I have been surrounded by mothers of babies at a few recent events. Play groups. La Leche League meetings. Now that my youngest is coming up on two years old, I’m definitely not a mother of a baby anymore and around these moms chatting, I find myself falling silent, receding into the background and just listening.
It’s become obvious to me why we tend to gravitate to mothers whose children are the same age as our own. Sure, it’s partly because they play well together and we can commiserate about ages and stages and share tips. But it’s also because we mothers are at the same stage of development.
Here are some of the stages as I experienced them:
The Bi-Polar Stage
The first 2 months with a newborn hold wild swings from low to high. They are the days of being on cloud nine, elated and blissed out by this new being, by this new family unit you created. They are the days of utter and bewildering lack of confidence, of feeling completely out of your element and overwhelmed. You have no idea how in 3-36 hours your former life disappeared forever. You feel completely turned around and your emotions swing like a pendulum as you try desperately through a fog of sleeplessness and round the clock feedings to regain your footing. These are the days of questions, always questions. Questions for the midwife, for the lactation consultant, for your mom, for every parent you know or meet.
The False Confidence Stage
When your baby is about 6 months old you come out of your shell. You get talkative. You have opinions. You’re more confident about mothering and feel that you just might know what you’re doing. You’re getting the swing of it. But you’ve also had to eat your words on more than one occasion. You’ve found yourself doing things you swore you’d never do. You see the other side of the fence now so you’re also quick to talk about being more accepting of other parenting styles. You freely admit how wrong you were and you make an effort to be less judgmental. You know now how hard it can be, how motherhood doesn’t always line up neatly with your expectations, how intensely unique a baby’s personality can be from day one. All the while, you don’t quite realise that you’re going to get knocked on your ass a few more times before you get less vocal. You’ve come through the honeymoon and down the other side so you think you finally have it figured out but you don’t realise that you’re still residing in the baby realm. You’re stoked to share these moments of personal growth, these lessons because they were so profound, but nevertheless you mistake the journey of the last six months for a much longer one. You still don’t realise how much more awaits you. You feel like a weathered mother when the reality is that you’re still very green. Very green indeed.
I’ve gone through both of these stages twice. I’ve done all of those things and I’ve watched other moms go through them too. Yet, it seems easier to identify the stages after you have passed through them than it is to pinpoint where you are at any given moment. As I watch these young mothers, I see my past self distinctly. I was there once. But it is a past self, which is why I tend to recede into the background when they start talking. They are getting support and nourishment from others at the same stage, and I am no longer there.
Now, my children are 4.5 and almost 2. I’m struggling with discipline issues and sibling issues. I’m struggling with scary identity issues now as I begin to get more freedom again and as I face the possibility that my childbearing days are over. I’ve realised that though it seemed I learned so much and came so far in the first 6 months of parenting, it was just a blip compared to the learning associated with having a toddler or a preschooler, or one of each. I think I’m just coming out of this stage now:
The Resignation Stage
This is the stage where you have been dog tired for so long you don’t remember feeling normal, where your house is always a mess, your kids don’t listen and they fight and you yell. You don’t know if it will EVER feel normal again so you resign yourself to the chaos of motherhood. You carry this cross but you try to do it with dignity. You make an effort not to complain. You read a lot of parenting books and you try to concentrate on adoring your babies because you know NOW, the second time round that the old cliché about how quickly they grow is so true. You know this by looking at your eldest and comparing him to the baby toddler but you also start to look forward to Kindergarten registration with guilt heavy in your heart.
I don’t know if everyone goes through this stage or if it’s just me. And I don’t know what stages come next. I’m more than a little curious and excited to find out.
I look forward to the day, perhaps when my children are grown, when mothering fits me like a well-worn 15 year old favourite t-shirt. A shirt that, though tattered, suits me perfectly in style, fit and colour. A shirt whose stiff cotton has relaxed into the soft caress of flannel. A shirt that I no longer wear every day for weeks on end and continually obsess over whether or not it looks good on me, but rather hangs in my closet with all my other shirts (sister, wife, friend, worker) and is just a part of my wardrobe. A shirt that I wear for all of my most favourite things like sleeping and gardening. A shirt that is part of me, that I accept as it is and hardly have to think about.
What do you think? How do you see the stages of motherhood? What stages have you been through? Moms with older children, what’s coming up for us with young kids? Have you noticed these particular stages of growth as you pass through them, or only once you’re on the other side? I’d love to hear what else might await me.