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So happy and so scared—at the same time? That’s motherhood for you

mom walking with toddler

When I think of words to describe motherhood, 'joy' and 'complicated' come to mind.

I can't think of anything more joyful in my personal life experience than feeling my baby kick inside me, or pulling my baby onto my chest for the first time, or watching my baby grow into a toddler. It is joy in its purest, sweetest form.

And I can't think of anything more complicated than going from feeling anxious while watching my toddler paint all over themselves instead of the paper, to feeling angry when I asked (for the fifth time) for them not to paint their hair, to feeling wildly proud and excited when I realized they painted the best interpretation of a tree I've ever seen in my life—all in amatter of 30 seconds.

It's one extreme to the other and back again, then back around and around in this cycle forever and ever.

In welcoming my third daughter into our lives just four weeks ago, I've been reminded again of how big and powerful these feelings are. I've been reflecting lately on how wild it is that I can feel so happy one moment yet so scared the next—it happens so quickly and feels so extreme.

Motherhood isn't for the faint of heart, that's for sure.

In this newborn stage, I feel like I'm the happiest person in the world when my baby is laying on my chest. Yet the second I lay her down in her crib I worry about her breathing. I count her breaths and watch her chest go up and down a few times before I can go to sleep myself.

Nothing makes me happier than watching my new baby latch on and nurse with me successfully. But the second someone asks me how much she weighs I wonder if she's getting enough milk and if her percentiles are "good enough" and stress about weight checks.

When my kiddos started solid foods, I remember how exciting it was. They loved it and let's be honest—it's so cute! But then I worried about choking or allergies or how the heck much solid foods do I need to give them per day and do I need to make my own?

Watching my oldest daughter take her first steps was exhilarating! She was so proud of herself and my husband and I acted like she had just won a gold medal at the olympics. Then about four days later, she fell and broke her tibia and we were scarred for a little while.

Seeing your baby in any kind of pain or discomfort or having to crawl around dragging her leg in a cast not only breaks your heart but preps you for the rest of the inevitable bumps and bruises that'll come along the way.

Hearing my kiddo’s first words and listening to them string sentences together little by little makes me feel like the best mother in the whole world. Then hearing about what someone else's child is doing or saying and comparing my child to theirs makes me wonder if I'm doing all I can to help them succeed. If I'm a good enough teacher, model, parent.

Letting my children have their freedom and space to explore and take risks and experience adventure is fulfilling. Until they scare the heck out of me by going out of my sight just long enough for me to have a heart attack, or they fall off the monkey bars and knock the wind out of themselves and send me into a panic. But watching them take a risk on their own, and then either succeed or fail gracefully, is pretty amazing.

Seeing my kiddos play nice with one another and protect each other makes my heart just about burst with pride. But then hearing them argue two seconds later or watching one of them take out their frustration by hitting the other scares me, like they're not going to be friends when they grow up or they're going to actually hurt each other or they're not kind to kids at school or I'm doing something wrong as a parent.

As Ricki Lake has perfectly said, “Motherhood is the greatest thing and the hardest thing.”

It's the happiest thing and the scariest thing.

I worry, I doubt, I compare, I stress.

We're never going to be able to skip over that scary first ER visit with our children. It's nerve wracking to give our kiddos the space and independence they crave. And it's natural to doubt our parenting abilities now and then.

But I've found the joys of motherhood outweigh any of my worries.

And when I take a second to remind myself that I'm a good mother who knows what she's doing (at least some of the time 😜)—and that everything I do is done with all the love in my heart—I'm confident that I'll be strong enough to withstand the scary parts of motherhood.

And I'm confident that—luckily—there's more joy than fear.

Colleen is a wife and mom to three awesome girls. She is the Motherly Stories Editor at Motherly. Follow her adventures on Instagram.

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