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The “How To” Guide to Motherhood Doesn’t Exist, So I’m Writing My Own

how to momA few mornings ago I was sitting on the couch, drinking a cup of tea and reading a magazine, pretending that leisurely mornings are something I can still enjoy. Meanwhile, my son was running around with underwear on his head, throwing rice puffs on the floor around the apartment. Just a typical, zen morning, right?

While flipping through the magazine, I came across an article that lept off the page: “Get It Done: How to save time, ditch stress and actually relax. ” The article included a variety of strategies for being more productive, accomplishing chores efficiently and maximizing sleep and family time. It was all decent advice, but as I was reading, I started to feel the opposite of relaxed.

These how to articles, with their step-by-step clear cut advice, used to make sense to me.

Before my son was born I was a middle school teacher and spent every day explaining how to do things to my students. It was my job to make learning how to read challenging texts or write expository essays feel straightforward and simple. As a teacher I shared all sorts of how to secrets and shortcuts, not unlike those from the magazine. Breaking a complex task down into a few concrete how to steps was something I enjoyed, something most days I felt good at doing.

Now that I’m a mom, however, sometimes these how to articles make me feel inadequate, rather than inspired.

These days I feel like as soon as I figure out how to do something (e.g. put my baby down for a nap without one or both of us having a meltdown) everything changes, and I’m back to square one. On particularly rough days, I wonder, “Do I know how to do anything?” For me, it’s easy to let these thoughts spiral out of control, to the point that I forget how many things I can confidently do.

I decided to use the magazine article as inspiration to write a list of things motherhood has taught me how to do. For example, I now know how to

  • Pencil in my eyebrows while simultaneously preventing my child from climbing into the toilet (that I, of course, forgot to lock earlier) and unraveling the entire roll of toilet paper.
  • Turn an average Tuesday night into an epic dance party while we wait for Daddy to get home.
  • Transform my son’s favorite books into dramatic performances, complete with animal sounds and special effects.

Most importantly, I know how to make my son laugh out loud, which is the best feeling in the world.

This list started as a silly personal challenge while my son was napping, but surprisingly boosted my confidence and reminded me that being a mother isn’t about having it all figured out. The next time you have one of those days where you feel like how to be a “successful” mother is sand slipping through your fingers, I recommend making your own list, too. Celebrate all the small, sometimes ridiculous, things motherhood has helped you learn to do.  There is no universal how to manual for motherhood, but that’s okay, we’ll figure it out along the way.

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