Lie 1: “Letting Yourself Go”
When I was a teenager and would imagine one day having kids, the thought would always come with the stipulation that I would not be a mom who “let herself go.” I would be fit, have no Disney CDs in my car, allow no primary-colored plastic toys to infiltrate my living room, and not lose touch with pop culture. Let’s agree there is nothing inherently wrong with parents who drive sans Disney music and it is an incredibly beneficial thing for parents to maintain their health and fitness. But that’s not what I was saying to myself. The reality behind that proclamation was that I wanted to be a parent without any sacrifice. That’s like wanting to run a marathon without feeling any pain. My oldest child (out of three) is 4-years-old. In the last four years, I have had to ask younger friends to translate pop culture for me. I have given up time that was previously spent exploring iTunes and local shows for new music. I have gone on half the runs and destroyed my fitness through three pregnancies and postpartum recoveries. I have even endured television shows that I find unbelievably boring. Why? Because I have found something infinitely more important than maintaining the illusion that I am cool. This is the secret: for most parents who “let themselves go,” it is a sacrifice well worth making. Are there some things that shouldn’t be given up? Absolutely. Every person benefits from being healthy and general self-care (whether that’s time listening to music you actually like or a daily run without a stroller). But, like I said, my idea came down to the belief that I could have kids without making sacrifices. There are times when it costs me little: I don’t miss staying out until 2am. There are times when the sacrifice hurts: I love going to concerts and plays and traveling with ease and I can feel the weight of parenthood in these places. But even where it hurts and when it is only through discipline that I am able to give up the things that don’t jive with three kids, I know that prioritizing my children is better. In the words of my father-in-law, on my deathbed, it is my children that I will remember. Because what is meaningful and what is fun do not always align (though I am surprised how often they can).
“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Luke 12:34
Lie 2: Breastfeeding Is Something You Learn
Hear me out. We have breastfeeding specialists, lactation consultants, books, and articles about how to nurse. There is a learning curve for new, nursing moms. It’s true. But what this truth ultimately suggests is the lie that troubles with breastfeeding come down to the mother not knowing enough or having the hang of nursing. It’s possible that the trouble with breastfeeding is the mother, but not necessarily true. Without realizing it, this is what I believed for years. I nursed our first two children with no persistent issues (soreness, engorgement, etc., but nothing that time and practice didn’t take care of). When our son was born less than a month ago, I was deeply humbled when nursing went horribly wrong. His latch, that even nursing consultants couldn’t correct, destroyed me. Then he wouldn’t latch. Then he wouldn’t get enough to drink, an emotionally difficult reality that led to my supplementing his feeds. I felt like a failure. Why? Because I thought the problem was me. Here’s the truth: breastfeeding is something we learn. And then it’s something we teach. I am teaching an infant how to nurse who I can only communicate with through touch and tone of voice. That is an immense challenge and when faced with the fact that every single child is different, no wonder it’s so hard! Let’s give ourselves a break and trust that we are doing the best we can and our decision to feed our children however we feed our children is the right one.
Lie 3: “Say good bye to _____.”
When we were expecting our first child, well-meaning friends who were already parents would joke with us: “Go on a date now while you can!” “Say goodbye to sleeping for the next, oh, twenty years.” “Might as well throw away your nice things now.” You get the idea. I think for someone who has endured something difficult (like altering your life to accommodate children), it’s a sick kind of funny to joke about it at the expense of others. I do believe that no harm was meant by the people who made these comments. I also believe that harm was, in fact, inflicted by them. What they said in most cases was based in truth. Three kids in, I am used to being woken up in the night by a child who has peed the bed, an infant who is hungry, or an unexpected bought of sickness. We don’t go on as many dates because we can’t afford a baby sitter. And yes, many of our things have been broken by said children. Here is why those statements were still a lie: because the focus is completely wrong. Telling an expecting parent to say goodbye to sleeping is about as helpful as telling a runner pre-marathon to expect heat exhaustion and sudden bouts of diarrhea. Not helpful. Comments like the ones we received put our focus on literally the hardest parts of adjusting to parenthood instead of helping us adjust. When making a major life change or rolling with the punches of children, success and contentment and joy are born through a positive focus. I hope I can remember to tell people to expect their children to say the funniest things they’ve ever heard, to anticipate taking immense pleasure in the pleasure of your children (seeing their faces light up at the zoo when the lion roars, watching them jump up and down when it is announced that pancakes are on the menu for breakfast), to get excited to learn what activities you all love doing together (for us, bike rides with the bike trailer). Parenthood may, in fact, be every bad thing I ever heard it was, but it has turned out to be so much more than the sum of its bad parts. What I would tell my expecting self back in 2013: fear not, this journey is a beautiful one.
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.” Philippians 4:8