If you’re anything like me, you will have done your homework before that first baby. You will have taken classes, read books, found yourself a support group (or a few), and even gone so far as to try to condition yourself to have no expectations. However, subconsciously, being the perfectionist you are, you will have plans, and demands of yourself, and in those first few weeks of motherhood you will find all of these and the very strength of your character challenged, debunked, put to the incredible tests. Two weeks ago, I wrote a piece on what I’ve learned so far, but today, in belated celebration of having survived our first month as parents, I would like to not only reassert, but also synthesize and supercharge those lessons into this list: 7 THINGS A PARENT NEEDS TO BE THAT ARE MORE IMPORTANT THAN BEING RIGHT AND PERFECT.
HUMILITY: Every so often, you’re going to pull all-nighters with your husband (or wife) and little one. While it’d certainly be useful for you to know immediately why your baby is crying (and be right about it), this is generally impossible – especially in the first 8 weeks as you get used to your baby’s rhythms, sounds, and needs. Therefore, it’s even more important for you to be humble enough to try as many solutions as you can, and respect your partner’s ideas for what these solutions might be too, until you get it right. It’s the only way you can learn what the answers could be in the future. This humility will continue to come in handy in the future, as the things you face as parents and spouses grow ever more complex. So rather than insist on being right (and killing yourself when you aren’t) while you’re a total noob, try humbling yourself and allow yourself to learn for the future.
KINDNESS: You will be surrounded by people offering (solicited and unsolicited) advice, a partner who is more often than not just as new to this as you are, and a sometimes-happy/sometimes-wailing/always-needy baby. Remember to be kind. Be kind to your mother when she offers a solution to your newborn’s colic (whether or not you agree with it): she has more experience than you do, and her intentions are pure. Be kind to your partner when he naps through the morning while you’re stuck breast feeding nonstop: he didn’t get much sleep last night either, and surely if it were up to him he would love to share the special, beautiful, sometimes-burdensome responsibility of nursing. Be kind to your relatives when they visit and all you want to do is sleep or be alone: they are just excited and want to share the joy and blessings that come with new life. Be kind to your baby when he wails at 4 in the morning because he’s gassy and he doesn’t yet understand the pain: he is just as new to this life thing as you are to this parenthood thing. Lastly, be kind to yourself. After those rough 3am feeds, don’t be afraid to ask your husband to burp your little one while you rush yourself back to sleep. You’ve never done this before, and you’re learning as you go, it benefits nobody to beat yourself up. Be. Kind.
PATIENCE: As with kindness, have patience. Take a step back and remind yourself that, especially when it comes to you, your partner, your baby, your milk supply, your intuition…all of these things take time. Don’t expect to know all the answers off the bat, don’t expect your milk to come in abundance on the second day, don’t expect your little one to understand his own wants, don’t expect your co-parent to know what you’re thinking or what your baby needs. In every moment that you find yourself overwhelmed, boiling over, terrified, just take a deep breath, and bear it with patience. As with all things in life, even the tough minutes that seem to drag on forever will pass.
FAITH: Be faithful to the good times: soak them in, absorb what you’re learning and feeling and experiencing. Don’t allow tiredness from the tough times steal away your joy in the great ones. Have faith in your partner: remember that, just like you, he is new to this and wants to excel at it just as you do. Have confidence in his intentions, and be supportive as he supports you. Keep your faith in God, take every opportunity to pray, to thank Him for His grace and these incredible blessings. Remember how intimately God is working in your life and how carefully He has orchestrated His plans for you thus far. You are not alone. He will bring you through it.
PERSEVERANCE: The only way to get to the light at the end of the tunnel is to go until you get there. You cannot fully realize your goals (like your hopes of developing strong parenting intuition, for example) without putting in some work. Things take time, and effort. According to our lactation consultant, for example, when your baby is colicky or gassy, to truly know if a certain hold is or isn’t working, you need to give it a few minutes – not seconds. That means you need to rock that baby for a few minutes until you’re sure it isn’t working, and you need to rinse and repeat this process with all the other possible holds until you find the one that works. C’est la vie. Be ready to face every challenge with a heart for your family and for Jesus, and a mind geared up to problem solve with joy. Be ready to persevere.
A SENSE OF HUMOR: Those long, late nights, gross diapers, loud cries, and sore nipples will only feel longer, later, grosser, louder, sorer if you don’t know how to laugh and maintain a light spirit. Jay and I employ our humor multiple ways: 1) I sometimes try to laugh away the pain when I’m nursing on particularly sore nipples (it’s important that our son associates joyful and/or calm sounds with the breast feeding experience), 2) we always elect to marathon comedy programs (particularly Modern Family) whenever we have a chance, 3) bad puns and mimicry (copying our little one’s sound effects and echoing them back to him), and 4) laughing at outlandish situations. Once, in the first week after we’d brought our son home from the hospital, we were changing him. I turned away for a few seconds to toss the soiled diaper into the bin, and when I turned back I was shocked to see a stream of pee coming right out of our son, arching over him and right onto his own forehead. Jay had turned away to look at me while answering a question, and still had our baby’s legs held slightly upward, turning his face into his own target. Thankfully, it was a quick fix, and there was little to stress over given urine is generally sterile and the mishap didn’t seem to bother our son at all. However, if we hadn’t had a sense of humor we could have scolded ourselves for forgetting to heed everyone’s warnings to look out for these kinds of incidents, we could have worried if anything got in his eyes, we could have taken the hilarity out of the situation. But we didn’t. And now we have our own ridiculously funny parenting “cautionary tale” to tell.
LOVE: And finally, last of all, summarizing all of the above points: whatever you do, do it with love. Love never fails.