When my sister-in-law had baby #4, I sent her this letter. I wrote this after having my #4…an extremely difficult (but darn cute!) baby. I had a lot on my plate and really had to assess the situation and lay down my ground rules. These are things that I personally had to remind myself of often. Someone else might have a different set of rules depending on their strengths and weaknesses and relationships. People often ask me, what was the “hardest” addition-adjusting to four was mine.
1. You are now the C.E.O. (working 24/7 w/o paid vacation) of a large, profitable (to the world) family: Act like one. Be the boss-anticipate and delegate and try to stay on top of your days. Focus on the task at hand and let the less important stuff fall away-prioritize!
2. Don’t try to do everything yourself. Don’t feel guilty about your older children being forced to be more independent! They might resist at first, but self-reliance and independence is what they need in life. You will be surprised at what they will do for themselves when you can’t, and they will be proud of themselves in the process. Remember that in the “olden days” really young kids had to shovel cow manure, plow the garden and walk 5 miles to school in bare feet all before 7 a.m. Making yourself and your sister a PB and J and getting your own juice cup is a walk in the park.
3. Lower your expectations, especially the first few months. If you get out of your pj’s it’s a great day! If the kids are decently dressed and eat more than cereal for dinner, it’s an accomplishment! If you don’t expect anything more than this, you’ll go to bed at night knowing you accomplished more than you set out to. Every new addition requires more from us, and we must let go of something-let go of the perfection and the comparison and unreachable expectations.
4. Take care of yourself, and start at the basics: the right to use the bathroom with no one watching. The right to eat one meal not standing over the sink. The right to take a quick shower, put on mascara, some clean yoga pants, and feel a little refreshed. We aren’t talking about nights out and spa days, we are talking about fitting a few essential things to our days.
5. Smart mothers say no often and without guilt. That means putting the happiness and well being of yourself and your family FIRST- not school, friends, sports, neighbors or extended family. You have the rest of your life to do all the things you cannot do right now-trust me, they’ll all be there and they’ll all ask in one or two or five years. Every one’s threshold for commitments is different, and if you don’t know yours, you’ll find out, it’s called stress-and it rears its head in the form of yelling, impatience, resentment and exhaustion. Get rid of the guilt of saying no (without rambling explanations) and your life and your family will function so much better.
6. Laugh when you feel like crying. There will be many days when you swear your head is twirling on top of your unwashed, leaking, bleeding body-the kids are sick, or whining, or crying, or spilling, or fighting or all of the above. Disconnect from the situation, stand back and laugh.
7. And most importantly: Time flies whether you are having fun or not. It is impossible to not get caught up in the work of being a good mom….but it is good to remember that these are the sweetest, irreplaceable memories you will ever have. You might not get to buy teeny diapers, onesies, or little jars of carrots again, or smell the scent of your baby’s neck, or kiss her soft, tiny, un-calloused feet, or witness the love an older brother has for his baby sister before the teenage years hit. You will never be so WANTED, NEEDED, SUFFOCATED with LOVE again. Your life will get easier, but one day I think we will all wish we could go back to these days for a just a little bit.