, totally hysterical. The longer this went on the more upset the mom (very obviously having a Fall-On-My-Knees kind of morning) became, and the more upset the mom became the longer the child tantrummed. My daughter turned to me and asked me why So-and-so’s mom was being mean. I turned to my daughter, full of the spirit of maternal comradery, and explained, No sweetheart, So-and-so’s mom isn’t being mean. It’s So-and-so that isn’t being nice and helpful to her mother.

There are moments when my kids are doing their thing and I am in the presence of another mom. Sometimes that mom is a Phase Four mom, looking at me in such a way that insists I should be doing more to control my kid. In those circumstances I often don’t say anything since I know I’ve been there, but that doesn’t stop my mind from imagining epic tantrums in their future. Other times I am in the presence of a mom who knows, and who will give an assuring look, or a wink and a joke, and together we laugh at the flailing antics of kids. Because really, what else can you do?

There’s a lot of talk about how moms judge other moms and how the judging needs to stop and, believe me, I think it’s absolutely true. I also recognize that I have been on both sides of the road, on one side criticizing, on the other cheering. And I’ve been the one walking the centre line with a kid hanging off each leg. And I’m not sure if it’s necessary to go through all the stages before reaching this point where we hug each other rather than criticize, but I kind of think we do. People aren’t generally equipped with enough foresight to know what to expect in any given situation and moms are no exception. Perhaps it would be bad for the development of the human race if we did have the ability to foresee our lives with toddlers… Yeah, I’m pretty sure that’s the case.

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All I know for sure is that karma loves parents. I’ve said and thought some annoying and ridiculous things in my past and karma found me and put me in my place. Going forward, whenever someone says annoying and ridiculous things to me, I have faith that karma will do its thing and all will be right in the world. In the meantime I know that I am doing my absolute best to do right by my kids. I think that if we would all just wear this knowledge around us like a suit of armour, that the judgments of others or even our own judgments would simply bounce off and find nowhere to land.

As I move forward as a mother I know there are more phases and stages to come. One day I will no longer have a toddler, one day I will have teenagers, one day I will be a grandparent. My only concern as I move forth into the many unknowns of my future momhood is this: that I am kind. Because I deserve kindness. Because we all do.

-mtg

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