I will never forget that first bedtime after we brought our first baby home. My husband was downstairs cleaning up and I was finally in my own bed holding this precious child who only thirty hours before had been hidden in my body. There she was on the outside. Her perfect little fingers held in a fist, her sweet nose breathing air and her beautiful eyes looking into mine. I had never known love could feel so much like fear. It was as if my womb had poured out the most vulnerable part of me. There alone with her, without the nurses to help me, her eight and a half pounds in my arms seemed like nothing compared to the weight I felt in my chest. As the feelings of love and pride and an intense need to protect her filled me, along with fear like I’d never known, I knew in a primal way that I was her mother. Her absolutely in-love, absolutely terrified mother.
A few days later my friend, Caron, brought me a meal and sat with my daughter in her arms. She had three children of her own so was in my ‘mother expert’ category. I was eager to hear anything she had to share. Her advice was completely unexpected.
“Lara, you are the expert here. No one else has ever had this baby. No one else is her mother. No one will know her the way you do. You are the expert on your baby.”
She then went on to answer my questions about nursing and sleep and gave me information that was helpful. But first, she had handed me this gem of mothering wisdom.
I think it was with the same wisdom that, as I sat in the pediatrician’s office with frightened first mom eyes, an older doctor near retirement asked me the first question. He took my girl onto his lap, smiled at me, and said, “Tell me about her. What’s she like?” Because I was the expert on my baby. And at the end of that visit he gave me his final bit of advice. “Just one more thing I need to tell you. When people ask if she’s sleeping through the night, just tell them that she’s sleeping great.” He smiled again and was out the door.
This wise doctor knew that our world is full of well-meaning people eager to be helpful experts.
Just a couple of weeks ago I was approached by an expert on vaccinations. He’s a really nice older guy, but out of the blue he asked me if I vaccinated my kids and proceeded to tell me why I shouldn’t have done so. I so love not being a young mom. It didn’t even in the remotest way make me feel any angst. I was glad that he had said something so that I could share my own story of growing in my trust of God through all of the difficult decisions I’ve had to make as a mother. But, there was a time when that question would have sent me into the throws of insecurity.
Today, if you are a mother reading this and feeling that tremendous weight, may I share with you the same and only advice I freely give to new moms? You, dear mother, are the expert. This son or daughter grew in your womb or your heart. You have labored and you have known and you have loved. That is all you need to do. Stay there. Your labor is to know your child and to love your child. Whether they are brand new, a messy toddler or a messy teen, you have the same job description and you are the perfect woman for the task at hand. You’ve got this because you are a mother and you are an expert.
And, unfortunately, while you’re working hard at knowing and loving, you are going to have to get used to being judged. That’s just the sad reality. When you walk into the grocery store there will be experts in every aisle. When you are celebrating holidays with extended family, there will be experts passing you the mashed potatoes. At the playground, in mom’s groups, at church, in yoga class. You will find experts everywhere. They will be experts at getting babies to sleep through the night and at co-sleeping or crying it out. They will be experts about what are the healthiest foods for brain development and how to discipline (or not) and if vaccines are safe and if food coloring causes autism and if boys should have toy guns and of how much technology use there should be in your house. They will know whether you should go to work or stay home. They will be experts about whether you should send your kids to public, private school or homeschool. There will even be complete stranger experts that feel free to share with you while waiting in line at the post office their expert opinion about whether or not you have too many children or maybe you need another one because being an only child is hard.
Moms, don’t let them kill your confidence. Please. You are the expert. Know and love your kids and trust yourself.
There will be times when you need knowledge to grow your knowing and your love. You are the expert but the best experts know that they don’t know everything. They understand how vast their field of study is and they become experts at seeking out help when they need it.
You will need other people as you expertly parent your child.
But, sweet mom, seek out the people who will give you what you need while building you up, not tearing you down with their expert opinions. Look for the people, whether parents or not, that are seeking to do the same thing you are doing, knowing and loving.
One of the most supportive women in my life, as I’ve entered the (once again insecurity producing) teen years with my kids is my friend, Jessie. She’s a fifth grade teacher and on her vacations, when she could be kid-free, will often take a day to spend with my oldest daughter. She just takes her out and knows and loves her. And once a week, after working all day at an exhausting job, she drives down our long dirt road to pick my teens up and take them to our church youth group. She brings dessert and, so that they won’t be left out of the fun, leaves it with the younger crowd here. She loves us so well. And, when I’m at the end of my mothering rope, she’s one of the first people I seek out. She doesn’t play expert with me. She just knows us and she loves us. She reminds me that we are known and loved by God. And, she prays for us.
I know that sadly not every mother has a Jessie in their life. You might feel like you and the experts at the park are all you have. But, don’t give up. Pray for the gift of these kinds of friends. And then, go to the playgroup and the store and church and seek them out. Look for the woman who has been humbled by life, the one who has the security of knowing she doesn’t know.
If a woman tries to help by giving you a book about her favorite parenting method, run for the hills. But if she tells you her own stories of failure then pull her close. You need that kind of woman.
Don’t listen to the expert that tells you how to feed your baby, listen to the woman who offers to make you tea and hold your baby.
And, if you need to share truthfully how the sleeping at night thing is going, maybe look past the woman with the tried-and-true method and talk to the neighbor who has offered three times to watch your baby while you take a nap or go for a walk. And after admitting how tired you are, take her up on it and hand her your baby.
There are people out there who get it, Moms. They’re the ones that have been through the fire and have been humbled and transformed by it.
Don’t let the expert in the grocery store that glares at your toddler ruin your day. Just be thankful that you will never be that person. You’ve been there now. You are an expert. When you see a mother in the store with an out of control child and even if you see a million things she’s probably doing wrong, you aren’t going to judge. You’re going to break inside for them both because you know how hard it can be. You’re going to choose the checkout line that they’re in instead of avoiding it and you’ll hope that you can make eye contact. And then your smile and kind look will communicate, “Mothering is such a rough job, isn’t it? I’ve been there.” And with your voice you’ll say something along the lines of, “What a beautiful/smart/handsome child you have. I can tell s/he is really special.” And for the thirty-seven seconds you have, you will do the best you can to know and love this mother and this child.
In that moment that woman doesn’t need expert methodology. She needs to experience grace, just like you and just like me. Grace gives her the kind of peace inside that allows her to labor without fear. It frees her to do her job of knowing and loving without being blinded and hindered in that by guilt and insecurity.
Press on into the grace of being imperfect, lacking in many ways, doing the best you can even when it feels like not nearly enough and knowing that it is actually totally enough. The moment you are broken open and overwhelmed with the knowing and the love you have for your child, you are a mothering expert.
Much grace and peace to you in the journey, sweet mommas~
PS After I published this post I was driving to town and my thoughts went back to all the times *I’ve* played expert with other people. Before the fires of parenting burned some of that away I was much more free with my advice. For those of you who still remember those days (and maybe have books I gave you still on your shelves), I’m sorry. Truly. So thankful that there’s plentiful grace for the ‘experts’, too.