I’m a 2-year-old mother. No, I am not actually 2 years old. To clarify, I’ve been a mother for two, going on three, years now — and it’s a transition that completely uprooted me.

I didn’t think that way initially, though, in reference to the title. For some reason, I thought I was supposed to have it all figured out by now. I thought that after the initial postpartum phase, motherhood would be nothing but bliss. I thought that by this stage, I’d obtain what I now know to be an ungraspable level of perfection. It just doesn’t exist, and yet I thought it did.

To sum it all up, I thought of myself as a 26-year-old mother, when in reality, I haven’t mothered for 26 years. I haven’t collected that amount of parenting experience or knowledge. What I know is what I have learned — in these two, going on three, years.

The fact that I’m likely still considered a “new” mom hadn’t registered to me. This is my first child, so there was a substantial shift that happened to me when I formed my son and brought him into this world. Yet for some reason — just like society expects mothers to be back in order by that infamous 6-week mark — I thought my life would be back to “normal” by the time my son was 1 years old. Then 2. Then came the hopes for maybe by the time he turns 3. Little did I know, the “normal” that I’d once known had said its final farewell the moment that the seed of my son was planted — yet here I was, clinging to a version of my life that no longer existed.

In my mind, I wasn’t a good mom. I’d been battling with my mental health, feeling like I wasn’t as emotionally available for my child as I needed to be. There were days I struggled to get out of bed because sleep became my escapism. And on good days, I still managed to judge myself for ways I could’ve shown up better: I could’ve made him something other than pizza for dinner. I could’ve given him more attention today. I could’ve smiled more. I could’ve yelled less. I should’ve known this, that, and the third.

I was downcast. I remembered thinking that I just wasn’t doing all that I could be doing as a mother. I remembered feeling like the challenges should have dissipated by now. Before reaching out to a friend, I wrote this journal entry to express my frustration [triggering topics omitted]:

Almost 2 1/2 years in, and I feel like I’m failing. It feels like the postpartum depression is worse now than it was when it first began. Initially, I thought maybe it had less to do with motherhood and more to do with everything else, but a lot of it is linked to all that has changed since becoming a mom. I’ve been going to therapy, doing the work, and yet still it feels like I’m constantly returning to a place of darkness. Where I feel like I’m drowning. Where it feels like I’m alone. I know those things aren’t truth, though. I want to be here. But at the same time, I don’t want to be HERE. In this pit. In this darkness. In this loneliness. I want to be back to myself. I remember how powerful of a woman I felt giving birth, and I look at where I am now and feel like that woman’s strength has slowly been deteriorating. She’s been crying for help, but nobody knows how to help her. Or everyone is doing what they can, yet she doesn’t know how to help herself. I just want to be OK. For my son, for my husband, for myself. I want to be OK because I deserve to be. Despite my flaws and my state of mothering in this season, I just hope my child sees and feels his mother’s love with no question. I just hope the mess of who I am right now doesn’t become a source of pain in his childhood.

It was this entry, a series of tears, and feelings of failure that led me to a conversation with a dear friend who uttered the life-changing words to me. I can’t remember the conversation word-for-word, but I do remember her saying something along the lines of this:

You are a 2-year-old mother. You have to give yourself grace. You’re not supposed to know it all. You have only been a mother for two years. Your son has only been a child for two years. You both are learning together.

I cannot express how deeply hearing those words touched me, nor how much they transformed my perception of mothering.

I was approaching it all wrong, with a mindset that my 26 years of life was supposed to equate to 26 years of mothering when in reality, just as a child develops overtime, I am developing as a mom. Right now, I am in the fresh stages of motherhood. I am not a senior in this realm. I still have much to learn and unlearn.

I have only been a mother for two years. My son has only been a child for two years. Together, we are learning. We are making mistakes, correcting course, shedding tears, bumping our heads, scraping our knees (literally and metaphorically) as we journey this newness hand-in-hand, heart-to-heart. Together, we are learning as we go, as we grow.

If you take nothing else from those words my friends spoke to me, mama, leave with this: give yourself grace. Whether you’re a 2-year-old mom or a 22-year-old mom, it’s the kindest thing we can do for ourselves, and for our children.

From one mother to another,

Mariah Maddox