3 Lessons I learned from becoming a mother this year

Dec 16, 2015 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: Wild Horse Photography/Getty Images

Sometimes, the strongest lessons are the inadvertent ones. 2015, the year like no other that started like any other, brought several of those lessons. This was the year I became a mother.

As if that hadn't changed my life enough, during my maternity leave, I decided to quit my job of 10 years and stay home with my daughter. Shortly thereafter, my husband and I decided to move to Seattle, halfway across the country from our families and the only place I had ever lived.

We practically invited the challenges, but challenges, tough though they are, are also the harbinger of growth, and these unique difficulties gave me lessons.

Lesson 1: acceptance

As a drug and alcohol counselor, I talked to my clients about this one a lot, but have never had a lot of success practicing it. What do you mean I can't make things better? I can do anything I put my mind to.

Except I can't. Not anything. I can't magically will into existence new friends or roots in a brand new place. When we moved, my husband and I lived out of a suitcase for a month in corporate housing in a crappy little town with our 3-month-old. We were looking for a permanent place, and our cars and household items were being shipped to us. We were in a state of flux, and it sucked.

It was so hard and I would normally want to numb myself beyond this difficulty, like with booze or work or TV, but with the baby, I couldn't. I had to go through each day aware of the minutes that were only dripping by.

But they did drip by, and things did get better. Getting through this time was made easier by seeking as much positivity as I could, such as finding a new coffee place or park every day, or chatting with a bartender I saw regularly. I called friends back home every day, and I focused all my attention on my daughter.

Lesson 2: mindfulness

From day one with my daughter, I have been focused on how to suck out every bit of wonderfulness with her—how to keep the precious things. This is my first child, and I’m fumbling daily with getting it right. Since her birth, it has been very important to me to be present in a way I never was before, when I would daydream my way through a never-ending afternoon and seek to rush an uncomfortable moment I couldn't accept.

Now, I’m trying to catalogue every precious little moment, like her determined face and middle-of-the-night sighs or the small moments in a quiet house that she’s playing in independently. I’m (trying to!) not wishing away the long nights of overtired screaming because I know the day will come that I will wish problems could be solved with mere rocking, kisses and a round of “Baby Mine.” I’m trying to make note of every time we nurse or she presses her cheek to mine, because one of those times will be the last time, and I love them. I love every day with her, even the minutes that suck. I am crazy in love with her right now, and she adores me. I am the best thing ever. I make her laugh and I calm her, and I know I won’t always.

Lesson 3: intentionality

My daughter is also teaching me about intentionality in the way I think about and act with her. I know she's her own little person with her own mind, and I fear for the day she starts acting out. I fear for the day that I am no longer the best thing ever.

My anxiety of that time is lessened and I think — or hope — my ability to respond from a place of love will increase when I am intentional in my thoughts about her. I believe the way I think and talk about her will make a big difference in how I perceive her. Even when she is acting out, if I can be intentional in my thoughts about her and consider her as a whole person, I will see things differently and be able to respond to her respectfully.

For example, when she pushes against me, or when she’s rude or disrespectful, I try to remember that it is because she is learning the rules of social interaction and experimenting with different behaviors. Or it is because I am expecting something of her that she is not developmentally able to do. Moreover, she’s acting out with me because she knows she’s safe with me.

These are three areas that I have wanted to grow in, but it took changing my life to be able to. I never thought I would be living a life like I am right now, and it is so good to do so.