As youngsters, college students, and workforce employees, we often look for mentors—strong, successful colleagues or higher-ups (who may or may not be women) that not only serve as up-on-a-pedestal role models but as down-to-earth partners who, if we’re lucky, actively participate in our own development into strong and successful adults. We admire these people for their achievements, wonder how they do it all, and then (if we know what’s good for us) dare ask the questions “How do you do it all?” and “How can I do it all too?” If we’re lucky, they take us under a wing and share their secrets.
I’ve had a string of wonderful mentors throughout my life—teachers, writing coaches, self-made businesswomen, experienced and accomplished coworkers—and even more than the trial-by-fire experience that comes with on-the-job learning, I’ve become the professional I am because of the lessons I’ve collected from those who have gone before, paved the way, and then shared with me their self-drawn roadmaps and directions. Who better to steer us from mistakes and missteps than someone who has already made them herself? (And who better to determine that some mistakes and missteps are part of the process that no one should be spared?)
Why, then, have I been resistant to the idea of having a motherhood mentor?
As a first-timer at pregnancy, it’s been tempting to want to surround myself with other first-time pregnant women; there’s something comforting about a community of people who not only get it but are living “it” now and can actively sympathize instead of speaking through the gauzy veil of the future. In talking with us uninitiated newbies, many mothers who have already gone through pregnancy and childbirth sometimes slide into the been-there, know-it-all dialogue of “If you think it’s bad now…” and “Just you wait until…” and “But it’s worth it, you’ll see…”—all tidbits no doubt meant to be be helpful but yet not always what I want to hear when I’m in the thick of my own current gestational angst. Intellectually, I already know that things will get better/worse, so I don’t really need someone who’s been there to tell me that; the point is that my ankles are swollen today and my back hurts now, and I really just want to gripe to someone who understands because her ankles and back are out of whack too.
And yet there’s definitely a place in my world for experienced mothers and their well-meant advice, and to dismiss them all entirely would be downright stupid. Imagine if I were adrift on strange waters in a rowboat full of nothing but fellow first-time pregnant women; if a mother who had been in that situation before offered me a map or an oar or a lifejacket, wouldn’t I take it? If someone said, “Here, would you like to borrow this telescope through which you can see the distant shores on the horizon?” wouldn’t I be a fool to say, “No. Thanks. I’d rather just sit here with my fellow castaways and complain in chorus about our dehydration and sunburns, which are starting to itch and peel.”
Moms with new babies, moms with toddlers, moms with teens, moms with multiple children, moms who work full-time and love it, moms who work full-time and hate it, moms who work part-time from home, moms who left their pre-baby jobs, redefined “work,” and have found other ways to pay the bills, moms who don’t know what they’re doing either, and even dads—all of these people can be valuable mentors because all of them have something to teach…even if it’s how not to do something.
As it turns out, I have several mom mentors, each sharing their expertise in different areas of my life: A coworker who had her first baby two years ago guides me through the ins and outs of our company’s maternity policy. A dear friend, Angella, proves to me every day that it’s possible to raise three children while working and still finding time to pursue your own hobbies and interests. Author, blogger, and cool mom extraordinnaire Rebecca Woolf is several years younger than I am but still the kind of parent I want to be when I grow up. Even my own mom, who knows a thing or two about what it takes to raise a “spirited” child, is a goldmine of advice if I can just stop rolling my eyes long enough to listen to her.
Not unlike the belly straining against the confines of my elastic-waist maternity jeans (and I thought they would never fit…), my mind is stretching with this pregnancy too. I’m coming to accept that a lot of advice is actually helpful and that sometimes I need to quit complaining about my ankles/back/reflux long enough to hear and to accept—and to get—the wisdom of my sometimes unlikely mom mentors.