Each mom’s journey through the stages of motherhood will look slightly different. Mothers, overall, tend to handle certain things in each stage of their child’s life in certain ways. Those tendencies can be helpful as we journey through each stage of our child’s life.
When I was growing up, my older brothers often complained about the things my parents allowed me to do at an earlier age. “What? You’re letting her do that now? I didn’t get to do that ‘til I was twelve!”
Another brother would say, “Mom said you could do what? Wow! She would never have let me do that!”
My brothers were right. I was the youngest of four children and certainly benefitted from it. Why? Because my parents had loosened up the rules as they had more children and became more experienced at parenting. I think especially of my mother, whose skills and knowledge of motherhood developed over the years.
While every mom is different, most mothers progress through the stages of motherhood in similar ways. Moms typically see these four trends over time:
These four tendencies, for most mothers, occur in response to normal child and family development. Mothers tend to be more restrictive because infants are limited in what they can do for themselves. It’s normal and healthy to ease up on those restrictions as children grow and become more independent. Infants, for example, should never be left alone in a bathtub. However, a ten-year-old should be able to take a bath by himself. As mothers have more children and become more experienced, they tend to relax restrictions sooner.
While we can predict that most mothers will have these tendencies, some situations may make a mother’s journey very different. Pregnancy losses, a mother or a child’s physical or mental illness, a child’s disability, a traumatic incident, or adoption of a child from a traumatic background might cause a mom to get stuck. I discuss these situations and how they affect moms in another article, Motherhood in Difficult Situations.
For now, let’s take a look at how these motherhood tendencies coordinate with the stages of child development.
You’ve received the wonderful news that you are pregnant and expecting your first child! It’s okay to feel excited and terrified at the same time. Here are some key points that a mother might experience during this first stage of a child’s life.
The birth or adoption of a woman’s first child can be downright terrifying, completely joyful, or a little of both. During pregnancy, the mother’s focus is on planning the future. She realizes that the baby’s health in the womb and after birth is closely related to the mother’s health. Expectant moms tend to be very careful about what they eat, which activities they engage in, and how much rest they get. Adoptive mothers who are present during the pregnancy might insist on certain restrictions for the birth mother.
There is no shortage of opinions about things mothers should be concerned about regarding their children’s health. The never-ending list of things a mother should do may fuel fear in new moms. It can cause women to pivot from focusing on the current health of the developing fetus to all the things she needs to do after the child is born to maximize the physical, mental, and social health of her child.
After birth, a mother’s world becomes keenly focused on meeting all of her baby’s needs. Infants themselves are helpless and require love and care for everything. Mothers of infants usually dance between being happy and joyful and being overwhelmed and exhausted. Parents often recall the first three months of their child’s life as wondrous, but they often admit they have never felt so tired in their lives.
Remember that a mother’s hormones during pregnancy and after birth may significantly affect her mood in both positive and negative ways. During this exciting and challenging time, it is vital to the new mom’s wellbeing to stay connected to a spouse and loved ones. While she focuses on nurturing her baby, she needs to be intentional about making time for other parts of her life so that she can be nurtured too.
As mothers add more children to their family, they tend to experience these same patterns but to a lesser extent. With subsequent children, the personal restrictions a mom imposes on herself or her infant may become less intense. However, because she is caring for more children and is older, a mother is likely to be more tired and need more rest.
This stage of a child’s life can be exciting as your child reaches developmental milestones and begins to do things for him or herself.
By the time her child reaches three months of age, most moms have settled into somewhat of a routine and will begin to feel the daily exhaustion starting to decrease. Some moms will return to work during this time, a decision that causes many women a lot of stress. While some mothers are looking for a reprieve, others can’t imagine being away from their baby for an entire day. Most moms feel some level of ambivalence; they want to provide for their families financially as well as care for their baby.
This age is also a time of excitement, joy, and adjustment as infants begin to reach developmental milestones. Rolling over, sitting alone, crawling, and walking are accomplishments that spark joy into the heart of a mother.
With some of this independence comes added anxiety as mom realizes that her baby is on the move. And that means that there’s a greater potential for accidents and injuries. Every mother finds herself in a moment where she sees her little one headed for a crash. She suddenly remembers how she longed for this stage where her infant would not require her to do everything for him. She now thinks, however, that total control might have had its advantages.
This stage of mothering requires constant adjustments. The child is changing so quickly! Somewhere between 1 and 2 years of age, her independence and unique personality present challenges. Intentional behaviors, rather than an infant’s natural responses, become present. For the first time since her child’s birth, moms are faced with the need to set limits. Seeing the child as a little being with a mind of his own rather than an innocent infant requires moms to adjust to a new concept: discipline.
As all experienced mothers know, setting limits and consequences is a process that will need adjustment as kids grow and change. This can be frustrating for moms as limits that work one month may not work the next. Just as moms think they’ve come up with a great way to manage a toddler’s tantrums, the child changes. Mom then has to change her strategy as well. Many moms become pregnant with a second child during this stage. If this is the case, additional adjustments may need to be made.
You’ve probably noticed by now that, to this point, we’ve only been discussing moms. Moms tend to become extremely focused on their baby, often to the exclusion of their husbands. The focus is partly out of necessity because young children require so much hands-on care. However, some moms and dads may grow apart during this time of early childhood.
Moms need the lifegiving support of their husbands and interaction with other adults. Often moms of toddlers complain of feeling like they’ve lost their identity as an adult as they’ve been interacting with their kids all day. Therefore, it is crucial for mothers to have time alone with their husbands and include them in childcare. In many cases, the family relationship starts with the husband and wife alone and ends up that way after the kids move out on their own. It’s important to nurture the relationship between a husband and wife so that it is healthy once the kids leave home.
As our kids head into the school years, it’s important for mothers to make spending time with their kids a priority.
Kids venture farther from home once they turn four years old. Children in daycare spend a fair amount of time away from home. Kids who have been home with their moms begin to be involved in more activities. All of this means that there are more influences from outside the home.
If their kids have been with them the majority of the time, this can cause stress for mothers. It’s beneficial, in these cases, for moms to be involved with their kids’ activities if at all possible. Moms are available to influence the positive aspects and address problem areas by being a part of the activities.
A mom who works outside of the home might stress about finding time to spend with her children once they have started school. Her schedule may require her to be away before and after the school day starts and ends. She may want to keep her kids up later in the evening so that she has time to connect with them. However, children need rest to be ready to face the next school day.
School is a central focus during this stage of motherhood. It’s a good time for moms to investigate the possibility of cutting back on work hours or changing their schedules in order to be home at times when they can easily connect with their children. Kids tend to do better in school when their parents help them with homework and work with teachers and school personnel to maximize their academic success.
Additionally, because kids are becoming more independent and self-reliant during this stage, moms come face to face with their kids’ successes and failures. There is a tendency for moms to want to rescue their kids when they’re struggling, but it’s essential for the child’s development to allow them to fail.
During this stage of a mother and child’s life, it can be crucial for moms to form friendships with other supportive moms. These friends can help one another navigate the unique challenges that each child will face. Friendships like these will be especially important in helping moms shed anxiety and build confidence as their children move toward the tween and adolescent years.
Mothers might be surprised at how fast their child is growing and changing during this stage. Your mindset can make this stage in your child’s life fun rather than confusing.
Change is the name of the game for mothers with kids in this age range. Some moms may experience confusion during this stage of motherhood because their child looks, sounds, and behaves very differently from one month to the next. On the other hand, many moms have fun with this stage of motherhood.
As I observed my daughters move toward the teenage years, I found it utterly fascinating to watch them change and grow and observe their strengths and weaknesses. There were joys and there were painful disappointments. Growth spurts were followed by periods of no apparent growth; childlike behavior was followed by moments of maturity.
Moms need to loosen the restrictions that were in place when their kids were younger in order for their tweens to keep growing toward puberty. Mothers also begin to experience changes in their own bodies as they begin to move toward midlife. Moms may begin to have more conflicts with their spouses as they face social and emotional challenges with their kids and disagree on how to intervene. This makes this stage a great time for moms and dads to learn how to negotiate and resolve conflict.
As children begin to put more importance on peer relationships, conflicts with their friends often dominate their lives. If kids are engaging with social media, those conflicts are likely to be more frequent. Moms need to be in a healthy place to care for their children at this age and help them cope with their friendship issues. This is an excellent time for mothers to take steps to improve their own physical, social, and relational health. Caring for children who are moving toward adolescence is less physically taxing than caring for young kids, but it requires a lot more emotional stamina.
Teenagers are constantly learning and growing. It can be fun to share experiences and dream with them as they look toward adulthood.
The irony of this stage of motherhood is that while moms need to be letting go of their kids, they need to be more available at the same time. A mother’s role as kids progress through the teenage years is to provide guidance so that teens can make decisions for themselves. If she allows them to fail and learn from those failures, they will begin to understand how to problem-solve for themselves.
This learning process requires a lot of input from mom. However, it has to be the right kind of input. Moms need to be available to encourage, question, offer ideas, and step in only when a decision may indeed be harmful. She needs to avoid controlling, manipulating, lecturing, and being overprotective. When real dangers exist, moms in this stage need to collaborate with their kids to find viable solutions.
Driving, traveling, working, and spending more time with a variety of friends exposes teens to more potentially dangerous situations. This can be a frightening time for mothers. A mother’s lack of control over the environments her teens walk into is far more terrifying than worrying that she may have missed something that puts her young child in harm’s way. The consequences may also be far more significant for teens than for young children. Accidents, drug and alcohol abuse, injuries, sexually transmitted infections, and mental health problems often do long term, sometimes irreversible, damage.
Somewhere along the line, moms must begin to see their teens as the sexual beings they are. Kids need help from their parents to learn to manage their sexuality responsibly. While talking about sex should start at a much younger age, this stage is a time for frank discussions about sexual behavior. These conversations can be either unpleasant or enjoyable, depending on whether the mom views her teen’s sexuality as a recipe for disaster or a God-given gift.
At this stage of motherhood, we have a choice in how we see our teenagers. Choosing to see the positive side of teenagers rather than worrying about them tends to yield better results. A more hands-off approach can open more opportunities for mothers to get reacquainted with friends with whom they’ve lost touch. It’s also an excellent opportunity for them to pursue some of their own goals. Shifting from focusing on her kids to being focused on others is beneficial for a mom in this stage.
Motherhood doesn’t end when your child turns eighteen. The importance of a mother continues even after your kids have reached this stage.
Did you know that motherhood doesn’t end when the child reaches eighteen years of age? Most published works about the stages of motherhood end at age eighteen. But many moms will tell you that their concerns and need to be engaged with their children become greater after the age of eighteen.
So many important life decisions are made during this time. Emerging adults may benefit significantly from discussing these decisions with their parents. Up until this point, mothers have been advisors. Moms have offered input to keep their kids safe and learn to make good choices. After age eighteen, however, a mother’s role changes to be that of a consultant. Moms provide information from life experience that can be used by her kids to make fully informed decisions. These decisions may be different than what the mother would have done. However, emerging adults need to have the freedom to make mistakes and learn from both good and bad choices.
This can also be a great time for moms to spend time with younger children. When my first daughter was born, I remember feeling sad. I thought I would never again have the opportunity to focus on raising just one child. I quickly realized that I could do that as my other children left home. The time I had alone with my younger daughter once her sister left for college was enjoyable for me.
As the last child leaves home, moms can begin to focus more time on some of her passions, pursue new interests, and engage with friends and family. Venturing off into new frontiers contributes positively to better aging experiences. Moms need to be ready to possibly enter the next stage of motherhood — being a grandmother!
The average number of children per family in the United States has hovered around two since the mid-1970s. This statistic represents a general trend rather than an actual picture of each family. It also doesn’t take into account the many blended families that include children from two different families. In most cases, families who have children are parenting more than one child at a time.
Motherhood becomes especially interesting when moms are experiencing different stages of motherhood at the same time. Most moms switch back and forth between different stages as needed. Additionally, as a mom becomes more experienced and has more children, she tends to become less fearful and more confident. Exposure to multiple friend groups and parents and more activities tends to expand a mom’s social contacts. Out of those, she can choose supportive friends. Building a community of resources to call on when things become confusing with multiple kids can be an excellent lifeline for mothers.
Most moms experience their share of joys and problems while raising children. While we tend to hear a lot about problems parents might encounter with their kids, it’s important to remember that many kids are quite resilient. Many challenges are often resolved as kids age and mature. Problems should certainly be addressed when they arise. However, moms need to remember to embrace the joy at each age and stage of motherhood.
© 2020 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved.
As the current Director of Parenting and Youth at Focus on the Family, Joannie DeBrito draws from over 30 years of diverse experience as a parent educator, family life educator, school social worker, administrator and licensed mental health professional.
The world may tell us that we need to live up to certain expectations of perfection. God’s expectations look entirely different. It’s important that, as mothers, we focus on His ideals of perfection in our lives, and not the world’s. Focusing on Him can bring us peace and direction as we mother our children.
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