The Oy's of Motherhood:
Learning to Breathe Easier in a World of Young Ones
By Sheri Bernstein
When I was visibly pregnant with my first child there wasn't a door for me to open or a bag I needed to carry because some kind stranger always seemed ready to do these simple tasks for me. The growing life inside of me brought out some kind of mitzvah madness in people.
"Let me push that elevator button for you."
"You take my seat, dear. I'm fine to stand."
I marveled at the attention. After all I was young, strong, with working arms and legs to do most basic tasks. I felt guilty being catered to when it wasn't my birthday, when I hadnít accomplished anything more spectacular than standing.
And then I gave birth and in an instant my world turned upside down.
There are all those birthing classes to prepare a woman for the four stages of labor. They focus on your breathing. But there aren't any classes to teach a woman how to breathe through the real labor that comes after birth: motherhood. I was in labor for nineteen hours and most of it was induced. I know what birthing pain is like and the sweet reward of holding a new life in your adrenaline-pumped and exhausted arms. And yet it is nothing compared to the intense grab-you-by-your-gut-bitter-sweetness that comes with being a mother. And I wouldn't trade my role as mother for anything in this world. But the following are some things I've learned to help me breathe a little easier as mommy:
1. DARE TO COMPARE: THE SLIPPERY SLOPE OF JUDGING
Breast or bottle? Co-sleep or crib sleep? A new mother is bombarded with choices regarding the welfare of her little one. Itís sobering to note that these choices will only grow with time: daycare, nanny or stay at home parent? Potty train now or later? Swim or ballet lessons or both?
How to keep yourself from falling into a motherhood pool of neuroticism? Trust yourself. Know that G-d gave you this beautiful child to raise because He knew you would do a great job.
Yes, do read and listen to what other parents are doing for their children. Compare diaper brands, baby foods, discipline methods and schools. But in the end, listen to what YOU think is best. Itís true, your parenting may be very different from other mischpucahís out there, and thatís more than okay. No one ever said there was one way to parent.
Bottom line: Kill the critic and put all that energy into just enjoying time with your little one. Itís the same lesson we learned in grade school all over again: youíll never please everyone so start pleasing yourself.
2. ITíS MORE THAN OKAY TO ASK FOR HELP.
ďG-d couldnít be everywhere so He created mothers.Ē On the surface, this well-known quote can fill a mother with overflowing pride. But if you let the compliment sit in a motherís heart for a minute, she will be too tired and taxed to stand. Surely this quote was written before Betty Friedanís voice was heard. Because the quote needs to be revised: ďG-d couldnít be everywhere so He created parents.Ē
People give all kinds of examples of what a mench is: a man who never complains, who gives to the poor, who surprises his wife with a day at the spa for her birthday. These are all fine examples. But the true mench is a man who parents a child.
So let your husband take the baby for a walk, ask him to drop the kids off at school, tell him you need an afternoon out with your girlfriend. The more responsibility you give him the less weight will be felt on your maternal shoulders. And the more confidence your mench of a husband will have with his role as father.
Bottom line: ask for help instead of waiting for it and ironically, you wonít feel that you need it so desperately.
3. NO IS A COMPLETE SENTENCE
Perhaps before motherhood you were able to manipulate your schedule to please your boss, co-workers, family and friends. Bring a child into the world and suddenly getting out of the house on time seems an accomplishment. So itís no wonder that new mothers are wracked with a sense of guilt/failure that they canít manage their lives as smoothly as before.
How to banish the negative thoughts? Learn to say no.
Whether itís work or friends, family-time or laundry time, you will never be able to do it all to your satisfaction again (At least until the little ones are off at college!). So when the dishes are piled sky high in the sink and your baby is napping for the first time all day it is more than okay to say no to Aunt Sylvia whose idea of catching up on the phone involves an hour plus of schmooze time.
And when your child is older, it is okay to say no to the XBOX he will point out is less money than the new floors you just put in your house.
Bottom line: When in doubt, say no. Just wait and see how your mommy energy perks up!
4. FROM MOTHER HEN TO ZEN
Thereís no doubt: motherhood is the greatest learning curve in life! It teaches us to listen to our own voice and not be afraid to use it. The maternal instinct may be something women are born with but it is not fully utilized until we actively embrace our roles as mothers. It is why our mothers often look like they know exactly what to do when we are hurt or in need. They didnít get that way overnight. It was only through years of balancing home and work (both in and out of the house), years of kissing scraped knees and making chicken soup, years of learning what works and what doesnít that these women appear almost ethereal in their ability to mother.
Bottom line: Please, let us mother ourselves, so that we can mother our babies. Perhaps this is the best choice for everyone.
from the November 2007 Edition of the Jewish Magazine