The Reality of Motherhood
In our Advice from Mums series, we talk about a range of different parenting topics with a fabulous group of mums. Today, we asked 8 mums how the reality of motherhood has differed to what they expected. Read on to find out what they said.
I’ve wanted to be a mother for quite a long time. When I was at university, I would think about what my kids might be like. When I met my husband, I started thinking about what our kids would be like. I had these images in my head, put there by movies and books and our friends who had babies. Of idyllic moments with the baby snuggled on my shoulder. Of playing peek-a-boo and ‘Where’s Mummy?” all day. Of gorgeous little smiles that would just brighten my day. And I’ve had all of those things with both of my boys. And they are as perfect and precious as any other moments in my life. But the reality of having children is so much more than those moments.
I don’t think there’s any mother who doesn’t expect to be up overnight feeding their baby for the first few months. And I certainly expected to be tired, really tired. But the reality of being consistently sleep deprived for months, years even? I was so unprepared for that. The persistent feeling of being slower than you used to be. The enormous amount of effort required to make decisions. That feeling of finally getting to sleep only to be yanked out again by a tiny, screaming baby who desperately needs your help. Struggling to keep your eyes open at 9 o’clock in the morning.
Then they start sleeping longer and longer. Until finally, the unicorn night arrives and they sleep through! Without you! I figured by that stage, I’d be so tired, an earthquake wouldn’t wake me. In reality, the first night by eldest slept through all night, I was up every other hour to check that he was still alive. And I did that every night for about a week and a half. I finally did relax, and we moved into a phase of relatively good sleeping.
Until the second child arrived. And I thought I was definitely prepared for it this time. I knew what to expect. Except I didn’t. Because now there are two. And they never wake up at the same time. Ever. So between nightmares, teething, being scared of the dark, developmental leaps, being scared of shadows, being too hot, too cold and illnesses, I’m pretty sure I haven’t slept more than 4 hours at a time in over 2 years. Nothing about my children’s sleep has been anything like I expected. And it is tough, so tough, functioning without sleep. But you get through it. Somehow, you get through each day, one at a time. And eventually (so I’m told), it gets better. I’ll let you know.
The reality is that it will probably be a very long time before you ever really get enough sleep after your kids arrive. But thankfully, they are so ridiculously cute and cuddly, that you forgive them your lack of sleep. At least I do, once the sun comes up.
Feeding a Baby
Before I got pregnant, and all through my first pregnancy, I knew I was going to breastfeed. Didn’t ever really consider formula. Had no idea about bottle feeding breastmilk. Breastfeeding was natural, it was something we, my baby and I, would know how to do, and would just do. Then my baby was born, my beautiful little boy, too early to try and breastfeed straight away. And I had to pump.
Over and over, for months. And he got bigger, and stronger, and eventually we tried breastfeeding. We tried and tried and tried. And he and I never figured it out. It wasn’t easy for us. It didn’t come naturally. And in the end, didn’t come at all. It was an emotional day for me, the day I decided to stop trying. The day we switched to formula. It was not at all how I expected to be feeding my baby. But in the end, it was the right decision for the two of us.
With the second one, he wasn’t quite so early, or so little. And he was much more interested in giving it a go. So we did. And it was hard. Emotional, painful, exhausting, soul destroying. I thought about giving it up countless times. Bottles are so much easier after all. I did give up once. A couple of weeks in. I just couldn’t do it anymore, he was feeding every two hours, struggling to get on properly, and I had to pump between because there was so much. So for two days, he had bottles only, and I pumped.
And I relaxed. After two days, he and I were home alone for the day. And we tried again. It wasn’t perfect, but it was better. And I kept going. I put a countdown up on my whiteboard. Six goals. 6 weeks. 8 weeks. 12 weeks. 6 months. 9 months. 12 months. I kept going. I made it to 12 weeks. The longest 12 weeks of my life. Then, finally, it got easier. We found our rhythm. And it felt natural, finally.
The reality of breastfeeding is that it is hard work. It often doesn’t come naturally, and you will need to work at it. And sometimes, it doesn’t come at all. There’s nothing wrong with that. My boys needed different things from me to feed. But they’re both happy, healthy and loved. That’s what matters.
The Weight of Responsibility
When I was first pregnant, I don’t think it ever really dawned on me just how dependent that little person was going to be on me. Obviously I knew that I would be responsible for feeding him, keeping him safe and healthy, caring for and loving him. But the sheer weight of that responsibility didn’t really hit me until he was born and we’d brought him home. Away from the hospital with its 24 hour nursing staff, the monitors that told us if he had stopped breathing or his temperature had dropped.
Those first few nights, I barely slept at all. I kept creeping into his room to check that he was still breathing. Nearly 5 years on, there are still nights I do that, just to check. As he’s gotten older, the feelings of responsibility have changed, but still surprise me with their weight. It’s no longer just is he getting enough food, is he warm enough, is he stimulated enough? It’s also are we teaching him good habits, are we building his resilience, giving him enough/too much independence, giving him enough/too much responsibility? Am I keeping him safe whilst still teaching him not to be afraid? I was in no way prepared for the numerous ways that responsibility makes itself felt, or how strong a feeling it would be.
The reality is that the early years of your child’s life will be full of responsibility for you. But as they get older, and more independent, some of that will disappear. It’s part of the parenting journey. Doesn’t make it any easier to live with at the start though.
I have always loved children. Even when I was a child, I loved the little kids. In primary school, I enjoyed spending time with the preps and grade 1s. In high school, I did a subject that allowed me to volunteer at a child care. As an adult, I loved playing with the children of our friends, even though I desperately wanted one of my own. And I love my husband. I have done for over 10 years now. And I knew I’d love my children. Whenever they came, whoever they were, I was going to love them.
I didn’t know that it would be so complete. So fierce. Or that it would be returned unconditionally. That something as simple as my sleeping baby wrapping his fingers around my finger could be such a magical moment. Or that my toddler saying more when I kiss him could be so joyous. They don’t judge me. They don’t care that I’m not dressed perfectly, the house is untidy, or I haven’t baked that day. There are no strings on their love. It’s just there. In every smile, every cuddle, every tickle. It makes all that responsibility bearable. And it is the best part of the reality of motherhood.
Not every moment is happy. Not every moment is fun. There are (epic) tantrums, major and minor cuts and bumps, scary dreams and sore tummies. The reality is motherhood is tough. It challenges you every, single day. You’re constantly learning, about your kids, about life, about yourself. But my reward is my boys. My boys who love me simply because I’m me. And that makes it worth it.
What Do Other Mums Say
I asked some other mums to tell me how the reality of motherhood has differed from their expectations. Here’s what they told me:
Tanya Abd ElJalil
I thought I’d be the lovely crafty mum, sprinkling glitter with gay abandon, paint splatters and all. That’s not the case at all! I thought we’d be those parents taking their kids on adventures and to restaurants and nice places and they’d behave. Partly because we had three kids so close together, it’s really hard now when they’re all young.
Tanya runs Your Business Wife. Connect with her at:
I thought I was pretty prepared for the newborn/baby stage. I’d read the books, anticipated the lack of sleep, stocked up on the supplies, etc. But nothing prepares you for being that sleep deprived. Being a zombie half the time, forgetting basic words and sentences and doing ridiculous things like leaving the top of the blender!
However I’ve actually found the toddler stage the hardest to navigate. Trying to reason with a tiny dictator while being sleep deprived with a newborn (yep we are part of the two under two club) has been my biggest struggle. The constant no’s, the erratic behaviour, the push and pull of independence is utterly exhausting. But along with this is feeling that unconditional love. Nothing can prepare you for the reality of that.
Nikki runs Ocean Luxe. Connect with her at:
I had this picture in my head that I would get up each morning, make the beds, have breakfast done, I’d play with the kids clean the house, take them out to the park, do arts and craft etc… The reality is far from what I expected, it’s a lot more complicated, stressful and messy but a lot more fun.
Jessika runs Cheeky Boys Boutique & J.H. Photographer. Connect with her at:
I’ve read that 90% of new mums confess to finding motherhood to be nothing like they expected. That sounds about right to me. It’s much harder than I thought it would be. There’s so much going on, you worry about everything and you’re constantly trying to make good decisions on zero sleep. Oh, sleep. How I took you for granted!
But, I’ve learnt that you actually keep on going and it gets easier. There’s the tyranny of routine. Doing the same things at the same time over and over. We know routine is good, but damn, it’s boring! Any little breaks from it can be totally rejuvenating.
I didn’t expect the depth of love that you have for this little person. It’s absolutely amazing! It’s more love than you ever thought possible.
I was really surprised with how my partner and I became a better team and how we’ve developed a stronger, lifelong bond together as a result of being parents. I love that and didn’t really expect it. We’re closer now than ever before.
Erin runs Tokyo Socks. Connect with her at:
I think it’s after the baby stage, when they are at an age where they start challenging you more. And I thought I could handle it no problems. But living in it, is a different story indeed.
Nicole runs Creative Mum Life. Connect with her at:
Not drastically! I expected a lot of chaos and craziness! The amount of love and awe when you see them (every time you see them) was a total surprise! Who thought I would feel so totally enthralled with these beautiful people?!
Amanda runs Mummy Confessions. Connect with her at:
Choose your battles – let them have their tantrums and walk away – even in public places, I’ve had incidents where the public tantrums have been met with lots of support and knowing nods of encouragement – the child on the other hand continued to tantrum even whilst battling to be put back into the car – at which time, they were left to continue and myself breath and let steam off by calling my husband. Definitely need to choose your battles.
Ursula runs Ursh Finn. Connect with her at:
I love being a mother more than I expected I would. I was very focused on my career and didn’t really think about it much. I thought I’d be back in my corporate job before my year of maternity leave was over. No one was more surprised than me, when I chose not to go back at all. Having children is more all-consuming, more fun, more challenging, and more effective at helping me grow and really understand myself, than I expected. It has helped me let go of control, perfectionism and learn to trust my intuition better than anything else in my life.
Louise runs More to Mum. Connect with her at:
How about you? How has the reality of motherhood (or parenthood) differed from what you expected?