I have the great honor of sharing Amanda Harrison’s Mama Story with you today.
I’ve been a fan of Amanda’s insightful writing since stumbling across her work about a year ago. And in planning this series, I knew she would be a contributor. Her positivity is contagious.
Where others may see deficits, Amanda finds joy and opportunity. Her secret ingredient? Community. Whether it be at the local soup kitchen or online in a Facebook group.
I’m so pleased to share what she calls her “fairy godmother gifts” for motherhood, found through lots of trial, and tons of error.
You can sign up for the entire series of Mama Stories here.
Looking back over the years since I first became a mom, my self care level was at a 3 or below on a scale of 1 to 10.
Yes, I’ve enjoyed incomparably amazing highs of joy and love.
But I have also spent way too much time floundering helplessly in a tumultuous sea of confusion and overwhelm.
My personal story has been largely an exercise in learning what NOT to do.
As a new mama, I had absolutely no idea how to take care of myself or set any boundaries.
I poured 110% of my energy into taking care of the little ones who couldn’t care for themselves.
Ultimately, this wasn’t a sustainable arrangement.
I am gradually getting better at taking care of myself and asking for what I need.
Nine years later, I have three amazing children who are absolutely the highlight of my life.
But there were many times when I doubted I was going to make it.
I struggled with suicidal depression, used chocolate to get through the day and alcohol to relax in the evening, and questioned my own sanity more than once.
Motherhood is no walk in the park (though a nice stroll does help)!
In hindsight, I can also see that much of my stress and overwhelm came from my choice of an extreme parenting style.
This basically meant being with my babies 24/7 for the first 18 months of their lives, with no childcare whatsoever (other than Hubby taking the baby for a walk).
No restaurants, no parties, no dates unless we could bring the baby along.
So, basically, no being anything other than “mommy” for a year and a half.
Would I do that again?
Just ask my third-born, who at 14 months has already spent more time alone with Daddy than I can even remember.
Now, whenever there’s an opportunity to get out of the house alone, I take it as fast as I can.
I’m still just as connected to and in love with this baby as I was with the other two.
And he’s the happiest baby I’ve ever seen!
So if I could go back, like a fairy godmother, and deliver my “new mom” self a bag of goodies that would get her through those early years a little more smoothly, these are the gifts I would offer:
The 9 to 5 Sleep Habit
While I used to stay up late after the baby went to sleep, to finally get some time to myself, I ultimately found this to be counterproductive.
Scientific research has shown that sleep before midnight is twice as restorative as post-midnight sleep (!).
I’ve learned to get to bed by 9 o’clock most nights (and on a really good night I can even get myself to bed by 8 or 8:30!).
Getting enough quality sleep was a MASSIVE first step toward mommy sanity, and getting to bed early goes a long way toward helping you get more quality…
I’ve finally learned to get up as close to 5 a.m. as I can every morning to get those few precious moments (or sometimes hours, on the miraculous days the baby sleeps long enough!) in the morning before the madness begins.
Sometimes I don’t manage to get up until just a few minute before everyone else.
I prioritize having enough time to make myself a cup of tea, stretch, shake off the doldrums, and say a morning prayer.
If I wake up early enough, I get a little creative work or Facebook time in.
Just a simple blank journal to fill with 3-5 things (or sometimes more, if I’m on a roll and have the time) that were especially meaningful.
Sometimes it’s just special things that are on my heart.
Like the smell of my baby’s breath.
Or having the energy for a one-song dance party
I have learned to love filling this out at the end of the day.
Bonus: I re-read this journal any time I need a little pick-me-up. Totally works!
I (and my marriage) would definitely not have survived the ordeal of the past 9 years without spending a significant chunk of time on my knees.
Sometimes I just need to give up my own control over life and request the help of a Higher Power.
It feels so good to admit that I sometimes I don’t have what it takes to be the mom I want to be.
And I know that there is Someone who can love my babies through me and give me the strength and grace I need to get through each moment.
I love Stormie Omartian’s prayer books when I just don’t know what to say.
Being a “fly by the seat of your pants” kinda gal was cute in my 20s, but running a family that way just leads to chaos, hurry-sickness, and stress.
I’ve finally learned to create routines and checklists of what needs to happen before we leave the house: water bottles refilled, diaper bag replenished, etc.)
I do the same thing before bed (gratitude journal, review tomorrow’s calendar, get room back to “ready,” etc.) to keep things running more smoothly.
I used to think “self care” meant time at the spa (and would therefore have to wait until I had the time and money).
I have since made up a list of ways I can boost my self care in under a minute, many of them in 10 seconds or less (which, let’s face it, is all we have sometimes).
I can close my eyes & take a deep breath
I can stand up straight with my shoulders back
I can do a quick sun salutation
I can step out into the sun/fresh air for a moment.
I can daydream about receiving a world-class massage from Ryan Gosling…. It may sound silly, but it really works!
Permission to Turn Off Mommy Mode
It’s so important to remember that before we were moms, we were women!
Every once in awhile (if not more frequently), it is crucial that we get all dolled up and go out—without the baby—even just to grab a coffee or buy groceries.
Being treated like a woman for a few minutes can be enormously therapeutic.
This one has truly been a lifesaver for me.
There are countless FB groups just for moms, or you can start your own like I did.
In a moment of desperation, I just created a group and added every mom I knew on FB to it!
Then I started posting really honest and vulnerable things about my experience (depression, “mommy brain,” etc.) and questions I had about parenting issues.
The other women in the group were so receptive, grateful, and quick to respond.
I felt so supported and nurtured, even though it was “just” a virtual community.
We as women need all the community we can get!
Be honest about both your messes AND your triumphs.
The triumphs may be harder to share, because you feel like you’re bragging, but it will be cathartic.
Other women will find healing in knowing they’re not alone in what they’re going through.
That’s it for my fairy godmother gifts.
I found them the hard way, through lots of trial and tons of error, but the blood, sweat and tears were all worth it.
We as mothers have chosen the most difficult, most rewarding, and most important work on the planet.
Let’s remember to take the best possible care of ourselves, so that our children can grow up with the outstanding role models and nurturers they deserve.
Amanda Grace Harrison is the self-proclaimed wealthiest woman in the world—full of ideas and creative projects, she and her 3 extraordinarily magical children eat most of their meals with the colorful home-free community at the local soup kitchen, and they currently reside with Amanda’s 94-year-old grandmother-in-law in Los Angeles. After 17 years of struggling with depression and self-hatred, Amanda is grateful to once again be her own best friend. She also recently harnessed the power of prayer to transform her dying marriage, miraculously finding her husband adorable again, snuggling, and talking about anything and everything. A natural adventurer, she birthed all 3 of her babies in water, 2 at home (painlessly and unassisted), the most recent in a $30 inflatable kiddie pool she ordered on Amazon. Amanda is a self-entertaining screenwriter, spastic but enthusiastic dancer, and confirmed hug-a-holic who can be found on Facebook or at the local library.