Whether you’ve had kids yet or not, we've all heard the cliché stuff already, and perhaps you've even said them yourselves.
From the doomsday-type premonitions of "Your life is about to be over!" (how is that EVER helpful?) to the equally nonsensical "Get your sleep in now!" as if sleep was something that’s stored in a bank or a well that you can pull from later (you can't by the way, I haven't slept in like 4 years), it’s one of those things you say to new parents, like how you heard “how’s school?” from literally every person you ever saw while you were in college.
Small talk is small talk, I get that. But I do wish that these “new parent-isms” we spit out at these folks were a bit more helpful.
Let’s kick this thing off by saying I’m not a parenting expert by any means. I'm still figuring this shit out shit out myself and taking it day by day. I'm a mom of two—my son is 3 years old and my daughter is 7 months old. You can tell I'm a second-time mom because first-time moms will tell you their baby's age in weeks while I'm like "Ummm... she was born in March?” Anyway. I wouldn't consider myself a great parent either, not even by a long shot. Parenting doesn't come super natural to me, and I'm not a kind mom. You know the one, she has a soft voice and always smells like soap. I also never thought that I was a yeller but turns out, I can compete at the Olympic level, yelling “WHAT DID I SAY ABOUT SCOOPING OUT WATER FROM THE FISH TANK." So there's that too.
With all that said in a very JA way to qualify my validity, I can still say with confidence that I have picked up a thing or two in our journey of parenthood. Here's my list of 5 things I wish someone had told me before I dove in head first, knees deep in baby shit (both figuratively and literally).
1. It's a team sport
I said our journey in the last paragraph very intentionally, and not in a royal we sense, but as in my husband and I's journey together. I don't mean to make this an essay to enforce the heteronormative, biological, pro-marriage sort of thing. In fact, this is a universal thing. Whether you're adopting or co-parenting or doing it as a single parent (extra props to you where props are due, you are an absolute beast and warrior) or gay or however other shape or size your family is, raising a kid is a team sport. "It takes a village" is a cliché for a reason.
In modern American society, the family unit has been stripped down to the nuclear family so this is a little disheartening to hear, I know. But just the child’s parents is not an adequate team for this difficult mission. That's like sending two people on a mission that requires the whole SWOT team. I know nothing about police work or defense tactics, but have seen enough movies to know this: they have a lot of boots on the ground and there are lots of guns cocked, ready, and loaded in those scenes. And that’s what you need on a serious mission. Let me repeat that: it. is. a. mission. That's why the language of "we hired help" as if it’s a supplement that should not have been needed is ludicrous, and to judge a family for that is even more damaging. I know that this kind of thinking made me believe that I should be able to handle it myself.
But I digress. Childcare is broken in this country, and our expectation for the burden that the mother must bear for her child are shown in the numbers. Women left the workforce in record numbers when the pandemic strong armed them to take the primary caretaker role. What’s worse, no one batted an eye at the tremendous sacrifice that took.
For the first time in our relationship, we had something that we both cared so much about that we didn’t want to compromise on.
Because I was sort of a stay-at-home-mom (I say sort of since I work for myself at home) I felt like this was my job so I should be able to handle it myself, especially since I also had a super involved partner and lived with my mom, who was always willing to help. If others could do it with a lot less, why shouldn’t I be able to? Um, doofus, because it’s supposed to be a team sport.
It wasn’t until I realized I shouldn’t expect to do it all myself that I could finally accept help and even ask for help. Being a gracious help receiver is an art form I’m still practicing, but it all starts with saying “Thank you,” instead of “Sorry.” I’m glad I was able to learn this before I drove myself into the ground.
Guess what, news flash, kids are fucking demanding. They demand a lot of care, time, mental effort, and just every drop of you that you have to give, especially in those early years. That's what makes it a team sport. And if you don't even have the bare minimum, which is a partner who is in it WITH you rather than see you as a general who will train and guide them while they wait on their ass for instructions ("Babe, you gotta TELL me what to do if you want me to help!"), do not ever be ashamed asking for help. It is necessary.
2. It is going to take a toll on your relationship
Again, I'm coming at this from my experience of having a spouse who had the kid with me, but this could also apply to co-parents, single parents with family members stepping in to help, and so on. In my relationship, by the time my son was born my husband and I had been together for 14 years (I know). We thought we were in a pretty good place with our relationship—we knew how to fight, and how to resolve the fight, and in fact by that time, we did very little fighting in general.
Childcare is broken in this country, and our expectation for the burden that the mother must bear for her child are shown in the numbers.
Then my son Lucas arrived, and shit really hit the fan (how many poop references does it take to write a baby article?) For the first time in our relationship, we had something that we both cared so much about that we didn’t want to compromise on. That’s when I realized that a lot of the disagreements were being solved by one of us bending. So what happens when neither of us wants to bend because the thing we’re fighting for is of utmost importance? Oh and remember, you’re both hormonal and sleep-deprived, and feeling the debilitating self-doubt that comes with first-time parenting. So pretty much the formula for disaster. Lots of crying and screaming, with not enough apologizing or time for connecting.
That’s why the idea of having a baby to save the marriage is just… don’t. Not only is it an awful disservice to the child, but it is also going to have the very opposite effect. In fact, babies will take the most stable relationships and tear them to shreds like Wolverine, and not the animated, wholesome one (think Logan). Lots of blood and guts.
This threw me into a loop because while I was pregnant, I was back in that blissful early love kind of glow with my husband. I mean, what could be more magical than me carrying his baby and bringing a little part of me and him into the world? Cue butterfly and sparkle filters. Reality is never so simple of course, and that rude awakening made me wonder if there was something wrong with me, with us, and whether we were going to make it out the other side. Had I gotten the heads up, it would have prepared both of us to prepare. Maybe set up routines to make sure we were connecting. Making sure we remembered to show each other that we still loved each other, even after yelling about how my nipples are too big for the baby and that’s why he’s not latching so just get over it and pump milk who cares that he’s not breastfeeding from boob (yep, real conversation). Never thought I’d scream at the top of my lungs to my husband about my nipple size, and also, not cool to talk about my boobs like that dude...but that's first-time newborn parenting for you in a nutshell.
Having gone through it, captain hindsight can tell you that we are definitely stronger and better as a couple now. It tested us in a way that nothing else could have. I love my husband more because of the father that he is, and that's a new side of him that I've never seen before that I fall in love with every day. It was a doozy to get here through.
3. Parenting books are kind of bullshit
I read quite a few parenting books while pregnant and still continue to do so, but wanted to make this very important point to remind everyone: authors are trying to sell books. Parenting books are a product, and therefore not immune to the marketing tactics that we have trained ourselves to be skeptical against. It’s so easy to forget because of the subject matter, like, why would anyone lie about babies, isn’t that sacrilegious? Nothing is sacred in the eye of a sale.
Sure, there are books written by people who have helped many parents and they genuinely want to help more, but they still fail to disclose that every parenting book comes with a huge, red, asterisk. No one talks about it.*
* Every baby is different. Use your own judgment as the parent.
Well, no shit Sherlock. Thanks for the tip.
And that’s the thing: no matter how many years these doctors and childcare professionals have been in business, they have never met YOUR baby because well, news flash, your baby is brand new to the world. So every advice and technique that the books recommend have never been tested on your baby—and chances are, they won’t work on them. That’s just statistics, a scenario that's more likely to happen.
Ok, but I’m definitely not saying that these books are useless or that their advice is equal to one that Aunt Stacy gave you—an expert is an expert. But it’s important to not blame yourself or your baby if the expert gets it wrong, because that’s what it is, THEY got your baby wrong, not the other way around. Your baby isn’t broken because the book says that you should shush them while you sway them but instead they need to chew on the corner of your shirt while you smack their bottom to go to sleep. That’s kind of the way they are, weird and nonsensical, and they are YOUR weird and nonsensical lump of mochi.
Instead of taking it as gospel and stressing out over it, take all of the expert advice you read as tools in your tool kit. More often than not, you’re also going to encounter advice that contradicts each other anyway. Keep them tucked away, at the ready to try out, and when it doesn’t work, try the next, or make your own plan based on what you’ve learned from them.
And who cares at the end of the day if it works or not, because guess what? (nice segue...)
4. Everything is a phase
This is something that I take to heart. If you don’t already follow @BusyToddler aka Susie Allison, she is your new #parentinggoals and it is so, so true.
Did you know that a baby has a 3-month, 4-month, 6-month, 7-month, and 8-month sleep regression in its first year? Which begs the question, could we really call it a regression if the sleep is always shitty? Turns out, you can. So even if you have an amazing sleeper who you will humble brag about like, “Ohmigod Millie is SUCH a chill baby! Slept through the night at 5 months!” don’t worry, there’s a reckoning coming. (Thanks, past Lisa for jinxing it).
And just like good things ending, that goes for the bad stuff too. From that first newborn phase to the toddler years, everything and anything that your kid does is a phase, and today could be the last day of that phase—you just don’t know it yet. I’m going through one myself, where for the past two weeks both my kids decided they were no longer going to sleep. Both Lucas and Millie were each waking 3-4 times at night, giving my husband and I no more than three hours of continuous sleep a night. Oh and the toddler for the past couple days considered every request uttered by me as a denial of his very being and has fought tooth and nail against it, disobeying me at every turn. Both of these irritating things came to a stop yesterday, unannounced. Now I wish I could say I had cracked the code and made this magical parenting genius maneuver that cured both of our problems in one go, but it was just a day like any other, and it just stopped. Kids are like that sometimes.
So no matter what season you are in, whether your baby is driving you up the wall or they are just the cutest sweetest thing in the world, know that it’s a phase. Today could be the last day. I love that this works on both the good days and the hard ones, to be grateful for what we have today and to also know the there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
5. You are raising yourself too
Not sure if anyone remembers that one viral video from five years or so ago (i.e. 5,000 years in internet time), where they followed these Japanese moms at their babies' one-year check-up. They organized a photo gallery of their first year together—because it was the baby’s first birthday, but also the mothers’ first birthday as a mom too (I know, tearjerker right? I’m too hormonal to even remember it without crying).
And that’s the thing we forget. When we become parents, we’re like oh I’m 32 years old, I should be able to do this. But the thing is, I’m also a baby as a mom. I have never done this before. And we give babies so much credit for literally just being alive, and rightly so because that first year is so hard. But I wish that we extended that same grace and kindness toward parents, who are only as old as their first baby. In fact, even in the second go-around, I have been noticing that my experience is only applicable in so many situations. I’m a first-time mom to this new baby all over again.
As parents, we are trying every day to do right by our kid. I wish that someone told me before I beat myself up over messing up with my kid how I would never berate a baby for falling down when they took their first steps, or yell “What the fuck is wrong with you?” when they spilled water during dinner. We’d just be stoked that they’re growing, they’re trying new things, and be delighting in witnessing how far they’ve come. Yet we don't give ourselves that kind of credit. I hope parents could remember that too, that before they had their own baby they’ve barely even changed a diaper, let alone hold a baby for two hours while they wailed at the top of their lungs, your ears ringing, legs tired, wondering if you’re doing a good enough job.
And don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
Let them know that some mom on the internet told you you were doing a great job, and they can just fuck off.