Dear New Parents,
I had the joy of getting to meet the baby of one of my oldest and dearest friends this past weekend. While I was there I was reminded of how challenging, exhausting, and unreal (in ways good and bad) being a new parent can be. Here are a few things to keep in mind during the next few months as your little earthling adjusts to life on this planet, and you adjust to being a parent. This list is by no means exhaustive, but I hope it will give you a little parenting perspective from someone who is out of the infant woods, but not so far removed from having a baby that I have forgotten how absolutely insane it is.
*Your identity will change.
And change, and probably change again. You won’t necessarily lose all the other components of your identity, but being a parent will change the way you see “you” in ways you can’t fully prepare for.
I never thought I would be a Stay at Home Mom (despite the fact that I never actually made any childcare plans while I was pregnant). It took me 5 years (yep, until my older child actually went to kindergarten) for me to feel truly comfortable and adjusted to my new identity as a SAHM (who also works from home when the kids are sleeping or at school). You may think you want to go back to work and then decide you want to work less hours or not at all or a different job with different hours. You may think you want to take a few years off and then find yourself itching to go back to work within a few months. You can’t really know until your baby is here. And you may change your mind about your decision a lot-sometimes within minutes. If you are one of the ones lucky enough to be able to make this lifestyle choice, know that as long as your child is in a loving, caring environment and you are happy, whatever you decide will be okay.
In one of the many baby and parenting books I read, it said that parents quickly learn how to discern what their cries mean, whether it be from hunger, overstimulation, fatigue, etc. Except if your baby pretty much cries a lot of the time. Then you dump out the whole bag of tricks every.single.time and hope that eventually you hit on whatever your baby wants/needs.
There is so much that no one thinks to tell you. Like that it’s okay to let your little one hang out while you put away the dishes instead of waiting to do all the menial household chores during the precious moments that your baby is sleeping. Like that having a dance party while your baby is strapped to your chest will likely improve any situation (unless the baby is sleeping in which case, maybe make it a dance party on the down low). Like that if this was your second or third or eighth baby you wouldn’t be concerned with making sure they were entertained and that your baby would likely be spending plenty of time running to drop off/pick up/take the other child to playdates or ballet practice.
So ask away. The answer might not work for you and your family, but at least you’ll have some idea what others do.
*Find people with babies like yours and people with babies nothing like yours.
Being a new parent can be an incredible time of making new friends, and it can also be incredibly lonely. I felt very lucky to have known parents of children who were now older but who had had a similar temperament to my child as a baby. It made me realize a) these people and their children had survived the emotional holocaust that it feels like when you have a fussy baby and b) some of the kids turned out really awesome and perhaps mine would eventually too.
If you are one of those people who has an easy baby, please find people with babies like yours so that you can discuss how “having a baby is easier than I thought it would be” with those people, instead of with the parents of challenging babies who will want to maim you and who also want you to know that you probably didn’t “do” anything to make your baby easy (except hit the easy baby jackpot).
As far as finding people with babies nothing like yours, I suggest it because it will keep you humble, give you hope, make you consider having more than one child (or make you decide to stop while you are ahead), get perspective, and start your baby off from the beginning being in the presence of others who are different from him or her (even if he or she doesn’t realize it at the time).
*Get the help you need.
A week after Elijah was born, my doula came to my house. Everything was tidy, the laundry was put away, the plants were watered, dinner was prepped, my hair was washed, yadayadayada. “Do people really just lay around with their babies and have their friends and family cook and clean for them?” I asked, smugly confident that having a baby was not going to cramp my Type A, multitasking superwoman status.
“If they’re smart, they do,” she said honestly. A day later my son started crying upwards of three hours a day, which continued for several months. I suck at asking for help, but hopefully you are better at it than me. Ask people for help with meals in lieu of baby gifts, hire a babysitter if you need some time during the day or night, and communicate with your spouse/partner regarding how you can best support each other during this time of temporary craziness.
This advice is especially important if you have a challenging child who is needy. I know, I know, all infants are needy, but if you have a truly needy child (as in “Oh you were just putting me down on my very fun and colorful playmat for 10 seconds so you could change your shirt. I thought you were leaving me here for 10 hours with fiery bamboo sticks pointing into my body; that’s why I’m screaming like this” needy), you know what I mean. I didn’t think anyone could “handle” Elijah and pretty much never left his side for months, which was not healthy for either one of us.
All bets are off especially during the first few weeks. If you keep yourself, your baby, and the poor dog or cat who used to be your first priority alive, you are successful (and no one has to know that you ordered delivery more during that period than you normally do in a year).
*Those little old ladies who tell you their children never cried/ never fussed about wearing a hat or sweater/never threw a temper tantrum in a public place/were basically perfect all day every day from the time they were born have selective memory.
Or they are crazy. Either way, just smile and nod.
*Your baby will sleep through the night.
Just don’t ask me when. Or him/her. It might happen tomorrow. It might not happen for many tomorrows. And you may have to give him or her a little, um, help learning how to do it. But know deep down in the core of your being that it will happen one day. And it will be GLORIOUS. Also, your days won’t always be dictated by naps and feedings, you won’t spend excessive amounts of time wondering/worrying about all things sleep-related, and soon your kids will be in school and you will miss them so much you can hardly wait to hear about their day. The phrase “The days are long, but the years are short” fits the period of early parenthood more perfectly than any other I have ever experienced.
So enjoy what you can, embrace the ever-coming changes, and try and have as much fun as you can. Congratulations. XOXO