When the world’s most-watched mother of preschoolers talks about motherhood, we stop and listen to what she has to say. Recently, the Duchess of Cambridge, mother to Prince George and Princess Charlotte, has been speaking out about the challenges of being a mother of young children. Her sincerity and willingness to talk about her own feelings of inadequacy and isolation are refreshing, particularly in our age of the carefully curated Instagram family.
I have been a mom for almost fifteen years now. It is without a doubt the most rewarding, frightening, inspiring, exhausting, enlightening, and intimidating thing I have ever done. Nothing can prepare you for that moment when you hold your child for the first time, look into her face, and realize you are responsible for ensuring this little person grows into an adult. Thankfully, God made children resilient so we can learn on the job.
Which is good because motherhood has a daunting on-the-job training program, and the learning curve is steep. I remember standing over my daughter’s crib and thinking, “I have a master’s degree. Why can’t I figure out this little creature?” The Duchess laments the lack of a rulebook too. “You just have to make it up and do the very best you can to care for your family,” she says. This is an important point to remember—we are all making it up as we go along. Even the Duchess of Cambridge.
As much as we love our sweet babies, motherhood is often lonely, especially when our children are young. It’s not just the isolation of being at home or the mounds of laundry and mountains of work that come with caring for a tiny human. It’s more than the weight of responsibility we have for this new little soul or our feelings of cluelessness. It hits us regardless of whether we stay home full time or go back to work after our babies are born.
New moms often feel isolated because we feel like we have lost a bit of ourselves in the transition to motherhood. “Your fundamental identity changes overnight,” the Duchess tells us. “You go from thinking of yourself as primarily an individual, to suddenly becoming a mother, first and foremost.” Our children’s needs come first, and for the first time in our lives, our wants are subordinate to caring for our children. I felt selfish admitting how earthshattering this was for me, but nevertheless, this is true for many new moms.
For me, the loneliness was most acute when my two children were very small. The days were long and mind-numbingly dull tied to the rhythms of naptime and feedings. I missed the social aspect of my office job and the small recognitions for a job well done. I missed the old, more carefree version of me. She was a lot of fun. The responsibility of caring for my children felt heavy and every decision weighted with consequence. Although I have a loving and supportive husband who shared the load, I was still exhausted all the time.
The Duchess of Cambridge’s remarks on motherhood come at a time when she is focusing her attention, and therefore the world’s attention, on mental health issues, particularly those of young mothers. She is highlighting the challenges of parenting so new parents can see that they are not alone in their struggles. She encourages new moms to reach out and make connections to others just like them.
Reaching out is the key to getting through those early years. Find ways to connect. Start a book club or a Girls’ Night Out club. Bunco parties were all the rage when my kids were small. My group’s parties involved wine and tiaras, but your party doesn’t have to be that extravagant. When my daughter was in preschool, she told her teacher, “My daddy goes to work, and my mommy goes to Bunco.” (I assure you I did much more in her life than play Bunco.) You can also trade free babysitting with another family so you can have a date night with your spouse that doesn’t break the bank.
If you feel so deeply lonely that extra time with friends won’t do the trick, don’t be afraid to reach out for more extensive help. As the Duchess notes, if we ran a fever during pregnancy, we would not hesitate to go to our doctor for treatment. Mental health is no different, and we must take care of ourselves so we can take care of our families.
My two cents’ worth of encouragement for moms of young children would be this: your children will not be little forever. In time, they will learn to feed themselves and clothe themselves, and your workload will lighten. You will feel competent eventually, although new stages will need new sets of skills. You will build on your knowledge, and in the end, teenagers and toddlers are not all that different in many ways. The responsibility you carry doesn’t get lighter, but you will get better at carrying it. Most importantly, the old you will come back. You will wake up one morning and think, “Oh, hi. There you are.”
Parenting has its seasons, and they each bring their own challenges. I’m entering the one where I have to start letting go. My daughter, who it seems was a newborn just yesterday, will be getting her learner’s permit and will start learning to drive in a few weeks. After years of calling all the shots, I have to slowly turn over decisions about her future to her. I’m still holding the reins for a few more years, but I know those years are going to fly by.
It is an adjustment, but just as I did in the beginning, I’m making it up as I go along and doing the best I can. So is everyone else—even the Duchess of Cambridge.