Everything I Wish I Had Known As A New Mom

I had my first kid at 28 years old. That may seem like a totally normal and fully adult time in one’s life to embark on parenthood, but I was barely five years out of college, still partying hard, working harder, and spending my paychecks on Prada wedges I’d only wear once. I was married — and, okay, having a baby was part of the plan — but we didn’t know it would happen so soon. So when it did, it felt like that record-scratch moment: My husband and I had no idea the challenges that lay ahead.

Because I was the first of my friends to have a baby, I became something of a child-rearing guinea pig for the group. When my crew was conquering and progressing, I was home watching Yo Gabba Gabba and feeling my brain slowly ooze out of my ear. I felt like I was charting new territory all alone: Who knew that my son would only stop crying during his “witching hour” if I did lunges with him strapped in a Baby Bjorn with Bob Marley blaring? I could’ve used a clue to get to that extremely specific formula. But there I was.

There is no doubt that new moms feel external pressure to live up to certain standards or expectations, but sometimes the worst of it comes from ourselves. I certainly felt pressure to reinvent the wheel, and do everything as if I were the first, and I was going to be different, somehow.

But instead of feeling psyched to come up with my own methods, I felt something I’d also experienced in my work life: Gee, it would’ve been great if the elder mentor-like folks around would’ve given me a heads up instead of just watching me slow-motion-car-crash through this thing. Now that I’m almost nine years in, there’s a whole lot I wish I could go back and tell my 28-year-old new-mom self. Since looking back can be a great way to move forward, and because it’s about time I try out my elder hat, I’m about to get into exactly what those things are, ahead.

Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids right now or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.

That thing you don’t want to be told.

Unanimously, every mom I’ve asked has said they’d tell their young-mom self to not sweat the small stuff. To try to calm down. Why isn’t he walking yet? Did I rotate him enough this week? Is his head flat? Did I pump enough? Is he hungry? Is this restaurant too loud? You are constantly in fear of somehow messing up this incredibly pure and perfect child. But here’s the thing: You won’t. I used to think my kids could smell my anxiety and fear from across the room, and thus became stressed themselves. This may not be scientifically proven, but when I was calm, they chilled out, too. You at least owe it to yourself to try.
Schedules are a tool not a requirement.

In my delirious state, I convinced myself that I was raising the most perfect child, and that perfection required a rigid adherence to rules and schedules. I’d be the martyr of all women, awake at 3 a.m. working on my sleep training strategy till I was bone-tired and weary with the bright-eyed-est baby of them all. News flash: You’re not the first person to have a kid. Your kid isn’t the first to have a wacky sleep pattern. So don’t freak out about missing naps or pushing bedtime. Set a schedule if you find it helpful, but also test its limits and tweak it. Being regimented can feel crucial to maintaining your sanity at first, but it's also a great way to set yourself up to totally lose it when you have to go off-script. (The irony.)

Routines are meant to make your life easier. The best advice I ever received was that the baby will adapt to your life, not vice versa. But also, never feel like you have to prove how cool and loose you are by taking your baby into situations you think you (or they) may not be comfortable in. If a three-hour brunch in a noisy, tiny restaurant with a baby carrier strapped on feels like your nightmare, by all means stay home, invite the friends to come to you, or raincheck for a time when you can leave the little one behind.
A pacifier will not herald the apocalypse.

You read all the books — or at least skimmed the Google results. I know you did, I was you. You read how important it was to allow your child to learn to “self-soothe” without any aids. But when your baby is wailing their teeny lungs out, or having a rough go at pushing some gas down, you will start to wonder what the big deal is. I will tell you: It’s not a big deal. It’s actually recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Not only can it help some babies drift off to sleep, but pacifier use has been found to reduce the risk of SIDS, and also relieve pain after minor procedures. Once a paci is in reach, and a baby’s old enough to grab for it on their own, that is self-soothing. And plus: many kids never end up taking to a pacifier, anyway. So offer one if you want, and chalk it up to your baby’s first independent choice.
Please don’t live and die by the milestones.

If your toddler wants to keep wearing diapers, keep sleeping in a crib, or isn’t saying too many words, it’s okay. They'll let you know when they're ready. Sometimes a bit of nudging can help, but by giving your child space to develop at their own pace, you are making a healthy and inviting environment for them. Stressing about what they should be doing and when can translate to pressuring your baby to perform — and life will have enough of that as they get older.

Of course the best way to truly help calm your nerves about your child’s development is to consult with their pediatrician. You are your child’s best advocate, and together with their doctor, you make a team that has their back as they age. Kids love feeling like they have control and the ability to choose. Sometimes they may exert this control in ways that drive you nuts or even make you worry. But, my little boy who once needed at least five pacifiers in his crib at all times? He cooks me eggs every weekend now.
You don’t have to love being home with a baby.

If you're on family leave at home with a brand-new baby, or staying home as part of a longer-term plan, it's okay not to love every aspect of it. If you have a partner who works outside the home, you may be jealous of their time away — but you are not allowed to make them feel guilty for it. You spend your days speaking in bizarre sentences like, “You want baba now?” and when you encounter a real live adult, you suddenly can’t put a solid sentence together. Believe it or not, this is temporary! If you’re jealous to the point that you want to rearrange your work/life situation, have an honest conversation with your partner about that. Otherwise, remember the value you're getting and giving by being home for this time, and recognize your partner's contributions, too.
On Breastfeeding.

Maybe you planned to provide breast-fresh grade A nutrients to your baby. But, it doesn’t always work out that way. If you end up feeding your child in other ways — because that’s what you wanted to do, or you wound up there reluctantly after trial-and-error — please try to mute out the haters, shamers, and parenting police ,and believe you are doing what’s best for you and your kid.
A big secret about reading.

In between all the developmentally appropriate children’s literature you can now recite from memory, it’s okay to slip in that Vanity Fair article you’ve been meaning to read. Your baby just wants to hear your voice, regardless of what you're saying. You need to flex that brain, too, so put down the board books and read something legit to your little. And hey, it’s never too soon to start keeping up with the news.
Question your rules, because your child sure will.

Your kid is not a representation of you, and you may notice your own inadequacies in them, but don’t hold it against them or try to overcompensate. Use it to their advantage. Everyone is born with their own unique weaknesses and strengths. Your kids will talk back, or be so sensitive you want to bang your head on the wall sometimes, but they will also have strong beliefs of their own (like all foods must be consumed "big" and never sliced into pieces). Teach them how to sell their argument and work on their pitches. It will go much further than just saying “no” or “because I said so.” Talk through what you’re asking or requiring of them, so they get used to that kind of give-and-take for later in life.
Take care of you.

I was fully gray by age 30. I so wanted to be one of those hip moms with chic gray hair, all flowy and glossy, but that was not the case for me. And so I found me a colorist, because I wanted a change. What I learned was that my monthly visits to the salon broke up the monotony and gave me a timeout during which I couldn’t possibly be expected to be productive. The visits became a meditative moment for me during those early years. They guaranteed I was going to drink a cup of coffee, have my hair look shiny and gorgeous, and catch up on my emails and reading if I felt like it.

Find something that you can make a weekly or monthly commitment to that is just for you. Schedule and look forward to that “me time.” Whether it's a yoga break in the basement, or a full-on spa day away from home, it's so important to check in with yourself, and that means devoting time to it. Also, heads up: You may spend your “me” time looking at adorable pictures of your kid. It happens.
Don’t take it personally.

You will lose touch with about 40% of your current friends. Whether it's the crew you graduated with, or saw as your core group that came together every weekend no matter what — maybe you even made them godparents to your firstborn — people will move on. It’s not like they forgot about you, they need to progress with their lives, too. It’s not about you; everyone has their own stuff to deal with, and we’re not all on the same schedule. When it counts, they’ll have your back — you may just have to come out and ask from time to time, or push harder to be included in plans again.
Print out the pictures.

Don’t let your child’s entire life be documented solely inside your phone. You have no idea how many times I’ve had a phone lost or broken, and poof — two years of memories are gone with it. Sure, yes, the cloud exists, however there is something special about the printed image. An easy solution to storing memories is printing out a photo album with Chatbooks, which sends you albums based on your selections from your phone, Instagram, or Facebook. A fantastic option for when you run out of wall space.
Don’t be so hard on the color pink.

This may not be an issue for you at all, but in my household, pink became something of a battleground. I tried to avoid it — and anything princessy — at all costs, but my daughter would douse herself in pink every single day if she could. But she also thinks Rey from The Force Awakens is the coolest superhero, ever, and finds Grimm’s fairytales “boring because the girls are always being saved or married to strangers.”

If you bump up against pink problems, too, try to ease up. Encourage both sides of your daughter. Strong, independent, bold, empathetic, and sensitive are all great traits for kids of all genders. None should be tied to “girliness,” and neither should particular colors. Plus, how many “gender neutral” parents put their sons in pink? It’s time to poke holes in why, exactly, we shied away from it in the first place.
Don’t turn your nose up to athleisure.

Oh, sure, you came from fancypants Vogue and promised never to wear your workout gear after 12 p.m. after having kids. Try getting your kid out of bed, dressed, and fed in 15 minutes, while the other one is practicing three repetitive chords on his electric guitar, but, oops, he forgot his shoes and he’s in the car now?! Time is of the essence. Wear whatever you can and get on with your life. Someday, when you least expect it, you’ll find yourself dressing with purpose again. Don’t stress about it on the days when that seems beside the point.
That other thing you don’t want to hear: Treasure this time!

You may find yourself wondering, Why did I go to college? To change diapers and sit in Mommy and Me classes and speak gibberish? The monotony you are experiencing is, again, temporary. You will forget about the sleepless nights and remember how insanely cute it was when your baby first ate pears. But you won’t forget the problem-solving-on-no-sleep, do-it-with-a-smile efficacy that comes in handy about 100 times a day, with kids or elsewhere in the real world. Everything you do in this role is on-the-job training that can help further your actual career, or help you continue to kick ass in your job as mom. But it's also just cute, and silly, and fun, and fleeting. So savor it. Rather than think wistfully about the passage of time, try to make the most of the daily mayhem. One day soon you'll be me, telling all the new moms you know just how quick the time went.
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