It is the New Year; a time when we assess what has gone before, make decisions about what is to come and often make ambitious resolutions we will never, ever fulfill. As we entered this wintry month, friends of ours have just had their first baby. There seems to be quite a few of my Facebook friends who have had their first child this past year, and it makes me reminisce about those first days with our first baby.
Sheer unadulterated terror. That was my first reaction. Yep, I was a mess. No glowing pictures of new motherhood here, for I was puffy, tired, wearing my glasses so I could nap and dealing with breastfeeding so I felt like a Wagnerian opera singer. All I needed was a metal hat with horns! I was alternately fascinated with this absolutely beautiful little creature that had come from my body, totally terrified at the prospect of harming her unintentionally and somewhat horrified by the unavoidable fact that I would be forever linked with another human being in a relationship so close and so full of obligation that I would never escape it.
Keep in mind that I was nearly 30, very happily married, fairly secure financially and had an extremely healthy baby. I don’t know how women in much more difficult circumstances handle all that, other than dealing with one day at a time. My prayers and sincere admiration are with them.
These feelings of terror and fear gradually settled into the daily routine of feedings, burping, cleaning up the mess and then eight weeks later I went back to work as an Asst. VP at a savings & loan, managing closing operations state-wide. It was intense, even though we found a lovely woman to care for our daughter in a shared arrangement with another family who had a little boy. Atesede was a life saver and happened to have a degree in child development. Yes, we were blessed.
There was a great piece of advice she gave me in the beginning. Don’t say “No” when you really mean “Stop.”
Sounds pretty simple doesn’t it? But think about the number of times you say “No” to your children, your dog, in conversation…you get my drift. Now think about the number of times you say “Stop.” It is only when you want something to cease. That was her point and it was a good one. We tried very hard to follow her lead with the children and said “Stop” when we wanted them to stop what they were doing or in some cases when we wanted them to stop in place because they were headed for trouble. We saved “No” for responses to questions and requests, etc. It saved a lot of confusion and made our communication with toddlers much more productive. Try it and see what you think!
When your child is an infant, you do a lot of interacting, but as a full-time working mom, sometimes (particularly the end of the month) I did not see my baby for days at a time. I left early in the morning before she awoke and did not return until late in the evening when she was often already asleep. I remember sitting at my desk, looking out at my employees and thinking, “I am not giving either of my jobs my best.” It was very disheartening Fate (and the S&L debacle of the early 90’s) intervened. When our daughter was a year old, I was laid off and we crunched the numbers to see what we would have to do. We had chosen a house we could afford on just one income (My personal recommendation to any young couple, by the way!) and if we economized, clipped coupons and restricted our date night out to a hamburger joint, we could afford for me to stay home with our child.
So, recommendations to new young moms? Just a few and they are pretty basic.
- Give yourself a break. You will not do everything perfectly. Poop happens and so does every other substance that can come out of the human body – laugh and move on. Take a moment and start a journal if you are inclined. I did, and the girls still love to read and laugh about what I wrote so many years ago to and about them. As I advised during pregnancy, don’t listen to the negative people around you, giving you unsolicited advice about everything under the sun. Nod, smile and seek out those positive people who will uplift you and listen, share with you and be true friends. Practice grace, not only to your child (tough when they have colic every night for three weeks running and nothing is helping), but to yourself when you feel overwhelmed. Talk with your husband about how you are feeling and make sure you are letting him be part of this grand adventure called parenting. I have seen many very organized women who have made the error of organizing their husbands out of the loop. Then they get frustrated and angry with him when he doesn’t know how to do something or does it his own way instead of theirs. Let them change the diapers, burp until they get spit up on their shoulders and walk all night with the colicky baby. Those are experiences that truly deserve to be shared. 🙂
- Start preparing for toddlerhood before it happens. Start practicing giving options and distractions in your mind and discuss with your husband what your family rules are and what kind of family you are trying to make. Most couples never have this conversation and can work against each other with different visions of the family unit. You already know about child-proofing your house, but a friend of mine recommended crawling around on my hands and knees and seeing “their perspective.” Amazing how many tempting electric cords and other things I found that way! Start reading to your child as soon as you can. It will get you in the habit and make you a discerning consumer of children’s literature. Be careful, however, to only give the board books to your toddler because they are consumers of everything!
- Pacifiers. Some parents love them, some hate them and you will have to decide what you think. I loved them and found no ill effects from them, but I also encouraged my toddlers to bag them before age two. I chose the “big girl” strategy, but you may have another that will work for you. Potty-training: Lots of views on that as well, from an “encouragement chart” with M&Ms as a reward to just letting them walk around without a diaper and experience the discomfort. (I passed on that one for obvious carpet reasons.) Again, I used the “big girl” strategy with loads of approval when they were successful and Huggies caught the accidents, which were dealt with but not punished. (I had no intention of creating more neuroses in them than I had to!)
- Enjoy this time when and how you can. It will pass in the blink of an eye even though sometimes it seems like it will never end. Believe it or not, you may even feel nostalgic for these first days in the future! Document it with videos and pictures and share those with grandparents who may be far away. It is a window into their grandchildren’s lives that they will treasure and so will you when it is past. Keep your sense of humor and exercise it often. It may be your saving grace when things seem overwhelming.
And last, but not least, treasure the affection that will soon be shown to you by your new little human being…it is just around the corner and you are going to love it!