First Year Parenting

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The other day I had an opportunity to give an expectant parent advice. I said all the things I needed to hear eleven years ago when expecting myself. Here are the things I wish someone had told me, in the hopes they benefit someone out there.  

Babies are like drill seargants. The first few months of a baby’s life are usually the most intense. They’re eating twelve times a day and in constant need of a diaper change. They don’t sleep. It’s a terrible challenge to get through, but once you do, it’s over (unless you have more kids). Your tiny drill seargant will break you and rebuild you so you come out the other side somewhat trained for what lies ahead.

Focus on the first year. People will want you to pick a parenting style and philosophy, decide how to discipline, and pick out your infant’s future college all before they can walk or talk. You don’t have to cave to this pressure, or have all the answers. For the first year, your goal is to help them make it to their birthday. Most of the choices you’ll be asked to make that first year won’t go into effect then. It’s okay to focus on the baby in front of you, and tune out everyone else. 

It takes a village, not a committee. Lots of people have opinions on parenting, and they are strongly felt. When your extended family and friends are helping out, it can feel like you “owe” them some parenting choices. And some of those people will have wisdom and experience you’d actually appreciate. You (and your coparent if applicable) get to decide who gets an opinion and who gets a vote. 

Don’t let people freak you out. You will hear horror stories and dire predictions. You will be told that every small choice has serious lifelong consequences, from what you feed them to how you deal with crying. People will try to scare you into embracing their parenting practices, in part to relieve their own anxieties and to justify their lifestyle. You don’t have to go along with their desires. Find what works for you, your coparent, and your baby, and do that. 

Developmental delays happen, and it’s okay. Estimates based on average development are just that. While six months is the average age babies start talking, the range is much bigger. I didn’t count a skill as officially “late” until about three months behind the estimate. Even then, there’s no cause for panic. Several insurance companies cover in home services to help your baby like speech therapy.  Medicaid Part C is also available to babies diagnosed with a delay who are not otherwise covered. 
Limit parenting advice. This may feel like a hypocritical way to end advice, and maybe it is. Pediatrician authored infant care books can be wonderful reference tools, perfect for looking up when to take your baby to the hospital for bronchitis and when to treat their sniffles at home. But parenting books, websites, and forums can also increase parental anxieties, fears, and feelings of guilt. I know that listening to such people made my breastfeeding challenges feel less like physical issues and more like moral failings. 
A new baby is a wondrous, magical experience somehow, despite all the poop and crying and sleep deprivation. The first year has many challenges and also many joys. First smiles and steps are true moments of celebration and the first night they sleep through is bliss. There’s a lot to learn and only so much you can learn from listening to others. My confidence as a mother comes from doing the work of it, and it took that first year for me to begin feeling it. Focus on your baby and your household if you can, and try not to let anyone spoil this beautiful fleeting time. 

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