Things are finally starting to get easier, with a few exceptions.
I wanted to write this post in an effort to follow up on my previous article, “Things They Don’t Tell New Mothers.” Surprisingly, the first installation received a decent bit of attention on Medium and beyond, which has encouraged me to divulge more about what I’ve found at the bottom of the trenches of new motherhood. Now that we’ve kept our child alive for 6 months (more now, actually), I’m looping back to share what I’ve discovered since I last spilled on the details of becoming a new mom.
Here is what I’ve learned/experienced/suffered through since then.
Be a Confident Parent.
I’m starting off with my heavy hitter because it’s perhaps the most important point that I’ll ever make in any of my articles on motherhood. As a new mother and/or parent, you’re going to be bombarded by cultural propaganda about how to perform this new duty of yours. Or society is going to assume that you know nothing and- without asking you- is going to push all of its pretty and not-so-pretty parenting practices right off onto you. Some of these practices are not going to be for you, although our culture will try to tell you that they are. From my experience, many new mothers find themselves drowning in this information and can’t navigate their way through it, so they end up making a decision that they regret.
The point of this is to encourage you to do your own research, implement practices based on that research, and show confidence in your decisions. Everyone from meddling family members- who ask deeply personal questions about sleep and bowel movements- to random know-it-all strangers on the internet will tell you how to parent. I know this because I’ve experienced it during many of my late night Google deep-dives (“my infant son launched himself off of the couch, is the ER in our future?”).
Some of the biggest conflicts between parenting camps that I have seen are usually centered on the same topics: formula versus breastfed children, good sleepers versus bad sleepers, sleep training versus no sleep training, gentle parenting versus less-gentle parenting. The debates are highly visible and can be influential, particularly to a barely functioning, sleep-deprived parent who feels that they’re out of options¹. My controversial stance on this? You are never out of options.
But, don’t fret: Old wives tales and myths regarding the efficacy of certain ingrained parenting practices will quite literally bombard you with ancient information about everything from crib bumpers and rice cereal. Do your best to ignore this deluge and make decisions that are best for you and your child. If something feels wrong, it probably is. If something feels right, give it some time to see if it works! Also, be confident enough to challenge the “old ways” of thinking. Even if your mother, grandmother, greatgrandmother did it this one way that one time and it *worked* doesn’t mean that you need to continue the practice if it’s not right for you. Challenge and change, if necessary.
I can’t stress this one enough because it’s the lesson that I learned the hardest. New motherhood is difficult enough without the added challenge of a pandemic, and there were times over the past several months when I was definitely wearing down pretty thin. Your patience as a new mother is going to wax and wane, but this will get better as your baby gets older. Success in this arena requires you to really know yourself and recognize your triggers. Crying, screaming babies are sure to work on anyone’s nerves and it’s a good decision to take a break when you’re feeling overwhelmed. Putting your child down on a safe surface while you take a quick breather outside the bedroom door is certainly better than other, fatal alternatives². Remember this in the wee hours of the morning:
Needing a break does not make you a bad mother.
Needing a break does not make you a bad parent.
Knowing that you’re at your breaking point and that you can’t take much more is a sign of a mature parent. Take a break, get a drink or a snack, or have a quick self-talk moment before you get back into the thick of it.
Enjoy them when they’re little, and beyond.
This one is pretty simple. Babies and their cognition change and develop so quickly that I almost don’t recognize my own little one, who only four months ago was a human potato without a personality. Now, as we’re approaching 8 months, he is starting to talk and is learning how to crawl. These changes have happened so fast that I forget to cherish the way that he was a newborn- so snuggly and dependent on me for everything. I miss that a little bit because now there are times when he wants to get down and play on the floor without me, or when he wants his dad to rock him to sleep instead of me. The point of this is: nothing lasts forever. Child development occurs very fast over the course of the first year of life³, which means that sleep patterns change, parent preferences change, everything changes. Don’t get too caught up in what the parenting books say, or what other mothers are sharing on the internet. Enjoy these little quirks and milestones before they’re gone forever.
You’re still going to be so, so tired.
Sleep is a developmental skill and babies aren’t born knowing how to sleep through the night. The idea that babies need “help” to learn how to sleep is the greatest myth that I have ever encountered during my research as a new mother. Our society tries to pull the wool over our eyes by saying that babies MUST sleep through the night right away, or we as parents aren’t doing things right. (This is why sleep training is unfortunately so prevalent in America, where work and the need to function at work often reigns supreme⁴.) The best way to encourage your baby to sleep is by meeting his needs, whether that’s a feeding before bed or cuddles in the middle of the night. As for you, can you catch up on extra Z’s on the weekend? Can your partner, or even a friend or family member, watch your baby so you can sleep? There are so many ways to try and sneak some sleep when there is someone helping you, but what if you have no one (thanks, COVID!)?
Nap when baby naps. It is much easier said than done (and the exact opposite of what I wrote about in my first post on this subject) and you’ll have to forget about the loads of household chores that you could be doing instead, but it’s the best way to try and grab some extra rest when help isn’t readily available.
Eventually, though, you might just get used to the sleep deprivation. Yay.
(P.S. There is a great article on all things baby sleep by Raised Good. It explains biologically normal sleep patterns and why we need to move past the myths of sleep training based on normal, natural sleep development. The article can be found here.)
Just enjoy it.
There must have been at least one reason why you became a parent, right? Maybe it was because your in-laws have been begging for a grandchild, or because you’ve always dreamed of becoming a mother. Whatever the reason, you’re good enough. You’re good enough! Let’s read that again:
You. Are. Good. Enough. Full stop.
Your baby doesn’t care what you look or smell like. He doesn’t care that he’s playing with the same toys and books while you chug your ninth cup of coffee, and he doesn’t care that you put the television on so you can use the bathroom. You, in all your new motherhood glory, are good enough. You are your baby’s sole reason for orbiting the earth, and he wakes up every day eager to see your unwashed, tired face. How cool is it knowing that there is at least one person who both loves you unconditionally and worships the ground that you walk on?
Enjoy this new role, moms. Dads too. It is so painfully fleeting. Every woman I have ever talked to that has older children has echoed this sentiment with a message of her own, but that translates into the same universal truth: Treasure it. It goes by too fast, as does all life.
: Raised Good. (n.d.). Sleep deprivation, ‘good’ babies, and mental health: Why parents need to ditch the myths of our sleep training culture. https://raisedgood.com/unlearn-lessons-sleep-training-culture/
: Herman-Giddens, M.E., Mittal, M., Smith, J., et al. (2003). Newborns killed or left to die by a parent: A population-based study. https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/fullarticle/196165
: Healthline Parenthood. (n.d.). Get ready for all these precious first-year milestones. https://www.healthline.com/health/baby/baby-development-stages#first-month
: Narvaez, D.F. (2016). Sleep train a baby? Don’t! https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/moral-landscapes/201611/sleep-train-baby-don-t