In the blink of an eye, we’ve eclipsed six months with our baby boy. Six months of navigating parenthood in a pandemic-laden world. Of changing heaps of dirty diapers. Of sporadic sleep. Of embracing a level of selflessness that feels deafening, at times. Of welcoming an unrivaled magnitude of love. Of being intuitive. Of staying humble. Of saying yes to hard things — and as a result of that — growing as a person, a woman, and a mom.
Parenthood has been everything and nothing like I expected. Most days, it’s joyous, fulfilling, life-giving, and purpose-driven. But it’s also physically demanding and emotionally taxing. Being a mother has tested my patience and self-worth. It has uprooted old, otherwise forgotten insecurities. Inevitably, it has changed me. Among many things, parenthood has forced me to be a better communicator and partner to my husband. We’re a team, after all, learning and evolving together. Parenting isn’t easy, but nothing worthwhile is. Thankfully, the last six months are proof that the hard moments are few and far in between.
There’s a tenderness to motherhood that’s almost too sacred to write about. Especially when I think about the women who are patiently waiting to become mothers. It’s an honor — a privilege — to be a mother and a caregiver, a role model and disciplinary. But it’s a messy, steep learning curve. And while I’m certainly no expert, I have emerged with a few takeaways. One thing is for certain: there isn’t a single book, resource, or method that unlocks the key to happier parenting. Rather, it’s a culmination of them — of positive experiences, noteworthy learnings, and constantly reminding yourself that you’ve got this.
Trust your style of parenting
Naturally, parenting styles are very different. What works for you, works for you. Rejoice in the fact that there isn’t an ideal way to parent all babies. There are countless ways to nurture, teach, and discipline a small human. The best way? Whatever is most fitting for you and your lifestyle. If you don’t know your style of parenting, that’s to be expected. We didn’t know when we first started. And, we’re still learning. In the very least, adopt bits and pieces of what other parents are doing. Experiment. Find what resonates. Observe different methods. Read books. You’ll know quickly what works for you — and your baby — and what doesn’t. In essence, latch onto what you see around you. Once something clicks, try to stay consistent. After all, babies thrive off of consistency.
While we’re here, let’s talk about parental shaming. There’s a lot of it. Especially on the internet. My two-cents: I think there’s room for healthy disagreements and perspectives, but it’s important to remember that we’re all very different people with very different preferences, cultural norms, financial resources, and economic means. Thus, the way we choose to raise our babies will, inevitably, be symptomatic of those factors. Don’t waste your energy judging someone’s parenting style when you haven’t walked a day in their shoes.
Lean on your village
Navigating parenthood with supportive, accessible help is an immense privilege (as is an involved, collaborative partner). No matter what your village looks like, allow these people to show you the ropes. Ask for help. You’re not in this alone, nor are you expected to do this alone. Your village is there to teach you and support you. They want you to succeed. They have your best interest at heart. Ultimately, keep in mind that your village will influence your style of parenting. Thus, take what works for you and leave what doesn’t. You’re in charge.
Set REalistic Expectations for your day
As if you weren’t busy enough — pre-baby — out comes this little human who takes up a majority of your energy, conversations, and time. In that sense, parenting is a game of prioritization and time management. It’s a lesson in setting realistic expectations for your day, and being gentle with yourself when very few of those to-dos get done. On days when I’m not working / don’t have childcare, I remind myself that anything in addition to feeding my baby, playing with him, loving on him, and providing a safe environment, is extra. Caveat: you also need to take care of yourself.
Take care of yourself, foremost
It’s really hard to be a constructive, happy parent if you’re constantly pouring from an empty cup. And while yes, being a mom means sacrificing your sleep and independence, it doesn’t mean you can’t find creative ways to prioritize yourself. Be honest with your own limitations and boundaries, and your overall well-being will benefit.
Some days, self-care may look like a 10 minute shower and brushing your teeth. Other days, it will look like an uninterrupted workout, getting a pedicure, having a socially distanced walk with a friend, or making a batch of homemade cookies. Little wins or big wins, they all add up. You know what makes you feel good, so schedule in those things. If you make your mental / physical health a non-negotiable, you’ll soon be pouring from a fuller glass. In turn, you’ll be a less resentful, more participative parent.
Less Is more
This speaks for itself, but babies need very little. Beyond providing a safe and loving environment, food, clothes, and a clean diaper, the basics — whatever you deem truly essential — is enough. Everything else is secondary. When your baby is awake, life is a rich, sensory experience. His / her world (your home) provides substantial opportunity to explore things via touch, taste, etc. It seems that babies are easily enamored by the simplest things around them, especially smells, sounds, and tactile things. When it comes to toys, some of my favorite age-appropriate (and eco-friendly!) toys are from the Tot. For my minimalist mamas, I love this curated list.
Everyone Is Learning together
As a new parent, everything is a novel learning experience. Same for your baby. That first night home from the hospital is a steep learning curve — for everyone. Inevitably, it’s an emotional rollercoaster. And while getting frustrated with your baby may be your default reaction, it’s not constructive. Remember that crying is the only way your baby knows how to communicate his / her needs. But as time goes on, you’ll be able to distinguish a hungry cry from a tired cry, etc. You’ll discover what makes your baby tick. Knowing that you’re on a parallel learning track with your baby, have patience. Everyone is learning together.