One thing I hear almost every day? Something along the lines of, "Four kids? Well you must know what you are doing by now." Haha, suuuuuure. Yeah. Totally. I totally know what I'm doing. Except not so much. You see the thing is, no matter what stage you are at, you are always just about to be a "New Mom".
Don't get me wrong. I have mastered a few things, and I have picked up some tricks of the trade along the way that have made things easier than it was with my first. I have definitely learned a lot and have changed a lot and have grown a lot and all of that good stuff. But when it comes to parenting, that brand new stage is always right around the corner. And even if you have more than one child, those same stages can be much different from kid to kid. What was easy with one comes with a whole new set of challenges for the next one sometimes, so get ready for it. And even if things are somewhat the same for each kid, you have the added challenge of now doing it again with another kid to also take care of at the same time.
That's the kick in the teeth about parenting. Just when you think you've got something down, it changes. Sleeping in the crib? Oh yeah guess who just crawled over the railing and down the other side? I remember thinking how in the HELL am I supposed to put my toddler into an actual bed? Just leave them all loosey goosey in the room, ready to wreak havoc at any hour of the night or early morning?! HOW WILL THAT WORK? But it did, successfully (more or less). Just when you've gotten into a groove with breastfeeding or bottle feeding then you've got to start feeding them actual food? That they spit out every single time? How will this ever work?!
Curveballs are sort of the norm with parenting. The first time you try potty training is always a biggie. Okay, so...I'm going to take this diaper off and just go with it. Sounds great! And once you get the hang of the whole potty training while at home, the curveball comes with "Oh wait, you mean I've got to take this now un-diapered ticking potty time bomb out in public with me?"
Last week I volunteered for a couple hours at our school during the kindergarten screening, because I remembered that feeling of bringing my oldest in for the screening, and it can be daunting. Here I was, with this child that had been with me pretty much non-stop all day for four years, and I was going to just hand him over to this stranger (granted a super nice, super well qualified stranger whom I absolutely adore now) and all these kids that I don't know? He's going to eat lunch all by himself (okay with his friends but you get my point)! He's going to get on a BUS, at four? And I had to just let him go and move on to the next stage, just like that? Right after I had gotten so GOOD at this toddler and preschool stage. We had it down. We were buddies. We were in a groove. I had mastered preschooler with my oldest and things were great. And now it was over and I had to figure out a whole new arena of parenting.
It's not easy.
You have to learn a whole new set of parenting skills each time you move on to the new stage, and you have to leave that old stage in the past. Just like being the veteran mom at preschool pickup now here you are, the newbie at kindergarten, not knowing a thing about this new school or how things work or if your kid is going to like it and be happy and make friends. It can be tough, and it can be a little heartbreaking, even.
I find myself facing it soon, with my oldest going to middle school in a couple years. MIDDLE SCHOOL. Now all of you with older kids are laughing at me like "Ha, you're worried about middle school, try HIGH SCHOOL lady!" And those high school parents are looking at the parents of college kids like "How do I drop them off at college and just drive away and be cool with it?" I know. I get it.
When I talk to parents of older kids I always sort of grill them like "Is it as hard as I think it's going to be?" Some responses are honest, some are kind, some are both. But the thing is, it will once again be a parenting first, even though by then I will have been a parent for well over ten years. Leaving them at a dorm hopefully not too far away will be a first, even though it will seem like an entire lifetime has gone by since holding them as a brand new baby and wondering how the heck do I do this parenting thing?
The firsts won't end there either. There will be first heartbreaks and first job interviews. First rejections. First acceptances. And these are all things that are just the norm, not even the kinds of challenges parents can go through with a child that can face health challenges or any of the other curveballs life can also toss your way. All of these new challenges can be humbling, and will teach you that no matter what you go through, as a parent you are always learning. It isn't a skill to be mastered, it is a job to continue trying your best at, even though you are thrown for a loop on a regular basis. That the success lies in getting up and just trying your best, even if those days feel like more of an uphill battle than you'd like. Sometimes the success in this job of parenting can be just being there for them, plain and simple. Just showing up.
There's something beautiful in that though, when you think about it. There's no end goal in parenting to achieve, even when they are adults and you continue fostering a relationship with them, it's always about just building in love and building up these humans you created, and taking in the lessons that you learn along the way. Everyone is always on their own learning curve with what stage they are currently going through, so if you feel like you are struggling, give yourself a break. You're a new mom, and you always will be one.