Monday, December 9, 2013

My advice to new parents is all positive

I read an article today on "the truth about becoming a parent" with advice that we need to begin talking about what parenting is really like - the good, but also the bad and the ugly.  The article states that if we don't share the bad and the ugly, we're doing a disservice to parents-to-be.  I get where the author is coming from, but the article made me reflect on what my own advice to new parents would be.

The author talks about her (pre-baby) visions of lovingly gazing at her precious, sleeping baby.  Though I can't guarantee that mothering a newborn baby is always this dreamy bliss, for me it was - at least with baby #1.  When my older child was a newborn, my heart would skip a beat every time she got up.  There were times I would literally say aloud, "Oh good!  She's awake!", because I couldn't wait to see her.  11pm, 1am, 2:15 am, 4am, 5:30am, any hour, I would awaken with a smile on my face and practically run to attend to her, rock her back to sleep, and then gaze at that precious sleeping baby, often in my arms.

A lot of things made this possible.  I was 23 years old.  I had the youthful physical strength and energy in my arms and back to rock the baby (sometimes for hours!).  Being a young mother also meant I had very few well-meaning friends who were already parents preparing me for the worst - such that I would be anxious and fearful of  issues that may never materialize, or even worse, go into motherhood with an attitude that is anything but positive.  My only friend who had a child before I did happened to be a particularly optimistic, loving, tender person and set the tone for this most important connection I would have.  Another factor was where I was in life.  I had fewer side projects going on and took several months off of work, followed by working only part-time.  This did not mean I was living the posh life.  In fact, the baby's dresser was dorm room deco - a cinder block and wooden plank contraption.  We charged everything from toilet paper to ramen noodles and spent years paying this off.  But the time off from work, along with few distractions, meant I had the luxury to gaze lovingly without worrying about lack of sleep the next day or not getting projects done.  Another factor, probably the most important factor, was my baby's personality.  This was a baby born under the sun, cheerful and easy from the first day, a baby that only cried if she was hungry or physically hurt.  A kid who has always been bubbly and outgoing.  Just about the only thing that did not go as I hoped for during my pregnancy reveries about my happy life with baby, was the childbirth.  A little too optimistic about a manageable natural childbirth.  The Bradley videos must have edited out the women who had 22 hours of back labor.  I could have starred in that video.

While baby #2 spared me (only 5 hours of back labor), she was not quite so easy as her sister.  In fact, the entire pregnancy was shaded with a veil of anxiety.  Having had a miscarriage at the beginning of the second trimester between #1 and #2 meant I was constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop.  What will go wrong?  When will it happen? Anyone can be a statistic after all.  A full three weeks before her due date, baby #2 decided to surprise us.  We left the birth center a few hours after she was born and all ended up well (save for a meconium-in-the-lungs scare).  However, 2 days later, we were in the hospital with a bad case of jaundice.  Following that was a string of every other affliction you could imagine including: fifth's disease, hand-foot-mouth, H1N1, an asthma diagnosis, several bouts of pneumonia, 2 eye surgeries, and a mysterious dark purple viral rash that went into her joints and required oral steroids for a month.  Hello, roid rage.  This kid made me sheepishly regret all the times in the past I'd naively scoffed assuming that fussy babies, shy, cranky toddlers that ignore you when you goo-goo-gaga at them, and kids who have a hard time sharing were simply a byproduct of ineffective parenting.  Same parent here, wildly different babies.  For years, this baby had been almost constantly sick with one thing or another, and just needed a little more attention than baby #1.  Though she is a sensitive and caring person, a fiercely loyal friend, a sharp wit with a sarcastic sense of humor, we have always considered her...intense.  Tricks that worked beautifully with #1, didn't work with #2.  While attending to this needier baby, a connection developed to a practically telepathic extent.  While a smile looks like a smile to anyone else, I know whether it means she's happy, she's conniving something, she's feeling loved, or she's content to have gotten her way.  My first piece of advice - love each child.  Each human is different with unique needs and parenting means learning about your child - not gurus or from baby books, websites, maybe not even from your sister or mother, but from your baby directly.  Sometimes the advice you get feels wrong.  This is when you trust your intuition as a parent.  What are your child's needs?  As the parent, what can you say or do or give to your child so that she feels safe and unconditionally loved?

I read an article in Mothering magazine when I was pregnant with #1.  It said something about how when we have little kids, we think - oh when will they ever grow up, but then up they grow and we're pining for the days when they were just little babies. I wanted to remember that because somehow at age 23, I knew it would go by so fast.  I wanted everything to go in slow motion and to live in each season of motherhood.  I loved nursing my newborn.  I loved walking through stores or museums with 10 month old snug on my hip in sling pointing at everything she sees.  Parents of toddlers, one day you will wake up at 10am, fully rested on a snow day like I did today and wonder, hmmm, when did my little one stop climbing into my bed in the morning?   Every developmental phase is so incredible.  Today my kids are almost 9 and almost 16 years old.  Every now and then, as clear and fleeting as a deja vu, my little one will say something, or jump around in a way that reminds me of when my older child was her age.  I think about that Mothering article even more today because it IS going by SO fast.  My second piece of advice to new parents - slow down.  Fully experience each moment.  Enjoy every stage, including the sleepless newborn months - they do go by so quickly.  Though there are unpleasant bumps sometimes, it is mostly good and I think we'd be doing a disservice to parents-to-be not to focus on the positive.


  1. You have amplified hope to the next level and are living in joyous expectation. You are open to the possibilities. You have cleared a path for your good to make its way to you. And one of the best ways to activate this energy of amplified hope…of ensuring a positive outcome is to cultivate a gratitude practice. Eric Veech

  2. Hi Wendy, I totally agree. It's like those sound bites the media loves, "It costs $$$$$ to raise a child from birth to 18." What a terrible thing to say to people thinking about starting a family. It's good to go into it with your eyes wide open I suppose but if the emphasis is on all the negative, it paints a pretty morose picture.

    Parenting is extremely difficult, no doubt about it. But the happy times far outweigh the negatives. The rewards for pouring our heart into the lives of our little ones are deeper and richer than anything we'll ever experience in this life.

    The youngest of my four kids is 21 years old now. The years FLEW by! As much as I miss my babies, I really enjoy my adult children. I have learned so much from watching them go from helpless infant to capable adult.

    What a great post, Wendy. Your writing is poignant and heartfelt. Your kids are lucky to have you and I'm sure you feel lucky to have them. Merry Christmas my friend.

  3. Yeah each child of mine had different experience. All very precious :).

    Merry Christmas, Happy Holiday & Happy New Year.


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