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10 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Mom

10 Lessons I’ve Learned Since Becoming A Mom

The college days of me dreaming about becoming a famous actress have long gone and has been replaced by me settling into my new and exciting permanent role as a mom! It’s been quite the adjustment, starting from pregnancy to body changes, life adjustments, failed expectations, harsh realities, and painful moments. But even through the struggles that sometimes makes its way into being a mom, the moments are appreciated because they come with beautiful meaning. However, if you’re at all like I was in the beginning and can’t see the beautiful meaning, you’re definitely not alone.

Below are 10 lessons I learned from being a mom. I hope this resonates with you and you find comfort that we’re all in this together!

1. Getting pregnant is just the beginning!
After years of doing everything possible to avoid getting pregnant, I suddenly found myself wanting to be a mom. As it turns out, trying to get pregnant can be its own challenge. The thought of becoming pregnant and actively trying to get pregnant are very emotionally draining. Additionally, if you’re working full time and trying to keep a social life in check, it can become just another task on the daily to-do list. Some parents suffer from infertility and that’s even bigger undertaking when trying to conceive. But once you get pregnant, you realize how pregnancy is only the beginning.

The lesson: Don’t stress! Don’t compare yourself to other women or couples that didn’t seem to struggle or plan for a pregnancy, but managed to get pregnant. Don’t get discouraged or feel as if you’re being punished. Your time will come and if it’s not meant to happen for you biologically, think about adoption and fertility treatments. Hey, you might even decide that planning for a family is not your thing. Some couples are childless and happy!

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2. Once you’re pregnant, everyone will have an opinion!
It’s funny how everyone feels the need to express their opinions. For me, it was especially aggravating because we did not find out the sex of our baby until after the birth. Additionally, I had no news to report since I didn’t suffer from any physical ailments, except for swollen feet towards the very end of my pregnancy. For the most part, I wanted my pregnancy to be MY experience before anyone else and didn’t feel the need to broadcast every detail. I found that some people actually felt entitled to know everything. Others felt a need to remind me that I could still miscarry – yup, thanks!

The lesson: Opinions are just opinions. Some people feel the need to scare new mommies because that’s how they were treated. Other kind souls will wish you well and some will disregard everything, to each their own. Just remember not to take it personally.

3. You will change.
We all know we physically change and whether we get back to our “old” pre-pregnancy body isn’t the point. We change physically, but we also change emotionally. We suddenly care A LOT about someone else. We become a mom by providing a safe world for our babies from day one. We sympathize with other moms who struggle and look tired, we celebrate each other’s triumphs, and we understand the juggling it takes to build and maintain a household.

The lesson: Even if you can fit into those old jeans, revel in the fact that you’re not the same. You’re a better version of yourself and your children will help you grow, learn, and mature more than any other person will. Embrace it.

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4. No amount of baby books, research, or advice will prepare you.
Although we wish to be extremely prepared (getting the best crib, researching the best stroller, visiting the daycare options etc.), there isn’t a way to 100% prepare for parenthood. The sleep deprivation isn’t like the deprivation you experienced after a night of partying or during college, cramming for finals – it’s real deprivation. Deprivation to the point of hallucination. There’s no preparation because it’s unlike anything you’ve ever experienced before.

The lesson: A relief. You can’t test out parenting or do a sample session and think you’ve got it. You’ve got to do it all the way. Once you have all those perfect supplies and tools in place, then all you can do is take it day by day. Each family is different, but there’s comfort in knowing that being a good mom means doing what is best for your family.

5. Expect the unexpected – always!
I have been blessed with a first child that is very unpredictable. He is also extremely sweet, fun, energetic, intuitive, and amazing. For example, our journey with breastfeeding was extremely difficult, but we persevered by seeking support. I didn’t expect such a challenge ahead, but once I realized I had to work harder, I stepped up. Additionally, all those situations – including when he pooped through his onesies or spit up on other people or the dreadful crying through the bewitching hours of the night – became glimpses of the surprises ahead. As a former manager in retail (who’s always in charge and a bit controlling), I was taken aback with this sudden craziness, but in the end, I learned to let go and revel in the fact that I had no control.

The lesson: Live your life! Enjoy the chaos and use it as a learning tool! This is a chance to learn under pressure and use the fight or flight intuition we are so blessed with. This is the beauty of challenge: it passes and you learn!

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6. Your child’s father may or may NOT be a great parent.
The truth for married women is that we married our man because we love them. It’s can sometimes be a different story when husbands become fathers though. I truly believe that it’s all learned, so if your husband did not have a great example of a father growing up, you might unfortunately deal with that repercussion. Truthfully, I’m a teacher in many ways, so I use this experience to help my husband grow and not lose sight of what life is about. Some men inevitably drift away, and the sooner you realize that, the better. For me, in my household, we are spiritual and we believe in prayer. Find what works to keep the marriage alive.

The lesson: After 15 years of knowing my husband and 5 years of being married, I still can’t say that I know everything about love and relationships, but I do know that it takes work. Remember to be a wife/companion first and foremost, and remind yourself that women are naturally better at some things. Additionally, seek a support system and execute goals and expectations.

7. Perfect babies do not exist.
Our children’s health and internal well-being isn’t always a given. Colic, allergies, ear infections, autism, jaundice, heart conditions, vision problems – you name it – our babies can come with health problems or even hereditary ailments and it sucks! Some are lifelong and others are temporary. As the mother to a special needs child, I know better than most that perfect babies don’t exist, but you’ll love your child all the same. I won’t allow my child’s journey through it to dictate our happiness.

The lesson: Research, find the BEST doctor, join some support groups, ask for prayers, get out more, and live! Unfortunately, a lifelong diagnosis can be very difficult to accept, but once you do, it becomes easier to be a warrior and the support system your child needs.

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8. You might enjoy the little things more!
Because you don’t necessarily have the time or space to carve out alone time for yourself, you really cherish the moments that you do. How awesome is it to enjoy a nice hot cup of coffee at your leisure? Or going out alone? Or even using the bathroom in peace? It’s actually awesome to enjoy life like this because as your former childless self, you might have never seen the beauty in life’s simplest moments because you never truly appreciated them for what they were. Plus, having the energy to do anything might feel amazing for a change!

The lesson: Everyday is awesome and every challenge is an opportunity! If you felt stuck, alone, or depressed, that’s also normal. Know that this too shall pass and it will! Just think, you carried a human inside your body and became a mother to a beautiful child through a miracle/adoption. How amazing is life? For the moms in need of a little more help, reach out to a friend, family, or babysitter!

9. You will become your child(s) biggest supporter!
Moms know best. We are blessed with this ability to know our children and help them in life. I can attest that I feel deeply connected to my sons, without even having to speak to them. The depth of our bond and connection is beautiful. So, don’t be afraid to say “no” to others’ suggestions or thoughts. At the same time, don’t be shy to recognize when your input isn’t needed or if you’re wrong. Maybe your kids know best too.

The lesson: You are your child’s strength! They felt comfort in your arms from day one and look up to you! Be the voice and example you would want or the support you never had in a parent, but always wanted.

10. You will find purpose.
Maybe you had an immense amount of purpose before having a baby, maybe you always longed to be a mother, maybe you happened to become a mother without any effort – whatever brought you to this reality might have given you purpose or reinforced the purpose you already felt. For me, I feel an incredible amount of joy watching my kids grow. I also feel a need to use my time as a stay-at-home mom to make crafts, cook/bake, and continue to be a great wife/friend/sister, etc. Whatever passion you have as a mother gives you purpose and will also bring you happiness, ability, and peace.

The lesson: Follow your passion and do it willingly and happily. Be the best version of yourself. Don’t forget about your sanity and joy. Let your “yes” be your “yes” and your “no” be your “no”!

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Marlene Patti

Stay at home mom/Real Estate

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Published on March 5, 2020

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

How to Help Your Child to Develop the 7 Executive Functioning Skills

Tommy wants his toy back. His brother is playing with his favorite toy and he wants it back. Tommy starts to scream and is hitting his brother uncontrollably. He is three and these fits of rage and lack of self-control rear their ugly head daily. Their parents rush into the room and diffuse the situation. They are at a loss as to why Tommy has little to no self-control.

Is it just the terrible twos that are stretching beyond the twos? Or is there something else that can better explain his behavior?

Actually, Tommy, like many little tots, is still developing his executive functioning skills. These skills are imperative in helping us regulate our behaviors and exhibit self-control. Parents need to understand the role of executive functioning skills and how they can help their child develop these skills.

I will provide an explanation of these skills and tips in this article to help parents with this understanding.

What Are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive function is processes in the brain that help us function. Executive function helps with the execution of the variety of skills. These are a top 10 list of the skills associated with executive functioning:

  • Paying attention
  • Completion of a task from start to finish
  • Self-motivation
  • Self control, impulse control, and inhibition (the ability to control one’s actions and behaviors)
  • Organize and make decisions
  • Manage time properly for completion of tasks
  • Mental flexibility (being able to change directions with a task when needed)
  • Accurate self-assessment (able to look at one’s abilities and achievements objectively)
  • Memory and recall (ability to keep information and retrieve it when needed)
  • Task initiation (ability to dive into a project and get started)

People with low executive functioning skills have a harder time socializing, getting tasks completed, and controlling their basic impulses. There are a variety of problems and even diagnosable disorders associated with executive dysfunction.

For example, when a first grader with poor executive functioning skills wants the pink ball at recess, and another littler girl has the only pink ball, the little girl who wants the ball may hit the other child because her impulse is to do whatever it takes to get that ball.

She has not developed the skills to process the situation logically nor the ability to develop a plan to ask politely to share the ball. Her executive functioning skills are not developed enough so she reacts without thinking about the consequences. Her impulses take over.

The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University explains the role of executive function as follows:[1]

Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.

We are not born with executive functioning skills. These skills are something we develop.

Good parenting methods can help with the development of these skills. They are important because the benefits of learning these skills can last for a lifetime. These skills are those we begin building early in life and we can continue building upon in childhood and into adulthood.

This building upon skills is called scaffolding. It is never too late to develop executive functioning skills, but the earlier they can begin developing the better off a person will be in handling life, as the skills build upon themselves.

The Importance of Executive Functioning Skills

Executive functioning skills affect us in every area of life. Here are some examples.

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Health

If a teenager doesn’t have good impulse control skills, then that individual may be more likely to succumb to peer pressure. Their lack of self control can affect their decision making and lead to drug addiction, alcohol abuse, or addiction to pornography.

The executive functioning skill of self-control has an effect on our food choices. If we lack self control with food, we are more likely to make poor food choices, based on impulses. Junk food can easily become the go-to food for an individual who lacks self-control with food.

Academic Success

Memory is one of the primary areas of executive functioning. If an individual has not developed good memory and recall skills, they will likely do poor in school.

Studying for exams, learning how to memorize and recall information are imperative to success in school. Planning skills and task management skills (i.e. completion of assignments) is also imperative to academic success.

Career Success

If someone has poor executive functioning skills in the area of planning and task execution, then career success will be limited.

When assigned a work project, the individual with poor planning skills may wait until the last minute to prepare their presentation. Their poor time management and planning skills can lead to workplace failures.

Social Relationships

When a child doesn’t have good executive functioning skills which includes self-control, they may fail to see the feelings of others in the moment.

When they lose at a game, they may sulk or cry. They may also yell at their playmates when they don’t get their way. Worse yet, they can act out violently, such as hitting and biting when someone has a toy that they want. Their ability to control their impulses is poor when they have not developed good executive functioning skills.

Romantic Relationships

The man who doesn’t know how to take no for an answer when it comes to physical romantic interactions may be someone who lacks impulse control. He may know right from wrong, but he has not learned how to control his impulses. This can obviously lead to major problems in any romantic relationship.

If you don’t want a son who rapes girls (or vice versa, because that happens too), then you need to instill more than a sense of right and wrong. They must also be taught self-control and to navigate their impulses to make good decisions in heated situations.

Ways to Help Your Child Develop Executive Functioning Skills

A great deal of executive functioning skill development occurs during childhood. How a child is raised will have a big impact on whether or not they have developed good executive functioning skills by adulthood.

1. Routines

Daily routines can help establish order and predictability. Children (and adults) benefit from routines that establish good daily habits. For example, in the morning some good habits to establish and expect from children are getting dressed, brushing their teeth, putting on their shoes, combing their hair and preparing their backpack.

Making their bed, picking up their room, and other chores are also good daily tasks to add to the routine if your child isn’t doing them already. If you wonder what kind of chores are age appropriate for your child, you can check out this posting from Focus on the Family. They have provided examples of age appropriate charts along with a free printable chore chart.

If your child has difficulty getting things done in the morning, then create a chart for them to check off their tasks as they complete them each morning. You can find charts online for purchase, such as major creative websites like Etsy. They have magnet boards that can be customized for tasks you want your child to do each morning. Amazon has a variety of these premade boards for sale.

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Just use the search terms “daily routine charts” or “morning routine charts” and you will find lots of options. If you are crafty you can easily make one yourself. Below is chart of one such product found on Amazon using the search terms I mentioned above.

    2. After School Homework Time

    Most kids do not come home from school and decide to get started on their homework. It would be great if they did! If your child does this, then you need to realize you have a unicorn. Most children need reminding about homework, especially in the early days when they first start receiving homework.

    It is helpful to set aside a specific time period after school when homework is to be completed. For example, you can set a rule that they must do it immediately after school, and they cannot use electronics or play until it is finished.

    Getting your child in the habit of doing their homework sooner than later helps with planning skills. Having a teenager who waits until 11pm on a Sunday night to start a book report that they have known about for a week is a bad habit.

    Don’t let your child become an out of control procrastinator. Start teaching them time management and planning skills early in life. You will reap the benefits too.

    Start helping them plan on getting homework done before they can play is a good policy. It also helps with developing self control, as they must get the work done before they can do something enjoyable. They learn to appreciate their electronics and free time more when they have accomplished a task (i.e. homework) to earn the right to play.

    3. Calendar/Agenda

    Get your child in the habit of using a calendar or agenda book at an early age. When I was in 6th grade, our school issued an agenda book to each student. I have since been using the organizational habits I learned from that time in my life. I will still record writing deadlines among other appointments in my book.

    Have your child record their assignments in their own agenda book. Putting major assignments on a calendar is also helpful.

    Using a calendar or agenda book can help with establishing planning skills. If they look at their calendar in the morning and see that they have their term project due and basketball practice after school, they can go out the door with the completed project in hand along with clothes for practice. Helping your child prepare for their day, week, and month becomes easier when it is visible on a calendar.

    Do digital calendars work? Yes, but not as well as paper calendars. There is always a risk of losing things that are digital or having a dead phone. Having it on paper can also allow for a quick “month at a glace” viewing (if they have calendar that shows month to month like I do). Such a glace can provide quick reminders of what needs to get done in the near future or appointments that need preparation.

    4. Set Rules

    Rules are the backbone of the household function. If kids don’t know what time they are supposed to be home, what chores are expected, and when they should be going to bed, then they are not learning planning skills in the home.

    Kids need clearly defined rules. It doesn’t mean that they have to be strict or over the top rules. However, they need to be clearly conveyed to each member of the household. Putting them in writing will definitely make it clear.

    Setting clear rules such as no shoes in the house, no yelling indoors, no eating in the living room, etc. can help kids understand the parameters for their behavior inside the home. This helps them to develop self-control as they learn what is expected.

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    Broken rules should result in consequences (for example in our home it is usually loss of technology time or a time-out). Setting rules is setting expectations. This helps with children and their development of a variety of executive functioning skills including planning, organization, time management, paying attention, and self control.

    5. Consequences

    Consequences definitely help with the development of self-control. If your toddler learns that temper tantrums always lead to time outs, then they eventually stop with the tantrums because they realize they aren’t worth it.

    Consequences should be reasonable and age appropriate. For more details on this topic, you can check out my previously published article: How to Discipline a Child.

    6. Break Down Big Tasks

    Kids that have a hard time getting started on large projects or tasks simply feel overwhelmed and they freeze up. Help your child out by breaking down a larger task.

    For example, if they have a book report due next month then help them examine the steps involved. First would be writing the book, next writing the report, and finally turning in the report before the deadline. You can help them set the dates to get each of the tasks completed in a timely fashion. You can even go as far as helping them assign themselves specific chapters to read by certain dates. It helps them to see their big task as a series of small tasks that they can complete more easily and build upon.

    Breaking down big tasks can help with a child who has problems getting started on projects. It can also help them develop their planning, organization, and follow-through skills. These are all executive functioning skills that are wonderful to develop earlier in life than later.

    7. Memory Games and Play

    Playing games and allowing your child to play can help with the development of executive functioning skills. Memory is one of the top ten executive functioning skills.

    To help a child develop their memory, you can play matching games, such as the one actually called Memory. You can also play sorting games, hide and seek, and matching games. These types of activities can help with memory, recall, and the development of other executive function skills too (i.e. planning, organization, motivation).

    Teaching your child to sing songs from memory and play an instrument are also very helpful in developing executive functioning skills. Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child provides a resource list of fun activities you can do with your child to help them develop their executive functioning skills.[2]

    8. Motivate

    Internal motivation

    does not come automatically for all kids. Sometimes children need to have external motivation to get them down the path toward success. Once they feel success and enjoy their pursuits, they will learn to self motivate.

    To get them started you may need to help motivate them. Offering genuine praise for their success is one way to motivate. If you are motivating them away from bad decisions, you may need to use consequences or discipline. However, praise and rewards are always more motivating in the long run.

    9. Home Organization

    It is hard for a child to learn how to be organized, not lose their personal items, and keep on schedule if their home life is chaos. A home that is clutter filled, unkept, and where things are easily lost does not lend itself to helping a child develop good executive functioning skills.

    Some home organization methods that can help your child include having a specific place for backpacks, coats, and shoes to be placed when not being used. This will help with their routine, planning, and time management skills.

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    Having them participate in keeping a home in order helps with their development of executive functioning skills, as they are learning about organization, planning, task initiation, and task completion. Overall, the best benefits of an organized home are their development of time management skills and routine.

    10. Self Control Techniques

    Self control is an executive functioning skills that is imperative to life success. If you have a child who is still throwing temper tantrums in public at age 10 because they can’t control themselves, then you definitely have a problem.

    There should be consequences for lack of self control that is disruptive or damaging. For example, a child’s tantrums can result in loss of play time, or a child who steals a classmate’s lip gloss simply because they wanted it (lack of impulse control) will need to return it, apologize to the classmate, and will be grounded for a week. Whatever the situation may be, there should be an adequate consequence to match the failure to control their behaviors.

    Once children learn that their behaviors have consequences, they learn to control their behaviors better. A child who wants to go to the movies after church, but knows that they must be quiet during church for them to be allowed to go out with their friends, will likely be quiet during church so that they can get the desired result (movie with friends after church). Providing consequences in advance (or the potential for rewards like the example above) can help to promote self control in your child.

    Help to motivate your child by providing both rewards and consequences as fitting for the situation. Again, remember that rewards are always more effective for long term positive results and can help to create genuine motivation toward good behavior.

    11. Be the Example

    To teach your child skills that embody good executive skill functioning, you must be the example. For example, if you want your child to follow rules, then you should also follow the rules set forth for you (i.e. the laws). If you are a habitual speeder and you say things like “those speed limits are only suggestions,” you are essentially telling your child that rules and laws don’t matter. If you want children who follow rules, order, and the laws of society, then you must be a good example.

    If you want your child to not be late for school, then you should set the example for morning routines and leaving early to get to your destination. Your habits such as organizational skills, time management, following rules, planning skills, and completing tasks are being observed by your children on a daily basis. They learn just as much, if not more, through your actions than your words. “Actions speak louder than words” is a motto to live by.

    12. Teach Self-Evaluation Through Questions

    The ability to assess one’s own abilities and achievements (or lack thereof) is an executive functioning skill. If someone is weak at this skill, then they will be shocked when they fail at something.

    Help your child prepare for success and failure. If they fail at something, then ask them “what do you think you could do different next time?” If they can recognize areas that need to be improved, then their perception of the situation and the reality can become more closely aligned.

    If you tell your child “you deserved to win” every time that they lose, they are going to start believing you and they will see no wrong in themselves. You teach them to evaluate themselves by asking them questions.

    Below are some additional questions you can use with your children. Be sure to use a kind and inviting tone. If you sound sarcastic or harsh, your child is going to shut down to your questioning and it will not be productive. If you want a meaningful conversations, then use a tone that shows you care for them and are genuinely interested in their situation:

    • How do you think it went?
    • What could you do differently next time?
    • What is one thing that you could improve on before next time (next game, meet, test, etc.)?
    • What did you learn from your disappointment today (or loss or whatever happened)?
    • How are you feeling about your disappointment?
    • What did you learn from this experience?
    • What is something positive you can take away from the experience?
    • What do you think it will take for you to win next time (or pass the test or whatever the situation may be)?
    • What kind of plan do you need in place to take you to that next win?

    Final Thoughts

    Executive functioning skills are essential to human function. The weaker the executive functioning skills, the less successful a person is likely to become in life in all areas (except maybe sleep). Although routine and time management help with sleep too!

    Executive functioning skills are learned primarily in the home though a primary caregiver (usually the parent). How a child is raised (and treated), their home environment, and the behaviors (and example) of their primary caregiver play a huge role in developing executive functioning skills.

    Even if a child doesn’t develop them early in life, all hope is not lost. These skills can still be developed in late childhood and even into adulthood. Just do the best that you can do as a parent for your child now.

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    Featured photo credit: Paige Cody via unsplash.com

    Reference

    [1] The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University: Executive Function & Self-Regulation
    [2] Harvard’s Center for the Developing Child: Executive Function Activities for 3- to 5-year-olds

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