Experts come out of the woodwork when you are about to be a parent: the postal worker, the mom at Whole Foods. . .even our godkids gave us advice. And yet I look back and think “they were right, why didn’t I listen?” With another baby on the way, I want to revisit pieces of advice that I never listened to. . .but should have.
1. You won’t know unconditional love until you are a parent.
This one made my skin crawl, especially since we spent a long time trying to get pregnant. Of course I knew love, I’d been dreaming of this baby for years! I thought unconditional love was similar to love you feel for your best friend or a spouse, but it’s not. You can love your partner a whole lot, but if he/she starts killing people you’ll quickly rethink that commitment. It’s conditional. But Lucy could kill someone and I’d be like “Tell me why, honey. Let’s work through this. I’m calling a lawyer. Where’s the body?” Similarly, NOTHING can separate us from the love of God. Our mere existence brings joy. I include our first baby that we lost through miscarriage in this category. So maybe it’s better to define “parent” more broadly to include those who don’t get to meet their kids, because they love those babies as fiercely in the womb as out.
2. A beautiful, good birth is one that ends in a baby being born.
C-section, epidural, natural birth, birthing tub. . .who cares? Parenting choices stem from so many different factors, many of which are outside the parent’s control. Let the birth happen how it will and enjoy having a baby. That’s the goal, no judgment.
3. The days are long but the years are short, so enjoy them.
I wanted to slap everyone who said “The time flies, enjoy it. My baby is now 18, and it seems like she just started walking! You are so lucky.” I looked at them with raccoon eyes and a bit of panic. Why were they telling me to enjoy something that was happening to me, as if I had time to catalogue it and soak it up? Time is interminably long when you are vomited on, getting little sleep, toggling too many schedules. Michael’s cousin who has grown kids said “You are tired now Heather, but let me know when you get weary.” Weary is a whole other world, my friends. At weary I forgot my last name when filling out a doctor’s form. Seriously. But then your baby is turning one and you stare at your partner like “How did this happen?” I still haven’t made Lucy’s baby book, or organized the thousands of pictures of her or found the perfect diaper rash cream. She went from being a tomato-faced preemie to running through parks with me, cracking jokes, saying sentences and asserting her independence. She has the funnest personality and is one of my favorite people to hang out with. I wonder if I wasted all those early moments, yet I know I enjoyed them as much as possible. There is never enough time. And yet there is also too much when we are firmly entrenched in the daily grind. Love warps time.
4. Sleep when the baby sleeps.
We never learn. Lucy goes to bed at 7:30 and it is PARTY time. It’s our time to watch Orange Is the New Black, have a late dinner, connect as a couple. Sometimes after hanging with Michael I’ll stay up until 1am reading and listening to music. It’s not sustainable, especially when Lucy has nightmares or wakes up early. When she was a newborn we would watch her sleep, not because we were worried about her but because she was so cute and beautiful. We’d channel Annie Leibovitz and do a photo shoot. But yesterday Lucy took a two-hour nap, and for the first time EVER we both napped and it was mir-a-cu-lous. I’m going to do that more often—knock on wood. It’s also OK to take some Benadryl (if you can’t nap like me) and conk out. You’ll wake up happier to see your baby.
5. Be silly.
This advice came from our god kids. It’s easy for my life to become over-scheduled. Last Thursday I decided enough was enough and we went to the pool with Lucy and were just silly. No agenda. Bills and appointments and house cleanings have a way of finding you, but joy is ephemeral. So it might seem ironic, but plan silly time. Parenting culture can be so fussy, competitive, overworked. Nina Garcia’s voice rings in my head when she sees a “tortured” outfit on the runway: “It has no JOY. It’s just. . .sad.” When I feel my chest tightening up and it seems like we’ll never have enough money or time—THAT anxious moment is an opportunity to be silly. Even if it’s for 60 seconds in the car with my favorite dance music.
6. Don’t put clothes on your baby registry.
People like to see babies toddling around in whatever onesie they bought, so you will get oodles of outfits your child will wear for a week before they need to go up a size. I mailed half of Lucy’s clothes to friends and family, and yet somehow have 4 boxes in storage for the next baby. Register for necessities like books, diapers, creams, wipes, strollers, diaper bags, bottles, etc. Register for unsexy things like gift cards. If people think that’s “impersonal” they can feel free to buy you something off the grid and when they have a child they’ll understand why you registered for boring stuff.
7. Don’t be hesitant to ask for specific help.
This is one of my biggest faults. I’ll ask people to pray for me vaguely but I rarely ask for concrete help. In reality, people are willing to help, they just won’t offer without prompting. Ask for specific things. Use a barter system or an IOU for when they have a child. Karma can be a beautiful thing and when they have children, I will lop off my right arm for the people who were so generous to our family, especially during the first 6 months. Here are a few ideas:
- Ask for hand-me-downs from parents who have older kids. Specifically items like diaper bags, breast pumps, toys, etc. You can always mail them back when you are finished or pass them on to someone else in need. They are probably gathering dust in a storage unit anyway.
- Ask your “foodie” friends to make dishes for you, especially right after your child arrives. Anything you can throw in a freezer and reheat is great. I seriously cried over food deliveries, especially after having a botched C-section (which I’ve never blogged about, come to think of it). I can still taste Emily’s casserole and Nora’s cookies. God bless you both.
- Ask your OCD friends to do a housecleaning party, either before or after baby. Turn on some awesome tunes, order in lunch and make it fun. Or put cleaning service gift cards on your registry.
- Update everyone on how stuff is going with your baby. If your baby is in the NICU, or has developmental complications, people want to know and want to help. They will never be able to support you emotionally or physically if you don’t let them in. Births and the first couple years can be rough.
- Have a “time shower.” Ask for gifts of time rather than money/stuff. You can make a list of things that would be helpful like watching the baby while you and your partner go out on a date. Email the list out and include it with your registry. It might sound cheesy but time is a parent’s most precious gift.
8. You can be selfish in making decisions for your baby. Don’t feel guilty about it.
Michael’s brother got married two months after Lucy was born, and Lucy and I didn’t go to the wedding. Because she was a preemie and immunizations were at the three-month mark, our doctor said it was best for her not to be in close proximity to a lot of people, and to especially avoid places like airports, even if I wore her at the wedding and we ducked out of the reception early. I felt super guilty for not buying tickets and not being there for a big event in our family’s life. A few days before the wedding, Lucy ended up being hospitalized for RSV, a serious respiratory virus. She was in the ICU for several days and would have had to miss the wedding anyway. This confirmed my decision—her body was still fragile and weak. But even if she hadn’t been hospitalized, we made the best decision given our doctor’s advice. In turn, I will always be flexible if someone needs to opt out of things for the sake of their child.
9. It’s OK to go off the face of the earth for awhile.
I was ordering baby shit on Amazon the day after major surgery. The nurse came in to help me go to the bathroom and and I was sitting cross-legged on the bed with my laptop and a to-do list. The first few months especially, sleep, eat, sleep, love your baby, repeat. Let other things fall by the wayside, lose touch with people. Pull a Dave Chapelle, have a breakdown and let people wonder where you are. It will work out.
10. When you make mistakes, apologize. And know that your child thinks you’re the bomb.
This advice came from one of my friends who has three grown kids and had a similar upbringing as me. Whenever she hears the undesirable parts of HER parents coming out of her mouth, she apologizes, hugs her kids fiercely and moves on. So do they.
11. When someone gives you bad/hurtful advice, say “thank you” and don’t let it eat you up. They are trying to be helpful in the best way they know how.
One of my friends is a zen-like nurse and does this when people give her advice about her daughter’s issues. I suck at feigning gratitude and letting things slide; I’m trying to be more like her. When people gave advice to us about helping Lucy walk (she has structural problems with her arches and ankles and now wears orthotics) I would spit back “We do keep her toys up high” or “We take her to the park all the time,” etc. Same with the nursing debate. They’d be like “It was difficult for my daughter to latch but we were persistent and finally got it.” I’d say, “I’m assuming you produced more than 50ml of milk though, right?” Especially with people you don’t know well and random strangers, put on your therapist hat and bounce it back at them. Say, “Wow, I’m so glad that worked for you, thanks” or “You must have been relieved,” and move on. You are under no obligation to adopt their advice. Nor are you under any obligation to accept any of the above advice.
This is just stuff I’m hoping to remember for baby #2 because it rang true for us. . .eventually. What is some of the best parenting advice you were told, and maybe never listened to or had a difficult time following? I’d love to hear it!