I became a mom during the pandemic. Giving birth was more complicated. Being a mom was more alone than ever before. Surprisingly, I find it natural to take care of my child. Maybe it’s the maternal instinct. What comes with it as well is a set of ingrained expectations for a mom and a child. Here’s a few of them and how it really is.
I expect her to cry or protest.
When I was a child, I remember vividly a car ride where I pretended to be asleep. My dad told my grandmother to bring me to the mall the next day so I won’t cry or beg to go with them. Of course, it didn’t work out for them because I immediately said not to go to the mall.
In a similar way, I expect my firstborn to be the same: someone who needs to be tricked. I was worried the first time we left her with her grandparents. A part of me wants to just sneak out since we will just be out for less than an hour. I want to avoid the drama that is expected.
The reality is, there is no drama when we’re honest with her. Since day 1, my husband and I would tell her when we’re leaving the room and that we will come back. When we get back, we tell her we’re back. Those small things help her trust us. Every time we come back, the trust grows. No bag of tricks needed. There are a very few moments though when tears are shed but I’ll take it as my child needing me at that very moment.
I expect her to not want to share.
A very valid expectation. Sharing, like rolling over, is a developmental milestone. Little children cannot understand the concept of it until they are 3.5-4 years old. Knowing that it is not yet expected of them lessens the discomfort I tend to feel when my child doesn’t share. I also don’t expect other kids to willingly hand a toy my child is eyeing.
The reality is we haven’t reached that milestone yet but modeling works wonders. We are a family of snackers and we like to share our snacks. Whenever I open a bag of chips, I would ask “do you want some?” to everyone. My child was able to copy that from us. Her love for strawberries never stopped her from saying “mommy, bite some.” Action always speaks louder than words.
I expect her to be jealous of her baby sister.
Like many things, I prepared my firstborn for her baby sister. Books on my pregnancy and being a big sister were read before bed. I try to let her feel her baby sister move inside my tummy. Such a big life-changing event for our 20-month old that all our preparation never seems enough. I was afraid that she would not understand that my attention would be divided. That she would cry if I needed to leave the room and attend to her little sister. The unknown made me feel a mixture of fear and excitement.
The reality is I don’t know if she is or she ever was. Thinking she would feel jealous or feel a certain emotion on anything is simply a projection of the world’s expectations. Despite all my fears, she would surprise me with her love for her baby sister. There are nights when the baby’s cry would wake her up. Instead of joining in, she would hand me my letdown catcher and wait patiently while I breastfeed then we go back to bed. There are also times when she would cling on me, wanting me to read her a book, telling her daddy “daddy get baby.” It never felt like jealousy. It always felt like she misses me and she wants to spend time with me.
I will never know what she truly feels until she can communicate it to me. Until then, I’ll try my best not to label her emotions based on my own interpretation and pattern.
I expect myself to be a gentle parent.
I once witnessed a mother react gracefully when her son dropped an untouched cup of fancy ice cream. There was no hint of anger. She just told her son to throw it out and they’ll just share the other cup she is holding. I wasn’t even a married that time but I knew I want to be that kind of mom.
During my first pregnancy, I wasn’t worried about how to change a diaper or how to breastfeed. Not that I knew how but my thoughts are on how do I parent the way I wanted to. I’m lucky to have a husband who wants the same thing and lucky to have found RIE. We took Deborah Carlisle Solomon’s Peaceful Toddler workshop and tada! we instantly became gentle parents.
Just kidding! I always say toddlers are a test of patience. If only I can buy patience from a store, I would have bought by bulk. The reality is, even though I have to breathe before reacting or even sometimes just reacting, the mere fact that I’m trying to be gentle and respectful makes me one. There are days when I give myself a pat on the back and think I survived gracefully. There are days when I have to say sorry to my child for raising my voice. It will never be perfect but showing that making mistakes and owning up to it will hopefully teach her accountability and humility.
Raising kids is difficult enough. Let’s not be too hard on ourselves.