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Dear Exhausted Mom of Littles… (what I wish I could go back & tell my 23-year-old self)

Dear Exhausted Mom of Littles...

In January, we celebrated my oldest daughter’s 10-year-old birthday and I’ve been thinking a lot about what I’ve learned in the last 10 years. I’ve also been contemplating what I wished I could go back and tell my then 23-year-old self.

There’s so much I could say. So much I’ve learned. So much I wish I’d done differently.

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Before my first daughter was born, I went into motherhood thinking I knew a lot about parenting and caring for babies. In truth, I did have a lot more experience than many people: I’m the second of 7 children, I spent many hours and days while a teen babysitting for a number of large families of little children, and after my husband and I got married, I worked as a mother’s helper/nanny for three different families — all who had young children.

I had changed countless dirty diapers and soothed many a crying baby and child. I had helped potty-train. I had cared for sick kids. I had cleaned up throw up. I been spilled on, wet on, and spit-up on.

So I thought I was pretty well prepared and realistic. I didn’t expect motherhood be a walk in the park and fully expected that many days would be tiring and hard.

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But the day Kathrynne was born and we brought her home from the birth center, all that former confidence grew legs and walked right out of my life.

I felt so scared. What if I don’t feed her enough? What if I don’t lay her down in bed right? How do I know if something’s wrong?

I felt alone — especially since I didn’t know any other young moms in our area. Am I the only one who feels this way? Do all the other moms know instinctively what to do?

And I felt overwhelmed. Am I ever going to get in a shower again before noon? Will I always feel this tired and worn done? HOW ON EARTH DO PEOPLE HAVE TWO KIDS??

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If you’re a young mom right now, I want to tell you what I wished I could go back and tell myself when I was a brand-new mom:

1. You are not alone.

No matter how incompetent or unskilled you feel for this motherhood thing, I can promise, promise you that you are not alone. There are an army of other moms in the trenches with you. And none of us have it together.

Some of us may hide our struggles out of fear. Some of us may be more skilled in certain areas. Some of us may naturally have more energy or capacity.

But none of us have all our ducks in a neat and alphabetized row. We all have areas we fall short in. We all have times when we feel like we’re not doing a good enough job. We all have times when we struggle with “mom guilt”.

So, instead of trying to hide your struggles, be honest with those closest to you. Vulnerability breeds strong friendships like just about nothing else will.

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2. You’ve got what it takes.

I know it doesn’t feel like you’ve got what it takes. You feel scared and unqualified. You’re overwhelmed.

Your heart is walking outside your body. You worry that you’re not doing enough. You wonder if you’re seriously messing up your child.

But I’m here to tell you: you’ve got what it takes. You can do this.

You were uniquely gifted and equipped by God to be your child’s mother. God doesn’t call the qualified; He qualifies those whom He calls.

Cry out to Him for the strength, the grace, the patience, and the energy to carry out this calling He’s given you. He will never, never, never leave you or forsake you. And His grace is always sufficient.

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3. You won’t be this tired forever.

You’re tired of your child crying. You’re tired of waking over and over again in the night. You’re tired of doing the same things again and again.

You feel flabby and lethargic. You look in the mirror and barely recognize the woman staring back at you. You wonder if you’re ever going to be able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You wonder where all your energy went.

Trust me on this: you won’t be this tired for ever. Even though it feels like you’ll be waking up every two hours for the rest of your life and propping open your eyeballs with toothpicks to make it through the day, it won’t always be like this.

So don’t stress over tomorrow or two years from now. Get as much sleep as you, accept any offers of help, do whatever it takes to get some shut-eye. And just power through, knowing that there is light at the end of the tunnel — and it’s called kids who sleep through the night!

Also, please know that just because your 12-month-old doesn’t sleep through the night yet even though you’ve read all the books and tried all the tactics, you’re not a bad mom. You just have a child who struggles to sleep.

Don’t beat yourself up over it. Do the best you can, keep experimenting, and know that someday soon, your child is going to figure it out.

For now, just do what you need to do to make it through — even if not everyone thinks it’s the “right” thing. You are your child’s mother. Trust your gut.

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4. You don’t have to do it perfectly.

Really, you don’t. Just stop trying already.

I know you feel like you don’t measure up to Sallie Sue who arrives early to church every Sunday morning looking like a model with her three kids under 4 all in hand-smocked outfits and intricate braids in their hair. I get it.

Maybe that’s what gives Sallie Sue great joy and fulfillment, but take a deep breath and know that it’s completely okay to walk to the beat of a different drum. You’re not Sallie Sue. You’re YOU. Be you — and embrace what’s best for you and your family.

You don’t need to apologize for it or explain it. Just be you, bravely.

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5. You are going to work yourself out of a job.

Right now, it’s completely impossible for you to imagine not changing diapers, wiping bottoms, taking little people potty, not constantly hearing “Moooommmmy!”, not having to cut everyone’s food up, not having to buckle everyone in when you get into the car, not having to give baths, get everyone dressed, and help little people brush their teeth.

But there will come a day — and it will be sooner than you believe it will be — when you start working yourself out of a job. When those little people get a little bit bigger and they start learning how to do things for themselves.

It’s a S-L-O-W process, but looking back, it seems to happen in the blink of an eye. And all of a sudden you wake up one day and your oldest is 10 years old and she’s taking over the family’s laundry, helping with the cooking, cleaning bathrooms, and asking what else she can do to help you.

That day is coming. When it does, all these years of doing what seems like the same thing over and over again will pay off… and you’ll realize that those little people are turning into capable adults who are contributing to the family in significant ways.

In ten years from now, you’re going to look back a deeply fulfilling and happy feeling knowing that all that hard work, sleepless nights, and exhaustion was worth it.

So, as much as you might want to some days, don’t give up! The best is yet to come!

This post was inspired by my friend Beth’s post: Dear Mom in the Tunnel

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102 Comments

  • Crystal, this is great encouragement of for moms of all littles as well as moms of littles and bigs, as is my case. I followed you over to moneysavingmom.com from your first blog. I remember praying for you when you first had Silas as you shared some of your struggles of having all littles, and thinking how similar our families looked then. It has been fun watching your family grow, as well as watching you grow in grace, humility, and boldness. A side note: I loved the pictures of your girls in the matching green, yellow, and blue flower shirts – my oldest two had the same shirts at about the same age. Great memories.

  • Jenni says:

    Amen and Amen! This is such a good post Crystal!

  • Carla says:

    I had such a fairy tale perception of what it would feel like to be a mom. That my only emotions would be those of pure joy and delight. One thing I wish I’d realized in the beginning is that there would be moments when I wouldn’t like being “mom.” And that’s ok. Those feelings are normal and don’t define me as a mom. It just means I need a break and some time to regroup. Because the truth is, I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

    Along the same lines, there’s been moments when I have felt angry with my child. I always love them, but at times I don’t like them and have to remind myself that this exasperating two year old REALLY is my sweet little boy. He’s just having a moment. And that moment will pass. I know, because my five year old has passed through some tough phases. But we survived and today he told me about ten times how much he loves me. So, when you think it’s rough and you’ve totally messed up at this mom thing- that’s not true. Those feelings of frustration are normal and the phase will pass and you’ll find you haven’t messed up so badly after all.

    • Kristin says:

      Thank you for this. You have no idea how much you just helped me with this comment. I really felt the guilt when i dont want to be mom. To know that this is ok and others face it to makes a world of difference in my life. So thank you for sharing this post. God bless you

  • Suzanne says:

    Crystal,

    How I adored this post! Such great wisdom plus it was so much fun to see the old pictures from your former blog — I remember them when they were freshly posted. 🙂

    What you say is so true. I remember being so tired, overwhelmed, worried when my two children were little with so much of the worry stemming from how hard I was on myself with regards to my mothering skills. Fast forward many years and it is a joy to see them with their own children. I actually miss them being little and I realize now that I did a great job raising them, even if it didn’t feel that way when I was in the middle of it all! I hope everyone reading your post today realizes that time is fleeting and before they know it those little ones will no longer be so little.

    I think support is key and if all these lovely mamas don’t find a good group of other moms to strengthen and encourage them, they should keep looking until they do! It’s so important to find that support but it can take awhile.

  • Brenda says:

    This is excellent and doesn’t just apply to young moms. I was 40 when I had my twins and felt all of these struggles! (Which means I’ll be 50 when I’m reflecting back like this–that’s hard to believe!)

  • Heather says:

    aw, I totally remember reading your blog when your kids actually were that big! Didn’t seem that long ago!
    Thanks for your encouragement. I have two toddlers and one on the way and feeling really, really NOT up to the challenge of adding the third right now. #3 and 5 especially were helpful right now.

  • I was blessed to grow up in a single parent household, and both a sister close to my age and one 14 years younger than I. This helped me get experience not only in helping my mom, but in realizing that being a mom is not an easy job. Not too longer after my baby sister was born, my other sister had her first child too. She was also a single mom for a while before she met her husband and had two more wonderful kids. Back when my sister was a single mom, I helped her a lot too being the older sister, and feeling responsible to help out. I have to admit, I loved helping her adjust to being a parent for the first time. We were both young (17 and 19) and were still growing up ourselves. I say that I was blessed for this (having her daughter honestly brought my sister to a place she needed to be, because the place she was heading at the time was not a good one – and she is one of the best moms I know), because it helped put a lot of things in perspective for me when I had my daughters. I was very lucky to be married for a year before we had our first child, and growing up how I did, I had a unique perspective on mom-hood. I had it easy compared to my mom and sister, I had a helper and I still have that helper, in my husband. Things were not easy, in fact my oldest was the hardest of the two, but I had strong help in my sister who was onto number two when I was just getting married myself. As hard as things can seem sometimes, I look at where I could be, and know that I am doing okay and the best I can.

  • Thank you! I NEEDED this! I have two littles and I’m glad to know there IS light at the end of the tunnel. 🙂 I also know I will actually miss these days one day. 🙂

  • Amy says:

    Thank you for these words of encouragement! Got a little teary at the end 🙂

  • Heather says:

    I just turned 40 and pregnant with our third child. These words encouraged me as I am five years out from my last baby. Good reminder for even a “seasoned” mom, as I’m excited to welcome our little coconut soon.

  • Valerie says:

    Oh my! I’ve been reading your blog since ~2008, and this is my favorite post you have ever posted! I have a 7 month old, and it’s just so hard! Thank you so much for the encouragement! This particularly is the part that most spoke to me– recently I have just been feeling so tired and hopeless, that I will always be so tired, always be up every 2 hours, things will never get easier… (obviously I know that kids grow up, but it’s hard to see that through bleary, sleep deprived eyes!)

    “You’re tired of your child crying. You’re tired of waking over and over again in the night. You’re tired of doing the same things again and again.

    You feel flabby and lethargic. You look in the mirror and barely recognize the woman staring back at you. You wonder if you’re ever going to be able to fit into your pre-pregnancy jeans. You wonder where all your energy went.”

    Also… HOW DO PEOPLE EVER HAVE TWO CHILDREN??!

    Thanks again for sharing .

  • Yes! This post was SO good and I found myself nodding often as I read it. I especially loved how you said, “For now, just do what you need to do to make it through — even if not everyone thinks it’s the “right” thing. You are your child’s mother. Trust your gut.” As ladies, so often we feel pressure and guilt if we aren’t doing things like someone else and we often subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) put pressure on each other to do it “our” way too. It can feel overwhelming, especially if you are new mom.

    Our oldest is 6 and I’m finally starting to experience what you said about it getting easier. It’s been so encouraging!

    Oh, and I’ve been following you since almost the beginning of your blogging and it was fun to see those old pictures! I was surprised at how many of them I remembered. 🙂

  • Wow! What a truly inspiring post that I needed to read today!

    Four months ago I gave birth to a surprise child and boy did it rock my world! Never having dreamed of being a mother, it’s been a rough ride. But I’m so thankful that the Lord’s been with me through it all.

    I highly agree that experimenting is a huge part of mothering a newborn – I’d compare it to learning how to dance with a new partner!

    Thank you for encouraging us, Crystal!!

  • April says:

    “Just be you, bravely.” Love, love, love it!

  • Jill says:

    Great post! Though I’m not a young mom (at 38 and due w #5 in just a few weeks) soon to have 5 boys 5yrs and under is overwhelming at times. I definetly under schedule our lives bc nothing ever goes off without a hitch 😉 so fun watching you in this stage and knowing we’ll get there someday-not rushing time, but excited abt future indep. Of some tasks!

  • Kristina says:

    why didn’t I find your site before my daughter was born? I struggled for 2 years with so much anxiety and have learned so much from you!! You’re a blessing to us. Keep up the great work!

  • Amy says:

    So true. My third little one is 7 months old and the days are sometimes very hard. But as I see my oldest growing up and becoming more independent, I can see the light at the end of that long tunnel. It gets a little easier as they get a little older. But I want to snuggle and hold on to these little years while I can.

    Could you write a post like this about homeschooling, Crystal??? I’m at the beginning with my oldest. Me and my husband both went to public school and sometimes fear rises up within me that I can’t give him what he needs even though I know God has called our family to this.

    Thanks,
    Amy

    • Mothering4Him says:

      Homeschooling! (I didn’t see anyone respond to you, so I’ll try and be an encouragement!) First…Congratulations on your decision! There is SO much to say on this topic. When my first child started kindergarten, I had just given birth to my 4th child. It is hard! But what a joy! As a former public school and Christian school teacher, I can say first hand that I have nothing special up my sleeve. They didn’t give me magical teaching powers at college. And I will NEVER love your child like you and your husband (and God) can. So you don’t need to feel underprepared! If He’s called you to homeschool, HE will give you ALL you need to be successful! The best advice in a nutshell I think I can give you is this…KNOW why you are doing this (ie. calling from God), because you will have days of doubts. I do even as an experienced educator. (We can’t blame the 2nd grade teacher for this and the 7th grade teacher for that.) You will always find good and bad in ALL forms of education that will flip your thoughts back and forth. You need to be grounded in why you homeschool for those hard days! Then dig in and enjoy! (Your children are not missing anything of significance when you homeschool! There are numerous activities to involve them in for “socialization”.)

  • angie says:

    God is good! Today was one of those days that you feel miserable and that you want to give up but at the same time to feel the worse mom of the earth and then I read this post. Thank you so much for your obedience to the Lord because it worked, I now feel better and want to continue in Faith one day at the time. God bless you!

  • Cristy says:

    Great post! My daughter was born after 10 years of infertility. 17 months later, her twin brothers were born. Yes you can survive and it does get easier.

  • Alauna Williams says:

    Well said. From one mommy to you and all the other mommies… I salute you! Very beautiful family pictures. Our children are the ones who grade us on parenting and make us want to do, to give, and to love. I love my kids. It is hard. But only because I want them to look me in the eye when they grow up and tell me that I succeded in making their world matter in a special way and that they always felt loved. We learn and we grow. But you know now what you didn’t realize then. You always are mom. Everyday can still be special and can still include love and laughter and memories even when they are grown. It matters just as much now as it always did then.

  • Monique says:

    I’m 27 years old, I have 2 kids, my son is 3 and my daughter is 13 months. Lately for the past few weeks I’ve been over whelmed which is something that happens to me from time to time but I get past it and move forward and take it day by day. But lately it’s like a constant EVEYDAY battle. My hair has been falling out, I read it’s due to stress. And now that I read Ur article I think it actually is stress, at first I thought it was just me that it was just in my head but I am stressing more then the usually and Ur article made me realize that and your article made me also realize that I am going to be ok, not to carry the hole world in my shoulders (my husband says I tent to do that a lot) he try’s to help don’t get me wrong, but he doesn’t do it like mommy does so I tented just to do it my self :/ I know I know I shouldn’t but I can’t help it…thank you. thank you for making me cry at 11 pm at night while I’m in bed and my kids are asleep. I hold my crying in, I don’t like crying in front of them so I try to wait until they are asleep but by that time I’m to exhausted to cry about what I wanted to cry about 5 hours ago lol. ( I cry when I’m overwhelmed) did I mention I’m a SAHM. Thank you for reminding me to turn to God and pray. Just a prat. Thank you for the honest truth. Thank you for your words. Thank you! Seriously from a mom that REALLY needed to hear this.

    Ps I wish I could hug you right now for writing this. It spoke to me in So many levels.

  • Pauline says:

    Such a beautiful article as always, and just wanted to add…you don’t work yourself out of the job! As the kids grow, so do their needs for attention still, and often, just a presence of you, close by. They alight in and out until they can fully soar, yet always they’re welcomed home, forever will be, not all my chicks out of the nest, yet nearing, and in no hurry am I.
    In addition, the work grows, you’re adding more family, in terms of boyfriends/girlfriends of your kids, future spouses, and grandchildren down the line, so the hard work of your littles’ today, is a steady preparation for work that is escalating. In the midst of raising the littles, is the reminder of how each day, one must play…it’s what I miss most having small ones around~each day stopping the work, to sit, pretend, belly laugh, etc.

  • Alicia says:

    Did you write this to me?!?! You’ve spoke straight to my heart. I needed to hear this…my days have been so long lately. Thank you for reminding me I’m not alone! Thank you!!!!

  • Alicia says:

    Thank you for writing this and telling me exactly what I’ve been needing to hear!

  • Kellie says:

    I wanted to comment here because I really appreciate this post. Confession: several years ago, I think when I was pregnant with my 3rd (I now have 4), I was about to unfollow your page and blog. Not because of you, but because I just could not get over my own unfair comparisons. We have very different personalities, and I felt like I just could never measure up to the bed-making and the early morning makeovers and YARG it was all just too much! But then I saw part of a post when you were discussing routines, and you mentioned that it took you I think you said about 14 months postpartum (I’m unsure of the number, but I think it was around there) before you felt like you could really get back into the bulk of your previous routines. This really resonated with me. I realized that I had either been pregnant or nursing nonstop since having my first, since I always got pregnant at 14 months right around the time I was starting to wean (or at least nurse less often). No wonder I was a mess! LOL Now I am 14 months postpartum with my 4th and final child, and I am seeing the light at the end of this 7+ years long tunnel and how this all will start to fall together someday when I am sleeping again and the kids continue to gain independence. I have forgiven myself for feeling like I was failing when really I was just flailing, just trying to survive, like most moms do! 🙂 Thank you for these reminders, and for often pointing out that what works for you doesn’t necessarily work for everyone (and then still putting it out there for whoever it might work for)!

  • Megan says:

    I have this book-marked on my phone for days like today when I am exhausted and feel like everything I try to teach my kids is all for naught…that life is an endless cycle of laundry and potty training and food thrown on the floor and tantrums. I have a 31 month old, an almost 15 month old, and another one due to arrive in June. There are days I wouldn’t trade being home with my kids for anything in the world. And then there are days like today. Thank you for writing this article, so I can refer back to it on days like today–it gives me hope that I’m not alone in this.

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