By Sarah M. Seltzer
(Kveller via JTA) — My baby is 14 months now, talking like a maniac and taking very halting first steps (his development pattern echoes his highly verbal and unathletic parents). And in many ways so far, the past few months have been more challenging than anything I encountered the first year—more on that later, I promise.
You see, I found my first year as a mother to be beautiful, swift and full of hard-earned wisdom. And now it’s over.
So as a new passel of friends and Kveller readers get started on those early months of feeding around the clock, swaddling and praying for sleep, I thought I’d write my very own Kveller-style post: eight lessons I picked up in a year that now seems like a dream (because I rarely slept deeply enough to actually dream, maybe?).
I hope they are at least a little bit useful for new parents, or friends of new parents, or parents of new parents.
1. Products and recommendations aren’t miracles, but sometimes they can hit the jackpot.
New parents spend lots of time on Buybuybaby.com or Craigslist or Facebook new parent groups desperately hoping (seduced by capitalism and desperation) for the bouncer, swing, sippy cup, recipe, trick or swaddle that will “hack” their little one’s tears or wakefulness. Often these are useless — each baby is different. But sometimes, sometimes, I can’t deny the truth: that swing or crib mobile really works like a charm.
Until it doesn’t. And that’s because …
2. Everything is a stage that will end.
Yes, you’ve heard this already – everything in parenting is a stage. But really, everything is a stage. The good, the bad, the ugly. The adorable period where my baby flopped like a seal and smiled like an angel when we came to his crib? Gone, followed by a morning greeting by way of insistent pointing, followed by early a.m. groans. The trying week when he screamed and fussed for two hours every single night at bedtime? Gone, thank goodness. Alas, gone, too, is the long period when he slept through the night at parent-friendly hours. And so on and so forth.
3. The mantra “it will get better” isn’t necessarily true.
Sometimes parenting actually gets worse — at least harder in a different ways. The challenges become more complicated even as they get less all-consuming. How to set limits and deal with a child who is beginning to acquire language, for instance, is a much trickier proposition than how do deal with a gassy newborn, even if you’re sleeping more as it occurs. (Also, forget being well-rested, it may never really happen. Adequately rested is all you can hope for.) So if you’re assuring yourself, or a friend, with a mantra, stick with the much more honest truth: “Things will change.” Or as one of our writers put it, “this too shall pass.”
4. Texting is your lifeline and loneliness can set in later than you think.
I didn’t feel isolated on maternity leave. Everyone came to see me! I was like a sleep-deprived, milk-leaking queen taking visits from my subjects. When I returned to work, however, I began to feel far more isolated, and I still do, to be honest. More often than not, I run home from the office to see my baby. I am an efficient machine of editing by day and nurturing by night, and yes, I take time off to see pals, but I feel pressure to make those times meaningful. As much as I thrive on family time, I also miss idle chatter, lengthy hangouts and getting to know new people with my pals. So I cope by texting – I text my “mom friends” all the time, checking in on last night’s sleep, work and stupid stuff we find on the web. It’s my lifeline.
5. Your relationship with your body will change, one way or another.
Some people hate their postpartum bodies, some love them. I personally feel something entirely new, which is that my body has become purely, basely functional. My body feeds my son, comforts him, lifts him up — it carries me to work, it sleeps just enough to survive (but never quite enough). It hurts, a lot, but not enough to put me out of commission. I trudge on.
6. Your relationship to time will change, too.
Time goes too slowly, and then so fast you can’t stand it. You get some coveted time to yourself and instead of being satisfied, you’re ravenous for more. You can’t stand being away from the baby for an hour, with a need so acute it’s physical; you want to go to a distant land and stay there, forever. You lament the person you were a year or two ago like it’s a distant era: fit, blithe, ambitious. You convince yourself that there is an ideal future time when everything will be rainbows, but you don’t want that time to come too fast because you are newly aware of mortality.
7. You’ll be spontaneous when you want to be rigid and rigid when you want to be spontaneous.
For my husband and me, creative artsy types who love mess and clutter and spontaneity, a bedtime routine was anathema — but it saved our sanity for months (until it stopped working, but again, more on that later). On the other hand, having a baby encourages split-second decisions that challenge the routine-bound type. Lovely evening? Let’s pop him in the stroller and get a drink? Or more accurately: Let’s try something new today, since none of us feel more than half-dead!
8. You must make all plans with the expectation you will break them.
When they go through as planned, you’ll be pleasantly surprised. This is absolutely the only way to function.
(Sarah M. Seltzer is the editor of Kveller.)
Kveller is a thriving community of women and parents who convene online to share, celebrate and commiserate their experiences of raising kids through a Jewish lens. Visit Kveller.com.