Becoming a parent has been the most life changing experience I have been through. I had a superficial kind of head knowledge that things would change. I knew there would be some lost sleep. That there would be a little human requiring constant care. That my lifestyle would change somewhat.
To be honest though, all those adjustments aside, I thought it would be relatively straightforward. I had no idea that I would second guess myself more than ever before, that there would be so much conflicting advice everywhere I turned, or that I would feel this incredible, heavy weight of responsibility.
I wish I had received some tips. Not recommendations about a hundred different things, but just a few tips about the essentials. About the essence of being a parent. Essential tips that would have encouraged me to trust myself and better equipped me to give my baby exactly what she needed.
1) Hold your baby
As much as you want.
Naysayers will tell you “She’ll get used to it”, as if that’s a bad thing. It’s not. It’s ok to hold your baby as much as you want. You don’t have to, nor should you, teach your baby to “self soothe”. Holding your baby creates more secure, attached little people. These little people become secure, confident, well adjusted big people that know how to form healthy attachments and relationships. This is the honeymoon phase of a lifelong relationship. Just enjoy it.
2) Don’t worry about schedules
Feeding and napping schedules will either happen on their own as you follow your baby’s lead, or they won’t. Some babies just don’t conform to imposed, ideal routines. Just as adults have varied, diverse and colourful personalities, so do our babies. So don’t waste energy stressing about schedules if they aren’t working. Your baby will be fine. You will be ok too.
3) Don’t compare yourself to anyone else or your baby to someone else’s baby
Every baby is different. Every person has different priorities and needs. Everyone is fighting a different battle and coming from a different background. I know it’s hard. It’s hard not to cross that line as we share stories, triumphs, lessons learned and so on. You’ll feel it in your gut though. Once you start down that path of comparing your own parenting skills with those of another, or comparing your baby with another, it’s a slippery slope. Honestly, there is nothing constructive to be gained.
4) Trust yourself and, if necessary, ignore everyone else
Even as a first time mum, you know your baby better than anyone else. Within the first few minutes you know your baby best.
Follow this motto if necessary…
“Don’t complain, don’t explain.”
If I was in the company of people I knew would be quick to offer advice, suggestions or judgements, I chose not to complain or speak about my extreme lack of sleep. Once you open that door of discussion, you are pretty much giving them permission to make suggestions. Next, you’ll find yourself explaining and justifying how and why you have or have not done certain things. At some point I knew I couldn’t handle yet another person telling me I just needed to swaddle tighter, turn the heater up, turn the heater down, pop her down while she was sleepy but awake and so on. “Don’t complain, don’t explain.”
5) Slow down
It’s ok for your life to slow down, at least the life you were accustomed to. Say “no” when you need to. Let go of expectations of going on play dates or shopping or to cafés. If you need a PJ day at home, do it. Do it for several consecutive days in a row if you want to.
6) Hog your baby all you want
There’s a weird social pressure to hand your baby around. To let everyone in a room get a turn of holding your baby. You don’t have to. It’s perfectly fine not to comply with this societal custom. If you and your baby are fine with this, go for it. but if either of you are uncomfortable, it’s ok to say “no”. Wear your baby in a wrap or carrier if you feel awkward saying “no” about handing her over to every second person.
7) Love and empathy
Throughout this parenting journey there are so many possibilities, so many potential “right” answers and varying courses of action. Provided you offer love and empathy to your sweet baby, all the other stuff fades into the background. To school or home school, to pursue sporting or artistic ventures, to have set routines or not…all of these things don’t actually matter that much in the scheme of things.
Your unconditional love and empathy will have the biggest impact on your child’s development.
8) Prams and cots are ok
If you have a baby that happens to like, even prefers, a pram to being worn, or a cot to bed sharing, that’s fine. This time around, our third little munchkin loves a dummy (pacifier). Once she’s nursed, she’s done, there’s no comfort nursing. She loves her dummy. Knowing your baby and meeting their needs is what counts.
9) It’s just a phase (or one of many, many phases)
Admittedly when you’re waking up for the tenth time to feed your unsettled baby or when you have tears streaming down your face as you wish you could put your baby down for five minutes so you could have a shower, this doesn’t help. But somewhere in the back of your mind, knowing that it is a phase, might help just a tiny bit. Eventually this situation will be different. Things won’t always be this hard. Hang in there.
10) You are not alone
Even if it feels like it. Even if amongst your family and friends, it feels like it. Someone, somewhere, is in a similar situation. Find an online parenting group that shares your parenting style and values. A surprising amount of support can be found in these groups.
11) Make things as easy as possible
In those early weeks and months, keep things as simple as you can.
* Make a stash of freezer meals before baby arrives if possible.
* Order groceries online.
* Hire cleaning help if you can afford it.
* Ask family to help with housework and laundry.
*Eat off paper plates if things are rough, you’re sleep deprived or don’t have people to help.
It took me close to a year to learn and believe these truths. Sometimes we just need someone to affirm what is in our heart or to tell us that something “controversial” is in fact perfectly ok, even good.
I hope these tips help as you begin this beautiful, sometimes lonely, sometimes painful, often times confusing, but always amazing, journey of parenthood.