"She refused to be bored, chiefly because she wasn't boring." Zelda Fitzgerald

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Before Kids: A List

I sometimes think idly about how I might have prepared myself more fully for motherhood. I don't mean learning how Tylenol dosage works or practicing diaper changing but more holistic, easily missed or even simple, practical ideas. The kinds of things nobody tells you but you sort of wish you'd known.You know?

I've been compiling my own mental list for a while, here's what I've got.  Maybe you're still in the waiting stage, expecting to be a parent eventually but with a little time buffer between now and then...here's my advice.

Before You Have Kids, You Should.....

  • Learn to live by routine. Before I had kids I was the sort of person who had trouble remember to brush her teeth consistently enough, I could never take my multivitamin consistently, I went to bed at random hours...etc. I think one of the main keys to motherhood sanity is simple routines. Always make your bed. Get up early. Shower consistently. Nap-time happens, come hell or high water. That sort of thing. I now live on a menu, have a shopping day, work from a standard home chore list and I'm doing much better but it was an up hill battle....still is. :) Do yourself a favor and get this stuff under your belt now. If you're struggling with home routines...check out Motivated Moms...they have an app for the iPhone and also a Yahoo group that can email you daily chore lists. I love their system.
Quiet day at home, all three brothers.
  • Make friends in the same stage of life. I married young which made it easy for me find myself without peers when I was having my first child. BUT, I was also a snob and turned up my conceited little nose at the company of a bunch of "mommy friends." Oh, I was a ridiculous little goose! Learn from me. I now have lots of parenting pals. I think it's really important to have friends who understand what it feels like to be up all night with a screaming toddler, or who are also brainstorming solutions to teething woes, and trying to find pediatricians. People in the same stage of life have sympathy for your issues and also have answers for your puzzles. Seek out your life-stage partners. And if you're worried that the mommy types won't be interesting or engaging enough, seek out people who are your type who also happen to be in the same stage of life. I know this sounds tediously basic but when I was a new mom I thought all new mothers would want to talk about nothing but their kids and wore sweatpants all day. I just had to find a few moms who like to grow their own food, think Monty Python is hilarious and happen to be artists. It's worth looking...you can find all kinds of people in every stage of life.
  • Develop personal hobbies and activities that are kid-free and fullfilling. So much of parenthood involves giving to the small people, learning to eclipse yourself and let go...and that's all helpful and good. The other side of that coin is that it is also good to have something that can be a respite for you to retreat into to recover from your kids. It's great for kids to see that their mom has a life beyond them, that she has talents and interests and still grows and learns. It's also good to have something in life that you've held onto that excites you beyond your children for the next stage of life when you stop having babies and decide what else you want to contribute to the world. So, right now while you're kid-free...live in the current stage and dive into whatever you're good at, whatever you're curious about, whatever you've always wanted to try...then keep after it, even in tiny doses once there are little people in your life.

  • Get a puppy. I'm just saying. If you've always thought you wanted to have a puppy and you imagine your little ones growing up with a Rover of their own to love....get the puppy now. House-breaking a puppy while potty training your toddler is not to be done. Get the puppy now.
  • Learn cooperation (and not just with your spouse). This one is connected to making friends in the same stage of life. Ask for help with parenting. Don't ever suffer under the delusion that "real" moms doing it all by the sweat of their own brows. That's wackazoid! Real moms, healthy moms...are part of vibrant communities where all the flawed and brilliant parents lean on and help each other. Crying your eyes out over discipline? Call a pal. Need childcare for a trip to the dentist? Call a pal. Have a hilarious story about what your 3 year old said on the potty? Get on that phone. Smart parents never parent alone.
  • Build a habit of getting up early. I think there are very few parent mood-killers with quite the same potency as the feeling you get when you finally straggle, foggy-headed out of bed and find the mess the kids have been creating all over the house, and look at the clock and realize lunch is in two hours. Getting up early, even if you aren't naturally a morning person...is a huge win. You set the mood for the day, you give yourself more time to get things accomplished, you get your feet on the ground before the kids show their mischievous little faces and you might even get a few stolen moments as a couple before the world is spinning 5,000 miles an hour again. I love this post from the wonderful blog, Like Mother, Like Daughter, about teaching yourself to get up early.
Baby kisses. :)
  • Learn to eat well and be active. Take your vitamins every day, make your own food instead of buying processed substitutes, eat multiple colors of produce at each meal, be active every day, don't stock things you don't want to eat all the time. Some of these things are habits, some are education, some are skills....work on them now, while you have the time. Another good thing about working on health before you have kids is that you have the chance to pre-stock your body with the supplies to handle pregnancy, birth, lactation and the stress and pressure of motherhood. 
  • Purchase a good bed. (Or at least a killer mattress.) We have a hand-me-down mattress that is in somewhat lamentable condition. I'm truly not sure how old it really is. I wish we'd saved up and purchased a great one before we had kids. When you're really pregnant and sleeping on a mattress with dips and lumps, it's a pretty big insomnia machine, even if you're a great sleeper like me. Now that we're in full-on parenting mode we keep thinking we'll get around to a new one but honestly, I expect us to keep on with the mountain-range model until a spring stabs one of us in the back. Oh to start off on the right foot! And make sure it's at least a queen...we almost started married life on a double and now, I think God every time the baby snuggles down between us or all the kids pile in on a Saturday morning that we actually have the room to allow us and kids sanely.
Sometimes romance has to come, on the fly.
  • Spend a lot of time and energy working on understanding sex and getting to know yourself and your partner sexually. Experimentation is good but raw knowledge will give you a turbo boost. Don't just have sex;  read books, listen to lectures, look at diagrams, get out your hand mirror, talk to each other and compare notes, read studies and talk to your friends about their experiences. This is the time to learn and establish sexual skills. Once little people are shrieking in the other room, your man is in the mood and your libido is nursing mother low...knowledge and sexual compatibility will be really difficult (although not impossible, never despair!) to attain. Do it now, this is sexual prime time.
Jam session with my parents and my brother, at Christmas-time.
  • Make peace with your family. Nothing like having kids to further stress a strained relationship. If things are distant or rocky or just odd between you and your nuclear relatives, do all you can to let bygones be bygones, protect yourself and appreciate their strengths as well as recognizing and accepting their weaknesses. Remember that you're a grown-up now and mistress of your own ship so there's nothing to fear from the previous stage of life when your parents were in change and made other choices. Time for love, in whatever form and within whatever constraints you can deem necessary.
  • Learn to love self-improvement and self-forgiveness. Life is always about balance. Learning how to be a good mother is all about setting impossible high goals, those kinds of "When I'm a mom, I'll never...." sort of statements and then when you fall short forgive yourself. If you can forgive yourself you can move on instead of letting yourself get stuck on whatever your failures are as a parent. You will fail. All parents fail. And there is no failure that can't be forgiven and learned from. None. You are what you are...seek to improve and forgive.
  • Concentrate some good energy on getting to know and connection to your nieces and nephews, your godchildren and any other important small children in your life. Interacting with kids is the best practice for interacting with kids...not to mention the fact that it is really fabulous to spend the time and energy on children other than your own while you still can. It is much harder to be an involved auntie to my far away nieces and nephews now that I have three of my own here under the same roof with me.
Jane her Megaman, demonstrating A+ aunt and uncle skills.

That's what I've got for now. Maybe sometime I'll share a list of things I did right that I'd do again if I had the chance. Anyone have anything they'd like to add to the list?

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