My son will be 6 months old on the 11th, and I cannot begin to count all the things I have learned from diapering and burping to a host of new age lullabies and nursery rhymes. However, I've also come to learn that those are the smaller parts in this parenting journey. There are much bigger, more meaningful takeaways that are really life lessons new parents get to learn.
20 Life lessons learned during the first 6 months of parenting:
1. Losing all sense of embarrassment: I started my labor and delivery experience by holding my gown together every time I went to the bathroom, and ended it with not caring that walked in on me spread eagled and trying to push a baby out. This was a quick introduction into parenthood before my child was even born. I no longer have any shame about getting spat up on in stores, pooped on in the street, having to change a dirty diaper on a bench in Central Park (or the Southamption Dash store), nursing in restaurants and changing rooms, or having to sing lullabies at the top of my voice while try to eat a meal with one hand in a fancy restaurant. My husband definitely has this mastered too, as I'm sure all new parents do - you do what you have to do to keep your child happy (and relatively clean).
2. Parenting is a grand experiment with no immediate result: Decisions, decisions, decisions. Should I feed him now or wait till before we go out? Should I wake him or let him sleep even though we were expected somewhere 10 minutes ago? Should I pick him up or let from cry a few minutes? Can I feed on demand forever or am I spoiling him? Will he ever sleep again? If I finish my shower while he's screaming will it have a lasting psychological effect on my child? I don't think anyone can predict exactly how many minutes of crying or nursing or rocking your child to sleep will have a long lasting effect on their child, not even Freud (and I say this with a degree in psychology). You do the best you can and hope that it's enough to raise your child in the way you intend.
3. Try and live in the moment instead of waiting on the next milestone: All parents are guilty of wanting their child to reach the next milestone, whether it's holding their head up on their own, rolling, sitting or babbling. I've heard enough moms comment about how they are jealous my child has hair and can't wait till their babies get there too. While it's natural to be competitive and curious about how your child is developing, it's also important to realize that your child will never be as small again as he or she is now. Try and keep that in mind and enjoy their current age. I'm definitely working on this one.
4. Vanity, like embarrassment is a thing of the past (at least for moms): This doesn't mean we don't want to get decked up for date night or a girls night out when we seldomly get the chance. But on an everyday basis? Who has the time! Finding clothes that are not too big or small is an issue from the get goes and then everything gets covered in baby spit up or poop explosions anyway! Plus, soft track pants or pjs, that don't stick to your new body, are so damn comfortable.
5. Feeding a child is a full time job: Whether your exclusively pumping, nursing or sterilizing formula bottles, newborns need to eat like no other, at least in frequency since their bellies are so small. And as fun as it is to see your little one eating new foods and solids, between buying it, mixing it all together (or cooking) and then cleaning up the things and your baby it can add hours to your routine. Just at 4 months old I was spending 5 hours nursing my son, and that was before we started foods! I must admit though, I am possessive about my feeding time and love to do it all myself but it's definitely a task. (I can't imagine what my mom went through as I have always been a picky eater. Thank you for not giving up, mommy.)
6. Every moment is not going to be sunshine and roses: I couldn't believe that after 27 hours of labor I didn't get a chance to freeze time and fall asleep on the spot for another 27 hours. Not that I wasn't elated to hold my son but the whole baby journey starts out with exhaustion and keeps going until your child is sleeping through the night (till growth spurts, teething and sleep regressions hit). Not to mention the entire hormonal changes mom is going through. You're not going to be happy all the time and that's ok, it makes you human and doesn't make you any less of a parent.
FYI, sleeping through the night for a baby means 5 consecutive hours (only)!
7. Sympathize with parents of crying babies everywhere: Who hasn't (at least mentally) cursed out the parents of a crying baby on a flight? That lasts until you have your own baby, and then you sympathize with parents of crying babies and feel bad for all the ones you were mad at in the past, because you know just how easily that could be you.
8. Forget about the 'me' time: If you're a hands-on parent, and I assume you are since you are taking the time to read about parenting, just forget about the me time. Unless, blogging on your cell phone about parenting while pumping before sleeping counts for anything. If you're a working parent, count that as your time for yourself since you are able to run to pee without the fear of your child crying or waking up.
9. Apologize a lot: I maintain to date, that I am always right (particularly when it comes to arguing about anything at all with my husband), but as a new parent I find that I apologize a lot. To friends, for not being in touch. To my parents, for missing all their calls as I keep my phone away from my baby to avoid frying his brain. To my baby Coco, for not getting to hug him as much as I did before. To my child, for when he gets vaccines, is gassy, is teething, crying for no understandable reason, or wants attention while I'm trying to gulf down a meal. And to my husband, for being exhausted and sometimes still in pajamas or covered in food (or worse) when he gets home from work. It doesn't mean I'm not doing my best, but it's part of adjusting to all the change while remembering what your life used to be like. It also doesn't imply that you don't love things the way they are but you may end up apologizing a hell of a lot while you get there.
10. Have days when you get nothing done... Because I'm sure you still fed and played and took care of your child. Which is the most important thing you can do as a parent. Even if the laundry is piling up and your hair needs to be washed.
11. Adapt and learn to make do with the time you do have: My son won't nap more than 40 mins at a stretch (at most)! Which means I can't nap with him when I'm exhausted nor can I get too much done other than eating or bathing. However, I find that even without help and on days that I'm exhausted I learn to prioritize what really needs to be done and let everything else go. As parents, we are adaptable and can quickly figure out what our priorities are. I no longer get 10 hours of sleep that I have always needed but It no longer matters either. I will eventually have time for it all and not want to do anything but cuddle my child who won't be home.
12. Discover a new protective possessive side of yourself: I recently overheard my husband telling my son that (as a canine equivalents) he himself is a Labrador, Coco and Riaan, our babies, are both yorkies, but mommy (that's me) is a rotweiller. I was ofcourse offended at first and bit his head off, but then I realized that I'm protective as hell about my family and my babies, would bite the head off anyone who is offensive or hurtful to them, am careful about who carries my child and how they interact with him and I am also particular with how I react to my children (all three) so that they learn behaviors that I want them to. If that's what makes me a rotweiller, I will wear my fangs with pride!
13. Train a baby just like you training a pet (and a husband)
Ignore the behaviors you don't like, and react (positively) to the ones you want to reinforce (reacting negatively can still reinforce the behavior). So ignorance in this case is (eventually) bliss.
14. Be the first teacher your child will have.. And the best, since no one will ever be as attuned to their early needs and abilities as you. Make sure to keep teaching your child new things as they become sponges if knowledge and tricks before you even know it. Whether it's a high five, or a silly noise, it's important to keep the learning going.
15. Gain confidence as you see them grow: You may not have known how to diaper, burp or bathe an infant when your child was born, or how to rock your baby in one arm while you try and put laundry away with another. But you do now, along with a ton of other things that are all contributing to your child becoming a bigger and more able little human. Take a moment to sit back and appreciate all that you have accomplished with your little one. I know that seeing my child definitely makes me feel more able and successful.
16. Wine helps stop the whining: Atleast for me, when I'm exhausted and my baby has finally slept (and I know he need to feed if he does decide to wake up), I get a reward in the form of a glass. Treat yourself even if you have to do it while getting the laundry done or sterilizing bottles.
17. Forget about the camps: It doesn't matter if anyone else is breastfeeding or formula feeding, or if they let their child cry it out or co-sleep with them forever. At the end of the day, we are all in this together. (I agree that not everyone is angelic and looking out for the best of their children as bad things happen, but people who bother reading up on parenting are most likely not in that 'camp'.) We all have different circumstances and beliefs so let's not judge what we don't know. At the end of the day we are all parents and share a common goal of raising a happy and healthy child.
18. Trust your gut and do what you believe is right for your child: Like I said, it's a big grand experiment. One that many have gone through and each have their own story, own version of advice and a different unique individual as the outcome! So, take in the information and advice that you want but at the end of it all, you have to make decisions that you are comfortable with.
19. Make your spouse an asset.
We may all be in this parenting experiment together, but if you're married, in a relationship or even if you're not but there's another parent in the equation, the two of you are most definitely in this together! Don't play guessing games with each other, discuss what your needs are and where and when you feel you need help. Rely on one another for support and take turns at night! Babies can bring you both together but they can also tear you apart as sleep deprived, exhausted people, (some with bodies that have just been through all a human body can take), make for bad (or silent) company.
20. It's worth every minute!
Through all the stress, ups and downs, busy moments, times when you have to dance and sing and jump to get a smile and the sleep deprivation you can open your squinting eyes, you can look at your child and know that they are the most amazing thing in the world.
Feel free to share any pearls of wisdoms you have that I missed!
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