I’ve had a kid for a year now, therefore, I know everything there is to know about mothering babies. Haha. Ha. Hahaha.
They say that you won’t really understand parenthood until you’ve lived it. Well, they are right. Nothing could have prepared me for the seven pound tyrant that utterly demolished me as a person within hours of bringing her home. A few of my friends are pregnant, and they’ve asked me for advice. Their innocent, trusting eyes are wide with hope that I’ve got some kind of secret password that will let them into the Easy Baby Club. I’m generally a pacifist, but if there is such a password and there exists such a club, it’s best for everyone’s safety that I never find out about it. That being said, I do have a few bits of advice for people on the verge of parenthood, and I’ve compiled these nuggets into a list for your convenient reference as needed:
1. Have a written routine.
This was monumental for me, especially for the first six months or so. I literally had a list of everything I had to do each day, including things like “shower” and “eat lunch” and other basic parts of being a human. The thing is that every little task feels overwhelming when you have a tiny person screaming at you all of the time. It feels really good to look back at the end of the day and think, “You know, I fed the dog today. Twice. I’m basically unstoppable.”
The other function of a written routine is that you can add important things to it. I’m fairly organized, but all of that flew out the window when E was born. We were late, forgot appointments, missed deadlines-the whole nine yards of irresponsibility. When I started adding those appointments and other odd tasks to the list, they started getting accomplished. And then I felt like a life champion.
2. Do your research, make your decision, then block out everyone who tries to talk you out of what you’re doing.
Kid is crying? Think it’s a milk allergy? Ask your pediatrician, make a decision, and then BAM! Stop listening to everyone else.
Kid is crying? Think he’s tired? Ask a friend, make a decision and then BAM! Stop listening to everyone else.
Kid is crying? Think she needs a paci? Ask your dentist (or your husband, same difference), make a decision and then BAM! Stop listening to everyone else.
People mean well, and sometimes their advice is dead-on. But it’s really easy to start feeling guilty when some stranger breezes by and says, “Oooh, she must be hungry!” when your baby is having a meltdown. And that guilty feeling is UNACCEPTABLE.
Remember when you were pregnant? Was carrying that baby a communal effort? No? Then it’s not a community baby. Practice saying, “Thanks, I’ve got it covered,” in the mirror until it’s second nature, because if you don’t want to second and third and twelfth guess every decision you make for the next eighteen years, you’re going to have to learn to assert yourself.
3. Figure out a system of documentation.
One day, your kid will be cramming crayons into her mouth, and you’ll wax nostalgic about the good old days when she couldn’t hold her head up. But you won’t be able to remember those days clearly (thanks, sleep deprivation), so it’s wise to have some kind of record of what life was like then.
My mom gave me a one-line-a-day journal to keep up with E. It is awesome. There are a few lines assigned to each day for five years, and the idea is that you jot down something every day about your kid. I absolutely love this system. You may be the kind of person who overshares Instagram photos or likes an old-fashioned baby book. Whatever you choose, commit to it. That commitment will be hard to fulfill, but it’s worth the hassle.
4. Read to your kid.
You can run this through the filter of #1 if you want, but I’d strongly recommend adding this to your routine the minute you come home from the hospital. Reading has so many benefits for a baby’s social, mental, and emotional development. All of those things are fine and good, but I am infinitely glad that we read so much to Em because it CALMS HER DOWN. If she is going nuts, all we have to do is say, “Do you want me to read to you?” and her energy is directed toward the bookshelf. She will sit in your lap and look at books for an hour. I’m not joking. I’m not exaggerating. An entire HOUR of quiet is mine because she likes stories. She might be able to go even longer than that. We haven’t fully tested the boundaries of this phenomenon. But I am convinced that reading centers her. Another bonus is that it gives you something to do with your kid when she’s still too tiny to do anything that’s actually fun. Little babies lay around a lot, bored out of their minds. Do your kid a favor and read. You will not regret it. (Well, you may regret it a little when you can’t get, “Big A, little a, what begins with A? Aunt Annie’s alligator, A, A, A…” stuck in your head. But that’s a minor concern.)
5. Take help from other people if they offer it. If they don’t offer, ask.
Someone wants to rock your kid? Hand over the baby and go shower. Someone wants to bring you food? Accept graciously. Someone wants to watch the baby while you go to Target alone? Try not to cry when you thank them. Supermom is dumb. Help is awesome.
Some people want to help, but don’t know how, so they don’t offer to avoid feeling awkward or seeming intrusive. If someone is lingering around your house and you need something, ask them for assistance. Most people are happy to oblige.
Note: This is especially true for men. Some dads need a little direction when it comes to the baby. Watch your husband interact with the child. If he seems to enjoy a particular task, ask if he would like that to be their thing. For instance, my husband always gives E a bath at night. He rocks at it, and she loves it, and I basically run laps around the living room, fist-pumping in victory. (Another note: Being alone feels like victory when you’re a mom, especially if you’re introverted.)
Bonus: Babies grow.
There were many minutes, hours, and days when E was really tiny and I despaired her inability to do anything capable or interesting. Until we hit the 4-5 month mark, things were really, really hard. But it gets better. Look at my virtual eyes. IT GETS BETTER. Hang in there. If your baby’s a decent kid, he or she will throw you a bone of cuteness every now and then. Take breaks, take walks, take showers, take chocolate. Take what you need to take. Babies get bigger. Amen.