This isn’t my typical blog post, but this past year so many things have been swirling around in my mind that I feel the need to write them out (and yes it has taken me well over a year to do so). Maybe what I’ve learned the hard way will help someone else; and please I would love to hear from other parents or care givers what shocked you, surprised you or melted your heart in a way you never thought possible. So here goes… Those things I learned the hard way.
Did you know that after you have a baby your hair can literally falls out in clumps for weeks? That is a fun one. Thankfully, it is temporary as your hormones attempt to balance out. Something called BPA (which you may have never even heard of before) suddenly seems important, but you are not even sure why. Did you know that it is actually possible to be allergic to your own child? I didn’t (google Pups rash—so not cool). Thankfully, this too is temporary and due (yet again) to an overload of hormones.
When you have a baby, you quickly discover that some people have an irresistible urge to give you advice on EVERYTHING from how your baby should be dressed, to when to feed solid food, how often your baby needs to bathe, when you should sleep, how often to cut finger nails and on and on and on. Frankly, it’s exhausting. And speaking of exhausting, I think the thing that has been the hardest for me as a new parent was the discovery that some babies (no matter what you do) just don’t sleep well at night. Welcome to motherhood. As my dad told a young, overwhelmed mom at church; “if it was easy, guys would do it.”
I vividly remember one night during that first month getting up—for was it the fifth or six time—(I’d lost count) and thinking, “It’s a wonder any of us survived to adulthood. Needless to say, I have a new appreciation for my mom (and she had twins! God bless her).
I don’t remember how old I was when I first started to babysit, maybe twelve. My first regular babysitting job was watching a three month old when I was 15. For five months, I worked as a nanny (best job ever). Then, I had the immense privilege of being an aunty/parent for ten months to 19 of the most amazing children in Kenya. So, when it came to having my own little guy, I guess I expected things to be—well—a little bit easier. I had experience, right?
Needless to say, I got the biggest wake up call of my life. It is scary, to be honest. You are responsible. A little life is in your hands and the pressure of that can be daunting. I learned this the hard way during those first few hours when I went to feed Trevor for the first time and, instead of a sweet bonding moment, he was whisked off to be put on oxygen (read The Story I Couldn’t Write part one and two for more on that experience). The fear is real, but you cannot give into the fear because that only brings unneeded stress. I’m learning that you have to choose to focus on doing the best job that you can over worry knowing you are an imperfect parent living in an imperfect world where disease and tragedy are a very real reality. Thankfully, as tiny and vulnerable as babies are, it amazes me how tough they can be as well—a calming grace for my often over-worried soul.
As a nanny, you join a family who has a specific way of taking care of their children. You’re responsible for looking after the kids during a specific amount of time. There might be some light housework included in your duties, but mainly your focus is 100 percent on the kids. As a parent, you are responsible for the kids, grocery shopping, teaching proper ways to behavior in society, education, health, financial needs and the list goes on. Instead of following someone else’s methods and preferences, suddenly you have to make the decision on everything from car seats, vaccines, and tummy sleeping to how best to discipline and whether or not to co-sleep, sleep train, or do a mix of everything. It is on you and the choices are daunting. Opinions on both sides of every argument seem so strong. For example, take the vaccine debate. Mom A will say, “if you have your children vaccinated and something goes wrong they could die.” Mom B will point out, “if you don’t vaccinate your children and they get sick they could die.” Then there is tummy sleeping. Mom A, “back is best due to the risk of SIDS.” Mom B, “My friend’s baby died in her sleep from choking while sleeping on her back.” What is a mom to do?
I have learned the hard way that you have to do your own research and make the decision that works best for you and your child. There is no one perfect or even right way to raise your little guy or gal. There is a reason there is no baby manual. Each child, family, and situation is different. So, instead of stressing about decisions, focus on learning your baby and what works best in your particular situation. I’ve learned the hard way that no matter what route you choose, someone will think you are making the wrong decision. That is all right. At the end of the day, you are responsible for your child. So when it comes to all the opinions, options, and advice learn to sort through it. Pick out the helpful stuff, don’t waste your breath with debates, and just change the subject if someone gets hostile. You are not going to change their mind, so just move on to lighter topics.
This last year I’ve also learned the hard way that the name of the game is change. Just as you get a rhythm or a schedule it changes. I remember one morning cooking breakfast while my son sat on the floor happily playing with a toy. I thought to myself, “ this is a nice stage.” He had his balance to the point where he could sit by himself and not fall over. I could actually focus on what I was doing. It was heavenly. Well, that didn’t last long. Next thing I knew he was crawling, so much for concentration. Change can also be a good thing though. It does get easier and harder, easier and harder as your little one hits growth spurts, developmental milestones, and pops out those little pearly whites. Each little stage has its joys and challenges. So on the hard days remember, it will change sometimes the best medicine is deciding to have a positive attitude.
Another thing you learn quickly as a new parent is that naptime is never long enough. Part of this might be more of a personality thing, but the minute those tiny eyes close; I start thinking of all the things I want to do: the dishes, laundry, blog, finally get a shower, sit down in peace and read my Bible. The floors need to be mopped. There are emails to answer. The bathroom could really use a good cleaning. Of course, it is unrealistic to do all of this. When my little guy wakes up and I have not even gotten through an 1/8th of the things I wanted to do, I end up feeling so frustrated. This, of course, does not help anyone. I’ve learned the hard way that I have to lower my expectations (keep that naptime to do list to one or two items), prioritize, and if I really want to get something done either stay up late or get up early.
That being said, another hard lesson I have had to learn is—ask for help. This one is a constant struggle for me. I want to do it all, handle it well, and be there whenever my son needs me. As a result, I often find myself overwhelmed, overtired, and easily frustrated. Then I get extra frustrated at myself for being frustrated. I should be able to handle this right? Well, I can’t and that is OK because my son needs more then just me. Not having immediate family close by has been a real challenge this past year. Part of the year we do live near my husband’s family and that makes a huge difference, but there are a lot of times that it is just us and our absolutely adorable bundle of joy is a ball full of ENERGY. I have learned the hard way that it makes a huge difference to ask a responsible teenager to come with to the coffee shop so that you can actually get some Internet work done (and not just be frustrated by the entire experience). Sometimes it takes swallowing your pride and admitting that, no, you can’t handle it. Other times it takes knowing your limits and admitting that you need some peace and quiet and time to recharge yourself in order to be a better parent.
And finally, remember to have fun. It is easy to get so caught up in the caretaking side of being a mom that you forget to just enjoy and play with your child. I was reminded of this on my birthday. My husband very thoughtfully booked a couple of nights for us at a guesthouse. There weren’t any distracting dishes staring at me, so at one point Trevor and I just played with a little tennis ball that I had brought along to keep him amused. I remember sitting there on the floor listening to my little guy laugh and thinking I need to do this more often. In the midst of the challenges and the huge learning curve there are so many joyful moments. Embrace that.
What did you learned the hard way as a new parent? Were there things that really surprised you? What advice would you give new parents expecting their own little bundle of joy?