Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Motherhood Prep 101

My cousin has been conversing with me over the mid-midlife crisis that is being a single college girl. Some of my very fondest and very worst memories spring from that window of awkwardness.

So she asked me, "You mentioned that you would prioritize preparing yourself to be a better wife and mother. How would you go about doing that? I'm not sure what the best way to prepare for that is."

And I wanted a blockbuster answer. I wanted to cover nearly every corner of that pandora's box. So I asked just about everyone I know (on facebook) to share with me ways in which they wish they'd been more prepared. Here's what we all came up with, realizing some of it is completely contradictory. That's how real-life works. (Slightly curated to not be too repetitious or take 7 hours to read)

Hopefully this provides some ideas for "preparation"..... feel free to add your thoughts in the comments!

A mother needs to be able to:
  • Motivate small children to clean up after themselves without making them hate her.
  • Stay on top of the (copious) laundry in a good-habit manner in which she barely realizes she's doing it.
  • Keep dishes and meals cycling through the kitchen smoothly enough that the dishes don't form overwhelming piles and you're never scrambling for what to feed hungry kids.
  • Multitask while nursing (even if the "other" task is sleeping)
  • Never lose her temper
  • Control what language and subject matter is allowed in her home and amongst her family
  • Structure her own days and stay on task when nobody is keeping track but herself.
  • Have the willpower to accomplish what is required of her with tremendous opposition (usually in the form of whining, fighting, mess-making, and other natural disasters).
  • Be flexible and unfazed when the unexpected happens and plans have to change.
  • Be familiar with her needs and wants and where the line between them lies. (Recognize that sleep, food, and alone time with your spouse ARE NEEDS)
  • Have an arsenal of lesson plans and activity ideas for preschoolers, all ready at a moments notice
  • Relax and enjoy being with her children when she can think of a million reasons not to.
  • Function on inadequate sleep for months (years?) on end.
  • Convince her husband that she needs help even when she feels guilty asking for it. (She does! and she does!)
  • Not be surprised or reactive when she is most annoyed by the little people she loves most.
  • Recognize how her behavior is affecting others' (her children's) behavior and adjust it accordingly.
  • Develop close, supportive, low-maintenance relationships with other women in varying stages of life.
  • Efficiently manage all aspects of house and home upkeep. Have a routine/schedule for staying on top of things that she knows better than the backs of her eyelids.
  • Keep herself and her child(ren) in a routine so everyone knows what to do/expect next.
  • Learn as she goes, and always be open to what there is for her to learn in the now.

A mother should:
  • Know a lot of songs that kids will like (such as the entire Children's Songbook)
  • Empty her dishwasher/dish drainer first thing in the morning
  • Enjoy every moment she's in, even the hard ones
  • Not kill herself with goals and lists, especially with a newborn on hand.
  • Be in tune enough with her body to avoid accidentally depriving it of sleep and food (if it can be helped).
  • Enjoy her children when she's tempted to berate or try to change them
  • Find a way to carve out regular time for exercise, even when it requires tremendous force of will to make it happen. It will pay for itself in energy.
  • Have hobbies that can be done from home, with little or no money spent.
  • Be organized and have her life decluttered enough that she can keep track of all things at all times.
  • Expect each and every new child to be a ton of work and joy
  • Always be more patient than she actually is feeling inside.
  • Have started a collection of children's books long, long before she has children of her own.
  • Schedule time to get things accomplished when she doesn't also have to care for her kids. (Many recommend late night errand runs)
  • Be consistent, be consistent, and be consistent some more. Especially when it requires more energy than she actually has to be consistent.
  • Tell her kids she loves them at least once every day.
  • Take what she loves the most (art/music/literature/the Rolling Stones) and share it with your kids from the beginning.
  • Have herculean self-discipline in all aspects of life.
  • Make an educated decision far in advance about that media will and will not be allowed in her home, and stick to it despite how unpopular it might make her.
  • Be humble
  • Have a mission statement to refer to when life gets distracting, to make sure her priorities and actions are in accordance.
  • Take lots of pictures, especially when child-induced disasters inevitably occur. It will help you think about how you want to respond before you actually do it.

A wife needs to be able to
  • Never lose her temper
  • not hold grudges, even justified ones
  • recognize when her hormones are raging, and control the associated impulses
  • Make conscious efforts to be romantic and sentimental even when she's dead tired and ornery out her ears.
  • Be familiar with her limitations, communicate them well, and not set herself up to fail by overshooting them.
  • Implement a budget, and live by it with exactness.
  • Feed picky eaters for extended periods of time.
  • Love and be happy and comfortable with herself (first) making it possible to believe and accept these things from someone else.
  • Ask her husband for favors in a manner that makes him feel appreciated (and thus eager to help) rather than sending the message he's not pulling his weight.
  • Clarify for her husband whether she is asking him for something she "wants" or something she "needs". He'll respond differently to each, although hopefully comply with both.
  • Be able to meal plan and cook for one, or two, or many. And do it frugally.

A wife should
  • Convince her husband/loved ones she feels lucky to have him(them).
  • Create an environment at home where everyone feels safe and relieved to be there.
  • Anticipate others needs and desires
  • Know that one form of birth control is never enough
  • Have married someone she is confident will be a wonderful father.
  • Not get offended if her husband doesn't automatically see and take care of things that (to you) obviously need to be taken care of.
  • Tell her husband she loves him at least once every day.
  • Be humble


Have a heart that never hardens,
Have a temper that never fires,
Have a touch that never hurts.
When you have been wronged, a poor memory is your best response.

Go somewhere where there are lots of very rude people.
Make sure that none of them want to do what you say,
clean up after themselves, say please or thank you without being
prompted, can shower themselves, etc.
Then live with them for a few years, but not only that.
Make sure that you care for their every need, clean their clothing,
make their food AND LOVE THEM. Oh yeah, and wake up from at least
2 - 10 times a night, changing the bed clothes for at least one person each
night. Do that the entirety of your "practice run" and you MIGHT begin to
be ready for motherhood.

"Having married extremely early, and had a newborn just about one year
afterward,my suggestion is to not wait for the "right" time to go do those
adventures that you dream about now. Live your life with the expectation
that marriage and family will come, and use the time to expand your horizons
and know yourself intimately before they arrive. Know what keeps you calm,
engages your mind, makes you smile and gives you comfort. If you can, go to
those places that spark your imagination, whether it be a museum, a
different country, a different state. Take care to really develop a strong
sense of who YOU are and who YOU want to be."

"Require yourself to develop emotional resiliency by trying to eliminate
whining, blaming, pity parties, self-indulgence, etc. Regularly sacrifice
in the service of someone else, esp. where you probably will not be thanked.
Read your scriptures voraciously - you will have less time to do this after
you start your family. You not only need the habit of reading, but the
foundation of basic principles embedded in your heart."

"...love evolves and slowly changes into what I would consider real love.
Which is very different from the "obsessive/falling in love" state you are
in when you first meet and fall in love. But I am not saying you still
can't feel that way, because you can, it's just if you were to stay
completely in that state, you wouldn't be able to progress in other areas
as fully. I also think that may be where a lot of couples give up,
thinking they lost that “feeling” or whatever, when really this is what
love is all about."

"Long term success in marriage is determined far more by commitment than
by feelings of love. Love within a marriage ebbs and flows. There will be
periods of deep passion and fulfillment followed by potential periods of
dislike and definitely discontent. The trick is to be committed enough to
do what it takes to bring the love and feeling back. Marriage is about
friendship, selfless service, sacrifice, teamwork, compromise, & love.
A marriage requires time and attention and will die if ignored. From what
I have experienced in my own marriage and from what I have read on the
subject of successful marriage, COMMITMENT to each other, to the marriage,
to the family, and to God are key to success in marriage."

"I think the most important thing whether it is marriage, motherhood, or
life in general is finding JOY. It is the simple little things that I try
to find joy in. I feel happy because I have a clean kitchen, read a new
book, or just sat and played with my kids. If you have inner peace and
joy, you can basically handle anything. If you learn to find JOY even
in gloomy times of life, you have nothing to fear."

"It is when I am able to feel compassion, and give service willingly
to my husband and children, that our family is the most happy."

"Marriage is the most intense and beautiful of all my relationships.
I would tell your cousin, however, that there are 2 very specific things
she can do now to prepare. First, have an unwavering commitment to the
gospel. Two people who are firmly committed to the gospel will naturally
implement Christ-like attributes into their relationships. Second, be
quick to forgive others. Forgiving takes practice and experience.
There will be MANY times she will need to forgive and be forgiven in her

"Cooking, house keeping, and generally running a household will come with
time, practice, and effort. I would say it's more of the "soft" traits -
like how you react to certain situations, your attitude, and the strength
of your interpersonal skills that take more finesse to develop and really
make an impact on marriage/family."

“I asked several bishops what self-reliance skills the sisters in their
wards needed most, and they said budgeting. Women need to understand
the implications of buying on credit and not living within a budget.
The second skill bishops listed was cooking. Meals prepared and eaten
at home generally cost less, are healthier, and contribute to stronger
family relationships.”


Sarah said...

Thanks for putting this together. Lots of beautiful advice and food for thought.

Amber said...

Thank you Emily. This is a great list, not only for your cousin, but for all of us. As a mother and a wife it is important to remember to keep things in perspective and I think a few healthy reminders never hurt anyone.

Tracy M said...

I want to add something- and also to apologize for not contributing something when you asked.

The truth is, we can prepare until the cows come home. We can make lists of what we want and what we expect from our journey of motherhood. We can read every book out there, and ask every friend to write in detail about how she manages motherhood. And none of it will really prepare us.

Nothing can compare you for the overwhelming tidal wave of love you will feel for your own flesh and blood. Nothing can compare you for the all-encompassing flood that is motherhood. Nothing will ever light up your heart- nor break it, for that matter- like motherhood.

That's the thing. Your motherhood is as unique as your fingerprints. There are no other children in the world like the ones coming to you, and there is no other family dynamic like the utterly unique one you have with your spouse and children.

If I were to measure myself again lists of what a mother should do, I would be an abject miserable failure. I meet almost none of the standards on this- or any other- list I've read. And yet... my children are loved like the rising sun, they are creative and vivacious and bright and thriving.

We are happy.

It is a dangerous pit-trap for a woman- any woman- to measure herself against what works for another woman. Were I to try and meet all the ideals of this list, I would be so focused on my shortcomings I would never stand in the sunlight of my successes. I am terrible at doing laundry. I do dishes when I have to. I am inconsistent on the daily things. But... but I am also whimsical and delight in creating things with my children. We may spontaneously decide to have ice-cream at the park for dinner. We may eat on paper plates just because, or just because all the dishes are dirty and I was too busy painting that day to do them. All of these things are okay, and what make my family unique.

Would it be better if I were more consistent? Certainly in some ways. But if I tried to put my round peg to firmly in a square hole, I might then lose the wonderful gifts my children can learn from my roundness. They may not have a firmly set schedule, but they may have an appreciation for the brushstrokes of Degas they wouldn't have gotten anywhere but from me.

So really, each of us mothers are pioneers. We must take our own machete and compasses, and carve our own path, to figure out what works and clears the way for our lives to blossom fully under the guidance and love of God. We can glean tips from our sisters, but ultimately, the work must be done by us.

Em said...

Brilliant Tracy, per usual.

I do think there is some value in preparation though. It can never be complete or comprehensive, and will never actually make one FEEL prepared, but it still helps to get priorities in place before the bullets fly, even though those priorities will inevitably have to be redefined a million times over. You can at least start with purpose.

hairyshoefairy said...

I love it all, including Tracy's comment. I'm glad you compiled all of this. It'll be a good one to come back and read again and again.

Ellen said...

About multitasking while nursing: Don't.

Take those moments to forge your relationship with your child. Think positive loving thoughts about him, imagine his future, look in his eyes. Take a breather from the hectic pace, knowing that you are accomplishing an important task. Get centered, restore perspective. Every decision involves trade-offs but cherishing that short time with your baby will be worth it. And it will bring you peace, I promise.


Tracy M said...

Em, of course you are right. Having your priorities in line and knowing who you are will help you manyfold. First and foremost, it would help you chose a suitable spouse- which is a huge part of the equation.

I guess I just felt compelled to point out to my sisters who are less focused and less purposeful that they will be able to successfully navigate motherhood- it's just their navigation charts might be written of crumpled up napkins or the back of a take-out menu. :)

Em said...

Tracy - Yes Yes! Which is part of why I'm wanting to explore this. There's such a trend of late for young people to think they don't have the "personality" to be parents. Parenting with purpose is the greatest thing that anyone, and nearly everyone can do.

That's (a big) part of my motivation behind the proclamation series coming next month, that I HOPE you will contribute to!

pepper said...

Love all of this... so great!

Brittany said...

Wow! Lots of good advice and things to think about!

Taylor and Stina Cline said...

I love Ellen's comment too...breastfeeding was not something I looked forward too, I thought it would be awkward, weird, and maybe painful, instead those times are my favorite with my baby, it's just me and him and we are able to closer and more focused on each other during that time than any other. I just look at his face, in his eyes, listen to him breath. It is sweet and relaxing knowing I'm doing somethign wonderful and important just sitting there :-)

aLi said...

That is awesome and beautiful!

Kind of overwhelming to have it all written down in one place! I have to take motherhood moment by moment. :)

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