The million different joys of motherhood: It's not always what is expected

I’ve been a mom for 16 years and yet, it feels like just yesterday I was standing around at work complaining how tired I was and then, suddenly, understanding why I was so tired. How can it be 16 years and yet I clearly remember the epic struggle of putting the crib together (we never figured out where that extra screw was supposed to go) and the wave of hormonal sobbing the day I picked up a teeny-tiny sock and realized that soon I’d be slipping that little sock on a little foot?

I also remember reading everything I could on what to expect … in hopes that somehow I would be prepared for this big change that was coming. Let’s be honest, though, nothing really prepares you. We get advice from our parents. We talk with our older mom friends. We watch the reality TV shows. But nothing really prepares us for the cataclysmic shift that motherhood brings.

My oldest was a fussy baby. She didn’t like to snuggle or sleep (still the case today). So, the early days of motherhood for me were long, sleepless days and nights. She was also eating at all the wrong times and eating way too much … at least according to the books I was reading. I was becoming so overwhelmed (this is NOT what I expected!) that I finally broke down and called my doctor.

“Yes, hello, Dr. ----, yes, I’m calling because my six-week-old daughter is eating all the time and not sleeping through the night yet. According to what I read, she should be sleeping eight hours and should be eating every four … what am I not doing right?”

And as the words were leaving my mouth, even in the stupor of sleeplessness, I realized the true source of my frustration: My kid wasn’t going by the book. I was trying to fit my daughter into a box in which she was not going to fit. It was an epiphany, and it was a big lesson for me to learn — I had to make motherhood my own experience.

So, what I really want to tell you, mothers everywhere, is to trust yourself. Make motherhood your own. Revel in your own style. I think that is how you find the joy in motherhood — embracing your own joys, some of which are probably different than my joys. Books are great, but they don’t have all the answers. Advice is great, too, but, in the end, we are all just trying to do our best.

Too often we are told we need to be doing this, or we should be doing that, when all we really want is for our kids to be happy and healthy. We are led to believe that we are good moms when our kids get straight A’s or play varsity or become doctors. We struggle with whether we are doing this mom thing right when we lose a library book, or our kids fight, or our house is a mess, or the teen hides in her room all day only to emerge when she needs to bring a stack of dishes to the sink before they start growing science experiments.

And I say: “YES! Look! She brought her dishes to the sink without me having to tell her!” What joy. And trust me, when you find joy in that, you can find a million different joys in motherhood.