Our FFL Contributor Daniel shares his thoughts on motherhood and celebrating the roles that mothers play in our lives.
By Daniel Wong
Happy Mother’s Day! I know this is an occasion that’s evolved to mainly benefit the Hallmarks of this world. After all, we should honor our moms everyday, not just one day a year. But it’s still a good time to celebrate the role that moms play in our lives. So this post is dedicated to my own wonderful mom, as well as to my amazing wife, Michele, who became a mom just a couple of weeks ago.
Beep. Beeeeep. BEEEEEEEEEEP.
I check the time—it’s 4am. Michele’s alarm is going off. Its violent ringing pierces the stillness of the night, shaking me from my peaceful, nowadays-it-never-seems-enough sleep.
Michele stirs; her eyes are one-quarter open. She looks like she could sleep for another 24 hours straight, and that still wouldn’t be enough to eliminate the sleep debt she’s accumulated over the past two weeks.
She’s waking up to express breast milk so that baby Isaac has food to eat. Food is exceptionally important to Isaac, as you can imagine.
Day or night, drowsy or completely exhausted, uncomfortable or in agonizing pain—Michele does this, every three hours without fail.
(It’s a long explanation as to why breastfeeding moms need to express their milk every few hours, but you can trust me when I say that bad, annoying things are likely to happen if they don’t.)
Why I’ve been a helpless husband
It saddens me to watch Michele go through this. It’s one of the few times in my life where I’ve felt so powerless, so lost.
Whenever I’m faced with challenges or frustrations, I instinctively ask myself: What is one thing I can do right now to make the situation better?
In most circumstances, there’s usually at least one small action I can take. And that makes me feel at least partially in control of the situation.
But as I look tenderly at Michele, my heart overwhelmed with emotion, I know that there’s nothing I can do to alleviate her discomfort or fatigue. I can get her a drink and sterilize the milk bottles, but I can’t take over her breastfeeding role.
This is despite the fact that when Isaac is hungry he sometimes even tries to suck my nipple. I’m sorry, buddy, but you won’t find milky treasures oozing out from Daddy’s nipples.
The motherhood guide to success
Of course, it hasn’t been all bad. Isaac is a tremendous blessing. Michele and I enjoy holding him, caring for him, and even just watching him as he sleeps (it’s not as creepy as it sounds, I promise).
But through the rough moments, Michele has had a persevering spirit. She’s one tough cookie, and I beam with pride whenever I tell my friends and family about how determined she’s been.
In two weeks—it feels more like a few months though—I’ve observed just a bit of what motherhood entails. But it’s enough for me to realize that moms know plenty about what it takes to be successful in life.
I’m sharing these observations with you in the hope that they’ll cause you to appreciate your mom more, and to think about how you can apply these principles in your own life. They’re excellent reminders for me too.
These are four things that moms know, which we’d be wise to learn too.
1. People are counting on you.
Eat. Sleep. Pee. Poop. Repeat. The life of a baby is pretty enviable, huh?
Babies are entirely reliant on their parents. Babies left on their own without a caregiver wouldn’t survive. Moms understand this, and respond right away when they hear their baby’s cries. (Dads respond quickly too, but probably not as immediately as moms.) When your baby is counting on you, you don’t want to let him or her down.
In a similar way, people are counting on you too. The world is counting on you. To contribute. To learn. To grow. To face your fears. To persevere. To make a difference. To care.
It’s a quiet cry compared to the earsplitting screams of a baby, but it’s equally urgent. Although they don’t realize it, other people’s lives are worse off when we cruise along, choosing mediocrity over excellence, pleasure over purpose, the easy way over the best way. We’re not adding value to their lives in the way we would have if we’d put our heart and soul into being the best we could be.
2. The small things matter.
A couple of random things I’ve learned about taking care of a baby:
When you swaddle a baby, you need to make the swaddle tight enough so he can’t wriggle out, but not so tight that it’ll cause him pain. It’s a much finer line than you might think.
The angle at which you tilt the milk bottle during feeding matters. You need to get it right, if not your baby will become gassy. Not good.
The teat size of the milk bottle affects your baby’s gassiness levels too. Who knew?!
Moms understand that these small things matter, as do many, many others. In contrast, dads tend to be a bit more big-picture—that’s definitely true for me.
In life, the small things matter too: proofreading a report one more time before you submit it, writing a simple thank-you note, resisting the urge to say something unkind even though you really feel like it, refusing to tell a lie even if nobody would ever find out.
I still struggle with these kinds of “little” temptations, the ones that seem so innocuous.
But I’m reminded that every decision we make—small or not so small—determines our destiny, a destiny that’s not built in a day, but rather day by day.
3. You can’t only do the things you feel like doing.
Getting up in the middle of the night to feed you, every night for months. Changing your dirty diapers 10 times a day. Soothing you when you wailed.
These are just some of the things your mom did for you, even though she didn’t feel like it. She did what needed to be done, regardless of how she felt.
This kind of attitude runs contrary to the kind of advice we often hear:
“If you don’t like what you’re doing, quit.”
“If you’re not passionate about it, why do it?”
“Eliminate everything that’s making you unhappy.”
“If you find what you’re called to do, it won’t feel like work.”
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for being happy and discovering your passion and finding work that’s both enjoyable and rewarding. But it’s unrealistic, and even irrational, to think that finding your passion will instantly make your life fine and dandy. After all, the Latin root word for “passion” is pati, which means “to endure” or “to suffer.” Passion and perseverance go hand in hand.
Life is often more about doing the things you don’t feel like doing, than about doing the things you do feel like doing. You might not feel like studying, or going to work, or keeping your promises, or getting out of your comfort zone, or sucking up your pride and apologizing. But these are the kinds of choices that ultimately define our lives.
4. You can waste, use or invest your resources. Choose to invest them.
A week ago, I watched in horror as I saw Isaac spit up a mouthful of breast milk during a feeding session. Breast milk is a precious commodity—more precious than gold, as Michele puts it. So when Isaac spits it up, it’s a calamity. It’s like flushing money down the toilet bowl, or worse.
Despite these unfortunate but way-too-frequent events, Michele continues to feed Isaac breast milk, even though infant formula is the more convenient option. (We occasionally formula feed Isaac too, so no disrespect at all to moms out there who, for various reasons, have chosen to do this.)
Moms, and parents in general, sacrificially invest in their kids. When it comes to nutrition, education and love, they don’t spare anything on their kids’ development.
A mentor of mine once shared with me that your resources can either be wasted, used or invested. The last option is the best, but it’s often the hardest to do because it requires long-term thinking in the face of short-term demands.
So let’s be intentional about investing our time, talent and money in ways that benefit others and add value to the people around us.
Shout-out to all moms
My mom has had a huge impact on me. She has shown by her example what it means to lead a life of kindness, commitment, courage and love. I sometimes wonder how messed up I’d be if my mom wasn’t my mom. Love you, Mom!
For many of you, I’m sure your mom has had a similar influence in your life. So if you’re a mom reading this, I want to thank you. You show the rest of us what it takes to be successful, but more than that you show us what it means to love unconditionally and sacrificially.
Happy Mother’s Day again!
Article first appeared on Daniel's blog on 11 May 2014. Republished with permission.