15 Life Lessons Learned In The First Year Of Parenting
The fact that I have a baby is a shock to my system, not because I forget he exists, or I don't adore every second I spend with him, but because I just don't feel old enough to have a baby. Let alone being around a year old babbling toddler who's crashing into things!
The last year has been a blurry cascade of tears, laughs, pumping, feeding, trying to sleep, planning to wash my hair (eventually), chasing a baby on all fours (and then on twos), and more. Mostly I cannot believe, I am where I am because my last year has been a blur of one memory fading into the next with the only constant being that "this too shall pass," whether I want it to or not.
So, here I am again, with a big milestone upon me (My human son's first birthday), reflecting on the year gone by and the many many lessons I have gained with all the minutes that I have lost.
Below are 15 of the life lessons I picked up during my son's first year.
(For those of you who missed my older post, 20 life lessons learned quickly as a new parent - which is also a personal and audience favorite.
15 more life lessons learned in the first year of parenting:
1. Patience is the only thing that can get you through the day.
Sleep, painkillers and wine can too, but that wouldn't make me a very good mom (or a writer, since I wouldn't have much to report). However, I have found that even in my most exhausted moments, if I sit down (usually with my child on my shoulder who is refusing to sleep), count to ten and then strategize (on what to do next and sometimes it is as simple as singing something new or nursing/ feeding them again), your head is much clearer than it was before. And while you may think that your child is never going to go to bed, he or she will eventually. (And you will still be up trying to do everything you can except sleep because you finally got some "me" time).
2. Don't be afraid to speak your mind.
And not just cause no one else will, but because you are standing up for the two of you. Yourself, and your child who cannot yet speak, no matter how much you will it. (Yes, this does give you an opportunity to use your child as an excuse, but you have earned it.) Even though my husband is supportive, he has not been pregnant, or nursing and he isn't leaving home with his heart on the other side of the door and a suitcase of guilt on his shoulders - it just isn't the same for you and anyone else. So, speak up - whether it is explaining how you feel, asking for help, or telling someone that their actions are not what you want around you or your child.
3. Try and put down (or better yet, pack away) the mom guilt.
Along with that baby, most of us grew an entire conscience that now watches over us and judges (and questions or second guesses) every decision we make. Should we really be at work so early when we could be home watching over our children, is it really okay to sleep another hour when your child may be getting up soon... The questions are endless, but there really is no right answer. So at some point - we have to decide to pack it up and accept that we are doing the best that we can given our individual circumstances no matter what they are.
(It also helps me to know that my mom worked, also straddled with guilt I'm sure, and yet I turned't out fine and couldn't be closer or more grateful to her, so try and think about others you know who have managed to do it all).
4. Find your own off-balance.
Balance is key but a happy balance may feel impossible. I feel like I am constantly juggling and every meal or giggle I miss at home is heart wrenching, Ofcourse, I also feel terrible when I miss anything at work, skip the gym, or don't get what I consider my fair share of sleep (which somehow is a lot less than I used to need). However, I've come to realize that while I may never feel as centered as I did before, this juggle is now my way of life as it is the only way I will satisfy myself in every way that I want to. So even if that leaves you feeling a little off-balance and stretched beyond what you thought you could be, but you're going to bed knowing you covered all the bases you needed to - you're golden.
5. Be the person you want your child to grow up to be.
Your baby may be too little to remember what you are doing but you will soon learn that they pick up on every little thing. My son now has a habit of covering his mouth with his hand and saying "HAWW,"which is his own version of my "OMG." It's totally adorable! But it's just a few degrees away from our little parrots swearing, littering, burping, etc (not you mom, I know that the bodily gasses only come from our husbands). So catch yourself when you are doing something you wouldn't want your baby to be doing when they grow up, and learn to be the role model you should ! It's the little things now but eventually this can cover fibbing, snooping and a whole bunch of other things.
6. Let go of the competition.
I, for one, am not encouraging my child to walk as soon as he can (even though I know I am seconds away from this milestone). Not just because he will be able to reach a whole other level of stuff once he is standing more confidently. But more so, because it doesn't matter if he walks at 10 months or 15, just because the neighbors daughter was walking by 8 months. (I exaggerate of course, my neighbor doesn't have a daughter, but it would still hold true if she did.) And it doesn't matter because I want my child to grow at his own pace, as and when he is ready, while I try and soak up as much of this moment as I can, instead of imagining what the next one will look like.
7. Learn the new meaning of priority.
So I may have mentioned this before (and I am likely to do so again) but my dear husband abandoned ship when I was with my two month old to fly across the globe - literally - and party for 48 hours (as a reward I'm refusing to let that one go). As you can imagine, I've given plenty of lectures on priorities and will not repeat them on here, but it does take longer for it to sink into fathers than it does for mothers. As moms, we already know that with the start of pregnancy we give up alcohol, brie, raw food, foot massages (basically all my favorite things), and much more. Our body teaches us what comes first but we really don't realize until we have to do things like choose between traveling across the globe to attend your best friend's wedding or staying home with your baby who is just to small to make the trip with you or be left behind, that our whole priority system has been reshuffled forever. However, we will reach a point where we just have to let it go and know that the decisions you make are what is best for your baby - who has noone else batting for him or her as much as you, as a parent, ever will.
8. Stop crying over spilled milk, or food, or poop.
Shit happens, literally. And goes up the back, in baby's hair, definitely on you... (I'm going to stop before my memories make me gag). It's just part and parcel of the child raising experience. Learn some key tricks - like rolling up the onesie before getting it off, and telling pets if any to "leave it"and "stay" while you mop up the mess. And then be proud that you have managed to do this on your own (because I actually do know parents who have never changed a diaper).
9. Put yourself second (because first is impossible).
It's easy to get lost in baby world, but important to stay afloat so make it a point to take time out just for you. Even if it's a few minutes to wash your hair or to listen to your favorite song. Better yet though, when you can, ask grandma or hubby to step out and try and get away from an evening. It doesn't mean you don't love your baby but it feels great to be able to take time for yourself as well, to recharge if nothing else.
10. Time waits for nothing.
I've been a tad bit crabby (and definitely clingy) because I realized that with one year down, I have only 17 left with my child. Being Indian though, I have to welcome him to stay at home indefinitely (which I don't mind right now, but I can't guarantee I will feel the same way about it in 40 years). Assuming though that he goes to college, the minutes are numbered, as are the number of weekends before they are teenagers who may not want to spend their weekends with us. So, make the most of it by being there for your child as much as you are able to (that doesn't mean you let the guilt slip in moms, it means that even if you are consumed with your career and other things, you make it a point to spend time with child.
11. Wear your mom (or dad) hat with pride.
I don't know about you, but I feel a lot more confident when I have my child perched on my (now damaged) hip. I have a date that may be messy, but that doesn't complain about my restaurant choices and someone I can have a one-sided chat with when I am avoiding making conversation with strangers or people I don't like. I'm an introvert, if I didn't give it away already, and yet I find myself a lot more confident as a person now that I'm a mom. So, if you feel like me, that's great, but if you don't - reflect on all you have done just by being a parent, and gain some strength and pride from it. You deserve it.
12. One size doesn't fit all.
And with a baby we learn that actually many sizes fit one simultaneously, (making online shopping and closet organization a little more complicated). More importantly though, each child is unique, and is going to learn their own set of things, have their own first words, their unique likes and dislikes, and eventually their own bubbling personality (glimpses of which are present from a womb and are literally presents for us moms). Try and take it in for what it is without worrying too much about why they are different, and instead appreciate your little one for what they are - unique, and yours.
13. Leave your comfort zone behind.
A mom-friend recently told me that even though she hates getting dirty, when she realized her daughter was the same way, she smeared ketchup all over a large sheet of paper and encouraged her baby to play in it. It's important to let kids draw out of the lines, let loose and live large, cause honestly, when else will they do it? And for us, it's a chance to give in and live it all over again, even if that means getting a little dirtier, sweatier and more tired than you were before.
14. Sleep when your baby sleeps.
This one is only on here because of the number of times I have whined about all the people who told me to sleep when the baby sleeps! Yes moms, you said it right (whether you actually did what you said - I have my doubts). I have been up many a night, trying to read, or watch a few minutes of my favorite show that I recorded 3 months ago (and now my DVR is full), and finish the laundry, sort out my photographs, sneak out for dinner, drink my wine, text everyone pictures of how adorable my son is - and get through everything else pressing that is more important than sleep. However, when that baby alarm goes off (and you now have a few months or maybe even a year of sleep deprivation behind you), you are going to wish you had slept when the baby slept. I can count on one hand the number of times I have done this, but when I have, I have felt a great deal better the next day than the many times I did the laundry, or read a book instead.
15. Own who you are now, the "new"you
Jennifer Garner (who is only the most beautiful woman on the planet), recently, declared that she had a baby bump - not only does it exist but it's here to stay and has been named after each of her children. And it's not because she is expecting another one (she is not pregnant), but because she is already a mother. Personally, I would need a magnifying glass to find her baby bump after looking at my own. However, the point here is that we may not feel the way we did before, and we may even be struggling everyday to regain some of what you lost (for me it's an entire closet full of size 4 dresses). But at some point, we need to accept that our lives have been irrevocably changed, and spending too much time striving for the past can take us away from the present - which is full of baby giggles, and the pitter patter of little feet.
I hope your parenting voyage has been as educational as mine, if not more. Feel free to let me know if I missed anything or even if there's something you completely disagree with.
All photographs in this article are original and contributed by author.