My sister is pregnant (yay!) and I'm getting to see this whole journey through her eyes. As the older sister, my instinct is to guide, protect and shelter her from hardships that I faced when I was pregnant. And as pregnancy and early motherhood goes—there's (what feels like) about a million different hurdles to overcome. However, my sister has already had a much different pregnancy than I did, and everything else is different, too—from her marriage to her work situation, and I'm sure her baby will be different than mine too.
It goes against all my instincts to solely listen to what she's saying and not dump a ton of information, opinions and directives on her in response. You see, my whole life I've shown her the way. I've shared my challenges and how I overcame them so she wouldn't have to suffer through the things I suffered through. I thought pregnancy would be the same.
My unconscious reaction will be to explain (justify) what I did in a particular situation so I can convince myself that I didn't do anything wrong. But I'm realizing that we're going to do things differently on our motherhood journeys and I know I really need to just be there for her—to listen and help when asked. To trust that she knows I'm here and will ask me when she needs something or wants to know my opinion.
She told me that all the random unsolicited advice she's been getting from people has been hard to deal with and digest. She said she smiles and nods and lets it go, which would be my advice anyway. Because at this point it is all theoretical and she doesn't have any context for the information just yet.
I remember when I was pregnant and I got advice from every stranger, acquaintance and friend:
"Sleep in now, you'll never get to again!"
"Parenting is the hardest but best thing you'll ever do!"
"Just take the drugs. Trust me, don't wait—just take them."
And I remember smiling (or maybe grimacing) and nodding, and not really knowing where to put the information.
Then once my little guy was here and I wasn't sleeping and I was struggling with the humongous learning curve of motherhood, it started making sense. My newborn didn't know it was Saturday and that we could sleep in. I ended up having an unmedicated birth, but could definitely understand why someone would want to do otherwise. And it was definitely the hardest thing I'd ever done—like people said—but was also SO amazing.
But there was no way I could understand any of the random advice until I was there myself.
So now I'm patiently waiting for my sister to ask me the questions and I'm realizing that when she does ask a question, it's a question she's ready to hear the answer to because she's in that part of her journey. For example, she's starting her registry, so we're talking through what you need, why one stroller might be better than another, etc.
Three months ago she had no interest or place to put that kind of information. So I know that the more I let it be her journey and follow her lead, I'm actually able to be there for her in a more supportive way.
My son was a difficult baby, a difficult sleeper, very active and very loud. He wasn't one of those babies we could just bring to a restaurant who would look around quietly, content in his car seat or one that we could have someone babysit and he'd just smile and sleep peacefully. He was (and is) very particular, opinionated and active.
I'm preparing myself for her to have a super calm, easygoing baby that they can bring everywhere and who sleeps like a champ. I'm preparing myself to not be resentful and to accept that my sister may not fully understand what I went through personally—because our motherhood journeys will be different.
I guess that's true for all moms. We all are constantly bombarded with information and opinions. I can usually recognize when people just need to vent (they don't really want to hear my solution)—they just need to be heard. I know when things are hardest for me I just want someone to listen and say, "Yes, that's hard."
I know I can do better when other moms vent to me not feel the need to try to solve all their problems unless I'm directly asked for suggestions.
I think moms would be more vulnerable in sharing their struggles with others if we all just listened to each other and said "I hear you, that's so tough. You're doing a great job and you're a great mom."
My eyes just teared up writing that. I guess it's what I needed to hear too.