A letter to my sister-in-law
Last weekend, I sat on your back deck as our three kids played. We laughed, chatted, and discussed the very imminent arrival of your third baby. When we married brothers, I honestly had no idea that I would enjoy your company so much. I am so happy that I get to navigate motherhood with you.
The differences in our kids are easy to spot…
Your daughter wore a wrinkle-free dress, her hair nicely pulled back in pigtails; your son was in clean khaki shorts and a collared shirt. My boys wore soccer shorts and stained T’s.
When your kids asked for a Capri Sun, my three-year-old looked towards the sky to see if something was wrong with the sun.
My boys came and clung to me every 10 minutes or so, with the littlest one plunging his hand down my shirt. Yours — totally well-adjusted — played independently.
Parenting for me has been a great road of self-discovery and learning–one in which you have played a crucial role. Before I even had a child of my own, I thought I knew it all and questioned others’ parenting choices. I remember going out to a nice quiet dinner after meeting your oldest for the first time.
“Did you see the formula on the counter?” I asked my husband in a quiet restaurant. “What on earth is she thinking?”
I went home that night, had a great kid-free night of sleep, and continued judging the next day when I heard you’d moved your baby to the crib down the hall so you could “get some sleep.”
I’m not proud of those moments, and I wish I could take them back. It took having kids of my own to truly understand. Your son was jaundice, wouldn’t latch, and your milk hadn’t come in. I would have supplemented, too. Every night I get kicked in my face by my three-year-old, I wish we had transitioned him to his crib much sooner than we did.
Basically, I owe you (and all of the other mothers I have judged) an apology. When you have a baby, you instinctively know what’s best for them–and you. Yes, you enter parenthood with ideas and thoughts, goals and dreams, but all of those move quickly out of the way for the basic needs of survival. Women without children don’t always understand, and even my husband doesn’t get it all of the time. Until you’ve experienced your first sleepless night, knowing it will be followed by a sleepless day, which will then be followed by another sleepless night, it all starts to make sense.
When my first child, Nathan, was born 14 months after yours, I found myself with a colicky, reflux-ridden baby who screamed at me 20 hours a day. Nineteen months after he was born, Alex arrived, and I fully entered survival mode. I forgot to shower. I forgot to eat. And I forgot to take care of me. It was the nature of the parenting style I “chose”, but in many ways it was making me a worse parent. I did not put my oxygen mask on first and it was very apparent to all of those around me. I would raise my voice before 10 AM every day, and simple things I used to take joy in left me overwhelmed and exhausted.
But then I started a couple of routines that I learned from you. I’d put the boys in the car during those long winter afternoons, and we’d hit up a drive through. It wasn’t organic and some days it was filled with sugar. We’d sit in a parking lot while the baby slept, and Nathan and I would sing songs and laugh. I’d breathe and give thanks for my blessings.
I also found someone to watch the boys for an hour a couple of days a week. Even on the days that I felt guilty and or I felt like there weren’t errands that really needed to be run, I’d still leave the house. I’d get in the car and drive. Sometimes I’d just go for a walk or a quick trip to Target, but every time I came home, I was a better parent than when I had left.
I also cut back on our activities. We were constantly “on the go.” I was convinced that if Nathan didn’t start soccer lessons at age two, he’d never make his high school team. I was also convinced that he needed music classes if he ever wanted to be a well-rounded member of society. But we stopped many of those. We planned our days around all of our moods and energy levels. It prevented many battles of will with a toddler, and it allowed us to rest when we needed to.
So on the eve of you blessing the family with another baby to love on and cousin for my boys to grow old with, I just wanted to say thank you. I am so grateful to have you in my life. Through being open and confident in your parenting style, you have made me a better parent. I know you were well aware of the fact that I judged your choices, but you still remained supportive of mine–and for that I can never thank you enough. I look forward to watching our kids grow. I’m sure life will take them down different paths, and we’ll make different choices for our own children, but being able to learn from you is one of the greatest gifts I have been given.
(Image by Amy Gizienski)