1. Be kind/patient with yourself. Being a mom is hard.
Most people focus on how you treat your baby (which, of course, is important!). But I think what is equally, if not more important, is how you treat yourself. Being a parent (especially a new parent) is really hard. And a lot of people don’t talk about that. When you announce to people that you are going to have a baby, most people talk about how wonderful and magical the process is. “You’ll love him/her more than you could have ever imagined possible!” “Babies are such a blessing!” While these statements may be true, those people conveniently leave out discussion of all the sleepless nights, possible post-partum depression/anxiety, huge messes, pain, challenges with feeding, crying (of baby and parents), and feelings of helplessness (of baby and parents). And then first time parents encounter these incredible challenges and think that something must be wrong with them that they are struggling so much with these things. No one ever mentioned all of the awful parts, so it must just be them. But guess what? THAT’S THE NORM! People just don’t talk about it! So, be patient with yourself. Parenting has a steep learning curve, and it is hard. And, as a society, we should definitely be talking about the hard stuff.
2. Babies are much more resilient than many new parents think. No matter how much of a “mom fail” you think you committed, your baby is more than likely okay.
I think it is a universal statement that new parents worry about their babies. And many of them worry a lot. To be fair, there is a lot to worry about! When babies are born, not only are they defenseless and completely reliant on you for survival, but throw in illnesses, constant worry about SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome), lack of sleep, injuries…. It’s enough to make a parent sick with worry! But something I definitely learned through the process is how resilient babies are. As long as you are vigilant, trying the best you can, and learning from your mistakes as you go, your baby (and you!) will likely make it safely out the other side.
3. Every baby and every parent are different. When one of your friends tells you the “secret” they discovered to make parenting so much easier, it likely won’t work for you (and visa versa).
Every person with a child will have opinions, anecdotes, home-remedies, and magical solutions for any problem you bring up. Your baby won’t sleep? “You need to sleep train.” “ You need to co-sleep.” “Try a long car ride.” “Feed them to sleep.” “Don’t feed them to sleep.” “Put them down drowsy but awake.” “Rock them to sleep.” “Dim lights.” “Pitch black.” “Sound machine.” “Complete silence.” The contradictions will be endless. And that is okay! They are just sharing what worked for them. But you (and they) need to know that what works for them likely won’t work for you. And may not even work for their next child. Just like we are all different, every baby and their needs/preferences vary greatly. Just keep trying what feels like good fits for you until something works (and even then, know that just when something starts working, things will inevitably change). Learning to be flexible is a huge asset.
4. Make mom friends.
This made a world of difference for me. Being a parent can be hugely isolating if you don’t have a “tribe”. I highly recommend joining some kind of mommy & me group, or other activity groups with your baby. When you are spending long hours every day talking to a little human who can’t communicate back to you, having some fellow companions who are also in the trenches makes a world of difference (even if most of your communication is through texts while cleaning up blow-out diapers or chasing a wild toddler around).
5. Practice lots of self-care, whatever that means for you. Happy you = better parent.
This one is such a simple concept, but so important and often the first to fall by the wayside. I would also include in here that it is important to remember who you are as a person/spouse/employee/any other role you fill outside of being a parent. It is so easy to lose yourself in the role of a parent, but there are so many other facets of who you are that make you you! Don’t forget to nurture those parts of you. And in that vein, practice whatever self-care means for you. Whether that means working out, getting pampered, reading, hiking, bubble baths, watching some mindless television,… it doesn’t really matter what it is. Just make sure you make time to do them (and preferably without your children!).
And of course, if you are struggling with any of these things (or anything else), do not hesitate to reach out for help. As I hope I articulated clearly above, PARENTING IS HARD! Knowing when you need to reach out for help is an incredible tool and will help make you a better parent (and happier person).