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5 motherhood lessons you can only learn by truly (and unfortunately) experiencing

Crying baby mom lessons
Photo credit: Envato Elements

From the minute you announce you’re pregnant, the motherhood advice starts pouring in — from friends, from family, from perfect strangers even. It seems that everyone has insight to offer, both solicited and unsolicited. And while you might imagine that makes you equipped for what’s to follow, you’ll realize once baby comes that there is some mommy advice that gets glossed over.

You won’t find this kind of information in What to Expect When You’re Expecting, either. Here are a few motherhood lessons you can only learn through experience. Spoiler alert? The experiences aren’t always easy. But they stretch your comfort and make you a better mother so, yeah, they’re totally worth a few growing pains.

You can’t pour from an empty cup

One piece of motherhood advice you hear constantly is that you can’t be selfish. As soon as you have a tiny human in your care, you must always put them first. And any mother will tell you that sort of happens instinctively anyway — we tend to immediately shift ourselves to the bottom of the priority list.

But here’s something my grandma told me when I insisted on staying up around the clock to make sure the baby was OK, trying to make up work I “missed” during my brief maternity leave, and generally juggling about a million balls. She gently cradled my face in one hand, brushed my unwashed hair out of my eyes with the other, and said, “Sweetie, you cannot pour water from an empty cup.”

And it clicked for me that taking care of myself is actually selfless. If I’m not OK, I can’t be what I need to be for my children. I’ve since learned to squeeze self-care in whenever I can, whether it’s painting my toenails or strolling around Target for an hour.

Always pack extra diapers/pull-ups/underwear

Not kidding at all, y’all. Someone may have mentioned in passing to me prior to motherhood that I should toss an extra diaper in the diaper bag before I leave the house. When your kids are potty-trained, though, you’re lulled into a false sense of security.

However, as a woman who has experienced just about every embarrassing scenario involving kids pooping in public that you can imagine, I’m telling you to hold onto that diaper bag. Or get a backpack. But whatever you do, don’t leave the house without an extra pair of underpants — heck, you had better just make it an entire change of clothes or two — until your kids are, like, 10.

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You will never be a perfect mother

Let that sink in: You will never be a perfect mother. There is no such thing. It’s like the horizon — an invisible line that recedes when you try to reach for it. While it might seem like this is stating the obvious, it’s incredibly difficult to come into motherhood thinking about anything other than how you can be the best mother possible.

But, c’mon, mom-ing is tough stuff. We’re all going to mess up. That messing up makes us human, and our humanity makes us empathetic mothers. My sweet friend Ashley taught me a sort of life hack to help me keep this in focus.

Each week, I write down any parenting victories that made me feel like a rock-star mom. So, for instance, this week already I’ve written down that my 6-year-old son offered to sweep the floor without me asking. That’s a win! When I think of those moments, the little stuff I tend to pick myself apart over gets blurry.

Yes, your kid will be one of those kids

Confession: At some point before having kids of my own, I am confident that I witnessed bad behavior from children and insisted my kids wouldn’t act like that. They wouldn’t do whatever naughty thing it was being done by the naughty kids in question. Now I think about that and I just laugh and laugh and laugh.

Because being a mom means experiencing first-hand basically all of the bad behavior from your own kids that you once quietly judged other mothers for. I would say it was mom karma (marma?), but the reality is most children go through the same developmental stages.

And more pointedly, as frustrating as outbursts and temper tantrums and talking back can be, sometimes bad behavior is indicative of a child working their way through a developmental stage — think learning boundaries or expressing emotions.

Hold onto that notion, because you’re going to need the reminder when your kid is kicking and screaming at the park because you told them they couldn’t eat a pine cone.

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You can’t always chase away the hurt

In full disclosure, this has been the most difficult of all lessons I’ve had to learn. Before you’re a mom, you see the sentimental commercials that show a loving mother kissing away her baby’s boo-boos. You see moms healing their sick tweens with little more than a hug and a bowl of chicken noodle soup.

No one prepares you for the fact that there will be more times than you can count where your child will hurt — and you are powerless to fix it. The first time my daughter came home from kindergarten crying because one of her friends had been mean to her, it took every ounce of me not to cry along with her. My heart physically hurt.

It never gets easier, either. Whether it’s physical pain or emotional, every wound hurts just as much (if not more) than the last. And while you can be there for them and let them know you love them, more often than not you just have to let them hurt. And that, dear mama, hurts like hell.

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