To the women who taught me how to be a mother—thank you

These women, open and generous, were unaware that their input was shaping my views on what it meant to be a mother. Their example, their work schedules, their parenting styles and reflections, helped me develop my own expectations and desires around motherhood. I listened to their advice and tucked it away, hoping that one day I would have the experience to understand what being someone's mom really felt like.

To the women who taught me how to be a mother—thank you

Conventional wisdom says that we learn how to parent from our own parents. But in the months since my son's birth, I've found myself reflecting on how my mother and father raised me, mimicking their phrases and seeking their advice as I make decisions.

A great deal of how I parent does come from their example but, how I define motherhood and how I set expectations for my own experience, is driven by a much broader collection of examples set by women whose paths I crossed long before I even held my son in my arms.

When I was a teenager, I spent six summers working as a lifeguard. I loved the job. I spent time outdoors, hung out with my friends and tanned on my breaks. I taught swim lessons and organized Fourth of July activities, hosted birthday parties and taught water aerobics. I plucked thousands of wet cheerios from the pool deck and put endless Band-Aids on endless skinned knees.


I blew my whistle for adult swim and for thunder and to slow little running feet. I jumped in a handful of times, adrenaline pumping, to pull a child to safety. Mostly though, hour after hour, year after year, I sat and watched.

And, as I sat and I watched, I began to study motherhood.

In my early teens, my observations were shallow—I noticed the swimwear each mom chose and tried to determine if she'd lost her “baby weight." I looked at the cars they drove and wondered if they worked or stayed at home and what they did with their kids when they weren't at the pool. I listened to their kids names and tried them on for size with my own last name. I made lists in the margins of my books of the best names, the worst names, the silly things I'd heard kids fighting about that day.

As I matured, I began to think about what I wanted for my own life.

As I considered how I might shape my future, I started to look more critically at the different family structures and parenting styles I saw each day. In some families, the mother's spouse joined them exclusively on Saturdays. Kids from other families came to swim with a babysitter each day, and their mother showed up later, sometimes in a business suit, sometimes in her swimsuit.

Some mothers hovered over their children, choreographing every social interaction, while other moms rarely looked up from their books.

Sitting in the same chair for six years gave me a unique perspective of these families. I watched dynamics change as children aged or siblings were added. I was surprised to learn that parents grew too, that they evolved each summer to meet the needs of their ever-growing children.

When my then-boyfriend and now-husband joined the lifeguard staff the summer after our senior year of high school, I quizzed him and memorized his answers. I wanted to know what he thought of these families, of the mothers, because I wanted to know what he expected a mother, and a family, to act and look like.

Which parents did he like best? What families did he think were cool? How many kids were too many? Should moms be free to wear whatever swimsuit they wanted or should they stick to skirted one-pieces?

There were several mothers I was particularly interested in.

There was a mother of six who homeschooled and cooked and crafted. Her children were polite, kind and thoughtful and seemed to love playing with one another as much as they did their friends. She brought the lifeguards cookies every week and shared her gratitude for the safe space we created for the neighborhood kids. I overheard her once, deep in conversation with one of her friends, sharing the simultaneous joy and sorrow she felt with each milestone her youngest reached. She told me in passing once how quickly children grow up.

Another woman I admired had two little boys, two years apart. Their energy and laughter was contagious and she never hesitated to jump in the pool and play with them. In the evenings, as the boys piled into their minivan, they looked tired and happy. She told me once that she loved her boys more deeply than she ever thought was possible, but that they "ruined" her career.

When I was a junior in high school, a new family joined the pool. The mother swam laps with her baby sitting on her kick-board and always stopped by the guard table to chat before she left. One afternoon, after I asked how she was able to come to the pool so often, she told me she and her husband both worked and that she had waited to have her daughter until they could both cut back their hours and share equally in the parenting duties.

Laughing, she told me to make sure I married someone who wouldn't think he was special just for getting up to change a diaper in the night. She also shared something I'd never heard before, that love for a baby is sometimes slow to develop, but that time was key to helping it grow.

These women, open and generous, were unaware that their input was shaping my views on what it meant to be a mother. Their example, their work schedules, their parenting styles and reflections, helped me develop my own expectations and desires around motherhood. I listened to their advice and tucked it away, hoping that one day I would have the experience to understand what being someone's mom really felt like.

During my college years I continually defined and redefined what I wanted out of life. I knew I wanted a career, a marriage, motherhood and deep, lasting friendships, but I didn't know how to shape my life in such a way that nothing got left out. I searched for more women to watch, more mothers to study, to show me how it might be possible.

I listened intently as an English Literature professor explained the nuances of a poem that described the bodily intensity of new motherhood. I took notes when my sociology professor, a brilliant woman with three daughters, talked at length about the logistical and emotional difficulties of going back to work weeks after a baby is born and then continuing to work, with a baby, a toddler and a school-aged child. The challenges she described seemed never-ending, but, then again, there she was.

I learned of the stress and worry that sometimes comes with parenting when the woman whose children I watched shared with me that, at times, her dreams were haunted by the thought of not registering her daughter for camp in time. She cried once, when a last minute doctor's appointment for her mother came up and I had to volunteer in her daughter's preschool class in her place.

Married later in life and caring for her aging parents, this mama was tired. She told me to have kids as soon as I could, that I should take advantage of my youth and energy and the ability I would have as a young mother to put my children first.

Babysitting again in graduate school, I met a mother who breastfed her daughter until she was 2-years-old. What once seemed foreign to me began to look normal. I listened as she described her parenting philosophies and shared the dreams she had for her daughter. This woman, a stay-at-home mother, talked at length about the privilege and sacrifice that full days with her daughter were. I learned about attachment parenting and baby wearing and sensory play. She shared my excitement when I became pregnant the first time, my sorrow when I miscarried; she told me that I would be a mother someday and that, when I was—I would be a wonderful one.

These mothers of my past were generous with their experiences and their advice. The bits and pieces that they shared offered me glimpses into what motherhood could be. And after my son was born, my awe for these women grew.

Motherhood is just so much. It is as wonderful and as difficult they had described, but it has an intensity I did not anticipate. I found myself wanting deeply to reach out to all of them, to thank them for their words and for their example and to tell them that I finally understood—that I was one of them now.

If I could talk with these mothers now, I would share that, to me, parenthood is joy and sacrifice. That I don't think my career is ruined, and that the love I have for my child came both slowly and all at once. I'd tell them that I married a man who gets up at night to let me sleep and that dropping my newborn at the sitter after maternity leave really was so, so hard.

I would tell them that sometimes the worry is overwhelming, that I understood now how plastic and pollution and missed school forms can be scary. I would tell these mothers that I'm glad I had my son while I am young, that I nursed him until he was 16-months-old and that I still wear him any chance I get. I want these women to know that my motherhood, while not identical to any of theirs, has been shaped by their example and that, without their words and thoughts and models, my experience would have been so much more difficult.

Last summer I joined a pool in my new hometown. I enrolled my son in swimming lessons and took great joy in watching him giggle as he realized that his feet could create a splash, his hands a ripple. My boy loves the water. One afternoon, when class was over, the teenager teaching lessons asked if she could hold my son. She gushed over his curls and laughed when he smiled at her. We talked about where she wants to go to college and what she wants to be when she graduates.

She told me that she wants to be a mom someday, when she's a lot older, and asked me what it's really like, being a mother.

I had a lot to tell her.

I felt lost as a new mother, but babywearing helped me find myself again

I wish someone had told me before how special wearing your baby can be, even when you have no idea how to do it.

My first baby and I were alone in our Brooklyn apartment during a particularly cold spring with yet another day of no plans. My husband was back at work after a mere three weeks of parental leave (what a joke!) and all my friends were busy with their childless lives—which kept them too busy to stop by or check in (making me, at times, feel jealous).

It was another day in which I would wait for baby to fall asleep for nap number one so I could shower and get ready to attempt to get out of the house together to do something, anything really, so I wouldn't feel the walls of the apartment close in on me by the time the second nap rolled around. I would pack all the diapers and toys and pacifiers and pump and bottles into a ginormous stroller that was already too heavy to push without a baby in it .

Then I would spend so much time figuring out where we could go with said stroller, because I wanted to avoid places with steps or narrow doors (I couldn't lift the stroller by myself and I was too embarrassed to ask strangers for help—also hi, New Yorkers, please help new moms when you see them huffing and puffing up the subway stairs, okay?). Then I would obsess about the weather, was it too cold to bring the baby out? And by the time I thought I had our adventure planned, the baby would wake up, I would still be in my PJs and it was time to pump yet again.

Slowly, but surely, and mostly thanks to sleep deprivation and isolation, I began to detest this whole new mom life. I've always been a social butterfly. I moved to New York because I craved that non-stop energy the city has and in the years before having my baby I amassed new friends I made through my daily adventures. I would never stop. I would walk everywhere just to take in the scenery and was always on the move.

Now I had this ball and chain attached to me, I thought, that didn't even allow me to make it out of the door to walk the dog. This sucks, I would think regularly, followed by maybe I'm not meant to be a mom after all.

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Time-saving formula tips our editors swear by

Less time making bottles, more time snuggling.

As a new parent, it can feel like feeding your baby is a full-time job—with a very demanding nightshift. Add in the additional steps it takes to prepare a bottle of formula and, well… we don't blame you if you're eager to save some time when you can. After all, that means more time for snuggling your baby or practicing your own well-deserved self-care.

Here's the upside: Many, many formula-feeding mamas before you have experienced the same thing, and they've developed some excellent tricks that can help you mix up a bottle in record time. Here are the best time-saving formula tips from editors here at Motherly.

1. Use room temperature water

The top suggestion that came up time and time again was to introduce bottles with room temperature water from the beginning. That way, you can make a bottle whenever you need it without worrying about warming up water—which is a total lifesaver when you have to make a bottle on the go or in the middle of the night.

2. Buy online to save shopping time

You'll need a lot of formula throughout the first year and beyond—so finding a brand like Comforts, which offers high-quality infant formula at lower prices, will help you save a substantial amount of money. Not to mention, you can order online or find the formula on shelves during your standard shopping trip—and that'll save you so much time and effort as well.

3. Pre-measure nighttime bottles

The middle of the night is the last time you'll want to spend precious minutes mixing up a bottle. Instead, our editors suggest measuring out the correct amount of powder formula into a bottle and putting the necessary portion of water on your bedside table. That way, all you have to do is roll over and combine the water and formula in the bottle before feeding your baby. Sounds so much better than hiking all the way to the kitchen and back at 3 am, right?

4. Divide serving sizes for outings

Before leaving the house with your baby, divvy up any portions of formula and water that you may need during your outing. Then, when your baby is hungry, just combine the pre-measured water and powder serving in the bottle. Our editors confirm this is much easier than trying to portion out the right amount of water or formula while riding in the car.

5. Memorize the mental math

Soon enough, you'll be able to prepare a bottle in your sleep. But, especially in the beginning or when increasing your baby's serving, the mental math can take a bit of time. If #mombrain makes it tough to commit the measurements to memory, write up a cheat sheet for yourself or anyone else who will prepare your baby's bottle.

6. Warm up chilled formula with water

If you're the savvy kind of mom who prepares and refrigerates bottles for the day in advance, you'll probably want to bring it up to room temperature before serving. Rather than purchase a bottle warmer, our editors say the old-fashioned method works incredibly well: Just plunge the sealed bottle in a bowl of warm water for a few minutes and—voila!—it's ready to serve.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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Becoming a mother has been life-changing. It's been hard, tiring, gratifying, beautiful, challenging, scary and a thousand other things that only a parent would ever understand.

It is these life-changing experiences that have inspired me to draw my everyday life as a stay at home mom. Whether it's the mundane tasks like doing laundry or the exciting moments of James', my baby boy's, first steps, I want to put it down on paper so that I can better cherish these fleeting moments that are often overlooked.

Being a stay-at-home-mom can be incredibly lonely. I like to think that by drawing life's simple moments, I can connect with other mothers and help them feel less alone. By doing this, I feel less alone, too. It's a win-win situation and I have been able to connect with many lovely parents and fellow parent-illustrators through my Instagram account.

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