Saturday, July 14, 2012

Things I Wish I'd Known About Parenthood


(Pause for effect.)

Sure, I knew life would change.  How could it not?  I was prepared for some change.  What I didn’t realize is that my former life would be rendered completely unrecognizable.

But that happens when you make a life, when you make a human being.  Life changes.  You change.  You have this teeny tiny human being who relies on you for everything.  Everything.  Life can't possibly be the same after that.

For all its indescribable awesomeness (and really, there just aren’t words), motherhood is, no doubt, the hardest job I’ve ever had.  Despite the hard work, the sleepless nights, the indecipherable cries, the poop explosions, and the countless other things that threatened my sanity, I wouldn’t give any of it up to go back to Life Before Baby.

Speaking of Baby, she’s 9½ months old at this writing.

Because she’s our first child, there were a few things that I would have found helpful to know in advance.  Lots of people will want to give you advice.  (Apparently, including me.)  But it’s my sincere hope that even a smidgen of what I’m about to share is helpful.

If you're due to have your first baby soon, or if you've recently had your first baby, allow me to say what a million people have said before me:  Enjoy it.  It really does go by fast.

Now, my advice:

Childbirth is amazing.  A-maz-ing.  It might not be a walk in the park.  In fact, it probably won't be.  But there’s a great prize at the end, so give it all you’ve got.  Try to be present for all of it, even the parts you'd rather not remember, because that prize is going to want to know the story of how it came into the world.

You’re going to have an extra person with you when you get home.  A very needy extra person.  But remember:  you can do it!  You can even do it without help.  (But if you’re offered help, try to take it.)  Just make sure that you're able to take some time to yourself to recharge your batteries now and again.  You’ll be a better parent because of it.

Babies are messy.  I'm going to say that again.  Babies are messy.  I’m not going to describe how, because you might be eating as you read this.  At least until you have a good sense of exactly what will be coming out of your baby, don't buy expensive clothes, and get into the habit of putting burp cloths or towels down on furniture that you care about.  When your baby starts solids, I suggest giving up all hope of having a tidy home until they master the art of self-feeding.  Which I think happens at around age 30.

Eating can be a challenge.  Whether you breastfeed or formula feed, remember that eating is a skill that babies have to learn to master, and it can take some time to get to a place of comfort and routine.  Patience and support are key.

Practice good posture.  Try to start at the beginning.  I have no data to back this up, but I have a theory that the heavier a baby gets, the more that baby's parents resemble Quasimodo.

Get some sleep.  You'll need it.  People will suggest that you nap when the baby naps.  This is a very good idea, especially in the beginning.  Especially if your baby cries a lot or has an erratic sleep schedule.  (Truth be told, this will probably be the case.)  You’re going to need to be well-rested.  Believe me.  (Full disclosure here:  This falls under the category of Advice I'll Freely Give But Probably Won't Follow Myself.)

Sleep is overrated.  Get things done instead.  In time, you’ll catch up on your own sleep, and those times when your little darling is napping will become golden to you.  You’re going to really enjoy a few moments each day to foster the feeling of getting something accomplished.  Even if that something is emptying the dishwasher.  Or brushing your teeth.

Let your baby learn how to fall asleep.  This one was very hard for us.  Both my husband and I loved having our daughter fall asleep in our arms.  But at 4 months of age, I realized we were going to have to start to wean her, unless we wanted to have to rock her to sleep until she turned 12.  There are lots of methods and philosophies on getting babies to fall asleep by themselves.  Find one that works for you and your baby.

It’s normal to feel frustrated at times.  And angry.  And blue.  Just remember:  it isn’t your baby’s fault, and make sure you don’t take it out on your little one.  Or your partner.  Parenthood is hard.  Hard.  Surround yourself with people who love you, who will support you, who can understand or at least empathize with what you're going through, and who will give you ample opportunities to ventilate about what you’re feeling and experiencing.  

Listen to others’ opinions, but follow your heart.  Most people aren’t shy about offering advice on how you should raise your baby.  They mean well, so respond kindly to them.  But then learn to trust your parental wisdom (which grows stronger with time and experience) and make sure you decide what's best for you and your baby.

Find a pediatrician who will talk you down from a ledge, not up to one.  Most pediatricians will allow you to interview them, free of charge, before you make a final decision.  Take advantage of this.  Find the right doctor, even if it means interviewing a small handful of them.  This person will be caring for your baby until your little darling goes off to college, so you’ll want to find someone that you (and your baby) feel comfortable with and confident in.  And remember, you can always change your mind and find a new pediatrician.

Trust your judgment.  There's no manual.  But there is daily on-the-job training.  And from birth until the bitter end, no human being anywhere in the world will every know your baby better than you do.  That means something.  That means something pretty huge.  Trust yourself

When things get tough, tap into something bigger.  It helps me to remember that there are lots of moms and dads out there who want babies but can’t have them.  And that there are lots of babies out there who need caring moms and dads.  Whenever I find myself at the end of my rope, I remember this, and it really does help.

Thanks for reading.  Now go have the time of your life.

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