I was standing in my neighbors backyard the day before Easter, watching all the kids from the street run around finding Easter eggs that us moms had stuffed together a few nights before. The kids played as the parents stood around chatting and laughing while making sure no egg meltdowns occurred. While we planned neighborhood play dates and a moms night out, someone mentioned how great it is to have a village in motherhood. I looked around at all those strong moms and saw how we were all watching out for each other and our kids and thought one thing: “yes, it really is.”
I see it when I scroll through Facebook after a long day home alone with my daughter- the article titles about how important it is for us moms to have a “village” of support to help us through the tough times and the celebratory times of motherhood. They make it seems so easy- just have your family come over to help or call your girlfriend to bring coffee and chat. But after talking to so many moms in the grips of those tough times, be it the newborn sleep deprivation phase to the 16-year-old-with-an-attitude phase, so many of us don’t really feel like we have that “village” we can call on in times of need. Part of it is simply due to the distance we live from our families, and part of it has been culturally constructed. As moms we are supposed to be strong, hold it all together, and calmly raise tiny humans while having washed hair and a clean house.
My postpartum experience with my daughter Kennedy was one of the hardest times in my entire life. The combination of having a high needs baby coupled with postpartum anxiety left me isolated and lonely. My husband was amazing and did everything he could, but he had 2 weeks off of work and then bills had to be paid and he was back to his normal routine. I found it hard to relate during that time. He was so involved with Kennedy, but he wasn’t in it all day every day. As much as he tried to understand, he couldn’t. He just wasn’t experiencing the same thing as me. My parents were also a huge support and amazing, but like many others these days, they don’t live close and couldn’t come over at a drop of a hat. I needed that daily support from another parent who has been through it and just gets it. The kind of support that comes from another mom or caregiver that has done the never ending nights and understands how hard those thankless days can be. They will come and reprieve you, no questions asked, no judgments made.
I was fairly new to Wisconsin when I got pregnant with Kennedy. Almost all the friends I had made in the short time I lived here didn’t have kids, so as much as they tried to relate, we eventually lost touch. We were new to our neighborhood and my feelings of insecurity during those early days made it hard to put myself out there. All of my family lived a plane ride away and even the 45 minute trek to my sister-in-laws house was impossible with a screaming child. I had great friends living in other states, but I was afraid to call and tell them how hard things felt. Some days I felt like I was drowning, but instead of reaching out I fell victim to all those fake “shoulds” of motherhood. I should be ok. I should know what I’m doing. I should be able to do it alone.
And so I put on a smile for Kennedy and kept going, but I really struggled. I beat myself up for feeling like I needed more. After all, I was so lucky to be with my baby that I was madly in love with. But I was isolated. I felt stuck. I was ok with the fact that no one could hold Kennedy so that I could shower (ok, I really just didn’t prioritize showering that much!), but what I missed was someone telling me it is ok if it’s hard and I was doing a great job. I didn’t feel like I had anyone I could call last minute to bring coffee or come sit and chat with me during those long days of stress and sleep deprivation. I know a lot was due to Kennedy’s personality, but I also know this is not an uncommon scenario for a lot of new moms. It’s hard to measure up to that “supermom” from Instagram, so we hide and just try and do it alone.
As cliche as it is, I really needed a village. But with the end of multi-generational households and so many of us living far from the homes we grew up in, what does that village look like and how do we form one? In an age where we find so much of our “social” through social media, how do we form the supports that we need as parents on a deep (judgmental free) level? Can we look beyond the picture perfect images we see on Facebook and bond with each other over low and messy parts? Can we come together when it’s just not so great and hold each other up? Be it postpartum sleep deprivation, toddler tantrums, tween angst, and watching our kids go off to college- I firmly believe as parents we need that support for every phase of life.
I don’t think I’m alone in saying that it can be hard to make mom friends as a mom. It’s like dating but under a deep fog of exhaustion with screaming kids distracting us every other sentence. I had no idea how awkward and uncomfortable it is to ask for another moms phone number! But once you get past that, you find the moms that you need the most. The ones who have survived those tough times and can assure you that you too will do the same. The ones who are going through it themselves and can laugh with you through those tears of exhaustion. The ones that make you smile and let you cry on the hardest of days. And part of making those friendships means letting down our guards and showing our messy. It’s so easy to feel isolated by the photos on social media showing happy babies hitting all their milestones and dare I say it- Sleeping. Through. The. Night. Couples on date nights, freshly showered and smiling. Couldn’t relate. When I was a new mom I felt like the only one struggling so much and felt so much shame about that. I just assumed I was failing at this motherhood thing and never stopped to ask another mom if maybe they felt the exact same way.
You know what I’ve learned throughout the years of being a mom? I am not the only one who struggles. We may not all have the same challenges, but motherhood is far from easy! Every phase has a challenge and I’ve learned that one of the best ways to survive is by sharing with the other moms in my life. Share with me so I can help pick you up when you need it, and I’ll share with you so we both know we are not alone. Maybe it’s just laughing during the kids swim lessons or going out for coffee one on one. But sharing our stories and knowing we are in this together and have each others back is what gets me through all the highs and lows!
I’m currently 6 months pregnant and finding that I want to have a different postpartum experience this time around. I know this baby will have his own personality and needs, and there are a lot of things I cannot prepare for or predict. I ‘m doing everything I can to prepare Kennedy and make sure my little family is ok as we adjust to our newest member. But I’m also thinking about something else this time. What about me? How can I make sure that no matter what struggles or challenges we have, I will also be supported.
Call in the village! I don’t think I realized it, but somehow that tiny circle of support I had when Kennedy was born has transformed into a diverse and beautiful network of people that I am honored to know. From my parents and family, my therapist and the postpartum doula we’ve hired, to our neighbors and all the amazing mom friends I’ve made throughout the years- they know it’s hard and have already been such great supports through the ups and downs of parenting and pregnancy.
So how do you make that village? I don’t have the magic answer. But I think for me the most important thing has been honesty. I can’t even begin to pretend I’m a supermom. I am no longer shy that I struggle. I don’t hide my anxieties or faults. I did that for too long and it left me feeling so alone. Throughout these years of early motherhood, I’ve found that even though it can be uncomfortable, being honest with other moms has opened so many doors for us to support each other. I don’t feel that need to make it seem like I have it all together any more. There is nothing better than laughing at preschool drop off over the fact that a lot of us still have pajamas on under our winter coats or commiserating during a play date about how hard the long days are.
The more honest I am, the more honest others are with me. And that’s really the only way that we can help each other. I’m learning to put myself out there and it pays off, because maybe everyone wont get it and wont have similar experiences or be able to relate, but those who do are so precious. And I get the honor of being part of their “village” too. It’s showing all the messy, all the real, all the ups and down and knowing that you won’t be judged because they just get it.
So, will it be different this time? I make no predictions, but I do know that there are so many people in my corner that care about me and my family and understand the this messy thing called parenthood. So if you are in search of your village and happen to see me, most likely with disheveled hair and a tired look, come say hi. Because I get it, and always need more in my village. Sure, we can do this alone, but it’s a lot easier if we do it together.
Looking to find some other new and expecting moms to expands your village with? Come join us at the Madison Moms Blog event Bloom on May 9th!