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I really enjoy spending time with mothers who have children close in age to mine. It's easy to share banter about milestones, sleep issues and, in my case, the wonders of toddlerhood. But I have also found that spending time with older, wiser, more experienced mothers is a true gift. After all they've already seen what I don't even know to expect and they offer support just when you need it.
Here's the best advice I have received from veteran mothers.
1. Breast is best, but sanity's even better
When I was having extreme breastfeeding troubles, I was in a panic. What in my idealized version of motherhood was supposed to be the most serene and blissful experience of my life was causing me lots of tears and stress. A more experienced mother told me that, in her day, women didn't stress about this issue so much and that bottle-feeding was indeed not the worst thing in the world if it meant more calm and peace. That might be obvious advice for many moms, but it was just what I needed to hear in those early newborn days.
First-time moms obsess over gear for the baby. I don't blame us, since there are so many different products to choose from. There's no way of knowing what we will need, so we wind up buying at least one of everything.
When I was pregnant, a veteran mom shared with me her list of must-haves. It was a list that had been passed on to her by another mom. It had essentials on there like big, soft swaddling blankets and a couple of onesies one size bigger than newborn. There are a lot of lists out there, but a personal list from someone you trust is the way to go.
3. The baby bond might not be immediate
Another veteran mom told me I shouldn't worry too much if I didn't bond with the baby right away. She said I wouldn't be a horrible mom if I didn't immediately feel strongly connected with my little guy. That's completely different from everything you read about: mother's immediately feeling an intense love for their babies.
Experienced moms do what works for them and have no qualms about it.
This insight raised my consciousness of the many ways in which motherhood is experienced, and it set me free from any pressure to feel something that wasn't yet there. It turns out, I did actually feel a sense of recognition and connection the moment my son and I locked eyes. Still, I appreciated the honesty. Now I try to be as honest as possible with new moms about the things I did experience (such as extreme sleep deprivation!).
4. Shame on those who question your choices
I shared with veteran moms how our lactation consultant told us my son wasn't latching due to trauma caused by his circumcision. The first time I shared this, I was expecting the veteran mom's to shame me for having this procedure done on my son. Instead, I found that they all shamed the lactation consultant for making me feel guilty during a time of vulnerability.
At the time, I felt such intense shame and guilt over our decision, and it was so great to find that veteran moms accepted—rather than judged—me.
5. Spend time alone and don't look back
Veteran moms have taught me that I shouldn't feel guilty about spending time alone or doing the things I love. In fact, I recently met a few veteran moms at a weekend writing retreat and one my key takeaways from them is that mothers needs time to pursue the things they love. They need time to decompress and focus on being individuals.
Of course it's harder, for many reasons, to pull away when you have a newborn. Still, it was great to meet more experienced, like-minded mothers from various walks of life who all talked about harnessing energy toward—and using it for—ourselves from time to time.
6. This too shall pass
Veteran moms who have been through the newborn and toddler phases can remind us we won't always have to live in fear of our children running towards the street. They know it's OK if our child doesn't meet milestones the internet says they should.
They have been through the rough spots with their kids and with their partners. They also remind us that children get older and the challenges evolve. You won't always be sleep-deprived.
All of us moms are veterans to some other mom.
They know we all get to look forward to seeing our kids' personalities bloom. Eventually, we get to watch them pursue something they love. In these hard first years it's great to have that reminder.
The most valuable thing I have learned from veteran moms is that there's no need to apologize for our choices. New mothers might walk around wondering if they are doing the things right. Experienced moms do what works for them and have no qualms about it. They become more comfortable with their role as mothers, women and partners. They grow and evolve along with their children.
Most importantly, they give themselves grace.
All of us moms are veterans to some other mom. Let's all spread the love and support to new mommies and soon-to-be-mommies. Even veteran moms remember that we could also use more encouragement.