New motherhood involves an incredible amount of talking. Everywhere, with everyone, about everything, including some incredibly personal and polarizing stuff.
Seriously. The conversing and questioning and cajoling begins as soon as your stomach starts to visibly bulge, and from there it’s just freaking endless.
What should you believe? Who should you ignore? Does anybody truly have the market cornered on the optimal approach to loving and keeping a miniature human being?
Almost one year in to my own motherhood dance, I have absolutely no idea. I’ve switched allegiances like six times. I’m a co-sleeper who sleep-trained my baby; an exclusive breastfeeder who drinks wine while nursing; a proud working mama who secretly feels super-guilty that I found stay-at-home mommy-hood so boring.
One thing I have learned: to embrace the constant of change that all this flitting about represents. To view it as a sign that perhaps I’m doing things entirely right as opposed to entirely wrong, and to give myself a freaking break either way.
It feels fantastic, and I’d like to transmit some of that fantastic on to you, beginning with a short list of sentences you have total permission to strike from your vocabulary. Immediately.
- “You’re probably right.”
I get it. I do. That friend of yours (the one without any kids/too many kids?) is up your ass about trying this uh-ma-zing new product/toy/parenting technique because it just would really make your life soooo much easier and it worked for their friend whose baby was way more challenging than yours and it has probably never not worked for anyone who’s tried it and … the pitch isn’t even half-over and you’re already exhausted.
An affirmative-yet-non-committal assent might seem like a great way to shut the interaction down; you get to appear reasonable and rational, your conversation partner gets to feel they’ve imparted a valuable insider tip, and everybody gets on with her day, right?
Not so fast. I’m not saying you need to reject well-intended suggestions as a matter of course. I’m just saying be careful, because the suggesting won’t end there, with that thing, or the next one, either.
Because there’s always a next thing. There are just so many gadgets and concepts and philosophies bouncing around in the mommy-verse, and passing on word of them isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s how we learn.
But don’t fake interest when you literally have none. It’s not necessary, and ends up wasting everybody’s time, and leaves you in the awkward position of walking your word back the next time the topic comes up, which it will, and you have to explain why you haven’t taken action.
If you’re not interested, either say “No thanks,” or simply change the subject. You are permitted turn down advice. Yes, you, the so-green new mama without a smidgen of real-world parenting experience and that glazed look in your eye. You get to question the new as well as the tried-and-true. You even get to scoff and dismiss if you want to. Go to town.
- “(S)he means well.”
People say some really questionable shit to you when you become a parent. They relay gory, nightmarish birth story scenarios in graphic detail just as you enter your third trimester. They hold forth about the terrible consequences that will befall your ilk if you don’t get them to sleep through the night by six months. They warn and tusk and overshare until both you and baby are blue in the face — or is that just the botulism from your improperly home-canned baby applesauce setting in?
Some folks are just blissfully clueless. They genuinely think they’re helping, and hey, don’t shoot the messenger! Others are not so guileless; they are mean-spirited gaslighters bent on making you feel neurotic and insecure, and very well versed in wrapping their gaslight-y jabs up in very pretty bows.
New moms are not beholden to the benefit of the doubt (BOD). That is for other people who sleep more than three hours a night and have conversations about things other than meconium and colostrum and aren’t so damned tired they brushed their teeth with shampoo twice last week.
Resisting the urge to bestow BOD on all who cross your path will also steel your resolve for the ultimate new mama gauntlet: the snarky, boobie-trapped cabinet of horrors that is almost every mommy message board or Parenting Facebook page you’ll ever visit in your lifetime. Seriously, folks — it’s bad.
Start preparing now by ceasing to give questionably well-intended verbal diarrhea-mouths a break. Start giving it to yourself instead.
- “We’re flexible.”
Heh. I learned this one right quick after my daughter arrived. When the dust settled from my birth and my voluntary month of laying-in (meaning nobody was allowed over but immediate family for four weeks, it was awesome, try it), friends and extended family came a’knockin’.
At the outset, I was abidingly accommodating on schedules and times. And this was a mistake. Oh, the lateness, the cancellations, the early arrivals, the no-shows!
And all of it while I sat there on the couch by the door watching my baby’s mood deteriorate faster than the dead gunk on her umbilical cord stump. It sucked.
In some ways, I’d invited their rude decorum. I was on maternity leave, I figured, and they were busy with whatever they’d always been busy with, so why not be chill about the whole thing?
“Come over whenever,” I’d chirp. “We’re just sitting around anyway!”
Or: “You didn’t have time to pick up the meal you were gonna bring? No worries! These hormones make me nauseated, anyway. I’ll just eat a Clif Bar for dinner.”
And: “Oh, shoot, ya double-booked and can’t watch the baby today? No prob, I’ll just cancel my doctor’s appointment. I’m sure this bleeding is totally normal.”
I accommodated and accommodated until my Accomodator went on overload.
And then I stopped. I dug my long-lost planner out from beneath the couch (seriously, it sat under there for like a month because I couldn’t bend over to pick it up and then forgot where I’d dropped it) and returned to my regularly scheduled scheduling.
Because the truth was, we weren’t doing nothing. And neither will you be. Newborn sleep schedules are not flexible. And woman cannot subsist on Clif Bars alone, not even the peanut-butter-chocolate-chip kind; and, that bleeding is probably not normal, so don’t you dare cancel that appointment.
Your schedule is going to become far more rigid than you could ever imagine. This must happen, even to the chillest mama-baby duo around, because a disrupted routine wreaks havoc for everyone.
Embrace this, and insist on punctuality or rescheduling when plans shift.
When the choice you offer your well-meaning but preoccupied visitors becomes either A: being on time or, B: having the plan canceled and possibly not being invited over again to see that sweet baby for a good, long while, you’ll be amazed at how darned punctual your loved ones become!
- “I love my baby, but…”
New moms usually follow this little hedger with a whispered confessional describing how much they hate something their baby does that is very genuinely irritating, confusing, or awful.
Let’s face it: babies are noisy, dirty little narcissists, indifferent to your needs and your limits and your silly little dreams of a blissed out, productive maternity leave during which you retile the kitchen floor do lots of yoga and craft to your heart’s content. And maybe finally get around to reading Proust’s entire catalog while baby dozes peacefully against your chest.
But, because Mother Nature is as seasoned as she is cruel, you’re just gonna adore the shit outta your little one anyway. Of course you will! Every little coo and poo is a goddamn miracle for which you will never be able to properly, sufficiently thank the Universe, even if it were listening and the two of you spoke in a mutually intelligible language, which it isn’t and you don’t.
Other parents will get this. Deeply and entirely, even if you don’t couch your tirades with pert little disclaimers of undying adoration. Many non-parents will get it, too, at least those who have spent more than five minutes around actual children.
It’s absolutely OK to view the birth of your kid as a tragicomedy on the worst days, or as the head-scratching final scene in a straight-to-video rom-com that didn’t turn out quite how you were banking on the not-fantastic days. I promise.
- “it could be worse.”
Ah, babies. They represent everything that’s precious and magical and true and right about this short spin we all get to take around the galaxy.
They also represent some pretty horrific potentialities, some of which you may have already come face to face with: Infertility. Miscarriage. Stillbirth. Freak accidents. $900,000 in eventual college loan debts, per child.
All of that improbable yet grindingly horrible stuff is bound to befall somebody, so if your baby is even reasonably healthy and well adjusted, it can feel shockingly ungrateful to complain about stuff like puke, piss, stained carpets, broken glasses or run-of-the-mill loneliness.
And if your complaint is as simple and selfish as merely longing for the rollicking freedoms of your pre-kid life? The guilt ratchets up to overwhelming.
Because, absolutely, yes. It could be so much worse. Of course it could! But pointing this out to yourself in an attempt to become more grateful than you are ain’t gonna work. Likewise, scolding yourself for being whiny, petty, shortsighted, or for struggling to integrate the things you struggle to integrate won’t change the fact that you’re struggling. Nothing can change that, except maybe a time capsule, and would you really do anything different if you could go back anyway?
You’ve seen Back to the Future, haven’t you? That shit never works, no matter how hard we try, because everything in this universe is so maddeningly, inextricably interconnected and when we fiddle with the general trajectory of the bad things, we risk erasing the good stuff, too.
Stop trying to talk yourself out of your bad days. Acknowledge them, bless them, and while you’re at it, bless, too, those rumblings of discontent, those moments of mourning for the lighter, freer you who was laid to rest them moment you squinted at a pee-stained stick in your bathroom last year.
Stop trying to make it feel easier or better than it really is, and run yourself a nice hot bath instead. Hot as you can stand. Then get in it.
… Now for the funner bit: I’ve got three simple slogans for you, new mama, to start using immediately. Learn them, love them, say them loudly and often, and I promise you that all sorts of amazing, empowering things will unfold.
- “I need help.”
It’s simple, sweet, self-explanatory and abidingly relieving — if you can humble yourself enough to utter it when it really counts. If you’re bad at asking for help, start practicing while you’re still pregnant. Ask people to pick things up off the floor for you. Let them let you cut in line for the toilet. Don’t apologize when you send back your not-all-the-way-done lamburger, even if the chef acts pissy.
Then, leave your pride on the delivery room floor and let this little triplet become your life preserver in the existential storm that’s coming. Use it with your partner, with friends, with strangers, with other mamas, with non-mamas. Boldly, frequently, and with no hesitation. It will quickly go from feeling awkward to feeling wonderful, because most people actually really do enjoy being given a chance to help a new mom in a tangible, reasonable way. Let them.
- “I changed my mind.”
Studies have shown that the average woman makes approximately 8,364 smug proclamations about child rearing before she has a child of her own. Seriously. Studies, people! Don’t ask me for a citation, though, because I don’t have one, because I actually made that statistic up, because it served my purpose in the moment, but now that it’s no longer serving my purpose, I’m tossing it out.
Just like that! Done. See how easy?
One piece of parenting advice I came across when my colicky-ass baby was around four months old changed the game completely for me, so I’ll share it with you:
If something isn’t working, change it!
Also: if it worked before, but now it’s working less well, change it. If it never worked at all but you swore that’s what you were going to do before baby came and you really don’t want to look like a flake or (horrors!) admit to your friend or mother that maybe they were right … MOST DEFINITELY IN THIS CASE CHANGE IT! CHANGE IT RIGHT NOW!
Being a mom is like birthing yourself in reverse: you start out knowing everything. Then, along comes the unforeseen, preordained dressing down of a lifetime in the form of this tiny little creature who arrives prepackaged with her very own tiny, shrill agenda.
Such is the nature of things. Embrace your wrongness. Let yourself be humbled by all you will learn and unlearn. It’s an incredible — and incredibly rearranging — feeling.
- “I’d rather not discuss that.”
This one, like those fine wines you’ll never be able to afford to drink again, gets better with age. Start saying it aloud — to yourself as a sort of car-ride mommy mantra, to the mirror, into the swirling steam of the last hot cup of tea you’ll drink in peace for the next 18 years. Say it with a smile. Say it with a scowl. Whisper it. Shout it.
Because you’re going to need it. You don’t have to defend or discuss a damned thing about the way you parent. Not even with your mother. Not even with your best friend. Not even with your pediatrician. And certainly not with the flight attendant who clicks her tongue when set your baby on your boob and then order yourself a frosty IPA. (which, by the way, is seriously fine.)
Life is short, and it just got shorter, right as you were reading this sentence. Quickly shut down time-wasting lectures disguised as conversations and you’ll buy yourself at least several extra years of time on earth.
How you choose to spend that surplus —— just as with every single other decision you’ll make between now and sweet oblivion — is blissfully, entirely up to you.