We had it all figured out. My husband and I dated and married when we were nearly 30—after single years in our twenties and a couple of heartaches. We were smug with confidence in our decision and one another. Boy, were we in for a wake-up call.
The call came with a 7-pound bundle named Abby, 14 months after the wedding. Before she arrived, we enjoyed our 2-career lives and an active social life. After her arrival, we spent our days and nights “redefining normal” as my husband succinctly described it. During the pregnancy, we heard new parents complain that they’d lost all track of time. We’d shake our heads in private – “They’re just not managing their time well,” we sniffed. When we became parents, our time got managed all right—around her schedule. If she missed a nap or meal, we knew immediately and paid for it with a cranky child…the kind you see in restaurants that you vow will never be yours.
Humbled and sleep-deprived, we learned a few lessons. If I met an expectant couple today, and they were open to advice (unlike one overly confident, judgmental pair years ago), I’d offer some suggestions for their success—and some days, survival—during the newborn stage of bringing up baby:
1) Rest when the baby rests. When the baby’s quiet, it’s so tempting to clean the house a little, throw in a load of laundry or make a few phone calls. When my baby napped, I felt emancipated, and raced around the house tending to what I thought were important, urgent and essential tasks. Inevitably the fatigue caught up with me. Just as I’d settle in for a nap, restless noises would drift from the nursery, followed by coos and eventually, cries. My precious window of quiet time gone, I’d drag myself from my bed and start the cycle again.
Believe me, the chores can wait. The most important, urgent and essential task is to take care of yourself so you can care for the baby. Which brings me to my next suggestion…
2) Call on others and ask for help. Ask for what you need and receive it with gratitude. As point one illustrates, don’t try to be Supermom. Not only do you have a demanding, impatient little one to take care of, your body is healing physically, hormonally, emotionally, spiritually, and mentally.
I suffered through a bout of mastitis while nursing. I was completely exhausted. With no immediate family available, a friend suggested I call our local church for help. I was connected to the head of the seniors’ group, who was absolutely tickled at the notion of caring for a newborn. He scheduled shifts of volunteers for later in the week. My pride couldn’t accept the help. After a day on antibiotics I declared myself capable and called him to say, “Thanks, but no thanks.” I can still hear the disappointment in his voice as he said, “Well, okay,” and hung up the phone. To this day, I deeply regret not letting those dear folks come to our home and love my baby, and me, with a few hours of TLC.
People want to help, so let them and accept it with gratitude. With their assistance, you’ll get the rest you need, which is key to the next two suggestions…
3) Be in the moment with your child. One of the most profound lessons of parenting is to be in the moment. You cannot negotiate with a hungry or tired infant. They need to be fed NOW, or changed NOW, or comforted NOW. Plus, even the tiniest infant is learning and growing by interacting with you. Don’t deny the baby or yourself these irreplaceable moments. Learning to set aside what we have planned is one challenge of parenting. Roll with it, rather than fight it, and see what surprises are in store.
4) Pray every day. Take time with your Creator—the one who gave life to you and this little bundle of needs. Your relationship with God is the primary one in your life, so make it a priority. The peace you’ll find in these quiet moments will set the tone for your day and help you be more present to your child. I’m famous for jumping out of bed and crossing off the to-do list. When I start with prayer before the tasks, I’m in a better frame of mind and can handle whatever situations arise during the day with grace and humor.
5) Trust your instincts. They’ll be times when you’re so sleep-deprived and dizzy you don’t know what to do. Stop worrying about what the experts might say and call on your intuition. Dr. Spock’s work is laced with the idea that “No one knows your child better than you do, and you should trust your instincts.” Look for guidance, and listen to your heart to make the best decisions you can.
6) Forgive yourself. Motherhood is truly on-the-job training, and some shifts will go more smoothly than others. Don’t hold on to regrets, the “If I’d known then what I know now” kind. Everyone knows you’re doing the best you can. Imagine a friend confiding her self-judgment to you. How would you treat her? Comfort yourself with the same love and compassion you would give to your friend.
7) What bothers you most about being a parent is probably the very change you need to make. Part of the gift this little one brings is what he or she will teach you. I mentioned earlier being “in the moment” with your child. This is my big issue—regretting the past, or worrying about the future and missing what’s right in front of me. My daughter’s care, her need for my attention, and her new smile and shining eyes drew me into that present moment with her. When I released those distractions, I was at peace and surrounded by love. For my husband, he’s learned greater patience. So, rather than focusing on the inconvenience of child care, look for the ways this little one is calling you to grow. Those tiny hands are holding up a mirror to you. Gaze lovingly at what you see, take it to prayer, and keep your heart open.
My husband and I thought we knew it all, but we were like children again—learning our new roles as parents. Our daughter’s arrival changed everything, permanently, and created a “new normal” in our home. For all the changes she’s instigated, my abiding sense has been of how well it all just seems to fit.
“We have an Abby!” the doctor announced the moment she made her entrance. He placed her in my arms and my heart rejoiced with a simple, “Of course.” Of course this was Abby, and of course she was ours. She would be the one to transform this self-centered couple into a family. Yet, as I held her tiny body in my arms, it was as if she’d been there all along.
Dear Reader: What advice do you have for new parents?