One of my biggest anxieties about coming into motherhood was facing the grief of watching my little one pass from one stage of development to the next.
I loved my squishy little newborn – how was I going to handle a busy toddler?
I loved my busy toddler – how was I going to handle sending her to school?
It seemed as I moved from one stage of motherhood to the next, I fell in love with the relationship between my daughter and me.
Once I realized this, I no longer feared that grief.
I began to enjoy every stage of motherhood as it happened (and actually kind of look forward to the next one).
There’s no hard and fast indication when you move from one to the next – it all seems to flow as you and your child grow together.
If you’re approaching motherhood, or are already in the midst of it, here are the seven stages of motherhood you have to look forward to:
The first stage of the seven stages of motherhood you experience is during the time of your pregnancy. During this time, you are preparing for the unknown, and the experience is often accompanied by excitement, anticipation, and fear.
When I was pregnant with my daughter, I was terrified. I had left her narcissistic father during the pregnancy and was facing a huge unknown.
I had no idea how I was going to take care of her – physically, emotionally, and financially – on my own.
I felt like a complete and total fraud. Here I was, growing this child inside of me, and I had no idea how to be a mother.
However, for many women, the anticipation is that of excitement and joy.
And, for most, those innate mothering instincts begin to emerge as they begin to care for their bodies as an extension of their unborn child.
During this season, it’s important to stay focused on preparation but also to step back and enjoy the experience.
I was so caught up in the panic that I didn’t even realize how ready I was for motherhood – mentally and financially. I wish I had been aware of this fact so I could have enjoyed my pregnancy more.
Ultimately, the whole experience is just another memory – pleasant or otherwise. As you move through the seven stages of motherhood, you’ll find that the joy you experience as a mother continues to increase as your child grows and develops.
2. Finding Yourself
To be honest, you’re going to be trying to find yourself all throughout motherhood. However, once your little one is born, you’re really going to come face-to-face with who you are as a mother – which will change as your baby develops and you grow as a parent.
This is probably the most confusing of all the stages of motherhood. Whereas you probably had some pretty solid ideas of how you were going to care for and parent your child, most of these tend to go out the window as you learn along the way.
Which is totally normal and okay. If we didn’t adapt our mothering methods to the unique needs of our children, we would have a much harder time down the road.
Just remember that during this journey it’s important to stay in touch with who you really are. Amongst the feedings and the diapers and the messes and the exhaustion, it can be so easy to only identify as “mom” and forget who you are as a person.
This one probably doesn’t need a whole lot of explanation for those who have had newborns and infants. It does without say that you will learn a whole new definition of tired.
During this time your little one is solely dependent on you so you are responsible for their complete and total care.
So when I say you’re tired, I don’t mean from lack of sleep due to night feedings. I mean, you are burnt out from the constant care your baby requires during the day as well.
And while you are focused on the physical care of your child, you are still trying to wrap your head around this whole being a mother thing.
It’s a total drain on your entire being.
While exhaustion is not something you can necessarily measure and compare (without scientific equipment), mothers experience it on a whole other level.
I explained to her that while she feels she is very tired because of her busy life, she is always at liberty to clear her plate and reduce her activity. Moms cannot turf their children from their plates in order to feel less tired.
Also, during the flurry of finding your footing as a mom and taking care of your child, your identity starts to slip away. You no longer perceive yourself as you – you see yourself as a mom.
While there is absolutely nothing wrong with being proud of your motherhood, it’s important to not solely base who you are on that. Remember, you are still an individual with wants and needs.
As soon as you forget that, the harder it becomes to take care of yourself.
So while you are experiencing the season of exhaustion, hold onto your true identity and take time to take care of yourself. You can’t fully take care of your little one if you’re not taking care of yourself.
Where once you were in constant contact with your baby to ensure that they are properly cared for a loved, you find the proximity between the two of you starts to widen.
Once your little one reaches the toddler and preschool age, they are starting to develop a sense of independence. Suddenly, they need space to grow and develop.
They don’t want you to get them dressed, or feed them, or help them put their shoes on. In their little minds, they can do these things all by themselves.
Ironically, they still need help no matter how profusely they reject it.
My mom will be the first one to attest to this stage. There were many times when I was this age that I would slow down the process of getting out the door because I, in my own words, “can do it myself”.
When, in reality, I couldn’t.
You need to hit that precious balance between helping your child and letting them do things on their own. You’ll find yourself guiding them through significant milestones such as potty training and self-feeding while standing around for 30 minutes while they figure out how to zip their coat.
Also, during this stage, you’ll find that you and your child want to spend time apart, but you don’t want to spend time apart. You’ll both experience separation anxiety – even if it’s when you go to the kitchen to cook supper while your little one watches television.
Don’t worry! By the time you reach the end of this season, you’ll appreciate those moments of space from your child and feel a sense of pride as they start to do their own thing.
* I AM HERE
It’s good that you and your child begin to accept that space when they are toddlers because when they go to school they are going to begin to develop a life completely separate from you.
I remember how weird it was when my daughter started kindergarten. She had been in daycare prior to that where I was allowed to go into the room and speak with the workers. Now, in school, I feel totally left out of her day-to-day life.
Yes, the teachers keep me up-to-date and my daughter is open about what happens during her day, but I’m not there like I had been for the first 5 years of her life.
I’m not there to see her accomplishments as they happen, I’m not there to hug her when she’s hurt and I’m not there to guide her through tough situations.
I am forced to step back so that she can handle her own issues.
What I had to learn was that, although I couldn’t be right by her side, I had to listen more closely to her when she talked about her day. From there, I am able to ask questions and lend guidance when needed.
Perhaps I can’t be right there to help but I am giving her the skills to take care of herself and the space to practice them.
Despite this natural transition from dependence to independence, you may find yourself feeling that your child doesn’t require as much of your attention as they did before because you are not doing enough with them.
Rest assured that you are doing enough with them and, just because you spend less time with them, you don’t have to pressure yourself to do more. This is the way it’s supposed to happen.
Okay, so I’m going to be honest, I’m not here yet.
However, it’s pretty easy to glean from the experiences of other mothers what to expect when your child hits the tween and teen years.
Puberty, hormones, and emotions run high. Your little one is becoming an adult and their bodies and minds are not making this an easy transition.
Those temper tantrums and meltdowns you thought you had under control? They’re back and the disciplinary methods you used when your child was small may not cut it now.
The control you had previously established as the parent is completely out the window as well. As your child matures, they will naturally challenge your authority in an effort to establish their own maturity and independence.
Don’t worry, though, it doesn’t have to be the complete and total nightmare people make it out to be.
Take me, for example. My parents divorced just I was heading into my teenaged years and somehow I ended up basically living alone when I was 15 (I lived with my dad and he worked A LOT).
I was responsible for taking care of the house as well as myself. The independence I would have otherwise fought for as a teenager was suddenly thrown on me all at once. I didn’t have time to cause trouble or make unfavorable decisions.
Now, I’m not saying you should abandon your child when they become a teenager (despite how tempted you may be to do so).
What I’m saying is that the more appropriate responsibilities and freedoms you give them, the less they will have to fight for them.
You can’t keep your child under your thumb forever and you can’t protect them from the outside world and making mistakes. You’re going to worry about what’s happening to them and you’re going to worry about them making bad decisions.
So long as you create a relationship of open communication and understanding, your children will see you as a safe space in which they can be candid about their experiences and concerns.
7 Letting Go
Eventually, those little bundles of joy are going to turn into fully functioning adults. Where did the time go?
When this happens, you’re going to have to let go. You’ve armed them with all the tools and skills they will need to survive adulthood – and you will always be there to continue to guide them along the way.
Obviously, I’m not even close to this season (or am I?), but I know from my own experiences with my parents that the love and care and guidance doesn’t have to end when your children pack their bags and leave the nest.
I have many years before I’ll experience this (or do I?) but I know I’ll be left to think: Did I do enough?
I look at my daughter and her sweet and caring nature and I know that, as long as she stays true to herself, I certainly did.
Enjoy Every Moment
I know that sounds so cliché but sometimes we, as mothers, do need to be reminded of this from time to time. I know I do.
And it’s not just the happy moments – it’s the difficult moments too. Both help to shape the full experience of motherhood and should be equally cherished.
What stage of motherhood are you in? How are you experiencing it? Let me know in the comments!