Now that we have been parents for a year, we have some lessons under our belt. (Although we still don’t know 99.99999999% of what we are doing.) As we celebrated our baby’s birthday over the summer, we decided to share our top parenting lessons from this last year! (And yes, this was collaborative with my husband so this is not just for moms!)
- You’ll get lots of advice, but you don’t have to take it all. No matter what, people will have an opinion about your child and your parenting strategies. Sometimes this can be frustrating, but this is (usually) done out of love and a desire to help. You just need to take things with a grain of salt, be confident in your decisions, and be open to the advice you are given. (Some will definitely be helpful!) It doesn’t matter what people’s opinions are, you are the parent and you ultimately get to decide how you want to approach naps, travel, schedules, whatever it is.
- Do not put your marriage on the back burner for too long. Man, did we do a poor job at this. Part of our challenge was that we moved right after having our son, my husband started his PhD program about four weeks after the move, and it took us a little while to find a community. We lived in a one-bedroom apartment with our son in our bedroom and didn’t have any good leads on babysitters for a while. We were busy, we were overwhelmed, we had very little space to connect with each other or have time just for ourselves. It ended up that we didn’t prioritize our marriage for too long and it’s taken us more time and effort to reconnect than it should have. Moms: It is going to be hard because you won’t feel like you have any ownership over your body, your time, and your energy. But you need to make time for your spouse. Dads: Yes, you both just had a baby, but your wife is going through a LOT right now. Be patient and supportive, but don’t forget to lovingly ask for what you need too.
- Prepare for the BABY. Okay, so I feel like I read every article on the entire Internet about having a baby but read like 2 sentences about what to do with a baby. I spent many evenings when our son wouldn’t sleep or was fussy doing a LOT of reading about baby gas, sleep training, growth spurts, teething….the list goes on. I really wish I had done more work to be prepared for these things beforehand. Ultimately, I probably didn’t need as much information about giving birth!
- Two words: Explosion Poop. This $#!t is real. And it stains. We had no idea and positioned some of our nice toy baskets and stuffed animals in poop range unexpectedly. My tip (if you are wanting it) is: Don’t put anything in the range of where your baby’s butt is going to be on the changing table and make sure you have stain remover well stocked.
- The truth about sleep deprivation. You are probably hearing a lot about how tired you’ll be or how much sleep you’ll lose. Now, this is dependent on a lot of things, mostly importantly your baby. Some babies just sleep really well. Others don’t. Both are normal! Just realize that you will definitely lose sleep in the early days (and possibly throughout the first year depending on how you approach sleep training and your baby’s disposition). But you will also be able to function WAY better than you think on very little sleep. One thing I think we both wish we had done more, especially earlier on, was nap. Naps are precious because they are small windows where you can actually do other things like shower, or eat, or do some laundry. But it is totally okay to sacrifice getting a few things done to take a few more naps!
- What you need to realize about your baby “should” be doing. Without even realizing it, I unintentionally compared our son to other babies born around the same time. I would see babies two months younger already rolling over or sitting up or sleeping through the night. This is one area that I wish I had read more about. There are huge ranges for when babies do different things and it depends on so many factors. Ultimately, even though our son didn’t roll tummy to back and back to tummy until close to 7 (or maybe even 8) months, that has not meant that he was behind developmentally. (Now, if you feel like your baby is not meeting certain milestones, you should absolutely bring it up to your doctor just in case! I just know that I felt a lot of guilt for being “behind” on milestones even though we weren’t.)
- Cloth diapering is not as difficult as you think it will be. So, if you are not doing cloth, then this is obviously not applicable to you! We knew we were going to do cloth diapering early on and, despite some hiccups and frustrations, wouldn’t turn back. It is a lot easier and more manageable than people think and you just need to figure out what is right for you. For us, cutting down on our waste, being more environmentally friendly, and having a lower cost were all drivers toward this decision. We still do disposables occasionally (mostly when we travel or overnight), but are primarily in cloth. If you are thinking of it, you can totally do it!
- Everything they say about the moments going quickly is true. We literally cannot believe how big our son is. He is so active and growing so quickly. The days of all hours cuddles are gone, but have been replaced by so much fun. The last year and few months have gone in the blink of an eye! I think we did really try to embrace the moments early on, but I wish I had taken the time to be even more present because I already miss them.
- You are a slave to the sleep schedule, but that’s okay. Now, this is again somewhat dependent on the parenting strategy you choose, but even the most flexible parents really are, and should be, committed to the sleep schedule. Babies thrive on routine and having consistent naps and bedtimes are tremendously valuable. This was really hard when we were still in the 3-4 nap range because I felt like I could never get out of the house. But I am so glad that we have stayed committed to making sure good nap and sleep schedules because it has really benefited us in the long run. (If you are trying to figure out sleep schedules, I highly recommend The Baby Sleep Site.)
- Your priorities will be turned upside down. Just recently, I was spending some time with two girl friends from college and we were talking about this. One friend is getting ready to start trying for a baby and we were talking about the challenge with balancing work, family, yourself, and everything else. I shared that you absolutely cannot be both a highly present, driven, invested career woman AND a highly present, focused, and attentive mother. Now, I’m sure there are some people who would argue this, but I truly don’t believe you can do both. I believe you can do a good job in both of these areas and feel like you are being successful as a mom and a career woman. It is all about your balance and what you are needing. For both my husband and me, we struggle with wanting to drive hard toward our career goals, be present as parents, find time for our marriage, and create time for self-care. Yes, you can make time during the day to go to kid’s events, but if you plan to plug back in every night, that is time you are losing for friends, for your spouse, for yourself. Talk about work, career growth, time for friends, time for yourself. There is not enough time in the day for it all, but you can succeed in all of these areas. You may have to, as we found, just redefine what success looks like in this stage.
As always, I’d love to hear from you! Drop me a comment below or send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org. And thank you for reading!