A Letter To My Pregnant Self (Episode 99)
As I have moved beyond the stage of having babies of my own, I've loved the amazing opportunities of being there for new parents as they navigate those first years of being a parent. Beyond the basic advice, there came a time where a dear friend mentioned, "how fun it would be to write a letter to my pregnant self!"
Below and in the podcast, you'll hear letters from mamas at all stages of motherhood.
Answering this listener question:
This all started when I got this question in from a reader:
What do you as a momma understand that maybe I as a non parent do not understand?
Wow - how do you even start to explain what being a parent is like to someone who hasn't experienced it?
Pin for later:
Parenthood is so individual - it's different for each person, and each child.
Yet there are some things we know for sure.
Before I had children, I was a nanny, preschool teacher, camp counselor, studied child psychology in school...I was so certain I had it all down-pat. Then I had children and learned there was so much I didn't know.
When I had my first baby, it wasn't just about crowd control or engaging and teaching a child. It was up to us to figure out how we were going to raise her.
It was no longer something we could just assume someone else will handle. Unlike the children I nannied and taught, now my husband and I had to make the call for vaccines, when to take them to the doctor, what was "normal" vs. when we should be concerned...
It can be scary and overwhelming, especially when we as a culture have moved away from "it takes a village" and try to do it all on our own. The community of others who have been through the different stages of life both as parents and non-parents is so important!
And through it all - navigating your own insecurities as you're also learning about these tiny humans (who are also learning about themselves) - you see how fleeting it is and how quickly they grow up. It's crazy and beautiful to watch, and a beautiful journey of life and interconnectedness.
Having a child of your own is completely the cliche of wearing your heart outside your body - you can be soul-connected in a way that is just indescribable!
A Letter To My Pregnant Self
So what, beyond this, would I write? What would I say to myself when I was first embarking on motherhood? What would I do differently?
Since I have written so much looking back on my own birth stories and my journey, I decided to reach out to some friends who were near and dear to my heart.
This is what I asked:
I chose each of you because you are at different stages - some with grandchildren, grown children, many children, and just having your first. I thought this could be a pretty beautiful way for us all to reflect on that time in our lives, and to really think about what we would say to that woman who was about to embark on the most incredible experience of motherhood.
So here goes - these are some of the letters I got back:
From the mama of "Irish Twins"
What would I say to my pregnant self? First I would have to weed through all the cliche sayings.... "It's the best job you will ever have", "Sleep when they sleep", "Motherhood is amazing", "you'll just know what to do", yada, yada - (these are true, but not always helpful) there was a MUCH deeper message I needed to know...You are not in control!
- Allow space for changes
- Trust God loves your kids and has a much bigger vision for their lives than you do!
- Don't cling to every outcome! You can't do it all.
I didn't want perfection, I just wanted what I thought was best for them.
Every parent wants the best for their kids, but can so easily slip into "ideal parenting", expectations, and what others think you should be doing. I knew the way I wanted to approach parenting - how I wanted to give birth, the items I would choose to use, the foods that went in their bodies, I mean, all I had to do was make a plan and stick to it! So this is where I got tripped up...I had expectations and when plans changed, it threw me off.
I don't remember much from the first 3 years of my kids lives, BUT I DO remember when my youngest was 9 months old and being on the floor, back against a wall in my living room, face in my hands bawling because I thought I had failed my child. My milk supply had dropped and I couldn't nurse my baby anymore. She was not gaining and I had nothing left to give and it was devastating! Little did I know, this was one of MANY moments where I would feel I failed my child...
- I wanted a natural child birth and had an emergency c-section
- I wanted cloth diapers, but had 2 babies under 16 months old and couldn't keep up
- I wanted to nurse till they were at least 1, but my body couldn't keep up
- I wanted fun experiences where I watched my kids learn and grow, but someone always needed a nap or to eat or just flat out having a melt down and I found myself stressed out over an experience rather than meeting them where they were at
- I wanted scheduled nap times, but sleep regressions took over like a roaring lion
- I wanted my kids to share a room, but they literally gave me every grey hair on my head over the bedtime shenanigans!
I am now at a place where I am OK with saying "I'm doing the best I can for where I am right now and I trust that God fills in the gaps where I am lacking". I believe it is in those moments that I find the most peace.
We may not always make the best decisions for our kids and that's ok, we are still learning as we go! Despite C-sections, disposable diapers, formula, and VERY little sleep, We have 3 healthy thriving kids and that's enough for me!
-Melissa, mother of 3
Let Go Of The Fixed Agenda
It's okay to not have it all laid out. We can get so focused on our own expectations that we fixate on an outcome that doesn't allow for the fluidity of life. Our children have minds of their own, and, like in any relationship, it's not just one person that steers the course. When we are so set on a specific agenda, not only do we stress out, but we kill any opportunity for something that may be even better.
You aren't going to know it all. Things aren't always going to go as planned. And the more you can flow with love, the more you are able to roll with it and appreciate who your children are right now and not just what you want them to be.
Motherhood Is Not A Contest
Dear 28-year-old, pregnant Sheila,
As I sit back now and watch your amazing 21-year-old daughter flourish and become her own woman, I’d like to share a few notes and observations I’ve learned along the extremely joyful, love-filled yet sometimes treacherous journey of motherhood.
I know how excited (and scared) you are right now. Can you really do this?
Well, I want you to know that you can. And while you certainly didn’t do it perfectly (actually, no one does and that’s the beauty of it), you have an amazing relationship with your daughter and isn’t that what it’s all about anyway?
So here’s my advice 21 years after that precious day that changed your life.
Be who you are as a Mom. It is enough.
I know that you have an amazing Mom and you only wanted the same thing for your daughter. But that amazing woman you call Mom, your sweet baby girl will call Granny. She doesn’t need another one of those in her life. She needs you.
I know you’ll spent countless hours reading books on how to this and how to that, Googling it and asking others for advice. Use your instincts and go with it. You have a bond with this precious being that no one else does, so trust your own judgement. Just live it.
Don’t compare yourself to any other Moms. I know you’ll worry about every decision you make. Should you stay home with her like Susie does. Should you homeschool like Betsy does. Should you make her take piano lessons like Sally does. I know it’s hard. But you’re not comparing apples to apples. There are no equals. Be strong and confident in knowing that you are enough.
Let your beautiful daughter be who she is. She is enough too.
I know you’ll only want what’s best for your little girl. She will be your only child, so you’ll go a little overboard in trying to do what’s best. But remember that what’s best for her is to be herself — the person God made her to be.
Don’t worry when all she wants to wear are t-shirts down to her knees and blue jeans (even to church). Don’t fret when she decides to chop off all her hair in high school.
Don’t be concerned when she would rather read a book in a hammock with the dog instead of go out with friends. Don’t lay awake at night worrying about what she’ll major in in college.
I can tell you already that in spite of your best intentions, she turns out to be an amazing, strong, confident woman that you will enjoy knowing if you just let it happen.
Motherhood isn't a contest.
Just Live it, let it happen and enjoy the process.
Enjoy every moment.
I know this last bit of advice seems pretty cliché’, but it must be said. I’m hoping if you hear it from me you will heed it.
Time really will fly by.
So enjoy an extra few minutes playing in the back yard with her as her little legs chase run and her laugh brightens the day.
Enjoy the mess in your kitchen as she embarks on yet another craft project or recipe.
Enjoy the drives (the short ones to school and practice and the long ones to Granny and Pops) where she bares her soul and shares her feelings and the two of you grow a little closer.
Enjoy the little get-aways with your family of three when you let her pick the restaurant and the activities. I know it’s not the beach, but you’ll be surprised that you vegetarian restaurants are actually good and that you enjoy finding hole in the wall bookstores in every city.
See your beautiful, amazing, smart, confident daughter for who she is and enjoy every minute with her.
That is what I would write to my pregnant self.
-Sheila, mother of 1
Meet them where they are
We often have that desire as parents to get our children to where we think they should be, yet our children aren't quite there. The sage advice I received from a friend to "meet her where she's at" was a game-changer for my relationship with my strong-willed daughter who needed to sit with her emotions a bit longer than I did.
Trust Your Intuition
Yes, trust your intuition! Remember we didn't always have a gazillion parenting books, blogs, websites and resources at our fingertips. There are parents out there who did this with NO help, but figured it out as they went. Sometimes, in our information-overload culture, we consume so much advice from others that we lose touch with our own intuition. Trust your gut - if something doesn't sit right with you, pay attention to that!
From the Grandma to Many
My own mama has been a mother to so many - not just her own biological children, but the many children and young adults she's taken under her wing throughout my life. Her book, Creating a Haven of Peace: When You're Feeling Down, Finances are Flat and Tempers are Rising, chronicles how she raised us and some of the ups and downs along the way.
She's the first to tell you she has enabling down to a fine art, and that she spent many years living for others before she learned how to shift from enabling to empowering...starting with herself.
Here are her top tips:
If I were to write a letter to my pregnant self, KNOWING WHAT I KNOW NOW, I would say these things:
- And this is truly #1....make sure you work on your marriage more than you work on your parenting. You and your spouse will be better parents for that and you will raise children who respect you for that.
- Never judge someone else for their parenting style nor a child's actions by how they are parented. Yes, there are parents who are not very good at parenting, but there are also parents who do all they can and their kids still have to experience life on their own terms.
- Say yes always, unless the answer yes would put your child in danger or in moral crisis. Let your child experience life on his/her own as much as possible.
- Don't hover. Being a helicopter parent makes you look paranoid and ultimately makes the child resentful and dependent.
- Carry through. Seriously. If you say, "Stop this behavior or you will have to go to bed!", don't repeat it and then cave. Carry through. Your child will not starve if he/she misses a meal or be stunted if he/she misses an outing. Children will take advantage of your lack of follow through. Trust me on this one!
- Teach your child to respect your privacy, your need to have quiet time, your need to have spousal time, social time, etc. Your child has come into your world and will learn respect by how much you teach them respect.
- Don't be too hard on yourself. Parenting doesn't come with an instruction book. Yes, there are various "experts" and some are worth following, but it isn't a "one size fits all" world and every child (even within the same family) needs parenting differently. We are all unique.
- Don't always try to be fair. Some children just need more time and attention. Life isn't fair is very true....even in parenting.
- Unconditional love means sometimes you have to endure behaviors that you simply abhor.....but you love them in spite of and you let them know it.
- Create that haven of peace where your child always feels safe and secure and always loved. This takes years of practice and intentionality but is so worth it.
Never, ever stop learning and growing with your children.
Joanne, mother of 3, grandmother of 16, great-grandmother of 1
Let them Struggle
If a child is never allowed to fall down, they don't know how to walk. It's in the falling that we learn our own balance and how to stand up. If we fear the struggle for our children, we rob them of the opportunity to learn their own limits. And the result is a child that is dependent on a parent for their safety. In allow them to hit their own limitations, we empower them to grow in independence.
From the Mama Who Learned So Much
I don’t think I’d tell myself anything….because from where I sit right now, looking back on the journey that got me to where I am today…I wouldn’t change any of it. It was a painful journey of self-discovery. I don’t know that I’d be the same person I am right now if I hadn’t gone through all of it. I like myself a lot better now than I ever have before, so I’m grateful for the muck I went through.
Missy, mama to one
The Past Is Behind You
Ah, these sweet letters to our pregnant selves are a wonderful way to look back on thing and recognize how much we've grown. And what an important thing to keep in mind. It is because of our past that we are who we are today. Inasmuch as we may desire to cut ourselves a break and speak these tips to us in the past, my friend Missy says it so well. She is who she is now because of that journey, and she wouldn't change that.
It's those mistakes you've made and what you've chosen to learn that helps you gain those insights to make you a better, more compassionate, more empathetic and more aware person because of it.
We all have our own individual journeys and lessons to learn. Sometimes it's rough. Sometimes it's something you'd never ever want to repeat, or that you wouldn't wish on anyone...yet how much did you grow? How did it open your eyes to seeing things in a new way, with a new appreciation, respect, and awareness?
You've got this
It's okay to mess up. You will. And what your baby needs is for you to keep on going. To correct yourself when you're wrong, to keep learning and growing, and to show them the drive to keep going - and thriving - in this world. They need YOU. Not perfection. They need the love of their parents to be there with them in this big crazy world.
Life can be stressful, and the pressure we put on ourselves and our children to be "the best they can be" can be enough for a complete breakdown.
Know your own personality style and what motivates you. Be the model not only of action and growth, but of rest and recovery. Show them the importance of recharging, loving yourself, and having a growth mindset by example.
Your Weekly Challenge:
Look back on your own journey of parenthood. If you've been at it a while, think about how far you've come. Look at what you've learned and how you've grown along with your child.
If you are new to this, what stands out to you? What can you take from these letters to help you as you grow?
I feel you, mamas and papas. It's quite a journey, embarking on parenthood and learning as you go. Don't hesitate to ask for help. Think about your own life, and how many times you have stepped up to help another - do you have a tally of resentment, or did you do it freely and with joy? Allow others to help - it's a win-win. Welcome to the parent club - it's one helluva ride, and it's worth it.
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