When Did you first Become a Mother? Clifford was born September 19, 2009 and then a day shy of 20 months later I gave birth to Dashiell.
Before becoming a mother, what did you know about motherhood? I’ve always loved kids and babies. I thought I was going to be a very intuitive mother and we’d be able to avoid issues by being in tune with each other. I thought there would be a ton of cuddling, heart-to-heart talks and just really getting each other on deep levels.
Was the reality close to your personal image/idea? Basically, I had a parenting fantasy, but I was aware that parenting was stressful for *other people* and that *other people’s kids* could be exasperating. I was knocked down to earth with the realities. Cliff’s birth was incredible but I had very difficult breast feeding issues that forced us to feed him formula because I wasn’t producing enough milk. That was the first time I felt like a parent; when I had to make a decision that I didn’t expect and didn’t want to make, but we had to do the right thing for our child and put our egos and expectations aside.
How would you describe the first year? That first year with my first baby was really special. Cliff was a happy, social baby and it was a joy to see the world through his eyes. I really loved being a mom. Making decisions about who we wanted to be as a family and how we want to raise our kids was amazing, but there was a lot of anxiety and stress about those decisions. I wasn’t very relaxed about…anything. It was such a steep learning curve that first year. I wasn’t able to prioritize the importance of things, so I researched as much about baby lotions as about vaccines. Even so, we had a lot of fun and met great friends.
What helped you to get through it? My husband Matt is a very calm person and that was helpful. He loves his kids and we work hard at being parents — even though it’s been difficult at times.
Meeting cool parents here in Williamsburg has been a gift to us. The mom’s group that Jessica organized is an incredible resource, because it is all these moms doing it in our own way. No one has unlimited resources and everyone is dedicated to being a compassionate and creative parent. It was a relief to realize we were all struggling with the same issues, doing the best we can and importantly trying to enjoy this time. And now all those babies who were laying on blankets at the Y Annex are running around and having conversations with each other. The friends we’ve made have been so special and I love that our family is truly known here.
Did you have a support system that lives close by?
My parents are near and Matt’s family is about 2 hours away. We have friends nearby but no one with kids, so there have always been dinners out with friends who know me and support me as a person — even if they can’t relate to the parent side. I do have three girlfriends with kids who live in other cities. They were the ones who sent me care packages with all the postpartum goodies you have no idea you’ll need, baby clothes, books and told me their own parental highs and lows.
I ultimately accepted support from my mom and she came twice a week when Cliff was little, but I really wanted to be with my kids alone. I wanted to do it myself and get to know them and our family without other people’s opinions. When Dash was 10 months, I was ready to have some of my old life back and to start working again. We have a wonderful babysitter who I trust now, so that’s is a luxury.
The best support system are my mom friends. Without them, I know I would have survived the first years, but with their support and humour it has been the greatest time.
When you had baby #2 was it easier or an adjustment for all? Yes some parts were easier, but overall it was not easier. We had our parenting style, knew what to expect and we were already living in a baby-family mode. It was also easier to have the baby outside of my body, because I was sick and low-energy most of the pregnancy. I loved being able to pick up both boys and get out to the park, see friends, and get back into our lives. But the sleep deprivation and running after 20 month old (who was a baby himself) was exhausting and it got me down — I didn’t sleep, so I didn’t eat well, so I wasn’t my best self, so I didn’t feel like a good parent or partner. With a fourth family member, there is just no downtime. I’m not naturally a planner, but I had to learn to plan time for myself. Things got much easier when Dash turned 1, but those challenges still exist and we’ve gotten better at dealing with them. And now we sleep a lot more!
Would you say you are a stay at home mom?
Yes - I’m mostly a stay at home mom. I started art advisory work again last spring with several clients. It’s great to have that part of my life active again. Even though I love being with my kids, I always worry about my career. I’ve come to be ok (most of the time) with living my life in phases. Now is a mostly mom phase while my kids are little, but later I’ll try to transition back into more work and I hope it will be there.
Are the cliches to being a stay at home mom truthful?
There are definitely traditional gender roles at play in our apartment, so in that way it’s a bit of a cliche. I’m handling the majority of the traditionally female things (food, cleaning up, schedules, doctors visits) and because I’m with the kids more I spearhead most of the parenting projects like discipline and potty training. Matt helps out here too, but does the traditionally male thing of going to work.
There is a cliche or perception, and like I said earlier I didn’t understand what parenting was before I had kids, that being with your kids is easy and all cookies and bubble baths. But any parent, working or stay at home, will tell you that being with your kids is a non-stop 24 hour gig. We’re all working our butts off to raise good people. Keeping them happy and healthy takes a lot of planning, problem solving, understanding and patience. I don’t have a moment to myself to really do anything until the boys are sleeping and that includes dishes, laundry, cleaning up, talking on the phone. If I turn my back, someone’s eating a crayon, yanking my clothes off the hangers, or crouching on the kitchen table. Email me if you want to hear a tale of terror about potty training your 2 year old and having a curious crawling 10 month old nearby.
Maybe there’s a cliche that we get too wrapped up in our kids? I’m guessing this is true of all parents, but more so of stay at home parents since we focus on our kids all day. My friends without kids have heard scary stories about marriages on the rocks after the kids are born and how the parents talked too much about their babies and didn’t focus on each other. Yeah - we’re totally 100% guilty of that. We had plenty of other things to talk about before our kids were born (and we still do), but do you want to hear my opinion on “Bridesmaids” or a sweet story about how Dashie calls squirrels cats and meows at them at the playground? I’m going to own this time with my boys, because this is really the good stuff. It’s hard and crazy and hilarious.
Tips for new moms?
1) The most important thing for children is to see a happy, fulfilled parent. Do whatever it takes to get you to that place. It’s a mix of personal time, family time, time with a partner and time dedicated to some kind of pursuit. That pursuit might be work (or might have to be work), but it’s very personal and every parent has to do what’s right for them.
2) There used to be an amazing quote on the homepage of kellymom.com. It was something like: when we’re giving from a positive place, our children benefit. But when we give out of guilt, no one benefits.
3) Don’t forget to laugh. Once they’re in bed even a disastrous day becomes comedy.