We sat on her bedroom floor, my daughter and I, pulling out all the clothes from a summer past to make room for the needs that come with a change of season and taller little girl. As I made piles of shorts and tank tops, it dawned on me that almost everything Harper wore this summer had previous owners -- the bathing suits, the shorts, the cute sandals -- all worn by someone we know and love, and who loves us, too. So we started talking about our friends and their gifts to us, and I told her, “Oh, this was Cameryn’s shirt” and “that was Sawyer’s bathing suit, we have to tell her ‘thank you’ when we see her!” Harper began to learn with each folded outfit that someone gave it to us freely, left us their best from the journey they have already been on.

Our daughter’s first hand-me-downs came when I was about twenty weeks pregnant. A pack-n-play, a few bags of clothes and an almost new car seat. These were the very first items our little girl had, and we needed them, badly. The entirety of our savings account at that time would have only covered the car seat. And then when Harper was born, there was more. Bags and bags more. My daughter is two years old and I can count on two hands the number of clothing items I have had to buy for her. We are a family who unashamedly loves the blessing of good hand-me-downs, reaping the benefit of mothers who are a little farther along, done with the season that we are in, but leaving us with the things that are still good from that season. And really, it hasn’t been only nice clothes.

My favorite hand-me-downs are the words, the ones that refresh my heart, make me laugh, give me a good cry, or simply remind me to hold on until the next morning, when everyone gets a new start no matter how messy the day became. It’s the good words, the real words, the honest experiences of mamas a little bit ahead of me that make me feel okay about this whole motherhood gig. 

The opposite can happen, too. We can hand down very unhelpful words. We can sit at baby showers and watch as the beautiful soon-to-be mama marvels over each and every tiny outfit, then add comments like “Oh that will get spit up on in three minutes” or “wait until she has a blow out in that expensive onesie.” 

We can watch the young mama juggling three children in a grocery store, clearly at the end of her rope, and say things like, “Oh you should enjoy this season. Just wait until they are teenagers.”

And we can look at the mother chasing after her fifteen year-old son, doing all she can to convince him that beer and girls and fast cars all take a whole lot of responsibility and good decisions while we offer thoughts like “Oh, he will be married soon, and then you’ll lose him to his wife’s family, so as hard as it is now, at least he is under your roof.” 

And the soon to be mama will graciously smile, because she doesn’t know anything but dreams of babies sleeping on her chest.

And the young mama will be numb with sadness, because if it is supposedly harder to have teenagers than three kids under five, motherhood instantly becomes something she should have thought twice about.  

And the weary mother of the teen will just look off into the distance and continue to lose sleep every night, because she just wants him alive and well for that very same wedding day you speak of.

Maybe a baby shower is not the best place to remind the glowing, expecting beauty of our terrible birth stories and the realities of laundry and sleep deprivation. Maybe the chaos of the grocery store with toddlers is not the best time to remind a mama that it actually gets harder. And maybe the scariness of parenting teenagers is not the best season to point out that we have to completely let go in a few years.

The thing about being a mom is that we can only be where we are. 

As a mama tribe, if we are not careful about the words we hand down, we can make it really hard for others to not only be where they are, but to love where they are. And gosh, if motherhood becomes a series of waiting for the next season with trepidation, we are missing it all: the goodness, the blessings, the sweet and the hard that we really wouldn’t trade for anything in the world. 

As I sorted all of Harper’s now too-small clothes to put away in a big pink container, I thought about the women who gave us each item, and how these things actually saved us in the season we were in. And then I thought about how the words saved me, too. 

“You will be a great mom.”

“Toddlers are so stinking funny, just keep laughing at them, and yourself.”

“You will love being friends with your teenager, even though he will disagree with you often. He is just learning to be who God made him.” 

And this: “One day your babies will leave. But it will be mostly sweet, because watching them turn into selfless human beings and learn to love their own family is the greatest reward of motherhood.”

Hand-me-downs. I don’t know what I would do without them.   

Written by Katie Blackburn. Photo by N'tima Preusser