“I thought I was the greatest parent, then I had kids.”
Picture this, you are sitting with a gorgeous bundle of joy in your arms, a scene you have probably pictured in your head several times during your pregnancy, and it hits you, I mean it really hits you – I am a parent. I am responsible for this beautiful piece of life in my hands! What the hell do I do now? Babies don’t come with a manual.
When I became a parent, I remember thinking to myself often, in the first year, “Why didn’t anyone tell me this?” Like most parents-to-be, we did the usual antenatal classes, read books, signed up on BabyCenter, and spoke to friends who had recently had children. But nothing can prepare you for your experience as a first-time parent. It’s one of those crazy, magical, not to mention, extremely exhausting, roller coaster rides of your life.
Whether you love kids, or have doubts about your parental instincts, or think you’ve got this parental shindig all figured out, you are in for a surprise. Your life is going to change in an unbelievable way!
Here are a few important pointers to help you along the way:
1. Breastfeeding is hard, but not impossible
Breastfeeding is not easy and it takes you time to get it right. However, it’s a great start for your child and if you choose to do it, arm yourself with the right information. Most breastfeeding issues are easily solved if you reach out for the right support. Please talk to friends who successfully breastfed to get the real picture and for recommendations for helpful resources such as lactation consultants.
Get all the help you need while in the hospital, after delivery. Seek a good lactation consultant who can teach you how to breastfeed. You need to learn to identify a correct latch and if your child is feeding well or not. La Leche League and Kelly Mom are great websites for finding additional support and more information.
2. Not all babies sleep long hours
Every baby book and website will tell you that babies sleep 12- 16 hours a day. That makes it sound like they sleep all the time and you can go about your work. But not all babies sleep for long, uninterrupted stretches. They sleep between 2-4 hours at a stretch, even at night, initially.
3. Hence, having a baby means you will miss sleep terribly
When I had been a mom for a week, I was awfully sleep deprived. I asked another friend with more experience, (having 2 older kids), when do I get to sleep properly through the night? She laughed and remarked, “Definitely not before they are 20!”
You come to slowly realize that sleep is a luxury for new parents. “Sleep when the baby sleeps” is the best advice I ever received. Don’t clean, don’t do laundry, and don’t use that time to cook, please just sleep! Take turns staying up at night.
Whether you choose to co-sleep, sleep train, or whatever, do your research and decide what works best for your family. Go with whatever gets everyone more sleep, at least until you reach a phase where you aren’t constantly exhausted. Or else, not just the baby, but you too will end up in tears. You can always change plans as the situation changes.
4. The first 3 months are the hardest
They don’t call it the fourth trimester for nothing. Your newborn baby will be gradually adjusting to life outside the womb and you will go through all kind of hormonal and physical changes while recovering from childbirth. Our world is the complete opposite of the safe cocoon the baby emerged from. Adjusting to constant stimulation, learning to express their needs, life outside is a big deal to a newborn baby, some adjust easily, and others take their time. You need to empathize with your child and give them what they need. I promise you that if you soothe your baby by picking them up, they won’t be stuck to your hip forever, not even a few months down the line.
Your emotions will be like a pendulum, swaying from one extreme to another. It’s important to get rest, eat, and drink well. It’s only too likely that you’ll lose yourself in the busy life of a new mother, but take care of yourself. Factor in ‘me time’ in the week to reconnect with yourself and rejuvenate. A happy mother makes a happy baby.
5. Everyone will have advice for you, mostly unwarranted
From the family, to your neighbor, to your friends without kids, to random strangers you encounter when your child is in the midst of a crying fit, everyone will have an opinion on parenting your baby and offer advice and suggestions. You will feel like you are not good enough. Trust me you are. As a new parent, you experience this enormous desire to get everything right! So it’s natural to be worried and question what you are doing. But learn to listen to your parental instincts, find your own parenting philosophy, and not get too influenced by everyone’s advice. Also, if you are open enough, you will learn not to judge another parent’s choices.
6. Get all the support you can get
They say, ‘it takes a village to bring up a child’, and they are right. Get all the help you can: you will need it. Ask family and friends to babysit, even if just for an hour so you can shower and eat a meal without having to rush to your baby. If you can get help with cooking and housework, don’t refuse. Let your partner share equally in the responsibility. Don’t worry if the house is untidy or meals are hastily thrown together, it’s ok to NOT be super mom or super dad. As your baby grows, these issues will sort themselves out. For now, just go with the flow.
Seek other new parents at playgroups, parenting support groups, breastfeeding cafes, and even online. It’s easier to turn to those going through the same stage in life for help, advice, support, and guidance. I didn’t have my family around when I had a baby so I set up a support group on Facebook to create my own community of friends and family for support. It was an immense source of comfort to me as a new mom.
7. Babies are stronger and more resilient than you know
Accidents such as minor falls and bumps with babies are common, but most do not cause much harm. Babies are, explorers by nature, which doesn’t help when you are exhausted parents. Luckily, infants have flexible bones and what might cause serious damage to an adult, will often, not do much harm to a tiny baby.
Other than accidents, there is so much that a new parent worries about: is my baby drinking enough milk? Is her weight ok? Does she have enough teeth? Why is she crying? It’s a never-ending list and parents are concerned that they might be doing it all wrong and may ruin their baby.
While it’s sometimes tough to gauge a baby’s signs- it takes practice and careful observation- babies are intelligent humans and if we don’t get in their way much, they will grow beautifully.
8. Milestones: don’t compare, because it’s not a race
Milestones are meant to be indicators of development, not a yardstick to measure your child’s growth and progress. Celebrate your child’s milestones and let them get there by themselves. Many parents think they need to help or teach their child to turn on their stomach, crawl, and walk. Please let nature do its own thing. These are instinctive and children will achieve these in their own time. There is no need to prop your child up to sit or hold their hands enabling them to walk even before they are standing up properly by themselves. Leaving them to do this by themselves is not just good physiologically (helps build strong muscle and bone structure) but allows your child to trust their body from a very young age.
9. Capture their childhood
My husband has very few baby pictures and he wishes there were more photographs to cherish. So he insisted on upgrading to a better camera when we knew we were having a baby. In fact, it was probably the most expensive piece of baby kit we invested in. And I’m very glad he did that as we have so many lovely photos and videos of a phase that passes by so quickly to reminisce over. I look at my daughter’s baby pics and think to myself, “Oh my! I had forgotten that!” Sometimes it feels as if those photos are of a different baby altogether. They change so much so fast, it’s incredible. Not to mention you are mostly too tired to remember everything.
Needless to say, you will want to capture every single moment. New parents are unsurprisingly obsessed with their newborns.
10. Babies don’t need a lot of things
Just lots of nappies, a few baby sleep suits, a few blankets, and your set. A newborn doesn’t need fancy gadgetry. So think before you buy that fancy toy. All they need in abundance is your love and presence. Most first-time parents tend to overdo it, buying all the latest gadgets to make life easier. But go slow, check parent recommendations and really think if you need it. You can save that money for the future instead.
11. Plan your finances
Having a baby is an expensive proposition. Parents from previous generations set aside money for college and maybe weddings, but many parents today need to think of childcare too. Childcare is expensive so factor it in before you have the baby. These days, childcare expenses are among the largest part of a family budget. This is understandable, as childcare costs have often been said to be at par or higher than college expenses.
12. Going anywhere will become a massive task
A quick run to the shops to buy milk and bread will require 45 mins of preparation. It’s like packing for an overnight trip. You will have a long list of things to carry and forgetfulness that is a result of sleep deprivation and sheer exhaustion will slow you down. Keep a nappy bag always stocked and ready to go. Keep a checklist handy when you are too tired to think but need to pop to the shops for essentials. If and when you plan to go out for a nice evening, it will need detailed organizing and providing troubleshooting instructions to your babysitter.
13. Reconnect as a couple
“In the happiest of our childhood memories, our parents were happy too” – Robert Brault.
Parenting is hard on your relationship; especially in the early days when the new situation is challenging to both of you and survival is the main goal. It takes a toll on the best of couples. There are never enough hours to finish housework or errands, you are both exhausted and with a baby around, romance isn’t top of the agenda anymore. So it’s important to spend time with each other as a couple, without talking about responsibilities or your baby. Set up date nights at home if you can’t organize a babysitter often. If you argue in front of your baby, make sure to make up in front of your baby too. It’s important to create a healthy, happy, and secure environment for your child to grow up in.
14. You will gain new skills
“While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about,” – Angela Schwindt.
Children teach us so much about life. A child will find true joy in the simplest of things. Children teach us how to love unconditionally, how to forgive, to be giving, to be honest, to be carefree, to trust your instincts, patience, and perseverance, among many other things.
On a lighter note, you will learn to become a ninja around your baby when she sleeps. You won’t remember things that need to be done, but you will know the words to every rhyme even in the middle of the night. You will learn to eat your meals super fast or single-handed. You will learn to do many things single-handed. You will become an expert in non-linguistic communication and baby language. For a while, only you will seem to be able to interpret what your baby’s words mean. You will learn to sleep anytime, anywhere.
15. Enjoy your baby – they grow up too fast
Being a parent is mostly about being full of love, joy, hope and unimaginable delight, even when you’re bone tired. You will laugh more than ever before. All the craziness will soon end – the sleepless nights, the toilet training, and tantrums. Time will run swiftly and in the blink of an eye your infant will be a toddler and before you know it, ready for school. Savor the baby stage; it’s so special and so short-lived that you will miss it dearly when it’s gone. Watching your child grow is one of the most magical and mystical experiences of your life. Don’t be constantly worried and panicked about the baby.
You will be fine. Don’t take life too seriously. Remember to relax and have fun as a family enjoying this beautiful gift that you have been blessed with.
Featured photo credit: Lisa Rosario via albumarium.com