(or What I Wish Someone Had Told Me Before I Had Kids)
You are embarking on the most amazing journey, one that will irrevocably change who you are and your relationships to most things, hopefully for the better. Children provide such windows and mirrors to our true selves, and I don’t think you can help but being changed by that.
A friend recently surmised parenthood with the expression “Don’t Blink.”
A random stranger in London once said to me “the days are long but the years are short.” I don’t know what he saw on my face to know that I needed to hear those reassuring words, probably a combination of sheer exhaustion, jet-lag and being at my wits-end!
I know everyone says that it goes fast, but it really does. Each stage comes with its own set of adventures, discoveries and challenges. Each stage is different, some more difficult or enjoyable than others.
Another acquaintance, who has two young children, confessed that he asked his friend Dan Savage to make an “It Gets Better” series for the parents of young children. And it does get better, and then sometimes worse, and inevitably better again. It’s unpredictable, and you just have to learn to adapt and go with the flow.
Take lots of pictures. Write things down. I hung a calendar in each of the boys’ room and used it to write down little memories and big milestones or just what we did that day. When I look back at pictures from when they were young, I can’t quite believe all the things we did. I wouldn’t believe it happened if not for the pictures. There is so much to take in, so many things that are changing. Document it now and go back later, when you need to, to reminisce and reflect.
Trust you own maternal instinct; it is truly the best guide. You will know your child better than anybody else. If something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Get a second opinion, or a third. Don’t worry about what everyone else is doing. Follow your own heart. Let your children follow theirs. Don’t worry about getting it wrong. Just do your best, and when in doubt, breathe, love, hug, scream, cry, trust.
Creative problem solve. This is really hard because you are going to be really, really tired. More exhausted than you will ever imagine. I wish I could say that the sleep depravedness gets better, and maybe it does, but we aren’t there yet. Night-time feedings give way to nightmares and overnight potty training. And anxieties about monsters under the bed, and separation anxiety and fear of the dark. I don’t say this to scare you but to make you aware of just how tired you are going to be. And it’s hard to solve problem when little ones are consuming most of your resources. If something isn’t working, don’t try to plow through. Surrender your expectations of how things should be or how you wanted them to be. Stop and explore every other possibility.
This is a big one, so I’ll give you two examples. Baby T(wo) was (and still is) a restless sleeper. He loved to nurse, and since I was at work during the day, he would wait for me to come home (refusing the precious breast milk I had left behind in a bottle after pumping 3 times a day) and then feed for most of the next 12 hours, until it was time for me to go to work again. In hindsight, we should have gotten a co-sleeper for next to our bed so that I wouldn’t have to get up and feed him. I know I would have gotten more rest this way. But I was bound and determined that our children were going to sleep in their cribs. And this expectation kept us from logically assessing the situation and thinking through alternatives. This only occurred to me much, much later. And my refusal to bend my own expectations has left me with a nasty case of insomnia, and I’m not sure it’s helped T’s sleep habits either.
The other example is that we initially put Baby O(ne) in daycare, but due to a number of factors, this arrangement left us both depleted and we weren’t being very good employees or moms. But we just kept doing the same thing, because we had already decided how we were going to manage this whole working parent thing. Our pediatrician finally read us the riot act one day in her office. She told us that we had to take Baby O out of daycare immediately. I was so angry with her at the time. How dare she tell us what to do! She held up a mirror for both of us to see, and I did not like what I saw in the reflection. We were forced to take a time-out, to think clearly and come up with another game plan. And that changed everything.
We found a solution. It’s not perfect, and there are still challenges. We still both have to juggle work and kids and our own needs. But the idea of a work-at-home mom had never been in the realm of possibility. I am forever grateful to our pediatrician for stopping us in our tracks and forcing us to find another way. A way that would work better for the whole family, and most importantly for our child.
And finally, don’t forget your marriage. I know I need to follow my own advice here too. Find a few babysitters. Try to go out, on your own, for just a few hours. The experts say you should do this once a week. Go ahead and laugh – I did. So try for every two weeks, or at least once a month. You don’t have to spend a lot of money. You don’t have to go anywhere fancy. Sometimes we go grocery shopping and then out for ice cream. It doesn’t matter what you do, as long as you are doing it together. Kids, especially more than one, will compete for every ounce of energy that you can give them. Don’t forget to save some for yourself, and some for each other.
So, with that, I wish you all the love, luck and good wishes that I can possibly muster. It’s a journey like no other… enjoy the ride.