The other day, as I scrolled through Instagram during naptime, a sweet graphic popped up in my feed from expectant mother and designer Erica Tighe Campbell. It said, “Me, before getting pregnant: I won’t use the excuse that I’m eating for 2 and will only eat healthy food.” And then she sketched her “actual first trimester diet,” which included french fries, popsicles, and other pregnancy-prompted surprises.
“It is so much easier to say things about something we’ve never experienced ourselves,” she wrote in the caption.
Her post made me smile, but it also made me pause. What started as mindless scrolling to unwind before I started my nap time to-do list quickly led me to realize something I hadn’t before.
I thought back to a class I took in college about Saint John Henry Newman. We studied his great work, The Grammar of Assent, where he discusses the difference between notional and real knowledge. He explains that we can only truly understand something when we have fully and really experienced it ourselves.
I might read a book about horseback riding and gain a base notional understanding of it, but it’s not until I actually ride a horse for the first time that I really know about horses and what it means to ride one. The same is completely true of mothering.
Before becoming a mother, there were plenty of things I told myself I would “never” do.
I would look at the way others mothered their children and pass my own quick judgements without actually understanding their situations. Having been a mother now for nearly a year, I remember things I said and did, and I think how naive and foolish my idea of motherhood—and, quite frankly, of myself—was.
Having never experienced all that comes with being a mom, I thought: Breastfeed past a year? There’s no way! I will definitely want my child sleeping in a different room from us before six weeks are up. Prioritizing time with your spouse? It can’t be that hard once kids come along.
I’m here to let you in on a little secret: We’re approaching my son’s first birthday and a year of breastfeeding, and the thought of weaning makes me cry. Our son was in our room with us for several months longer than six weeks. And my husband and I have only been on three dates (outside of our home) in the past year.
These are but a small handful of examples of how my understanding of being a mother has drastically changed.
As women, we have a natural tendency toward comparison. We longingly hold ourselves up beside other women who we think are doing it better than we are and believe we don’t measure up. At the same time, we look down on women we think could learn a thing or two from us.
The ease of comparison does not end there, and as I’ve reflected on my image of myself as a mother, I often compare who I am now to who I believed I would or should be as a mom. This incessant need to compare always leaves me feeling like I am just not enough.
The pressure to be a perfect mother is unbearable, and as Theodore Roosevelt said, comparison truly is the thief of joy. In this precious year of my child’s life, I have learned that so much of the essence of our experience comes down to perspective, and mine has shifted greatly.
This change in my perspective has, in large part, been a result of a few profound friendships with fellow mamas. These dear friends have taught me that we are so much stronger when we embrace our own and one another’s journeys of motherhood without the added pressure of “measuring up.”
They have allowed me to be vulnerable and candid, and they always accept my thoughts and the decisions I make for my family with grace and encouragement. They have taught me that the way they mother will undoubtedly look different than the way I mother, because I am a different person who has different gifts and talents. Not only is this reality, but it is a good and rich one.
None of us can know what the other is experiencing because we are not living her life. Just as I had no clue what motherhood would actually look like for me before I got on the horse and started riding.
Instead of looking at each other with an eye of comparison, we can work steadfastly to build and foster a community that uplifts and encourages us all to be the best moms that we can be—for ourselves and our children.
The way they mother will undoubtedly look different than the way I mother, because I am a different person who has different gifts and talents. Not only is this reality, but it is a good and rich one.
You, mama, are unique. You’re exactly who your specific, individual, and particular child needs.
No one can love your child more or better than you do. What a beautiful gift that you are different from me, and I from you, just as my child is different from yours, and each human being is unique from every other.
You are riding your own proverbial horse. Embrace it as you continue to become the incredible, wonderful, one-of-a-kind mother that you really—and already—are.