I feel like I’ve been a hundred different people in the last 15 years.
Motherhood has required constant change, constant evolution. There’s no complacency.
Sometimes we talk about the changing seasons of parenthood and how everything is temporary. In those exhausting, joyful days when everything is new and sleep deprivation takes hold of you, you wonder how time can possibly fly like they tell you it will.
Then, one morning you wake up to a running toddler who jumps in your bed, and you begin to get a sense that what they say is true. The days are long but the years are short. You chase her around all day until you collapse in the bed, hoping for a decent night of sleep for once.
The days run together, and suddenly she’s off to kindergarten. It hits you that the baby days are forever gone, and time seems to speed up. You try to soak it in, but he’s growing too quickly, constantly changing. He seems to be slipping right through your fingers.
Summers come and go. You know they are numbered, and soon your life is a flurry of backpacks, science projects, and soccer practices, and then suddenly they’re finishing another grade. Another milestone is reached. Another closetful outgrown.
Before you know it, she’s off to middle school. That little baby you held in the crook of your elbow stands nearly eye to eye with you now, and sometimes you stare at her when you think she isn’t looking just to mentally capture how she looks in this moment, in this season.
A few more Christmases come and go. Wrapping paper swallows the floor. Then it’s time for the first day of high school. You realize you’re in the homestretch now, and you think it’s weird how you can still see his toddler face even though he’s fourteen. If you’re lucky, he’ll kiss the top of your head on his way out the door.
Before you can catch your breath, there are first dates, curfews, cars, and prom. Another season is coming to an end. Is she ready? Have I done enough? These thoughts keep you up at night, but you are so proud of who she’s become, and you know that, no matter how old she gets, she’ll always be your baby.
Parenthood is an unbelievably long and unreasonably short journey of loving and letting go, and while it’s true that the seasons come and go, it’s also true that the baby you held in your arms will be a lot of different people on this journey. You will be, too.
Motherhood changes you. Fatherhood as well, to be sure, but I cannot speak much to that.
As a mother, I know there have been many times I have stood in front of a mirror and have not recognized the person I was looking at. There were times that the anger, the sadness, or the exhaustion on my face startled me. Sometimes I’ve recognized my own need to change, to shift, and I’ve consciously made that happen. Other times, the change occurred without much warning. Either way, I had to adjust. I had to get to know myself again. I had to make peace with that girl in the mirror, and sometimes as soon as I did, the world shifted again.
I don’t mean to sound heavy. There have been millions of beautiful moments, and many of my changes have been for the better. I have also been taken aback by the amount of love and pride I have felt for my children. I’ve been surprised by the contentment that their arms around my neck brings, and by the sheer joy of hearing their laughter.
But I want to be real in saying that sometimes it is heavy. And if you’re finding yourself in a heavy season today, or if you, too, are having trouble recognizing yourself, I’d like to offer these bits of encouragement.
1. You are a work in progress. Who you were, who you are, and who you are becoming is all part of your unique journey. Growth can be uncomfortable, but it is necessary. If we didn’t grow and change as our babies did, we wouldn’t be able to meet them where they are and guide them on their way. We’d be stagnant, stuck in old cycles, reliving outdated patterns. Believe in yourself. Know that you are enough now and you will be enough tomorrow.
2. You are not alone. I know it feels like you are sometimes. Feeling alone in your struggles is the worst. When my second born was an infant, I was hit with terrible panic attacks. They happened every single day, and I didn’t want to talk about them. This was supposed to be a time of joy and happiness, but I was living every day in fear. I made a mistake in not reaching out. I was afraid my friends would think less of me for my struggle, but when at last I did share my story, I found support. Reach out if you’re struggling. I promise you that people do care.
3. Boundaries are good. Looking back, some of my hardest seasons happened because I had loose boundaries. I tried to be everything to everyone. I spread myself too thin. I took on more than I could handle, and then I harbored resentment for it. Ever the people pleaser, I didn’t want to offend a single soul. So, I said yes to the Cub Scout leader who asked me to run a den and yes to the homeschool co-op that wanted me to teach a class and yes to the kids who wanted to play nonstop and yes to everyone but me. It led to burnout real quick. Some of us grew up believing boundaries are mean. They’re not. They’re necessary.
4. You are perfectly imperfect. Shed the weight of perfection. If you’re like me, you’re on social media looking at those perfectly clean houses, smiling children in matching pajamas, and other moms in those leggings that make your butt look perfect and thinking “Wowsers, I am failing big time.” What you see on the interwebs is not real life. You’re rocking it. Or maybe you’re barely scraping by, and that’s okay, too. You’ll rock it again when you’re ready. Grace.
5. You can come back stronger. Even if today you’re at rock bottom, know that there is a way up. If you feel broken, know that you might be down, but you’re not out. Everything is temporary, including the heaviness and the difficult seasons. Take one small step toward feeling better today. Do something that brings you happiness. Call a friend. Ask for a hug. Just one small thing, one day at a time, and you’ll find yourself in a new season before you know it.
*Rebecca Eanes is the bestselling author of Positive Parenting: An Essential Guide, The Positive Parenting Workbook, and The Gift of a Happy Mother.