Dear New Moms,
I’ve been thinking about you this week. I think about you often, actually. Sometimes it’s with nostalgia for those first baby months, sometimes with gratitude that they are over, but always, ALWAYS with a great deal of empathy. Being a new mom is awesome and hard, beautiful and exhausting, joy-filled and terrifying. Not that parenting gets any easier, but that transition from non-mom to new mom is big and important. It really is.
So as you approach your first Mother’s Day, I thought it would be nice to offer you a gift, experienced-mom-to-new-mom. A few shards of wisdom. Some unsolicited advice, since I’m sure you don’t get enough of that already. (Ha!)
Speaking of which, here is your first gift:
Gift #1: PERMISSION TO IGNORE ADVICE.
Obviously, anyone who’s never had a child or who has a child younger than you doesn’t get to offer advice. But even experienced parents’ advice should be viewed with a healthy dose of skepticism, because anyone who has children who are older than yours likely doesn’t 100% remember what it’s like to have a baby. You know how the pain of childbirth kinda/sorta/maybe gets forgotten? The pain of babyhood does, too. The joy remains, but a good chunk of the pain melts into the ether.
So all of those well-meaning snippets like “Sleep when the baby’s sleeping!” or “Be sure to make time for yourself!” or any form of sleep/feeding/scheduling/burping/diapering advice—those are all to be taken with a grain of salt. Yes, every single one of them.
The reality is you are the only expert on your baby and your own motherhood. Read a dozen parenting books if you must, just to form a collection of “things to try,” but don’t buy into the idea that someone else has access to a big vat of wisdom that you don’t.
Every single human on this Earth is a mystery. Especially the babies. Big fat mysteries. Sure, there are some generalities and patterns to be found, but chances are that your little human isn’t going to fit any of them. Your little person came with his or her own unique personality, which you’ll constantly be trying to figure out. Why do they do the things they do? What are they thinking or feeling? What makes them come alive? What makes them shut down? How can you help them? These are questions you’ll ask yourself constantly throughout your children’s childhoods, and the answers will always be changing. So if advice—personal, professional or otherwise—doesn’t make sense or feel right for you and your child, ditch it. No guilt. No worries.
Gift #2: A PERSPECTIVE ON TIME
Once you become a parent, time is no longer what it was. You may have already noticed it starting to accelerate. And time just keeps going faster and faster and faster, and there’s nothing you can do to slow it down. The only thing you can do to is to inhale slowly, gaze at your child, and try to memorize every tiny detail about them. Take lots of photos, but also take time to breathe in their scent, feel their silky skin, and listen to their gurgles and giggles.
Just so you know, the parents who constantly tell you to enjoy these days are coming from this new perspective on time. My oldest daughter just started wearing make-up. Make-up! GAH! NO! SHE’S STILL A TEENY BABY WITH ROLY-POLY THIGHS AND A PACIFIER!! Except she’s not. She’ll be 14 in a few short months. And I’m maybe freaking out just a smidge. So I could very easily tell you to enjoy those baby months because they really do go by SO FAST.
But I won’t tell you that, because you can already taste it. You’re already witnessing how your baby’s face and fat rolls and gurgles and giggles change every day. And you can probably also see how it’s not just the speed but the nature of time that’s changes when you become a parent. Sometimes it feels like the uphill climb on a roller coaster where you’re half-thrilled, half-terrified about what’s coming next. Sometimes you’re right at the peak where you wish you could just freeze time altogether and stay in that brief moment when all of your senses are on high and the view is breathtaking. And sometimes you’re screaming down a hill, everything a blur, frighteningly aware of how little control you have, and you wish someone would just SLOW IT DOWN.
And then there are the moments when you want to scream, SOMEONE GET ME OFF THIS THING! Even the baby years aren’t all sunshine and roses. I remember when my first baby was six weeks old and sleeping like crap. I thought, “It’s not humanly possible to survive on this little sleep.” For a brief moment, I actually wondered if it was possible to die from sleep deprivation. It was that bad. And I promised myself I would always remember that feeling so that I could someday commiserate with some young mom who was so tired she thought she might lose her mind.
And now here I am. I promise, you’ll make it through, Mama. It’s going to be all right. Or at least it will be until it’s not again. Buckle up and take a Dramamine—it’s all ups and downs at breaknecking speeds from here.
Gift #3: THE BIGGEST TRUTH ABOUT PARENTING
This is the most important thing I will ever say about motherhood, and I wish more of us shared this truth more freely. You ready for it? None of us really knows what we’re doing. That’s the truth. We’re all flying by the seat of our pants. We all do the research, read the books, peruse the websites, consult the elders, but at the end of the day we’re all pretty much winging it and doing the best we can. We are human parents of human children, and humans are complicated.
You’re going to meet some incredible mothers in your lifetime. You’ll know moms who have incredible kids, and you’ll beg them to share with you their secrets. But there are no secrets. Good parenting has a thousand and two different faces. Some ages are easier. Some kids are easier. So don’t stress about parenting philosophies or get caught up in anyone else’s parenting dogma. What works for someone else might not work for you, and vice versa.
Kids are complex. Every last one of them. And moms are complex. Every last one of them. Don’t worry. There is no perfect parenting. I repeat: There is no perfect parenting.
There’s so much more I’d like to give you, new mamas. I wish I could give you a housekeeper and a Starbucks card and a whole boatload of patience that would last you a couple of decades. But I’ve always been so thankful for words of encouragement from more experienced moms, so I thought I’d pass along the same to you.
Enjoy your first Mother’s Day! May your house be clean, your diapers leak-free, your sleep uninterrupted, and your baby exceptionally giggly.