2016 was a big year. This was the year I joined an exclusive cohort of superwomen known as The Working Mothers. This year, I travelled, breastfed, Little-Engine-that-Could-ed my way through many a milestone, memory, and moment. Of course, none of it would have been possible without the faith, family, fellowship, and friendship that helped me through. And here are 8 lessons I learned last year that maybe might help you.
January: You are miraculous.
I started the year in a haze – sleep-deprived, zombified by our newborn and our own birth into the life of parenthood. It seems rather recent that people have grown more open about the difficulties that come postpartum. Pregnancy is oft touted as the time fraught with hormones, cravings, craziness; and infancy is known as a time of warm, love-drenched sweetness. People say, you look at your newborn and all your cares go away. But I looked at my newborn and instead of overwhelming, saturating, dizzying love, I fretted incessantly. Did I have enough milk? Did he get enough sleep? Is it comfortable enough in the room? Is it clean enough in the house? Am I enough? But in fact, New Mamas and Papas. If you are reading this and asking yourself these questions, in all likelihood you are enough. In fact, you are more than just “enough.” You are a miracle. One day, decades ago, you too were the product of the miraculous process of creation, and now you are here. A (mostly?) fully-formed adult, entrusted now with a little life to help form. Has anybody ever stopped to think of what a glorious thing conception, gestation, and birth are? The process is one series of marvels after the next. And now you’re in it again but on the other side. Your baby is a miracle. And you are too. Own it.
February: Strength is soft, and steady.
After the initial month of running in milk-crazed, rest-starved autopilot mode, February came as a sudden, unexpected (but welcome) respite. I began to feel more “on it.” Milk was in, baby was fed, sleep was starting to realize itself. We were starting to ask for help. We were being gentle with ourselves. We were starting to fall into a routine. We were going out on dates again. We even stayed in a hotel for our anniversary staycation (the baby spent one night at home having pumped milk instead). In the midst of the slow drip of faith, hope, and the occasional extra hour of sleep refilling my cup, granting me resolve, clarity, and confidence; I learned that strength is soft. Strength is often pictured as harsh, forceful, brute, yet people rarely speak of the strength it takes to be soft in times of hardness, and steady in times of imbalance. Strength is soft, and steady. You don’t always have to bulldoze into your fears to face them. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of walking up to that wall, and climbing it. Finding your footing along the way.
March: Never rely on readiness or expectation.
In December, I thought I was “ready to have this baby.” In January, I thought I’d be “ready when month 1 is over.” In February, I thought “I am ready to move back home and be in Jakarta with my husband.” But come March, I realized, well I am never really ready for anything. Every time I meet what I was “ready” for, I discover that it’s not quite what I expected it would be: more work, more expense, more fun, more stress, more everything. And in some ways less too: less support, less sleep, less comfortable. At least at first. In March, having just moved back to Jakarta, I went from a household of help, with family 10 minutes away so willing to let my infant nap in their laps while I napped on their couches; to an apartment, my working husband, and much less support. I realized being “ready” requires you to ride on a lot of expectations, and that expectations are often the root of all disappointments. You will never be too ready for anything – especially not as a new parent, and you should never expect otherwise.
April, May, June: Approach everything with a healthy, cautious optimism. And rest assured that all things pass eventually.
April – June was my first quarter back at work. My first dip into the Working Mama World. It was full of hopeful expectation (some realistic, and some out-of-this-world), and many of my daydreaming was met with underwhelming results. But thanks to the things I learned in “Q1’2016”, I knew not to hinge myself on my expectations, not to define myself by my weaknesses, and not to buckle in times of overwhelming newness or unanticipated challenge. Instead, I was reminded by my peers: fellow Superwomen with young children, and big dreams, and my husband, to approach all things with a healthy, cautious optimism. To continue to push myself, and my boundaries. At first, I felt overworked, and overwhelmed, I felt a constant need to prove myself, and a nagging insecurity that I was failing. But I knew deep down it too would pass. If you are in a season of trial, or challenge, try to keep a positive attitude. Remember that all things pass eventually, so you might as well go through every season with hope, and possibility, in your back pocket.
July: Stand tall when speaking, and use your voice wisely.
This was the month Duterte took office, and the US Presidential campaign continued full speed ahead. I tend to get heavily invested in (aka: bogged down by) the socio-politcal/cultural/economic climate of the times. I feel passionate about the things that happen in the world and the kind of future we will leave behind for our children, and I can get really overwhelmed by my convictions. It felt like we entered a season of seeming unending vitriol, hate, misinformation, and willful ignorance (from almost all sides – not just from one or the other, “yellow” or “DDS”, Nasty Woman or Drumpf). In the midst of it all, I felt reminded of the importance of maintaining firm positions and civil conversations, not folding to the polemic or participating in it. In this social media saturated world, where everyone has an opinion and there are so many different voices screaming above one another to be heard, it is more important than ever to stand tall and use our voices wisely. To maintain a tone of respect and kindness. And to always, always seek to hold fast to our values, but not to our pride.
August, September, October: Make lemonade.
August to October tend to be my roughest months at work – this is a historical pattern. It’s usually because of planning season, a scramble to get things out of the way before year end, and a doubling down on meeting previously unmet goals. I spend a lot of time wallowing in self-pity, pulling late nights, and mismanaging my schedule in these 3 months. And with a baby in tow, this proved to be truer than true, and worse than the worst of the years prior. It often made me think of giving up, throwing in the towel, cuddling with my baby at home so I would no longer sacrifice being fully immersed in all the incredible exact firsts I was starting to miss out on. Working from our living room so I wouldn’t need to take my eyes off him for more than a second. But with the help of an inspiring team of working moms around me, and my loving and supportive (but practical) husband, I was reminded that in this season in our lives, we have both been blessed with good, stable jobs that allow us a lifestyle we would not have otherwise. That we have both been given platforms and purpose in relevant areas. That we are both in unique positions to be of good use to our community. That we are in a season of plenty where we are able to provide for our son in very important ways, as well as save for a future that allows us the flexibility to be the best parents we can be. That there is also joy and value in being a working parent. That we actually have the privilege to play each of our life roles as parent and professional 100% without sacrificing too much of one or the other (a luxury not afforded in many other types of jobs, teams, and family situations). That in this season, when life gives you perfectly good lemons, you don’t throw them out! You make a perfectly good lemonade.
This is the month Trump officially won the Presidency, and the world was reminded of how important it is not to forget people. On the road to development, it is oft inevitable that some get left behind. But when we swing too far in one direction too quickly, we run the risk of alienating others and creating echo chambers around ourselves – bubbles set to burst. And when they do, the awakening is not only rude, but potentially dangerous. November was a reminder to listen. Listen to other people, and always be kind because everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. (Trivia: This quote is oft misattributed to Plato or Philo but is, in fact, most likely by author Ian Maclaren)
December: Keep calm, and carry on [in love]
December 2016. What a month. The month my baby turned into a toddler. The month my immediate family met the rest of our Dutch family. The month we celebrated our first family White Christmas. The month Rogue One came out (ha-ha). A month of challenges, and adventures. A month of joy, peace, and good tidings. A month of reflecting on the past year and wondering, wow where’d the time go. A month of opportunity. A month of work. A month of rest. And what did I learn to sum up the year? I learned to keep calm, and carry on. In December 2015, I was in over my head: a new baby, a year of “unknowns” and “firsts” ahead of us. December 2016 wasn’t much different: a new toddler, a 2017 of “unknowns” and “firsts” in store. As with all things in life, there are seasons. Seasons of less, and seasons of plenty. Seasons of change, and seasons of stability. Seasons of infancy, and blissful moments of babyhood; then tumultuous toddler days. There will be work (and ever more work), cuddles and tantrums, kisses and kicks, discipline and playtime, date nights and disasters, anniversaries, birthdays, parties, Church, fellowship, and more. As my friend, Farrah, and I were saying over coffee in De Hallen (Amsterdam) last week: Once you’re a parent, it’s a world of different difficulties after another. But it’s (almost) always rewarding, fulfilling, and life-giving. Even if only in hindsight. The best we can do is our best, and to keep calm, and carry on in love. Whatever you do this year, whatever you go through in 2017, do it with faith, do it with hope, do it with love. And don’t give up.
Thanks for reading, friends, and welcome to 2017!
If you liked reading this you might also like some of my 2016 favorites:
- The posts I loved writing the most:
- The blogs I loved reading the most:
- The YouTubers I loved watching the most:
And if you would like to follow some of our family travels, here’s a peek at our latest!