When Your Plans Change with Motherhood

I had a plan, and at least in the foreseeable future it didn’t involve kids. Then I got a case of the flu that wouldn’t go away; 8 months later my beautiful daughter was born–quite literally during a crack of lightening. That crack was heard throughout the state, and frequently commented on because the sky was crystal blue that morning. I had read the books, though, and I didn’t see any problem with continuing my plan of starting my doctoral program, albeit with a baby in tow. After all, the books did indicate that babies slept a lot, and I figured I would use the time to get my homework done. So, when Ryley was 4 weeks old, I figured I would continue with my plan to start the program full-time. Between a baby that didn’t sleep, a lot of hormones, and jeans that wouldn’t fasten, it didn’t take me too long to realize that part-time sounded pretty good too for that first semester.

I should have realized then that the universe laughs when anyone tries to plan motherhood. I thought I knew what it meant to be a mother, and I thought I could just parent according to my imagination and the immensely unhelpful books that I was reading. I totally and completely failed to consider that being a mother is an interactional process that is as individual as the child you are parenting. The authors who write the books might be experts, but I’ve never found a child who has actually read the books that they are supposedly following.

Case in point, I followed the experts’ advice to a perfect T when securing medications and dangerous cleaning supplies. Of course, no one advised me that my darling little toddler would instead inhale black pepper, and that the emergency room would make salt and pepper jokes every-single-time they saw us for the next year. I also had no idea that the same child at three wouldn’t listen to a single thing I said when trying to get her ready to leave the house, but would be able to perfectly recite for a total and complete stranger that we were buying treats for our “damn dog.”

When Your Plans Change with Motherhood_ Special HappensI look back now and both laugh and cringe because I realize that at 13 she is still watching and listening to my every move, although she is equally determined to make her own mistakes. This time, though, I’m ignoring the experts, and I’m talking to her about my flaws and the things that make me insecure. They exist, and by not talking about them I would only be teaching her to think that she is alone in whatever personal battle she is facing at the moment. I’m trying really hard to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with her, although I can only hope that she translates it to the world a little less literally than she did our dog’s name when she was younger.

I wish I could pretend that my daughter has been the guinea pig on which I perfected my mothering skills, but instead I’ve just found a whole new set of mistakes to learn from with my darling son. It was easy to encourage him to wear nail polish if he wanted to in order to avoid gender stereotypes, but it was a lot harder to pick up the pieces when his friends made fun of him because apparently they didn’t learn the same gender neutrality in their household. Nothing in my experiences could have prepared me for the ways in which he–and he alone—can create such heartbreak when he shares his fears, or the top of the world feeling when he accomplishes something the experts said he never would. He’s my literal child, and he has more determination on a Saturday morning that most people do all week. I can say things to him that I never would my daughter and vice versa.

Who I am as a mother and what I need to do to be a good one so depends on which child we are discussing. The easy thing to forget is that I’m not a mother without them as children. My role as a mom only exists through the opportunities and challenges that each of my children presents to me. Being a mother isn’t about me; it’s about us, us together and how we make it all work.

This time next year I will have a daughter in high school, a son in elementary school, and a toddler. I don’t doubt that my new baby boy is going to pose a lot of new challenges and opportunities for me to mess up and learn from. This has nothing to do him being adopted or even internationally adopted. The challenges will come from who and what he needs his mother to do and be.

Becoming a mom comes with a lot of challenges.

A piece of your heart is always walking around in the world with each of your children. You have a set of values and beliefs that you want to instill in your child and you have a lifetime of experiences that you have learned from that you want to share with them. The hardest part, though, is remembering that your role is nothing without your child, and that bond between mother and child is an interactional and mutually dependent relationship. Some of our cues—when to step in, when to back off, when to hug them close, and when to walk away—have to come from our child. Mothers are pretty amazing, but only as amazing as the children we get to share the experience with.

Happy Mother’s Day!



Jennifer Butler
Jennifer is the mother of 2 children and more 4 legged furry babies than she (or her husband) cares to count. Both of her children have primary immune deficiencies and her son is also on the autism spectrum. Jennifer is a full time Organizational Communication professor whose research focuses on work family balancing. Jennifer spends her spare time rescuing animals and advocating for her special needs children. She does this by focusing much of her energy on service dogs for children and being a school board member at her children’s school. You may contact her on Facebook, on Twitter, or at her blog, Caden's Tale.
Jennifer Butler
Jennifer Butler

Leave a Reply