The kind of new parenting advice we’re too afraid to give

I’m getting a lot of, “Are you ready?” these days. I’m at that stage of pregnancy. I always wonder what exactly people mean by that. Is the nursery decorated and stocked with diapers? Is my hospital registration secured and bag packed? Am I mentally and emotionally prepared for life as I know it to change in every possible way?

I suppose it doesn’t matter much what’s meant because the answer is invariably NO, and I don’t think there’s really any more preparing I can do. Other than maybe buy some diapers, fill out the hospital paperwork (I really should get to that…) and write this post. So I can read it when my judgement is clouded by hormones and lack of sleep and be reminded that it’s okay. It’s all okay Laura.

1. Babies can be super boring.

A friend of mine with her first 5 month old texted me the other day. Something about how bored she was playing with her baby and, “Did you ever feel this way?” I almost laughed at the absurdity of that question. I guess that’s a good sign, because I certainly wasn’t laughing about it when I had a 5 month old. No, I was feeling like I should just love reading Pat the Bunny and singing Old McDonald Had a Farm, which meant I was also feeling overwhelmingly guilty that I didn’t.

Now I like to joke about how, “It turns out we don’t have the same hobbies!” My 3 year old isn’t into wine tasting and Mad Men, and I’m not all that excited about Play-Doh or pretending I’m a cat. Of course, I do have fun with her. Sometimes. In brief, beautiful moments. But if I’m going to be honest, a lot of the time I’d rather do the laundry.

baby-laundry-basket

2. Everyone flounders.

When my daughter was 2 months old I was accused of “having everything together so well!” About a week later I found myself sitting opposite a “crisis management” therapist. While I know not everyone that appears to “have it all together” is actually on the brink of a nervous breakdown, I do think most people put their best face forward. Especially via image marketing services like Facebook. In truth, no one really knows what they’re doing. We’re all just faking it and hoping no one notices.

3. It’s okay to get mad at your baby.

Babies cry. A lot. We all know this. Duh. We also know that sometimes they will cry inconsolably. Sometimes we will try everything and nothing will work. But it is one thing to know this and quite another to experience it. Imagine listening to a baby scream at you for 6 hours straight and you’re powerless to stop it. Now replace baby with adult. How would that make you feel? Frustrated and angry are perfectly acceptable answers here. Calm and empathetic are a nice idea but complete fantasy.

crying-baby

4. You might not love your baby at first, and that’s okay too.

Let’s, again, forget that we’re talking about babies. Do you believe in love at first sight? (If you do, you can go ahead and sit this exercise out.) That’s right. No you don’t. Because it takes time to get to know a person, to build the kind of trust and connection that is the foundation for love. Now I’ve heard of mothers who fall desperately in love the very instant they first lay eyes on their babies, and I suppose a tiny part of me believes they aren’t lying. But for me it was a slow and steady process.

Once during happy hour a mother bravely confessed that she didn’t love her son until he was a year old. “YES!!!” I shouted and kissed her square on the mouth. What I mean is I loved her so much in that moment I wanted to kiss her.

Now at age 3, I love my daughter immeasurably. Sometimes I look at her and think, “Holy shit. I freaking love that kid so much.” Can I say that without turning this into a disclaimer? Because we should be able to talk about the unpleasantness of parenting without tacking on an obligatory, “Of course I love her to death!” or in this case, “But now I love her.” I’m adding this last little bit only for the sake of the parent out there wondering if she will ever love her baby. Yes, you will.

I would also like to stress that while my experience was probably influenced by a postpartum mood disorder, I don’t believe every parent with delayed love onset has a mental illness.

5. You do have instincts. They’re just camouflaged by guilt.

I was often advised to “follow my instincts.” This sounded like a super idea, and I was all geared up to do just that after my daughter was born. Only problem was I didn’t have any. Or so it seemed. It took me a long time to translate “follow your instincts” into language I could actually understand:

Do whatever makes things easiest for YOU. 

For me this meant letting my daughter nap with a boob in her mouth until she was 11 months old. It was just so easy. She loved it, and I didn’t have to explain why I spent nap time watching TV and dicking around on the internet. You know, instead of doing something productive like cleaning the house.

sleeping-baby

Of course, it took me awhile to fully appreciate the ease of it. At first I just felt guilty. I knew plenty of moms who nursed to their babies to sleep, but it seemed as if they all pulled out at some point. Surely I was doing something wrong. I was creating bad habits. She would never sleep on her own. I suppose I have to credit my therapist for helping me see the decision to boob-nap for what it was. Following my instincts. It’s what everyone needed.

So now this is the only piece of advice I ever give anyone expecting a baby. Do whatever makes things easiest for you. LAURA. The baby will be FINE.