This started as a letter to a new mom I know, and I decided I wanted to share it more widely.
Dear new parents –
Starting out on this journey is scary, really scary sometimes. And you feel like there’s so much to learn, memorize and choose. So much pressure to get it right or you’ll be judged horribly. Here’s what I hope you really know and understand about parenting in the first year:
1. You will know what your baby needs. Sometimes. Eventually. You will learn, over time, how to interpret your baby’s cries, what works best to soothe your baby, and how to best connect with your baby. But it doesn’t come all at once, and it comes through trial and error. Be kind to yourself through that process.
2. That process never ends. As soon as you think you have it all figured out, your kid will go through another milestone and totally change. Be kind to yourself when you feel like you’ve lost your footing.
3. You don’t have to fix it every time. Sometimes your baby just needs to cry it out in your arms. We all need a shoulder to cry on sometimes, with someone who isn’t stressed out about trying to fix it. So if you can’t fix it, just hold them while they cry. It’s easier when you let go of fixing it.
4. You’ll get LOTS of advice. Sometimes when you need it and want it, sometimes when that advice feels more like criticism. Remember there’s no one right way to parent, and YOU get to decide how to parent. When you get advice: smile, nod, thank them. Then consider it and choose whether or not to implement it, based on your personal beliefs and desires.
5. There are lots of parenting styles out there. You don’t need a name for yours. Or if you want a name, give it your own! You can take bits and pieces from different philosophies and make your own patchwork. There is no one right way to be a parent. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise!
6. You do NOT have to cherish every single moment. Yes, they grow fast. Yes, it’s nice to savor the good times. But when you’re functioning on 2 hours of sleep, dinner is burning and your baby just had a blowout diaper all over the carpet and your clothes, do not feel like you have to cherish that moment.
7. Don’t hesitate to get help if you need it. Whether that’s with breastfeeding, postpartum depression or anxiety, or just needing a break from the baby, call on family, your community, and professionals sooner rather than later. Accept help with small problems BEFORE you feel swamped and alone!
8. Yes, parents should sacrifice for their babies. Your life SHOULD change when you have a baby. Yes parents are in charge, and order is a good thing. But let’s be honest, being on either end of the spectrum is not a great place to be for either parents or baby. Find the happy medium that is the right balance for your family at whatever stage you’re in. This might vary from day to day.
9. Let each other parent in their own way. It’s GOOD for babies to experience different ways of doing things, and a controlling hypercritical parent ends up doing everything alone and resenting it.
10. Love your baby hard. Always choose to show love along with all the other emotions. Kids need the security of constant love, and it makes everything, from bonding, to discipline, to family time easier and more enjoyable.
I hope your transition to parenthood goes smoothly.