Motherhood is an eternal gift that offers amazing life lessons. Having children changes you on the deepest level, and it also shifts your perception of the world. The level of responsibility and pressure around raising a decent human being can feel overwhelming and sometimes impossible, but no less rewarding.
The skill of parenting is both learned and intuitive. Certain parental qualities are inherited through role modeling or early caregiving experiences, but much of what a woman knows about being a mother is evolutionarily wired into her. The contrast between what comes in as knowledge and what is inherent can create conflict and confusion around the “right” way to parent.
Many women find it hard to trust their natural maternal instincts and feel the pressure to turn to books, experts, and doctors for answers that they can receive on their own by building self-trust and honoring the deep-seated knowledge that comes with being a mother.
As a therapist and mother of two grown children, I wanted to share a few tips that I learned by trial and error, and by honoring my own intrinsic instincts as opposed to my education.
You’re good enough, you don’t need to be great. You don’t need to be perfect in your parenting. Children learn as much from what you do wrong as from what you do well so trust the learning that comes with the messiness.
You’re a human being before you’re a mother. The maternal identity is very strong and a beautiful part of who you are, but you are always a human being first. Remembering this will allow you to be compassionate and vulnerable—two important qualities for a mother.
When your children leave the nest you’ll feel lost and untethered for a long while. It’s hard to prepare for this day, but it inevitably comes. Be prepared to feel like you’ve lost a limb, because when you dedicate your whole life to something there is always a loss when it’s gone.
Even your worst parenting mistakes won’t make a dent in the love you’ve provided. Avoid obsessing over small things like becoming impatient or forgetting something on the calendar because most of the time you’re providing amazing care. A little goes a long way with your children so trust the power of your love.
Worrying is a maternal instinct not a sign that you’re overreacting. There is no way you can avoid worrying about your children on every level. Worry is a natural parent of being a mother because you’re responsible for your children's well-being. Allow it to happen and trust that it’s part of your instincts.
Remember to always put your oxygen mask on first. Self-care is the first thing to go with parenting. Taking care of yourself is a way of role modeling self-value to your children. They need to know that Mommy’s health is important because then they will respect this about you and themselves.
Know that even when your advice gets rejected it’s still sinking in. Kids hear more than you realize, and they do take things in even if they seem like they’re ignoring you. You only need to say something once because they will take what they need and reject what they don’t.
No matter how cool you try to be you’ll always be embarrassing. We all want to be “cool” when it comes to our kids, but you are embarrassing simply because you’re a parent. Being “friends” with your kids is not a healthy goal. You are the adult and they will respect that about you.
Savor all the moments in the car even when you’re sick of being a chauffeur. The undivided attention you get while in the car is unparalleled. Take advantage of this alone time when you have their attention by staying off phones and trying to make conversation.
Learn to let go before you actually have to do it. Letting go is a long process so don’t wait until you have to do it. Practice little pockets of letting go each time they separate a little more. It’s easy to ignore it, but take it in and let it affect you as it happens.
If you want your child to use less technology then try doing it yourself first. Put down your phone and make it a point to be together in real time. This modeling will teach them more than your nagging or complaining about their screen time.
Get intimate with your intuition because it knows more than your brain ever will. Trust your gut and what you feel because you are intuitively wired to “know” as a mother. Your brain will be filled with what you think is right, but what you know in your heart is what matters.
Be a better listener than talker. Sometimes it’s better to just listen than talk. Give your kids a space to vent without giving input or advice. This lets them uncover their own strength and trust their own process of self-discovery and learning.
Model vulnerability if you want the same in return. This is the “go first” method where you show your feelings and share your thoughts as a role model for your kids. This lets them know that it’s safe to share because mom does it.
Find the balance between freedom and trust because you can’t have one without the other. Freedom is earned through trust when it comes to parenting. The more they honor and respect the freedom they’re given, the more they will want to build trust to maintain it.
Make sure the skill of sharing feelings is as valued as grades or awards. It’s easy to get over focused on accomplishment, but emotional intelligence is even more important. An expressive and emotionally aware child will get much further than one who is only book smart.
Let your kids struggle because it’s an inherent part of the human experience. We live in a time of helicopter parenting, but you have to let your kids struggle so they can learn to be resilient and to tolerate difficult aspects of life.
What you do counts way more than what you don’t. When you feel guilty for not spending enough time with your children you can make up for it by simple moments of high-quality time. They will remember the time spent together more than the time apart.
Being present is the greatest gift you could ever give. We can all be better at this, but making a conscious effort to put everything down and pay attention when your child wants to engage with you will allow you to be present and available in a new way.
If you want to raise good human beings be one yourself. You are a role model, and if you can remember this you’ll make choices and behave in ways that are aligned with how you want your children to be. They notice what you do and say, so practice being a good human all the time.