Dear Younger Me: Lessons on Life, Motherhood, and Thriving

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I'm writing this on the eve of Mother's Day. In the morning there will be plenty of burnt toast, runny eggs and handmade cards to go around and hopefully a few tired moms will get a few extra minutes of sleep.

As I look forward to starting my 40th year on earth I am particularly reflective. Reflective like, listening to Landslide on a long, winding car ride on the first warm day of spring, through the country, reflective.

I've been doing this parenting thing for a long time.  Raising my own kids since I was 14 and I'd like to think I've learned a thing or two.  As much as I'd like to give all the women I can a paid vacation, maybe I can give you, young mom something more valuable.  I'm calling this piece Dear younger me, but it could just as easily be called;

  • Dear sleepless newborn mama
  • Dear dreading tweenhood momma
  • Dear exhausted from chasing toddlers mom
  • Dear tired of hearing "I hate you" teen mom

With my nearly 20-something years of mommyhood under my belt, I'm still sure that parenting is not for the faint of heart and even on your best days you will wonder if you're doing it right.  Here are a few things I've picked up over the years, that can hopefully help you save a few missteps.

There will always be someone trying to rush you. Take your time. It can start early, from the boy of your adolescent dreams telling you that you're the only one not doing it, but it gets worse as you get older. The car honking behind you, the rushed and almost rude cashier who doesn't want to wait for your little one to count pennies, the pressure you feel to multitask and get more done can ruin you be present in your life. Remember, your time is yours, so use it wisely.  You will have days you look back and wonder how you got so much done, and others where you will feel like you barely cracked your to-do list, but when you are the one choosing what to do with your time, there will be peace. Peace is priceless.

Play more. Punish less. There's this horrible mom guilt that makes us want to be perfect for our families. Never miss an event, always prep the perfect meal. Sure, it's a good plan, good intentions, but it generally means you're spending way too much energy trying to push your kids into a perfect box that leaves little time for play.  Play is magic.  The memories your children will have of you, long after you're gone, have nothing to do with how perfect you made the house or how you kept them in line.  Watergun fights, Nerfgun wars, epic Uno battles and of course playing dolls will all make their way to their favorite memories of you, so make time for those.

Pay for experiences, screw the toys.  A few toys always have their place in a kids life, but I've learned that the toys only keep kids busy, what sticks with them is the memories of who was playing with them.  Friendships, family connections all of that happens in the moment you are looking eye to eye, laughing out loud.   During the early years I spent a lot of time working overtime to make sure that birthdays and Christmas looked an explosion at Toys R Us.  Working extra hours to make sure we picked up the layaway in time to give Santa all the glory. Sure they enjoyed the toys, for a while, but the toys ended up in the yard sale the next year with few memories to show for them.  But the experiences, the vacations, the lessons, the classes? Those, they stick with you forever. 

Your health is the real gift, guard it, ferociously.  Oh, young mama. You've seen your body balloon to the size of what feels like an elephant and then used a strength that cannot be described with mere words to give life to an entire human.  You feel like a superwoman, but you my dear are entirely mortal and as such you require things like a healthy diet, exercise and sleep.  Yes, being a mom can make that hard, but you can do hard.  You're no good to your wonderful, loving family if you're sick or worse, so stop climbing on the cross and take care of yourself.

Saving money is great, but you need to invest. Every young mom magazine is shouting to the rooftops about saving money, using a shoestring budget to make the life of your dreams.  Keeping more of your money is great, but what you need moma is to leverage what you have. Young women make less on the hour and over time due to gender inequities and taking time off for families, so you have to do more than clip coupons to be financially secure.  I used to drive myself crazy trying to save a few pennies, driving all over town chasing discounts, but the experts say in order to be as ready for retirement I should've been boosting my 401k contributions and developing a second stream of income.  Stay involved in your family's money conversations even if you aren't getting a paycheck while staying home. Look for ways to grow your resources and teach your daughters to do the same.

Don't take the picture, get in it.  This last one is something I'm saying to my younger self and my this morning self too.  A few years ago, I took my kids to see the American Ninja Warrior set when it came to town.  We'd watched it for a while and I wanted them to get a peek and have a picture to remember when they were older. A stranger nearby offered to snap a picture of all three of us. I never would've asked.

I don't have any pictures of myself while pregnant.  Not ONE. I don't remember purposely avoiding pictures during those times and I'm sure I have pictures of my kids during those times, but I never got in front of the camera. Dear younger me, your children will love seeing their younger selves, but they want to see you, the love in your eyes and the joy on your face, long after you're gone.  Messy mom bun, streaked mascara, leftover baby weight and all, take the picture.

Being a mom is by far the hardest job you'll ever love and you're going to screw up plenty. Hopefully at least a little less than you succeed, but your success depends on keeping your eye on the big picture.  Remember to give yourself, and your kids a little grace, if you're breathing you're learning and that's okay. Just remember to share the lessons.

What lessons have you learned that can help another mom? Share in the comments below.