The first year with a new baby is HARD.
Like, REALLY hard.
So hard, in fact, older moms in public often offer unsolicited reassurance to strangers they see with infants and toddlers, smiling knowingly and saying “don’t worry, hun, after the first year, it gets easier.”
But you know what?
I’m calling their bluff.
Of course, my experience is limited to my own children. And as a mother of four kids ages four and under, maybe my experience is outside the realm of “normal.” But after talking to my mom friends and making my own observations, I’d like to offer a different rhetoric:
Being a mom doesn’t get easier. But as moms, we get stronger.
My husband and I recently started doing a high intensity interval workout routine at home. I’ve always considered myself “active” and while I exercise regularly, I’ve tended toward a “cardio junkie,” watching “Fixer Upper” while mindlessly cruising on the elliptical. And although I thought I was in pretty good shape, this new workout routine is kicking my butt.
I’m sore. It hurts. It’s so hard, because I’m exercising muscles I’ve not used previously.
This morning, when I went to do those ridiculous burpees, it didn’t hurt quite so bad. I was able to do more. I was able to hold my plank longer. And I was able to lunge-squat without cursing out the guy on the TV.
The video didn’t change. The routine didn’t get easier. In fact, tomorrow, we’re supposed to move up to “level 2” and I know it’s going to get harder.
But I am getting stronger.
My twins are nearly 14 months. When they were infants, it was hard. Constant feeding, sleep deprivation, needs to be met, the inability to know what they are screaming for when they cried, mountains of laundry, dishes, and cleaning. I don’t deny it: tending to the needs of two toddlers and two babies simultaneously was extremely difficult. Because so many people told me “it gets easier,” I looked at the twins first birthday as this magical finish line we were supposed to cross and then everything was going to get easier. Because that’s what everyone told me.
But it didn’t.
It’s still really, REALLY hard.
In many ways, it’s actually harder now. The twins are walking & climbing. They’re into everything. They toilet paper the house at least once a day. They’re fighting over toys. The toddlers are potty trained, but now fight over the bathroom. The once sweet and compliant two year old is now sassy and unreasonable. The four year old has learned the art of ignoring his mother. There are new school routines cutting into our once carefree existence. Discipline is more complex. Bigger kids mean bigger issues. And it’s really, REALLY hard.
It hasn’t gotten easier. In fact, it’s gotten harder. I have a feeling the hardest days are yet to come.
But I am getting stronger.
When I first became a parent, I became so aware of my weaknesses. Much like the ache in discovering muscles you didn’t know you even had when you start a new workout program, as you enter parenthood, you discover parenting muscles that need to be stretched and toned to be used effectively. And naturally, slowly but surely, without even realizing it, you get stronger.
You gain strength in time management by learning what works for you to make your household operate smoothly; maybe by creating a cleaning schedule, delegating chores, or hiring help.
You get stronger in prioritizing by making choices to spend more time with your family and less time on your to-do list.
You strengthen your relationship with your child by spending time with them, learning their quirks and idiosyncrasies, discovering what makes them tick, and learning how they give and receive love.
You exercise grace for yourself and others by trial and error, making mistakes, falling and getting back up, and steadily putting one foot in front of the other as you get out of bed each day determined to try again.
Most of all, in everything you do as a parent, your heart grows stronger too, as you learn how to love more purely, fully, and wholly.
And as your heart grows stronger with love for your children, the things that seemed so challenging in the beginning become second-nature and effortless. Those things are replaced by new, more intense challenges. Indeed, parenting gets harder, but you are a stronger, more capable parent, because your heart has grown strong and full, ready for the task.
So, to the mom up with her newborn in the middle of the night, as much as I wish I could tell you “it gets easier,” I won’t lie to you.
Mothering does not get easier. However, I can tell you that you will grow into the challenges, meeting them with the newfound strength that can only grow from a mother’s love.
This post originally appeared on Milwaukee Mom.