Dear First-Time Parents,
I’ve been where you stand (or probably more accurately where you rock/nurse/sway). I remember the barrage of emotions I felt as I navigated those uncharted waters of new motherhood. I remember feeling more exhausted than I thought was humanly possible. I remember feeling frustration, elation, anger, and joy toward my sweet new baby — all in the same instant. I remember wanting to do everything “just so.” I remember reading all the books, and going to all the classes, and asking 875,000 questions. I remember wondering why I thought I could handle this on some occasions and then other times feeling ever-so-slightly smug that I was totally nailing this parenting thing.
I remember seeing parents at the grocery store with multiple out of control children in those early days and thinking I was never going to have kids who acted that way in public. I remember giving the side-eye to people who let their kids eat processed junk food. I remember not understanding why my friends with multiple kids could never be on time anywhere. I remember being crazy and rigid about sleep schedules.
As a first-time mom I had a sort of manifesto — if only in my head — that I planned to follow to a T. Homemade baby food. As little processed food as humanly possible. No TV until 2 years of age and only then if it was educational and never as a babysitter. Organic everything. Educational/Pinterest-y activities to stimulate Baby’s development. You know the drill.
I had strict schedules that I kind of expected everyone to bend over backwards to accommodate. I highjacked pretty much every conversation to talk about my baby or anything baby-related, and I was constantly talking about how sleep deprived I was. When I think about it, it’s a minor miracle that my friends and family didn’t just punch me directly in my obnoxious new-parent face. But God bless them, they didn’t.
I didn’t think much about my intense approach to motherhood at the time. All I knew was that I was doing what “good moms” were supposed to do (or at least trying my hardest). Thankfully, I calmed down a bit after my daughter’s first year of life. But it wasn’t until my second child was born that I truly realized what a spectacular jerk I had been.
I remember hanging out with one of my more seasoned mama friends, who had two boys around the time my son was 5 or 6 months old and my daughter was in the thick of the terrible twos. I told her how sorry I was for not getting it. I recalled how she always worked to accommodate my daughter’s nap schedule (even though she had two nap schedules of her own) and how she listened so patiently as I babbled on about all of my idealistic parenting philosophies. I was pretty ridiculous.
Her reply? She told me that it was OK, and it just comes with the territory of first-time parenthood. You only know what you know and you’ve only experienced what you’ve experienced. It’s a lot easier to be idealistic about parenting when you only have one precious child to dote on.
Her words stuck with me. I’ve tried to carry them with me, along with her same patient, gracious spirit, when I’m around first-time parents. Of course, I see them doing or saying some of the same things I said myself once upon a time (before I gave up on the homemade baby food and Daniel Tiger became my morning babysitter). But when I find myself about to give some serious side-eye, I remind myself of her words, new parents only know what they know and they’ve only experienced what they’ve experienced.
Instead of telling first-timers that one kid feels like a vacation (because it actually sort of does once you have more but it doesn’t help them to know that yet), I nod sympathetically and listen to their sleep-deprived plight. Because when it comes down to it, when you only know life as a parent to one child, it is really hard. I’m not sure someone could pay me to go back in time and relive those early days of exhaustion and overwhelmed cluelessness.
So to you, first-time parents, I want to say: I’ve been there and you are doing a great job — the best you know how — and I applaud you.More On