Bring on the awkward: how I'm defining my parenthood

February 8 | Guest post by Leah Tioxon
All photos by LeahAndMark.

There was a wonderfully beautiful post on Offbeat Mama the other day — one that resonated with me on several levels — as an adoptee, as a parent, and as a person who loves to ponder the intricacies of identity, of transitions, and of family.

One quote in particular has been bouncing around in my brain: "Sometimes holding yourself back, playing your cards close to the chest, is the only defense we have. Our silence makes us secure."

I'm a very open person, for the most part. But there are things I'd rather keep quiet. I don't necessarily want everyone to know all of my weaknesses. I don't want people witnessing all of my mistakes, my awkward moments.

Before I became a mom, I viewed the transition to parenthood as similar to other transitions in life: the transition to "adulthood" (which, for me, was defined by finishing college, moving across the country, and getting my first full-time job — and a bunch of bills!), the transition to domestic partnership, the transition to married life, and the transition to self-employment. These are all big steps and with them comes a shift in identity, a new role, a change in how others perceive and/or define me. And with any new role, there is a learning curve — a period of adjustment — while I figure out what this transition means to me: how I define this new role and the expectations that come with it, both from me and from others. Do I accept these expectations? Or do I need to adjust the definition of what being a "wife" or being "an adult" means to something more in line with who I am?

With any new role there is the opportunity for awkward moments. New experiences are rife with awkwardness. But in the past I could hide much of that awkwardness. Feigning confidence, self-assuredness… fumbling my way through my first apartment search, my first time filing taxes, my first year of paying bills… I could make mistakes quietly. No one had to know — or at the very least, only a few people had to know.

Becoming a parent is similar to any other major life transition… but unlike so many of those other transitions, I'm finding this one much more public. As I figure out this new role of "Mom," as I integrate it into the other aspects of my identity — my life story — there are many awkward moments. Trying to nurse in public — quickly before Jonah starts screaming for the milk. Trying to get Jonah in and out of the Moby wrap the first few times. Trying to get the car seat adjusted properly. Trying to change a diaper without getting peed on. And because I refuse to stay shut up in my house, these things are all happening in public. With onlookers. Everyone out there is witnessing my transition to motherhood — my awkwardness and my fumbling. I can't hide this part of me. I'm a new mom. And my baby is so darn cute, people can't help but stare (haha, that's what I tell myself!).

Luckily for me, I'm not too easily embarrassed. Like any other transition, the newness will wear off. I will find my groove — in many ways, I already have. I'm so much more comfortable taking Jonah out and about. There will always be awkward moments — children aren't the most predictable creatures on the planet, after all. But I'm not going to let a fear of looking/feeling uncomfortable stop me from exploring the world with my son. I'm embracing this awkwardness. It feels uncomfortable now, but it already feels less so. My 22-year-old baby adult self would have been horrified to be seen making a mistake or not knowing exactly what to do…my 30-year-old mom self is just going to shrug it off and kiss Jonah's big squishy cheeks. I have WAY more important things to concern myself with these days. So bring on the awkwardness!

  1. So true in so many ways. Even now with a 1 year old, there is so much awkardness, so much learning in public. And yet, I keep being ok with it (even with my highly perfectionist self..)

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  2. OMG love the last bubble shot.

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  3. Bring on the awkwardness-love it :) Like nursing in front of your single, childless friends or very Midwestern family members for the first time, bumbling through the grocery store as I shove my purchases around the sleeping babe in the cart, learning how to diaper a very squirmy little boy when you only had little sisters growing up, etc. I just try to take it all in stride with a smile :)

    Random side note- my son is totally in love with the skip hop owl in your pictures. We keep it by his changing table and he always grabs it and carries it with him after diaper time :)

  4. Reading this brought me back 17 years ago when I had my first son. At nineteen years old, I looked more like fifteen. I would see people stare at me and I was MORE nervous for that fact then anything else.
    Four more sons and one daughter later, I often catch a glimpse at 'first time moms' (which is usually obvious). Or even moms having a toddler and a new baby…
    By catching the wet wipes that are falling (or being pulled off by a toddler) or by simply (and sincerly) telling the Momma that their doing a great job, Ive noticed that they really appreciate it. I see a moment of RELIEF washed across their face. We've all done it, we've all been through it, and we all know what you're going through.
    Every week, every month, every year, difficult things become an easy routine. Soon after, milestone bring on new and messier situations, but through time, you'll get it down. Then one day YOU'LL see a new mom struggling, you'll smile, tell her she's doing a great job and she will pass it on to the next. :)

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    • This is such a nice comment it made me tear up. I am expecting my first in a few months, and I just KNOW there are going to be moments of frustration and awkwardness when I'm out and about with my new baby. I just hope there are sweet moms out there like you who can give me a "great job!" or lend a helping hand.

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  5. You sound like my work twin by your description. Social worker and photographer here, too! And…new mom! Haha.

    Talk about awkward. The first time I took my son to the grocery store, I had no idea what to do. I had to put his carseat IN the cart, b/c I hadn't figured out my Moby wrap yet. This left next to no room for groceries. Then I put him in the car, and realized the place to put shopping carts was kind of far from the car. I went back and forth for a few minutes on whether or not I needed to take my son back out of the car and take him with me to put the shopping cart back, or if it was okay to leave him in the car for 30 seconds. I ended up taking him back out of the car, so no one would think I was crazy. Although, they probably thought I was crazy for getting him in the car, standing there, and getting him back out again. I still don't know what the proper protocol is for that, and I just use my Ergo when I go somewhere. Haha. I think being a social worker has made me overly cautious about being awkward in public.

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  6. "My 22-year-old baby adult self would have been horrified to be seen making a mistake or not knowing exactly what to do…my 30-year-old mom self is just going to shrug it off and kiss Jonah's big squishy cheeks. I have WAY more important things to concern myself with these days" Yes, THIS! Becoming a mom has pushed me lightyears forward in the process of realizing that other people's opinions and judgments about my parenting (and me in general) have much more to do with *them* than with *me*. As long as I know I'm doing my best to be a good mom, it doesn't matter what they think.

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  7. Bubbles! And babies! And a kitty cat! And…and.. BUBBLES!!

    Awkward? What's awkward? Something's awkward..

    BUBBLES! With a BABY! Is that awkward? No, no, focus..

    The KITTY CAT! Is the kitty cat awkward? No, that can't be it…

    I'm trying to pay attention. Really. But there's a tiny baby playing with some tiny tiny bubbles with a kitty cat nearby.

    I can't be held accountable.

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  8. Ohh, I remember that feeling.

    I went to see a lactation consultant when my first son was 5 weeks old because I was having pain and latch issues. While we were there he pooped (of course) and to my horror I found that my diaper bag was TOTALLY OUT OF DIAPERS. I could not have been more embarrassed. I had to wrap a burp cloth around his butt and feel like a dork.

    Now he's two years old and when I see new moms out… I just love them. I have this maternal urge to help them but I just let them be, because oh, I remember.

  9. Love it. In my limited experience, the awkwardness of parenting isn't the type you grow out of – it just shape-shifts. A couple years ago I was awkwardly trying to breastfeed in church, shooting some poor lady in the head with milk. Last weekend I was awkwardly managing a toddler meltdown in the grocery store, dodging judgmental glances and flying clementines. And in a few years, I'll be awkwardly fumbling through "the talk" and first groundings and awful haircuts. It's humbling, that's for sure!

  10. okay i'm lame, i didn't even read the article. i just felt i had to mention that we have that owl, as well as that squiggly toy that's sitting right in front of it in the photo.

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