I’m uncomfortable. Once again I’m teetering on the edge of that comfort zone. I know it’s inevitable, I’ve been here before, but it doesn’t make it any more welcome this fourth time around.
Like I said, I’ve been here before.
While there’s hundreds of parenting books, there’s really no manual out there for moms.
Sure, there’s ideas for soothing colicky babies, feeding picky eaters, calming hormone-stressed adolescents…
but there’s not much there for helping moms navigate our emotional roller-coasters.
With two teenagers in the house- or more like never in the house- and not coping great with my oldest heading to college next year, I’ve come to the realization that there’s six stages of motherhood.
None is any easier than the others.
I’m in stage 4… nearing the edges that blend- not so effortlessly- into the next. Though, like many of you, I’m going to have a foot in one stage and one foot in another for awhile. Which keeps my emotions in a constant tug of war.
Maybe, as moms, we need to look at our own milestones for a change and see just how far we’ve grown over the years too.
When we’re in it, it feels like we’ll be here forever: my kid will never sleep through the night, they’ll never wipe their own butt, we’ll never have a moment to ourselves…
and then one day we realize… hey, it’s been a week since I’ve changed a diaper; wow! I took an uninterrupted bath; hmmm, it’s a little quiet here.
And we find ourselves in a new stage with new worries and new challenges.
None are easy.
We tend to focus on the milestones kids make as they grow, but we do a tremendous amount of growing and learning in these stages too.
And when we think we’ve got it down…we’re moving into the next one.
Looking back over the past 17 years, I figured there’s six stages of motherhood.
Stage 1 (kids birth to age 3-4): Survival Mode. At this point it’s all about survival. Functioning on limited & interrupted sleep. Navigating through daily life essentially on auto-pilot. And oh the guilt. Not the fear of missing out, but the fear of missing it… first steps, first tooth, first words.
We’re too often afraid to share how lonely and frustrating this time can be since damn! everyone else seems to do it so easily and naturally. Spoiler alert! They don’t. They aren’t.
Stage 2 (ages 4-6): Hi, I’m Julie McCoy. Ok, some of you may be a little young for the reference, but Julie McCoy was the Love Boat cruise director, in charge of all things entertainment. This age is busy- they’re exploring, they’re inquisitive, they’re active. Preschool, daycare, activities only take up so many hours so we’re just as busy planning play dates, activities, camps… expanding their minds- hell, giving us a bit of a break.
It’s a new exhaustion. Yet it’s exhilarating. Sometimes, we’re living fifteen steps ahead to prepare for every possible outcome. But it’s a time of discovery for our kids, and an opportunity for us to live in the moment… even if it’s just for a moment.
Stage 3 (ages 6-13): Super Mom. School brings new demands to our lives, and for some of us, a step back into the social world. PTA, sports, music, work, activities- we find friends of circumstance and sometimes friends for life. And most of us aquire a new accessory… a cape. As our kids are discovering independence, letting go even a little can be downright frightening. So we tie those cape strings a little tighter, ready to go to battle for them. Yet, simultaneously we’re giving them the tools to learn to advocate for themselves.
Our kids are wavering between the affectionate toddlers wanting a bedtime story and trying to walk in shoes still a bit big. We’re on high alert all the time, because even “they’re at school” doesn’t offer the same sense of security it once did. But we also get to take a breath. Take a moment for ourselves. We see the world- and ourselves- in a new light. Sometimes challenging everything we thought we knew or wanted.
Stage 4 (ages 14-18): Awakening. The teenage years seem less about their birthday and more an overnight change. Suddenly those moments of quiet we’ve desperately craved are here as they sleep in and they’re social life expands. Though we’re still wearing our chauffeur and chef hats, we’re also acutely aware that our kids are soon moving on to their next stage of independence… and so are we.
The yoga class you’ve always wanted to try? That new restaurant that just opened? Weekend with the girls? All a little easier- no babysitter required. For many moms, this is the first time in over a decade we’re asking “What do I need.” Sometimes the answer is no less terrifying than the question.
Stage 5 (ages 19-22): Finding Ourselves. Whether you’ve worked from inside or outside the home, there’s always been schedules to juggle. As blissful as a quiet, clean home, may sound with little ones underfoot, silence is different. Maybe you’ve kept up with date nights, maybe you’re wondering what the hell you and your spouse will talk about. Possibly you’re navigating new relationships or new careers.
We know less about our kid’s day, friends…life. We don’t have the sound of the garage to let us know they’re safe- which may be more frightening than the silence. And, for the first time in nearly two decades plans, decisions, and priorities shift back to us.
Stage 6 (23- adult): Shadow Mom. There was a time when we knew everything about their day: what they ate, when they went to the bathroom, who was mean on the playground, who is their best friend. We aren’t the first to know anymore. We wait to be invited in. We’re in the shadows- here when they need us.
But it’s time to take off the cape.
Though, if you’re itching to tie it back-on, there’s probably some moms in Stage 1 that could use a little super mom in their corner.
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