If I have any sage advice to offer young mothers, I will have to travel back five international moves ago and try to remember what life was like when I was a new mother. When you have a baby, not only does your world rock cataclysmically, but also your body has just been in
habited, used as a rocket launcher to usher new life into the world, and become exhausted in the process. No experience in life is remotely similar. But shouldn’t the heralding of a new life into the world be, well, intense? The passion that let up to it was probably also intense.
As amazing and transformational as it is, the mundane settles in quickly and your world suddenly shrinks to the existence of two people: you and your baby, with an occasional, tired nod to your wonderful husband. While you are trying to navigate new waters, the doting grandmothers and others are sure to offer their help and advice. Usually you welcome it, but sometimes you realize differing views have formed from poring over pages and pages of books while pregnant. You are not a know it all, but you do want it recognized that you have done your homework. You experience unsurpassed, holy moments as you hold your adorable baby and witness many “firsts”. But you also experience the uncharted territory of emotions brought on by sleepless nights, a body that doesn’t seem to bounce back quickly enough to your pre-pregnancy figure and perkiness, and a sense that you have lost your freedom.
When you watch your husband tenderly love your child, you discover new facets of him that cause you to love him more. And when your child is sick or in danger, your heart stops as you experience a greater degree of unselfish love than you have ever known before. In this way, you catch a greater glimpse of the love God has for us.
But before I offer advice, let me address the idea of “normal”. Normal is derived from a frame of reference and many women are facing unprecedented new normals such as parenting alone, becoming a mother later in life, trying to balance motherhood with one or more jobs, or finding themselves jobless when they need to work. Some go through depression. Some experience long-term fatigue. Still, God’s grace penetrating our individual worlds is the primary and lasting answer. My normal was mothering our two girls as babies and toddlers while living in Ukraine during its chaotic infancy after it became independent from the Soviet Union. I was stretched beyond my own strength many times. Far from extended family, our little family unit bonded closely while we forged community with people there through doing life together, serving God together and walking through hardship together. My greatest adventures did not end with motherhood, they had only just begun.
Here is my advice:
Give yourself and your marriage grace.
Adjusting to this new stage in life takes time. Don’t place unrealistic expectations on yourself or your husband. You may have to pare down your schedule and say no to things. Only a few things are really essential and important. As you settle into a routine, hopefully before your child is five years old, you do have to make time for your marriage. We had a date night every week when our girls were young. When we lived in Ukraine, our dates were very romantic since we could afford ballets and our favorite café’s with live music. At other times, we carved out a date at home, which could be just as nice.
Embrace the season, it passes quickly. I know this sounds cliché, but it does.
This stage in life is only a season. I often look back on the years when my children were young and remember how precious and fleeting those years were. This may not help when you are tired or overwhelmed, but you may have younger or older friends who are in a different season that can offer help and encouragement. The multi-generational family of God helps us gain perspective when we are losing it. And we all do sometimes.
Even though you are new a mom, be yourself and don’t feel guilty about it.
You probably go through more changes during your twenties than any other time in life. For many modern young women, you pursue your dreams in college, find your soul mate, marry and become pregnant over a relatively brief period of time. This was my experience. I became a mother at twenty four. I remember worrying that I would have to morph into a domestic diva. Even though I cook, enjoy hosting people, and can decorate my home nicely, when I spend time with friends I don’t want to talk about those things. I want to talk about books, the news, or some aspect of faith. I had to learn not to feel guilty about this and to find friends who will connect with me over these things. This became easier as a missionary living overseas. I asked one of my favorite people, Nadia, a Ukrainian who is my mother’s age how she stayed young and vibrant. She said she doesn’t care what people think. She doesn’t bother with comparisons. I also know she pursues her passion as an artist and serves people through her ministry to the poor in the Carpathian Mountains.
Express gratitude and appreciation daily.
I cherished the moments I spent with God in the mornings when my children were young. Sometimes those times were pushed into the evening when my husband was home and available to help, but God was and is the anchor for my soul. Sometimes I would go to a park bench in Lviv, Ukraine near our flat to read, pray and take in the beauty of my surroundings. The simple truths, wonder of life, and the daily adventure I was on with God gave me joy. And many joys came through the uninhibited wonder and discovery I witnessed in my girls.
Lastly, no matter what you accomplish in life, you will never regret the time you spend with your children. Because of it, your children can be some of your greatest joys throughout life.