Dear Mama: 13 lessons from 13 years of motherhood

motherhood lessons: featuring a brunette mother carrying her baby daughter in a blue ergo baby carrier
Sian Thomas
Dear mama,

Recently I have been reflecting on my motherhood journey so far. My eldest son turned 13 in May and as I enter this brand new season of motherhood, I have been in a contemplative mood.

 

Depending on where you are in your own motherhood journey, 13 years might seem like a long time or like nothing at all. Regardless, I am of the belief that we are always learning: whether we are brand new or a seasoned grandma, everyday can bring new opportunities to learn and grow.

 

With all of that being said, I’ve been considering MY personal lessons from motherhood thus far. Have I only learnt 13 lessons? No, I’ve learnt hundreds – some big and some small but for the purposes of this blog post, I will stick to 13 – one for each of my eldest son’s life.

 

When I first became a mother, I was 25 years old. By today’s standards, a relatively ‘young’ new mum. I was anxious, but determined to do my best for  my tiny baby boy. My experiences with him turned into a lifelong love of pedagogy which has evolved over the years to become what I teach in This Playful Home courses and workshops.

 

This Playful Home’s play-centred teachings is based on a three-pillared approach: family rhythms, environment as the third teacher and the pedagogy of play. All three the result of my research and experiences as both a mother and a teacher.

 

With all of that being said, you might be wondering exactly what my 13 key lessons are? Once you’ve read through them all, I’d love you to message me either via email or on Instagram to let me know which lessons you’ve learnt yourself.

 

13 Lessons Learnt from 13 years of motherhood.

a blonde-haired boy and his 6 year old sister pick sunflowers

Motherhood Lesson 1: Simplify Everything

It was only when I had my third child and fell ill during the fourth trimester that I realised just how much I complicated days at home. You don’t have to entertain  your child all day long. Instead, take a daily walk in nature, involve them in practical daily life tasks and create a home environment that helps your child to become more independent – both in play and everyday life.

Motherhood Lesson 2: Presence is Better than Presents

When I worked full-time as a teacher, I felt terribly guilty about leaving my toddler to go to work. Even though he was more than fine (being doted upon by his grandparents), I used to buy little presents to assuage my own guilt. But here’s the thing: what he really needed was my time rather than a little present that would be forgotten about after a few hours. I now ensure that I have dedicated time during my day to spend quality time with each child. For those with busy working schedules, even 10 minutes of focused, quality play time is much better than nothing at all.

Motherhood Lesson 3: Establish a gentle daily rhythm – it helps everyone!

Don’t worry, a daily rhythm is not the same as a schedule. You don’t need to timetable your day with colour-coded labels. Instead, a daily rhythm is a gentle flow to your days so that life become more predictable and less overwhelming. Not only did a daily rhythm help us make more time for play, it also help reduce tantrums and resistance to transition times. Our own daily rhythm also helped me make time for myself (self-care and work), without feeling guilty about it.

Motherhood Lesson 4: Don’t make yourself an afterthought

This is a hard one. Because when you become a mother, it’s so easy to fall into the trap of giving yourself to everyone else and feeling guilty about doing anything for yourself. When I made myself an afterthought, I got sick which helped no one at all! This point, really goes hand-in-hand with the one above: a daily rhythm has allowed me time to myself – whether it be a walk in the park, an hour on the exercise bike or time to write a blog post, I feel more fulfilled and less exhausted.

Motherhood Lesson 5: Your child doesn’t need to have loads of toys to have a good childhood

It’s easy to associate more with ‘better.’ However, studies have shown that children actually play better when there are fewer toys around. Our personal approach is to buy some good quality, mainly open-ended toys for Christmas and birthdays, then supplement with loose parts to use in play. In a nutshell, loose parts are everyday materials that can be used for play. You can read more about them here.

Motherhood Lesson 6: Beware of fads and the latest ‘must have’ parenting item

From a special pikler triangle to a play couch, there’s endless opportunities to buy more that will possibly help make motherhood just that little bit easier. With influencers talking up the benefits of individual products, it’s all too easy to spend heaps of money in order to enhance your child’s childhood. Whilst I’m not knocking either of the products mentioned, I’d caution against making the assumption that they are a magic ticket towards independent play – they in themselves are not. A Grimm’s wooden rainbow is a beautiful resource (we have one), but it will not make a child play independently. Instead it’s about your approach – your family rhythm, your home environment and your understanding of play all contribute towards helping your child to play independently for longer durations.

Motherhood Lesson 7: Be in the photo occasionally for some ‘proof of mum’

I avoided far too many photo opportunities when my children were younger. I gave excuses – no make-up, too tired and so on. But looking back, I regret not being in more photos. Now, I make sure that I ask my husband or other family members to take photos of me when we are on holidays so that I can look back (and my children can look back) on past events.

Motherhood Lesson 8: You don’t have to buy into one specific parenting or educational philosophy

Montessori is having its moment in the sun over on Instagram with parenting influencers who follow the principles racking up thousands of likes. It’s clear that Montessori is extremely popular: but I want to caution against following any educational or parenting philosophy to the letter, especially since some approaches (Montessori for instance was initially conceived as a classroom based approach). Instead, I’d recommend considering your own core family values and implement the elements that suit you and your own family best.

Motherhood Lesson 9: Speak up when you need help

Whilst it sometimes feels like we should automatically know everything when we first become mothers, it can also make us feel trapped when we do need help. From problems with nursing in the early days to understanding toddler tantrums, it’s important to understand that everyone needs some help with their journey from time to time. Whether you have a real life ‘village’ or find like-minded mothers online, talking to people you trust can help to take the load off.

Motherhood Lesson 10: Don’t overschedule yourself or your child

Baby Rhyme Time, Rugby Tots, Soccer Stars, Gym Tots and more are all prime examples of classes we think we SHOULD be doing with are very young children. And whilst they might end up being a nice way to spend together, and if they bring you joy then by all means sign up, but you absolutely do not have to do these classes in order to be a good mother. Know that in terms of academic results or future sporting prowess, they are very unlikely to make a difference. If you do enjoy the classes, start by signing up for just one per term so that you do not become overwhelmed – you can always sign up for more later.

Motherhood Lesson 11: Tell your child you love them everyday

First thing in the morning, as they go to school and when they go to bed, one simple little sentence can make all the difference. Telling your child how much you love and appreciate them is one way to fill your child’s cup and help them feel safe and secure. If we look at Maslow’s Hierarchy or Needs, feeling a sense of belonging is really important in order for your child to learn.

Motherhood Lesson 12: Give Plenty of Hugs

That is of course, if your child is a lover of hugs! My youngest two are huggers and I relish every moment. My eldest child used to be a hugger too, but since his tween years, he gives his hugs sparingly and I find myself really missing those days when he used to cuddle up on my lap and watch movies. The thing about motherhood is, you never really know exactly when your child will ask to sit on your lap for the last time or request a bedtime story which is why I make the most of it now. Nowadays my relationship with my eldest son is of course different, but it remains strong. We still love watching movies when his younger siblings go to bed – just without the cuddles!

Motherhood Lesson 13: Listen closely to the small stuff

When we’re busy doing the daily chores, it can feel easy to discount our child’s observations about the world. However, when you listen to the little things – their view of the world or a recount of their favourite tv show – they turn to you with the big things as they get older. I am glad now that I did fully listen to my eldest son’s stories about Minecraft when he was younger because now he talks to me about his bigger worries.

And finally, A bonus lesson

As I was typing out this blog post I realised that I had missed out one of the most important lessons of all, so here it is:

Perfection in motherhood is a myth

Hopefully you can see from the lessons I have learnt that being a perfect mother is a myth. Despite me being both a teacher and a mum, I have learnt many lessons and I continue to do so. I am not going to pretend for one second that I had motherhood completely figured out from the time my firstborn son was born over 13 years ago.

Show me the perfect mother and I’ll show you a unicorn.

Because seriously, perfect mothers exist in Instagram reels and nowhere else.

You will make mistakes, but guess what? You’ll learn from them and you’ll grow as a mother too.

 

What to Read Next

My Story: How I simplified the Early Years of Motherhood

5 Essentials for Building a Daily Rhythm

 

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This Playful Home is a three-pillared approach to raising children in the early years.

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