2020 has been undoubtedly a year of change and growth for all. Becoming a first-time mom this past year, with all its ups and downs, has imparted snippets of wisdom in ways that I probably never would have sought out without having lived through a pandemic and experienced motherhood together.
Here are five lessons I’ve learnt and continue to try to implement along this roller-coaster of a journey.
1. Slow down.
If ever there were a time to force one’s self to slow down, it would be now. With the notion of a “normal” life as we know it upended, with lockdowns in place, unemployment a reality, and flexibility demanded of a little one, our otherwise carefully curated and filled-to-the-brim schedules have suddenly cleared up. While this extra time can bring with it an unsettling sense of a void, this has been an ideal time to rest both the body and the mind, and provide them both with a much-needed break from constantly planning for the next thing to “do”, a behaviour that has been socially ingrained into the fabric of our being. It has been refreshing learning to “be” without having a list of things to accomplish, appreciating the lulls (guilt-free), and learning to live in the present moment.
2. Notice your triggers.
Parenting is hard. Parenting in a pandemic can really drive you over the edge. And when everyday feels the same, it’s easy to fall back on auto-pilot just to get through the day. But when we do this, we set ourselves up to react to the same emotional triggers in the same unhealthy ways over and over again. When your little one refuses to nap and is clingy or fussy, when you are with your family all day every day, and when circumstances are not changing, being triggered to a rage, to tears, and sometimes both, is understandable. In 2020, I found that both motherhood and the pandemic brought with them an increased sense of conscious awareness. It has been a time for much introspection – through the anger, guilt, exhaustion, and uncertainty. Accepting these negative emotions as a natural part of the experience is one step. Figuring out why the emotions can run so high is another. Perhaps I become angry at my family because I am neglecting an area of my life that requires my attention. Do I need to carve out some extra time for myself to allow me to serve as a better mother/wife/daughter? Do I have unrealistic expectations for myself or for my child? Perhaps I need to work towards changing my perception of what a “productive” day looks like, what an “accomplishment” means, or what it means to be a “good parent”.
3. Shed the excess weight.
Baby weight and pandemic pounds aside, there is a lot of unnecessary weight we carry with us every day. Spending more time at home has likely increased the clutter that we encounter in our physical spaces. Being on screens on all day may have led us down a rabbit hole of mindless scrolling and mundane chat conversations. Having more time to spend with ourselves has probably led to unnecessary or harmful mental chatter. Much of this can be purged by being more mindful of what we own, how we spend our money, and more importantly, how we use our time. Motherhood in the pandemic provided me with the necessary nudge to work on quieting my mind and preserving a healthy mental space for myself. For example, instead of scrolling through my phone when I wake up and feeling obliged to respond to messages immediately, I began to write affirmations in a notebook and set an intention for the day in the morning. Sometimes, it is as simple as writing “Today, I want to be playful and laugh more.” This helps me set the tone for the day, and when I catch myself going down a negative spiral as the day progresses, I recall my intention from the morning and consciously try to abide by it. These little acts, in turn, help me shed the excess negative self-talk, something that is all too prevalent as a mother of a toddler with a growing personality who is unable to do access and explore the world in ways that were possible before the pandemic.
4. Re-evaluate what it means to be successful.
All mothers can attest to the internal battle they experience when they adopt their new title as “mom” and possibly forgo other titles they once held in their lives, from their careers to volunteer work to social lives. The pandemic has made this a shared battleground for many. For me, both momentous events have simultaneously led me to re-evaluate my identity. To what extent do I define myself and my self-worth by how much money I made, how active or busy my lifestyle was, or how many “achievements” I bagged under my name? The pandemic has seen the upheaval of global economies. Jobs have been lost and incomes have diminished. This has been a rude awakening for the world, and has made the “temporariness” of everything very real. Perhaps this is a time to question how we define success, and a result, the notion of our “selves”. Perhaps it is time to paint a new picture of ourselves living happy, successful, and fulfilled lives.
5. Seek out the little joys.
Being restricted in the places we can go and the things we can do has allowed me to look inward and closer to home to re-discover what brings me joy. During this time, I found that enjoying a good cup of tea in my favourite mug became a simple luxury that elevates my spirits. Going for family walks and exploring the beauty of nature in our backyard has become a new ritual for my family. Finding good reads and highlighting parts that resonate with me that I can keep coming back to as self-reminders has become a nourishing activity for me on my down-time. As my daughter, who is now 14 months old, grows and becomes more aware of her environment, I am noticing the immense pleasure it brings me to see the wonder in her eyes as she witnesses the world around her. Taking her to the park, I was filled with utter joy to see her so awe-inspired by cars whizzing by, birds soaring through the sky together as a flock, and by smiles received by (socially distant) strangers. She, in turn, is so generous with her smiles and waves enthusiastically back. While so much has changed in the world in such a short time, the value of experiencing the little joys will always remain the same. The little joys are truly irreplaceable.