My cousin’s kid is about to have a baby. Her brother did it a year or so ago. I remember when they themselves were born. For some reason, their entrée into parenting has touched me more than I would imagine. I am guessing it’s because my cousin and his wife were and are such great parents. In fact, I have always held them up as the ideal parents.
Having been partially around the parenting block now, I can assume that, as easy as they made it seem, my cousins anguished over parenting as much as anyone else. They just didn’t always show it.
All this reminiscing has me considering the advice I received when I was about to become a parent — all of it — the helpful stuff and the stuff that didn’t work for us. It also leaves me pondering the advice and information I wish I had gotten.
So, lest I fill my poor second cousins’ facebook page with unsolicited advice while she is waiting patiently for her little one to arrive, I will share the top 20 things I wish I had known from the beginning here. I learned much of it from my second cousin’s parents, M and C, so I dedicate this to them.
1. Nursing, should you choose to do it, hurts like the dickens the first few weeks. Nobody really expressed to me just how much it hurts. You know that burning ring of fire of which Johnny Cash once sang? That’s your nipple. If you stick with it, you will be grateful for the bonding, for the nutrition, and for the convenience of it. When it comes to how you feed your baby, never say “never”. I never thought I would nurse past a year. We went longer than that. I have friends who wanted to nurse for 3 years and had to stop early (for whatever reason).
2. From the moment your baby is born, provided you are of sound mind, you will know your baby better than anyone else, including experts. Don’t let anyone tell you what you should or should not do. This goes for hospital staff as well. The lactation consultant told me to have my youngest sleep in the hospital bed with me after my c-section. The OB told me she should sleep in the bassinet next to me. One nurse wanted her to sleep in the nursery. I did what felt right for us both and we got a nice amount of sleep and figured out nursing together because of it.
3. Babies are more sturdy than you think. Cradle the neck, but don’t freak out if you forget or you fall asleep and the baby slumps over a bit. Watch how the nurses change their diapers. It’s alarming, but they really are THAT strong.
4. Barring instances of drug or alcohol use, you are not going to drop your baby in the shower or roll over onto your baby in bed (should you go that route). You have too many mom hormones surging around to do that.
5. All you really need the first few months are diapers, your boobs, food and tons of water for you, sleep, and a firm support system. Everything else is gravy.
6. Babies, toddlers, small kids, big kids, tweens and teens: gross. All gross. They are disgusting in different ways at different stages, but they will be disgusting no matter what. You’ll get through it because they are your kids, but it’s good to know ahead of time.
7a. There will be stretches, perhaps even long stretches, when you don’t necessarily like babies or children. Those stretches may or may not correspond with the ones your friends experienced. I was not a huge fan of parenting during portions of the years when my kids were 3 and 7, but I am loving the tween years. I tolerated the toddler years because they were so cute. My BFF LOVES the baby/toddler years, but is not yet sure about the tween years. Everyone is different.
7b. That being said, I never understood why there are so many books about parenting babies. Babies are relatively easy and oh so cute. You really need a book when your awkward seven year old is throwing an all out tantrum in the park and all the other parents glare at you and you are wondering what you did wrong. Or when it’s time to talk sex. Or when they see something horribly tragic on the news.
8. It’s okay to read “Oprah” sometimes while you are nursing. It’s okay to read “The New York Times” to your pre-verbal toddler in fun voices and pass it off as a children’s story. It’s okay to play hide-and-seek so that you can catch a cat nap on the couch (You have to be “It” for this to work). It’s okay to plan your meals for the week in your head while your child is telling you the plot of “Harry Potter” for the 487th time. Just nod and hum every once in a while. Occasionally, it’s okay to have no logical reason for saying “No” when the only reason you can come up with is that your gut tells you so. It’s okay to be an okay parent.
9. You will blow it. Apologize, both to your child and yourself. Kids don’t expect perfection — just authenticity.
10. When at a total loss over a difficult moment, make a silly face. Or wrestle. Or fart. Do something to get your child laughing. If they laugh, more often than not, the problem suddenly seems so small. If they don’t, you know the struggle is bigger than you’d imagined.
11. With that, sometimes your child just needs to cry. Or vent. Or be a poop. Or have an all out tantrum. Be there for them. That is when they need you most. That is when they are begging you to help them figure out their emotions and possibly pick up the pieces.
12. Do not expect to parent all your children the same way. They are not the same people and what connects you with one child might break your connection with another. Likewise, don’t worry about making things equal for multiple kids. It all evens out in the end. If they complain, explain this to them. They will understand.
13. Teeth! A shocking amount of parenting goes into your childrens’ teeth. Books could be, but are not, written on the subject of teeth alone.
14. Your kids will get over your mistakes and their mistakes within minutes. Your heart, on the other hand, will pound for days. It’s just the way it is. Someday, they will be the ones who fret forever over a conflict with their child and you will be the calm grandparent there to support them.
15. Sometimes/Often times parenting is 100% for the child and you get nothing (Did I mention the burning nipples?). It’s what you signed up for when you decided to do this. During those times, watch your child sleep. It is the most beautiful sight ever and it heals all angst.
16. ASK FOR HELP! And when people offer you help, take it. When my 2 eldest came home through adoption, I did not take up my neighbor’s offer to let her do my laundry because I was all weirded out about her folding my underwear. After giving birth to my youngest, everything changed. Let’s face it — by the time you’ve given birth, there is a good chance that a bunch of people have already seen your hoo-ha — and not at its best. At that point, who cares who touches your underwear, as long as they end up clean and in your drawer while you are napping.
17. You will worry. Embrace it. It doesn’t go away.
18. Those first few birthdays, holidays, Halloweens etc. are really more for you than your child. That’s okay. Just don’t stress over them.
19. At the same time, establish family traditions. They can be as big as the meal you routinely serve on a particular holiday or as small as the kiss you give them every single morning. Your child will value those traditions.
20. Finally — this is the big one and the one I watched my cousins do with the utmost elegance: Put the effort in now to develop the relationship you want later on. Period.
Bonus piece of advice: Always watch, and participate when possible, when your kids put on a show for you. It’s magic.