I remember so vividly the moment I found out I was pregnant with my daughter, my first child. I spent hours daydreaming about what this whole new world was going to be like, researched everything, planned everything (or at least, I tried to), and set out to be the absolute most ideal mother I could be.
Then I had another kid. And in an unexpected plot twist, another one after that.
And now motherhood looks pretty different than it did when I first started.
I have evolved as a mom so much—partly out of necessity, partly out of desire. When I reflect on “new mom” me, I am so grateful for everything that she did and learned. But I’ll be honest; I think I prefer “seasoned mom of three” me more.
Life is louder, busier and messier, but despite that, I am somehow calmer and more confident.
I do not have it figured out by any stretch of the imagination, but there are some big lessons I’ve learned along the way.
Here are 10 things I did with my first kid that I definitely don’t do with my third:
1. Trust Google more than myself
When my daughter was born, I Googled ev-er-y-thing. Everything. All the time. Every day. Google.
I really appreciate what I found: articles, studies and expertise put out into the ether to help me be the best parent I could be. But it got overwhelming, and it began to fuel some anxiety. For every study I read that proclaimed one finding, there was another study that stated the exact opposite. I found mountains of articles that said THIS is THE way to fix [fill in the blank] problem—each with a very different solution.
While reading varying ideas and opinions can be helpful, it made me start to lose touch with my own maternal knowing. My head was filled with so much noise that I couldn’t pay attention to the one voice I needed to hear—my own.
So, I stopped. Now when something (non-emergent) is going on with my kids, I check in with myself first. I spend time just thinking about what’s going on. Then, I take the questions that come up to the internet or my pediatrician. Nine times out of ten, what I find is confirmation that my initial intuition was pretty close.
2. Stress about milestones
Every time my firstborn reached a new week or month, I went (once again) to Google to investigate which milestones to expect. I even found (and visited often) a website that shared which milestones were typical and which were “advanced” for her given age. In truth, I was a little bit obsessed.
I don’t think this is bad. I was a new mom wanting to make sure my child was developing healthily, and I was proud of her every time she reached a new milestone (still am).
But it was stressful.
Now I rely heavily on my pediatrician and sprinkle in some occasional research. We go to our well-visits and the pediatrician checks in about milestones, and if I have a concern, I do my own research. But I’ve learned that children develop on their own timetable, and in different ways. My firstborn spoke way sooner than my middle, my middle walked way before my third, and my third slept through the night way before his older siblings—and that’s all okay.
One more thing: My youngest did not hit all of his milestones. He had some gross-motor skill delays that turned out to be caused by an underlying medical condition. And you know what I learned? It was okay. We discovered the delays when we needed to, we addressed them, and with the help of ever-advancing services and research, he is doing great.
I think with my first I had this idea that if I worried about the milestones enough, we’d hit them. Turns out worry does not help much there. To new mom me I wish I could say, “Be on the lookout, yes. But don’t worry. What will be, will be, and if there is something you need to address, trust that you will be able to.”
3. Sanitize everything
I was the mom continually wiping down the table, the shopping cart, the baby’s hands, my hands, and everything else I could think of that might have a germ on it.
And now? Yeah, I just… don’t.
They are going to be exposed to germs—a lot of them. I try to keep them from licking the doorknobs at the doctor’s office, and they know that the “five-second rule” only applies to the food we drop on the floor at home, but I’ve realized that it’s just too hard to keep every germ off of them. (And, for the record, maybe not the best idea—turns out that letting kids get dirty has some pretty awesome health benefits.)
So now, I make them wash their hands when they get home, and before they eat, I give them baths (every few days), and try not to freak out when I realize the “crumbs” around their mouths are from dirt and not cookies.
4. Buy #allthethings
Oh, the number of adorable outfits that I have passed down to friends that still have the tags on them. Sigh. I bought my firstborn so much stuff. It was all so cute, and such a thrill to buy! And unfortunately, also so expensive.
Now with my third, I get a thrill from finding deals or from getting a bag of hand-me-downs from a neighbor. I still do buy them stuff, I’m just more selective, and have a better understanding of what works for our family. White t-shirt? Nope! Toy with 1,000 little plastic pieces? Sorry, love.
Matching family pajamas? Yes. All the time.
5. Sweat the small stuff
It took me longer than I like to admit to learn that perfection is unattainable—in life, and certainly in parenthood. I used to get consumed by the “small” stuff (though to be fair, I didn’t realize it was small then—it takes time to figure out what’s small, and what’s big).
Forgetting to order favors for the birthday party? Small.
A kid breaking a full bowl of cereal and milk two minutes before we need to leave for school? Small.
A little misunderstanding and disagreement with my husband? Small.
My husband often says, “You know what? If a [broken bowl] is the worst part of my day, I’ve had a pretty good day.” And he is so right. I am sad to say that I know enough families who would kill to have a broken bowl or a little disagreement be the worst part of their day. So I try not to sweat it.
Kidding, not kidding. I clean. Just…not as much.
When people ask what it’s like to have three children, I often share that there is a lot of freedom that comes from knowing that things are just going to be a little chaotic and messy. With my first, I tried hard to keep the house in order (and stressed when it wasn’t). Now, I realize it’s just not going to happen. Don’t get me wrong; I still prefer to have the house clean and organized. It’s just that now when it’s not, I am not as hard on myself as I used to be.
“You have three kids. It’s okay. Go to sleep and worry about the dishes in the morning.”
Three kids and two parents means that we are officially outnumbered. And that means we say no to a lot.
Often, saying yes is simply impossible—we can’t be in three places at one time, so we constantly need to choose which activities we can do, and which we have to pass on. I’ve also learned that when we say yes to too much, we all suffer. My kids get tired and grumpy, and um… their mom does too.
So, we try to be very intentional with our calendar. We spend time thinking and talking about what we need to do, what makes us happy to do, and what we can feel okay with letting go of.
8. Take everything personally
When my daughter was about one, I took her to her first music class. I won’t bore you with the whole story, but over the course of the class the teacher had to say to my child, “Maracas are for shaking, not for throwing,” and “We don’t sit on baby’s heads, please.”
I remember vividly saying, through tears, to my husband, “I don’t know why I couldn’t control her! I’m such a bad mom.”
Now I think about that story and I laugh and laugh and laugh (sorry, music teacher and baby whose head my daughter sat on). I’ve learned that the moment-to-moment actions of a child are so rarely a reflection of my parenting, and almost always a reflection of them simply being a child.
Yes, of course, it is my job to guide them, teach them, and tell them to stop throwing maracas, but not every misdeed is my fault. They are kids, and it’s okay to let them be little—and to not take it personally.
9. Forego self-care
One of the reasons I have focused so much of my career promoting the importance of self-care in motherhood is because I was terrible at it when I first became a mother. I felt guilty, I felt selfish, and I didn’t really even understand what self-care meant.
And I suffered because of it. I was anxious, unhealthy, and at times, unhappy. None of that is okay.
So I have learned to prioritize self-care, even if getting here has felt uncomfortable and, at times, forced.
I now know what I need to be at my best: I need sleep, I need a fair amount of quiet alone time, and I need to get out in nature at least once or twice a week. So I make a point of scheduling those times in.
And you know what? My kids don’t hate me for it. They get a mom who is happier and healthier, and therefore more present and peaceful. I also believe that it’s a gift to have a mother who says things like, “I am going to take care of myself for a few minutes,” because they will eventually embody those words and learn that it’s okay to take care of themselves, too.
10. Take the little things for granted
When my daughter was little, I worked hard to create magic. I planned special trips and events to create memories that would last a lifetime.
Can I tell you something? I don’t remember any of them.
Here’s what I do remember: The time my daughter got into the flour and beamed with pride at the “art” she made with her handprints all over the floor. The time my middle son turned to me while we were trick-or-treating and said, “Mom, is this my real life or just a great, long dream?” The way my youngest hogs my pillow when he climbs into bed with me in the morning.
I can make plans for us, but the magic comes from the moments when I least expect it. So, I’ve learned to open myself up to those moments. To unbusy myself enough to be able to notice the little things.
I’ve learned that the little things are actually the big things.