by Aggie Aviso
Babies don’t come with user manuals. There are certain things that I wish someone told me when I was a new parent—insecure, too caught up with doing it “right” and wanting to be “perfect”. I am not talking about the most common things new parents hear like, “Sleep when the baby sleeps” or how burping the baby properly dictates whether or not I will have a peaceful night or a colicky infant. I am referring to certain aspects of parenthood that I wish I really understood and believed in when I was a new mom, if only to help ease the anxiety and pressure (all that pressure!) of being “perfect.
If I could go back to before my son was born, I’d tell myself these things.
1. You won’t need half of the things you need to take care of the baby.
If you think about it, our mothers and grandmothers were raised without bouncy chairs, swings, play mats, teething rings, pacifiers and they certainly didn’t have baby toys that claim to stimulate the brain and produce baby geniuses and child prodigies. And yet they turned out OK; some were even geniuses. It’s tempting to get everything that claim to help the baby but the truth is, all babies do is eat and sleep. When they start walking, they don’t need a hundred ways to be entertained. Keep your baby stuff needs down to the basics. You save money and will be able to use it when it really does get expensive like schooling and emergency medical expenses.
2. It won’t be pure bliss once the baby is out.
Most parents often describe the feeling of seeing their babies for the first time as seeing a glimpse of heaven. While that is true, once the baby bliss recedes and you get to go home and be alone with your baby for the first time, it might be scary, confusing and frustrating. Crying babies can be very panicking for new parents. Add to the uncertainty is the lack of sleep, the challenges of breastfeeding and maybe if you are lucky, a big dose of postpartum blues and you end up depressed, frustrated and just plain tired.
It’s hard. It is impossible to truly convey what it’s like to wake up every two hours to feed a struggling infant who doesn’t know how to latch properly and struggle with the pain of sore and cracked nipples and the crazy fluctuation of hormones. Some parents even describe it as torture!
3. That being said, it’s perfectly okay (and normal) to not enjoy every moment.
I remember feeling guilty whenever I’d feel I just want “moments” to be over with and wished my baby was a bit older to be able to get at least a 6-hours worth of straight sleep. I was told to “cherish the moment and enjoy it while it lasts” one too many times. And while it is true – parenthood is the most life-enriching experience you’ll ever have, it is also the hardest. Spare yourself the guilt of thinking you must enjoy every single moment of parenthood. Read the Momastery blog post entitled “Don’t Carpe Diem.” Glennon Doyle Melton, author of Carry On, Warrior: Thoughts on Life Unarmed, says if you can find even a few moments to treasure each day, you’re doing pretty darn good.
4. But it gets better.
As bad as I may have described it to be, the truth is, it’ll get better. Not because the situation gets better but because you get better. You will learn how to breastfeed, your nipples will toughen up, your body will get used to shortened hours of sleep, your disposition and patience will improve. Don’t wallow in the misery. There are amazing moments in this period – go through it with open eyes. Trust that it will come.
5. You can’t control everything.
One of the things that you will learn to let go is your need for control. Asha Dornfest, coauthor of Minimalist Parenting and founder of Parent Hacks, says “We tend to start out as parents thinking that if we just make the right choices and follow the right guidelines, our kids will act or turn out a certain way. The baby will sleep regularly, or will never be a picky eater… The list goes on. But there’s a fair amount about raising kids we can’t control no matter how many books we read or strategies we try. It takes time to find the line between nature and nurture… but you can trust that you will eventually find your way.” This leads us to another point – that is;
6. Don’t compare yourself or your baby with others.
Babies develop differently and reach milestones at their own pace, no matter how many books say that your baby should be able to do this by the age of X months. Don’t stress if your baby is not walking at 10 months when the baby next door is running at 9. If babies are all the same, then we should have gotten manuals because they are like robots. But they aren’t. They are wired differently. Doctors have guidelines set in place to serve a checklist for more serious developmental delays but they aren’t there to pressure parents to ensure they can check off the guidelines at a specific month.
Try not to stress about it. We often measure our abilities as parents with how much or how far along our babies have been doing compared to others. We can’t control our children – the sooner we learn to accept this, the better we will be (especially when they get older).
7. You can never take too many pictures or videos.
As a first-time parent, you will probably take thousands of pictures and videos or everything your child does, even if they all look the same. That’s perfectly fine. You will never regret having too many of those. The challenge is to make sure you develop a habit of keeping an organized system for your photos and videos after you take them. One very important thing to do as well is to back-up your files often. Schedule this in your calendar or have your drive automatically backed up in regular intervals. These files are only ones you can never, ever recreate – they need to shoot up right on top the most precious files list.
And whether you keep a baby book or not, find a way to document your baby’s little moments that you don’t want to forget – the favorite toy, first words, dates. You can start a private blog, buy a new journal, scribble on pieces of paper (just make sure to keep them together) or jot down things on your phone (there are plenty of apps that will let you do this, even send you reminders about it). Memories get hazy and perspectives change in the passage of time. You will be glad you wrote it down.
8. You’re allowed to have a life.
Don’t feel guilty if you take time away from the baby and spend time on yourself alone or with friends. You don’t need to be with your child everyday to be a great parent. Schedule in a day to get your “sanity” back – a trip to the salon, a morning coffee where you get to enjoy your coffee without simultaneously cleaning bottles, a lunch date with girl friends, a quick exercise run or even a weekend date with your husband. You need to nurture and take care of your well being so you can take care of your baby better. You are a mother every minute of the day forever – but that doesn’t mean you need to be the primary caregiver 24/7. Remember, even caregivers have rest days. We all need time off.
9. It takes a village to raise kids.
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. In this age where the pressure to be a supermom is great and enjoying motherhood is the mantra, looking for support in the form of hiring a babysitter or having your parents look after the baby might be embarrassing for some. It is not. It is never a bad thing for a baby to have more people around to love and take care of him. This is one thing I love about our culture – Filipinos are big on extended families and help is literally a call or a few steps away. It is also not a sign that you’re an incompetent parent if you decide to get a nanny. Some mothers frown upon this and self-righteously boast that they decide not to hire help because they want to be as hands-on with their kids as possible. And that’s perfectly fine. But if you want help because you’d rather not wash the feeding bottles or clean the house and just play with your baby, that is not something to get guilty about. Get help. We will always need it.
10. You will never be the same.
And I mean this in a good way. Parenting changes you. The change might be immediately visible – your body is not the way it is used to be, you worry a lot, etc. But the deeper changes don’t happen overnight. Your values, perspective and habits realign to one tiny little human – your baby. You will be deeply attuned with your mortality that you realize you need to change your habits, to live longer so you can provide for and be there for your baby. You develop a deeper relationship with your partner. You are conscious on how you spend your free time. You get more serious with life as you are aware that this world you live in will be the world your child will grow up in.
But you will also learn to loosen up, toughen up, relax, laugh from the heart. You realize you are a stronger yet more vulnerable person at the same time. Elizabeth Stone couldn’t have said it any better. “Making the decision to have a child is momentous. It is to decide forever to have your heart walking around outside your body.”
And you won’t ever regret it. You might even end up doing it again. And again.
Aggie Aviso describes herself as her family’s storyteller and memory keeper. A mom to two kids ages 14 and 8, she is certainly past the age of sleepless nights and adorable pigtails. However, motherhood stays exciting, more meaningful and yes, more challenging. She takes it all in stride, knowing fully well that moments pass by in a blink of an eye. As Gretchen Rubin famously said, “The days are long, but the years are short.” She has discovered how wonderful it is to have those fleeting moments in time documented in their family books and has made it her personal mission and passion to be able to tell their stories for her future grandkids. Read more about her in her blog here.