I remember the exact moment when the gravity of parenthood hit me square in the face. It wasn’t in the hospital, it wasn’t the first time we brought our baby daughter home, it wasn’t even when we signed the birth certificate forms – it was when we had to give her a bath. Even after five days in the hospital, with all that help from wonderful nurses regarding everything from diaper changes to breast feeding, we totally forgot to ask about bathing an infant. My husband and I ran from room to room, sizing up the suddenly impossibly huge bathtub, the kitchen sink near the drafty window, and the too-shallow, seashell shaped sink in the bathroom. Every option was terrifying, How could we be messing up so bad when this baby was only 6 days old? Before we had a chance to answer these panicked questions, our daughter had a – shall we say – impressive diaper event, except without the diaper. (She was supposed to be getting a bath, you see.) We decided on the tub after that.
I share that story because it is exactly the type of everyday situation that becomes amazingly complicated when you add a baby to the mix. As you prepare for parenthood, you tend to think about the large looming issues likely to come up years down the road. The birds and bees talk, dealing with bullies, saving for college – these are the things you feel like you have a lock on. Then you get blindsided by something like your baby’s carrier not fitting into the shopping cart at the grocery store. It can sometimes feel like you are messing up, when in fact, you are just going through the same learning curve all parents experience. That’s why I’ve come up with a list of some of the moments that caught me (and many other parents I know) off guard, and how we dealt with them.
“I’ve Never Felt Tired Like This in My Whole Life.”
Remember all those obnoxious people offering you unsolicited warnings about how little sleep you were about to get as a new parent? As much as it galls you to admit it, they were right. Logically, it makes sense to you that a creature tasked with tripling its birth weight in one year will have to wake up to eat a lot, but you didn’t think it would be like this! The exhaustion is bone-deep, and you are beginning to think that you might still be getting up to rock this child when they are 18. It’s bad. Sometimes, in cases involving colic, or reflux, or other unforeseen issues, it’s really bad.
Here’s the good news: eventually, they start sleeping. I realize that’s little comfort at the moment, but you are going to get past this part, and everything is going to be better when you do. In the meantime, you have a few options. You can try a number of different sleep training methods, many of which are easy to learn. Some forms range from “cry it out” to co-sleeping. Both ends of the spectrum are controversial for some, and surefire solutions for others. You might fall somewhere in the middle. Involving your pediatrician is always a great plan, because they’ve seen this thousands of times, and might have a trick or two to share.
“I Can’t Believe I’m Seeing Bad Behavior! I Must Have Messed Up!”
You did not mess up! My guess is that your baby is transitioning into toddlerhood or childhood, and that’s a big change for everyone. You have probably heard the saying “Terrible Twos”, and that is a term I wish would go away, because it’s misleading. You could have a “Terrible 11 Month Olds”, or a “Terrible Four and a Halfs”. There’s no time where bad behavior is more agreeable or expected, because you’ll come to find that kids have many, many phases. They come and go, and bring all sorts of new challenges every time.
Behavior is something that can be modified, and worked with. There are a number of behavioral philosophies out there, and it is just be a matter of deciding which one you feel most comfortable with. However you choose to tackle these problems, you will come to find that the best approach to any issue is consistency. Kids have all day to think up new ways to wear you down, so rest assured it’s not just that your child is especially difficult. They all do that!
“My Child is Three (or Four or Five), and Won’t Go On the Potty!”
Let me take a wild guess, you are receiving a lot of pressure from a parent or older relative, because they swear up and down that you were potty trained at 20 months, because “you had to be”. Am I close? Potty training is a sensitive, emotional topic for everyone involved (including the child!), and you may soon realize it’s also a subject people love to fib about.
First of all, there are many shades of grey between “In diapers”, and “Fully potty trained”. To me, and most of the exhausted parents I know, “potty trained” means the child can undress, go, clean up, redress, flush, and wash hands, all without help. That is the golden moment we are all chasing, the one where we get a little of our own time back. Until that point, we are still in training. Now, some people consider “Goes occasionally, when reminded and with help” to mean “potty trained”, and that’s where the problems come in. They start throwing that term around, and parents immediately begin comparing. What makes that kid so much better at this than my kid? What’s wrong?
Chances are, there is nothing wrong. I have two children, and it took me until my second child was potty trained to realize how much people are willing to exaggerate their child’s potty skills. I remember feeling nervous because one of them wasn’t staying dry at night, despite being “too old” for that sort of problem. Want to know what my pediatrician said? They do not consider night wetting to be a problem until the child is seven years old. Seven! And even then, it’s only a slight problem. So breathe and relax. This is a process, not a race. You’ll get there.
“I Just Really Wish I Knew What to Expect Next.”
Don’t we all? What happens when your super adventurous eater suddenly becomes picky, and won’t touch anything other than buttered bread? How do you handle it the first time your child comes home from nursery school reporting that another classmate was mean to them? You are getting parenting advice from your parents, your in-laws, your busybody coworker, and the lady who stopped you in the toy store. How can you parse it all out?
Baby gear is being recalled, fad philosophies are fading out just as soon as you hear about them, and your kids are fighting amongst themselves. How can you decide how to deal with the situation, when the situation is never the same day to day? The short answer is, you can. You can deal, you can handle it, and you have a lot of the answers already. You just need a moment to collect your thoughts, and come up with a plan. Parenting courses, like the ones available at Udemy can be really helpful starting points. You can build out your own personal style from there. Remember this though, nobody got it right the first time, and that’s okay. We’re all learning as much from our kids as they are learning from us.