A Letter to my Daughters in the Event That They Become Mothers
If you are reading this, it’s because you told me that you are going to become a mother imminently. That, or you searched for my name on the internet and happened to find this post addressed to you. Either way, you are probably confused and a little embarrassed. Please go somewhere private and read this as soon as possible. When you pretend you didn’t read it, I’ll play along, I promise.
First, I want you to know that being a mother was my one-and-only goal from the time I was about 16 years old. Before that, I was too afraid of childbirth to even consider it. I was going to be a stewardess (that’s what we called flight attendants in the olden-days), a teacher, and a writer. But my biological clock prematurely started ticking during my junior year of high school, and I forgot all other ambitions. I only finished college because Daddy wasn’t ready to get married and have babies yet, and, well, I liked school, so why not?
Today, you are 12 (okay, okay, OKAY 12.97534), 10, and 7, and I, at 37, have learned a lot about what it means to be a mother. I’d like to share with you what I know in the hopes that my experience can help you make better decisions as you embark on the journey of parenthood. In return, I expect open-ended visitation rights of my grandchildren, but to never be asked to babysit more often than once per week. This seems like a fair trade, given the pricelessness of my wisdom.
- There is NO advice that is universally true for all families and parent-child combinations. None. Not one thing that you hear, read, or see is applicable to every parent. The most life-changing parenting lesson I learned was that my instincts, along with trust in my partner’s instincts, were the only voices I needed to listen to in times of confusion and frustration. We parented each of you girls differently because you are different people, and we never stopped discussing what we thought were the most organic ways for us to deal with each phase of life (we’re probably still doing that now that you’re adults, contemplating life as grandparents from the hut on the beach in Bali that we’re living in this month before moving to a flat in Paris). Even this advice does not apply to everyone, because some parent’s learn that, due to their own upbringing or emotional issues, their intuition sucks. Those parents, hopefully, determine trustworthy sources to learn from when guidance is needed. Please keep this in mind as you continue reading, and know that I do not expect you to heed all or any of my advice. You need to choose the path that leads you to the kind of self-awareness I feel myself inching closer to every day, even if that means repeating some or all of my mistakes.
- If at all possible, continue working outside the home. This is very personal to me right now, as I attempt to salvage what might be left of my professional potential and find a full-time job after nearly 14 years of randomness. I know some people are not going to like this, but the reality is that most stay-at-home parents want to go back to work in some capacity at some point. But if you stop working (especially if you stop before your career has even really started, like I did), the world starts building a brick wall in front of you. Every year you don’t work, another layer is cemented in your path. If you work part-time jobs, the cement is more like school glue, and there are a few holes in the wall, so it’s easier to break it down, but still. A wall. And breaking down that brick wall while also caring for your family, battling guilt and confusion and fears of inadequacy and failure, while being confronted daily by your advanced age and lack of experience…. Well, it’s really hard and fills me with the kind of ugly regrets I would never wish upon anyone.
- If you do stop working for a long time, don’t give up searching for a job when you’re ready. One is out there, just keep looking and be open to new experiences. This one is mostly for me, because I needed to hear it right now. Carry on.
- Put your relationship with your partner before your kids. That’s right, kids come second. You’re probably not surprised to see this, given the number of date nights and trips to Vegas we took. Hell, we even attended tech conferences together in order to spend more time with each other. And that’s the lesson — parenting is intense, 24-hr, you-can-never-stop-even-if-you-try-really-hard work, and if you don’t consciously think of your relationship, there will be consequences. You have to put extra work into your adult relationship if it is going to survive the crusade that is parenting. The greatest gift you can give your children is a happy family, and a happy family includes happy parents, and happy parents need time to connect with each other. In other words, put a lock on the door and spend quiet time together and be naked and talk about your lives and have lots of sex. Okay, it’s over. Whew. We survived.
- Travel for fun with your kids. One of the most positive changes we made in our lifestyle was when we started taking family trips that were not for work, not for visiting family, just for fun. It doesn’t have to be long and expensive, just get the family out of the house for at least a day and go somewhere and do things that most of you think are fun. Make the effort to have fun with each other in a place with no homework, no chores, no work. Go on roller coasters and down water slides, hike up mountains, throw snowballs at each other, build sand castles, take surfing lessons, visit really old houses, and literally smell the roses. Make those memories that I hope you are recalling as you read this.
- Don’t be afraid to change your mind or admit that you’re wrong. Every day, you will learn new ways to cope with life, and parenting, and each child’s individual challenges. This minute, as I sit in my comfy Ikea office chair with my giant sweater and beer as you all read and watch TV, I feel like I have a pretty good handle on my role as a parent. But by tomorrow (or maybe even ten minutes from now when we’re putting you to bed), I’ll be reeling from some revelation, some new need or want or demand that I’m not prepared to deal with. So I’ll adjust and I’ll reevaluate and I’ll do my best to navigate that. Because I can’t predict the future, I can only do my best with what I’ve got right now, and I would never evolve as person or as a mother if I insisted upon maintaining all previously set standards and expectations, as everything in the world around me changes. For all I know, this entire post will be null-and-void by the time you have children because I’ll have changed my mind about everything and that’s okay.
Now feel free to call me (I’m sure by now I have a satellite phone chip implanted in my head so I can receive calls anytime, even while on the beach in Bali), thank me, and invite me to the birth of my grandchild.
I love you no matter what.