To the New Moms of the Future: I Promise I Won’t Forget
Earlier this week I found myself in one of those situations that new moms with more commitments than babysitters inevitably find themselves in sometimes: I had a meeting to attend and no one to care for my two-year-old. Rather than opting out of the meeting at the last minute, I decided to pack the diaper bag, strap my son into his carrier, and risk it. Sometimes, when you risk it, it all works out okay. You get a few “oohhs” and “ahhs” and a few eye rolls and life goes on without a hitch, your baby resting peacefully in their carrier as you work or volunteer or otherwise fulfill your adult obligations. When that happens it feels good and you feel a little bit like a superwoman: Able to work and volunteer and mother all at the same time!
While risking it can and does sometimes lead to those superwoman moments, sometimes it doesn't and you find yourself in the situation I found myself in earlier this week: Sweating and anxious, with a crying baby you’re praying will settle down who won’t take their paci or a snack or a toy, as you grit your teeth with embarrassment and do your best to get your business done and get out of there as quickly as possible.
The meeting started out fine. It was a board meeting for the farmers market in my neighborhood, one at which I was supposed to share what sort of special events would be happening at the market this year. Early on, my son did as I’d hoped: He relaxed into me, sucking on his pacifier and playing with my hair as I listened to the other presenters share. Just as I started to relax though, my son started to wind up.
First, he started to wiggle, trying his hardest to get out of the carrier. Then he started to fuss. Finally, he began to babble and hoot, demanding to be let down to explore the world around him. As he wound up I became increasingly anxious. I was red and hot with embarrassment, sweaty from trying to keep him contained, and worried that everyone around us was judging me not only for bringing a baby to the meeting but also for being such a poor parent I couldn't even control him. As tears started to well in my eyes I glanced around the room, trying to determine whether my son was ruining the experience for others and if I should just leave.
That’s when I noticed a woman edging my way. As she got close I worried she was going to admonish my son for simply acting his age. But, when she finally got near enough to communicate in a whisper, she said something I wasn’t expecting at all. “You’re doing great!” she whispered. “He’s so cute and I know you’re worried about him making noise. But, really, it’s okay. I have two that are older now but I remember what this is like.” And, with that, she edged away and my commitment to remember and to pass on empathy to the new moms that will come after me was forever solidified.
One day, my children will be older but, when they are, I promise to remember. To the moms that will come after me:
I promise to remember what those early, hazy days are like. How every move feels weighty and every choice feels like life-or-death. I promise to remember how the world simultaneously stops spinning and starts moving a million miles an hour when your baby lands in your arms and how your body, the one you thought you were getting back by giving birth, feels foreign and weak and strong and soft all at the same time. I promise that when I see the glint of exhaustion and wonder and fear in your eyes, I’ll stop and tell you that you’re doing a great job and that it’s not hard because you’re doing a bad job, it’s hard because it’s hard.
I promise to remember what it’s like to fall into bed at night — exhausted from chasing the toddler you swear was a newborn yesterday. I’ll remember how every milestone brings both joy and sadness and how every day feels like it brings new challenges. I’ll remember the frustration of trying to figure out when to hold tight to the boundaries and rules you’re trying to set and when to give in. And when I see you, frustrated and flustered as you carry your tot out of yet another restaurant as they flail their arms and legs, I’ll give you a minute and then I’ll come out after you. Not because I can fix it or make it easier, but because I’ll want to tell you that you are an amazing parent and your child is lucky to have you. I’ll tell you that people aren't judging you nearly as much as you think and that if they are, they’re the ones who are jerks because toddlers are just hard and you, you are doing an amazing job.
I promise I’ll remember how hard it is and how sweet it is and how much a few kind words matter and I promise that I’ll never pass up the opportunity to tell a mother who comes after me what a great job she’s doing.
While it might be tempting to remember only the good and sweet as my little ones grow and age out of the kind of challenges I’m presented with as the mother of small children, I promise I’ll remember the hard too. Not so I can pat myself on the back for getting through it but, instead, so I can empathize wholly with the mothers whose paths I may cross.
A few kind words can change the course of a meeting, an afternoon or a lifetime and, just as others have done for me, I promise to remember what it is to be the mother of young children and to give them the support that’s meant so much in my life.
You've got this, new moms of the now and the future.