The Five Secret Laws of Motherhood (or the five things I wish someone had told me before I had kids, even though I probably would have decided I knew better and ignored them completely)
1. You will try to become a parenting encyclopedia. So put that book down now. I mean it.
I really truly hope you are the kind of person who has picked up one parenting book, read that and stopped. I, however, was not that smart. I approached motherhood the same way I approach everything – I looked for books about it and read as many of them as possible, cover to cover. Big, huge, fundamental mistake. Turns out, the experts don’t agree. On anything. Do I rock my baby to sleep? Perfect, I’m simulating the womb environment and making him feel safe – or I’m turning him into a whiny loser who will never ever be able to go to sleep by himself, which will lead to him either never leaving the parental home or moving in with the first person he meets just so he doesn’t have to sleep alone. Do I let the baby cry (because I’m so sleep deprived and cranky I’m afraid I might throw him out the window if I go back to that room)? I’m helping him self-soothe – or scarring him for life by convincing him that he is alone in the world, so he will turn emotionally numb as a defence mechanism and, most likely, become a serial killer.
The only thing people seem to agree on is that “breast is best” but even then, the devil is in the detail – if you’re in need of some adult entertainment, I suggest you casually ask “So what do you guys think about feeding on demand?” in a small group of mothers and then move aside and let the bloodbath begin. Game of Thrones will seem mild and civilised in comparison.
It seemed like I spent most of my first born’s early months either doing rain dances with a swaddled, screaming baby (Yes, I rocked. And I swaddled. He seems fine, but who knows – woe is me if he moves in with his first girlfriend) or worrying about how everything I did was messing up this precious baby who was born perfect, but was now being ruined by his useless mother.
2. Everything that mattered to you before will still matter just as much, if not more.
Motherhood is so romanticised that you end up believing that, once your child is born, you will care about nothing else. And that’s true – for about the first five weeks or so (possibly more, depending on the colic and sleep deprivation situation). But then you start to remember who you were and what your dreams and aspirations were before that baby and guess what? They haven’t gone anywhere. You’re still you. You still want to (as the case may be) write that book, set up that company, get on that board of directors, change the world, or simply go to the Maldives (in fact, you’ll probably want to go to the Maldives more that you used to – maybe to one of those resorts that don’t allow anyone under 16?).
3. You will be tempted to be a martyr. Resist.
I don’t know if it’s the same in all cultures, but Romanian poems and stories about mothers are all about selflessness and sacrifice. “My mother, always taking care of everyone but herself”, “she sacrificed everything for us”, “she never does anything for herself, it’s all for the children” – these are the stories being told about “good mothers”. And of course, rationally, we all know that it’s not sustainable or even helpful (not to mention fun!) to be that person. But what I found, much to my surprise, was that this myth sneaks up on you, so you find yourself feeling guilty when you’re not conforming to it, when you’re not suffering quite enough; like when you have time to actually make yourself look like a human being every day, or you make it to the gym or finish a book, or get help with childcare even if you’re not completely at breaking point. So just replace it with this helpful mantra: happy mother, happy kids. On the other hand, you have to accept Secret Law No. 4:
4. You will feel guilty. And that’s OK.
Or, as Indian author and media executive Apurva Purohit puts it, you have to accept that motherhood is a game of choosing your guilt; no matter what you do, you will feel guilty – whether it’s that you’re not spending enough time with your kids or that you’re not giving enough to your career. Then again…
5. There is no such thing as the Five Secret Laws of Motherhood.
Whatever you’re doing, you’re most probably doing just fine. Just love your kids and do your thing. Feel free to break any of the first four laws with abandon; breaking No. 4 is especially recommended. As for me, I’m breaking No.1 right now – reading yet another parenting book, but I promise it’s my last!
(Note: a version of this post first appeared on Encyclokidia – a fantastic LBS start-up founded by EMBABE Shefali Modi)