10 Things I wish I'd done differently when I had my baby: Parenting hindsight for the first 12 monthsSue Sanders
When my daughter was an infant, I was greeted almost daily by people telling me, “Enjoy her. This time passes so quickly.” At the time, sleep-deprived and overwhelmed by new motherhood, I scoffed. Time seemed to stretch on endlessly, especially since I now woke up around 5:00am. But they were right – that first year was over before I knew it. Now that my baby isn’t a baby, there are a few things I wish I’d done differently.
Shoot video for no reason whatsoever.
If, two thousand years from now, archeologists somehow find my cache of home videos (and are able to translate them into whatever newfangled technology they’re using), they’ll assume our culture was one of nonstop celebration. “A very festive people!” they’ll say, seeing that life was apparently one big party filled with platters of food and colorfully wrapped presents. I took long movies of the special occasions, but I really wish I had taken more short bursts of the day-to-day things I considered mundane back then. I’d love to relive that time before she discovered that her feet belonged to her and kicked them wildly, those early Frankenstein monster-like steps, or her expression of sheer abandon riding on the swing.
Written in my baby book more frequently.
My mom gave me a baby book when I was pregnant and I meant to capture every single “first,” but there was always something else that took precedence: diapers to change, a sink full of dishes beckoning, or the never-ending mound of laundry to tackle. Whenever I had a free moment, I’d much rather snuggle my daughter than fill in the blanks of a journal that felt a bit like homework. But now that my child isn’t an infant, I really wish I had. I know, vaguely, when she got her first tooth or took her first steps – sometime between birth and her first birthday – but how I wish I could fine tune those memories a bit more.
Ignored unsolicited parenting advice (gracefully).
Each time I took my baby out for a walk, it was a bit like carrying a fifteen-pound sign that read, “Talk to Me! Tell me what I’m doing wrong!” – because it was truly astonishing how many strangers felt comfortable telling me just exactly what I was doing wrong. Which, seemingly, was quite a lot. “Put a hat on that baby. She’s going to catch a cold,” an elderly neighbor who’d never even said hello before demanded. I sheepishly smiled and grabbed the hat from the bottom of the stroller, plopping it on my daughter’s head. I didn’t bother telling her that, minutes earlier, my child had had this very hat on but that she’d decided that it was far more fun to pull it off and fling it on the ground. So I’d retrieved it from the street and had tucked it into the bottom of the stroller. Why didn’t I just ignore this woman? I’d felt judged by her. I wish I’d ignored all the “helpful” advice I’d received.
Not compared my baby to any other.
I vowed I’d never be one of those parents who compared my daughter to other children, but – I’m not proud of this – I did. When she was a newborn, I was filled with an odd pride when she aced her first ever standardized test, scoring a “10” on the Apgar. I was certain she was far cuter, smarter and all around better than any other baby. Then her friend Max started to walk before she did. His mom would rush off to collect him, carrying him back under her arm like a baguette, and plop him in the sandbox. I looked at my daughter, happily crawling around in the sand. Why wasn’t she walking yet? I’d feel ashamed that I was comparing her to others, but later, when Eva started having complex conversations with her mom while my child was still connecting words like dots, two or three at a time, I did it again. I tried not to, but part of me wondered if I’d been doing something wrong. However, she learned to walk and to talk – when she was ready. And, soon after she learned to walk she started running. I saw Eva’s mom staring at her, longingly, as Eva toddled a few steps and toppled over.
Trusted my gut (but asked friends for advice, when needed)
As my baby slept peacefully under what wouldeventually become her security blanket, I was filled with insecurity about my parenting. What was I doing wrong? I was certain a great deal. So I’d pull down a parenting book from my shelf, flip through a few pages, and my heart would race. What if that minor fever was meningitis? What if she had “failure to thrive?” What if I crushed her when she slept with me? What if I didn’t hear her furtive wailing if she didn’t? I’d slam the book shut, certain something horrible would happen to my daughter and it would be all my fault. Then a brief moment of clarity would appear, and I’d know – just know deep inside – that my baby was fine. But did I listen to my gut? No, I did not. Instead I’d go online, looking up symptoms to “meningitis” or “failure to thrive.” I’d post my worries on a popular parenting website and, although most answers were along the lines of “calm down and relax,” one or two comments were the stuff of horror stories, a friend of a friend who had a baby who failed to thrive and ended up in the hospital. I was certain this was the case with my daughter. How I wish I’d relaxed and trusted myself.
Pawned her off to others more often.
I wore my newborn like an accessory. Wherever I went, she did, too. She seemed happy with this arrangement and rarely fussed. This worked well for us until I tried to leave her with others. Yes, my infant was attached and secure – but only to me. Whenever anyone else held her, she’d scrunch her face into a ball of pure misery and burst into tears. I stashed her in the babysitting room of my gym and rushed to squeeze in a quick workout so I could eventually squeeze into my pre-pregnancy clothes. Before I’d hit the treadmill, I’d hear my name on the PA system, demanding I return to the child-care room. I collected her and slunk home. Perhaps if I’d persevered and let her “cry it out” it would have been easier for her to be away from me. But thinking about her arched back, clinched fists, and wild screaming hurt my stomach. So I didn’t have a lot of adult time that first year.
Not felt guilty about feeding her junk.
I’ll admit it. I did not always grind organic sweet potatoes, lovingly prepare oatmeal, or puree grass-fed beef for my baby. My daughter occasionally ate what can only be described as “crap.” I’d cringe, cursing myself for being lazy, as I twisted open with a pop, a jar of mass-produced baby food. I felt like I was letting my baby down, dooming her to a life of obesity, nitrates, and Red Dye #40. But the reality was that she usually ate well and there’s nothing wrong with the occasional junk food meal. I wish I’d given myself a break.
Purchased far less baby paraphernalia.
I was a sucker for baby products marketing. “Our baby will need this!” I’d tell myself, plopping down my Visa card for yet another gizmo the baby would never end up needing, wanting or using. I got a lot: strollers (regular and jogging), crib, bassinet, Pack-n-Play, mobiles (many), Diaper Genie, bags for Diaper Genie, toys (many), books, bath chair, plastic tub, and on and on… Tallying up the purchases, I bet we spent more on supplies than the GDP of a small, developing country. Yes, some of the items were necessary and made life far easier, but many – most – were not. Later, I discovered the joys of secondhand toddler products, but I wish I had earlier.
Been so smug about breastfeeding.
I was a card-carrying member of the La Leche League. (Until I lost my card, that is.) I don’t like to admit it, but I probably was what Tina Fey called “a Teat Nazi.” I marched, lockstep, with other LLL moms and babies in overpriced strollers on an “awareness walk” during National Breastfeeding Week. I went to local businesses that were deemed “unfriendly” – that suggested moms nurse in the restroom – and whipped out my breast, forcing it in my daughter’s face. I felt superior to mothers who bottle-fed. Only much later, when my daughter was weaned (way before her second birthday), did I relax and accept that other moms could have a variety of reasons for making a different choice. I wish I’d come to that realization earlier.
Assumed a baby would fix my marriage.
My marriage had been going through some rough patches, so I decided to have a baby – that would solve everything! It didn’t – it just deferred some tough decisions for a while. All our issues were still there and soon enough our marriage was over. I certainly don’t regret having a child – I truly can’t imagine life without her – but I do wish I’d left my marriage earlier. Things got much better when I finally did.