To Do/To Become

by Sarah Israelsen

When I became a mom I knew how to take care of a human. I knew how to change diapers, feed a baby, hold him, comfort him, and put him to sleep.  I knew how to smile, coo, give attention, stimulate, and love a child. And I thought I could be what I was before: a capable, efficient, plan-oriented individual who would get things done with a baby on my hip.

I was wrong.

When I got pregnant. I knew that having a baby would be all-consuming, so I planned to do nothing but take care of my child. I quit my job, and I went from being around people all day to being with just one person all day. I had no idea how lonely it would be. I was frustrated. I was drained. What was I supposed to be doing? When left to myself was I making the best use of my time? Was I being lazy? Was I working too hard? I really had no idea. Once I became a mom, it was just me. I was the adult I reported to. I was the one who had to say “keep trying” or “that’s good enough.” How could I measure the daily acts of love and patience and service that constitute raising a child? No one had ever talked about that part of motherhood, and perhaps I am the only one who struggled with this, but as a perfectionist personality, I desperately wanted to do my best. And, previously,  my best had always been validated with a letter grade or good marks or positive feedback. I realized I needed to reorient my thinking. I needed to reorient myself.

I am still working on this, but I went from marking a successful day as one where I had the whole house cleaned, the laundry done, and something tasty for dinner, to one where I felt at peace. I found that sometimes I really just wanted to snuggle my baby, to delight in his accomplishments, to make him laugh; and sometimes I really needed to tidy, to read, to exercise, to cook, or to do any of the myriad of tasks that face mothers. I needed balance. I needed my baby to know he would be taken care of, and I needed to do what was necessary to take care of me too.

I thought I could be who I was before, but motherhood has helped me become a whole new person. I realized I had the skills to be strong, reliable, and disciplined in order to provide a safe, clean, loving environment for my kids. But I also needed to become more flexible, to be willing to take a break from the “to-do” and delve into the “to-become” with my child and with myself. I needed to be more compassionate (with myself), and understanding that this little human would often change my plans—for the better.