My oldest daughter is turning 10 years old next week. That means I’ve been a mom for a decade.
I’m still no expert, but I feel comfortable putting “professional mother” on my resume now. I’ve learned a few things along the way that I wish I had known when I became a mom. I’d like to share that list with you today.
1. You need to get to know your children.
After I had my first baby, everyone I knew mysteriously disappeared. It took me four days to swallow my pride and call my mom and to say, “Where are you? Why aren’t you over here helping me?”
Her answer was wise. She said, “You two need to get to know each other.”
And that’s so true. You need to get to know your children. I think that’s part of the mystery of being a mother – discovering who your child is and who you will become.
2. Everything takes twice as long.
I like to think I’m a “high-capacity person,” meaning I can get a lot of stuff done. Well, that was before I had kids. Someone recently told me that 90 minutes of childfree time is like seven years of regular time. I’d like that on a bumper sticker or a T-shirt.
3. You’ll excel in three to five areas of parenting, and need to be okay with failing or outsourcing everything else.
If I were sharing my fictitious “professional mother” resume with you, I’d tell you I’m proficient in dealing with the sticky substances children spill and excrete, reading too many stories (with the voices) to my kids, short-order cooking food that may or may not be eaten, keeping a somewhat clean house (just don’t look in my guest room) and traveling alone cross-country with three kids numerous times a year.
I choose to be okay with failing at or outsourcing the following:
• Potty training. I outsourced this to a friend, an older sibling and Mickey Mouse Clubhouse.
• Planning and executing extravagant birthdays. I really try to bribe my kids into a trip somewhere fun. If they want a party, it’s going to be basic – cake, fun, and plastic tablecloths. My 10-year-old plans everything else.
• Drama with friends or siblings. Figure it out or don’t hang out.
• Bathing my children every day. Laura Ingalls Wilder got a bath on Saturdays. My kids get a bath a little more often, but I don’t go for every night. It’s just too much work.
4. Bad behavior is usually a mask for something else.
Sometimes kids do stupid stuff. I know I do stupid stuff every day. But when I see a pattern of edginess, frustration, forgetfulness, or lying, it makes me wonder, “What’s going on here?”
And when I poke the bear (usually my 10-year-old), she’s struggling with some sort of insecurity or friend issue. (I know I said I don’t do drama. I really don’t, but a mom listening to the details of a drama is often cathartic for a tween.)
When they’re little, it usually means jealousy or not enough connection.
5. I set the tone for my home.
Ouch. This one is so hard to admit. My mood and attitude are so often the root of behavior and backtalk. When I’m not feeling nice or prepared, why would anyone else cooperate? Sometimes, I’m the one who needs a timeout to reflect on what’s bugging me.
6. Sometimes I can’t fix it, and that’s okay.
One of the hardest things to do as a mom is watch your kids hurt. However, letting them hurt is most often what they need. When my daughter saw her dog get hit by a car a couple years ago, I wasn’t there to protect her. I tried to save his life.
I tried everything I could to lessen her pain, but in reality, she needed to just feel it and have me be there. That’s the best parenting advice I have – be there.
7. Your kids will surprise you.
Recently, I was in the shower bemoaning the emptying of yet another bottle of body wash by my younger kids. Then, I realized that I bought a refill. It dawned on me that my 10-year-old had transferred the refill to the pump dispenser. I was so relieved. She is going to make it as an adult. If she can refill a body wash dispenser, she just might be able to feed herself and some tiny humans one day.
8. It’s all your fault, even when it’s out of your control.
We have a family rule that you don’t ask for play dates or sleepovers in front of your friends. That’s a private conversation between you and Mama or Daddy. And then Mama has to talk to the other mom.
This rule has served us well, until my daughter and her friend found a way to bend it. They’re homeschooled, so they figured out they could have a “school date” by tag-teaming us. When one mom says “no,” that should be the end of it. Well, my rule bender held me responsible for the missed opportunity. We’ve had to amend our rule to include “No lashing out at Mama if the friend’s mom says no.”
Did I mention parenting a tween is exhausting?
9. Setting expectations is a secret for success.
Another family rule is no devices for daily short trips. The main reason for this is that I need a time when I have my kids’ attention to prepare them for what’s coming. We talk about manners, what to expect with certain people, what we can’t afford or do at a place, etc. It also gives them time to tell me what’s on their hearts.
10. There’s nothing more important than your family.
Our family values boil down to two categories – respect and responsibility. I tell my kids all the time that (devices, pride, friends, work, etc.) are not more important than people. It’s so easy to get caught up in something outside of these boundaries – social media, family turmoil, work, school, sports, comparison, etc. What’s best for our family has to be at the forefront of every decision and thing we do.
I probably have a dozen more “wish I’d known’s” but I think this is a good list. This job is so hard and so rewarding all at the same time. Give yourself grace and squeeze those kids tight. They’ll be 10 before you know it.
Amanda Brandon is a freelance writer and homeschooling mother and living in Water Valley, Miss., with her husband Warren and their three children. She writes on professional mothering, travel, and raising outside-box-kids at her blog, A Work of God and shares homeschooling and “Cute Little Baby” updates frequently on Instagram. She is also currently writing a book on what it takes for mothers to work at home and thrive. A graduate of the Meek School of Journalism at Ole Miss, she has worked on numerous book projects and corporate communications for niche software companies, nonprofit consultants and church communications publishers.