I did a ridiculous amount of reading when I was pregnant. I read natural parenting books and baby scheduling books and how to make your baby happy with no crying and eating is good for everyone led by the spirit of “your baby, yourself” books. If there was a book to read, rest assured, I gave it a go.
I thought I knew everything I’d need to know.
How much of that information did I actually use? Some. A little. The best bits of this, a quick trick from that, but no single book was spot-on accurate, and nothing was anywhere near as easy as all my reading had led me to believe. Fable was just herself, and apparently, she hadn’t been reading the same stuff I’d been bingeing on. All that reading was mostly a waste of time.
These are the words I wish I’d read instead, before jumping headlong into the mommyhood with my books and my charts and my ideals and my high horses. They’re flawed, and they aren’t all pretty, but they’re hard-won and honest and as true as I can get ‘em.
Here’s what I wish I’d known—
1. You are going to suck at this parenting gig and be awesome at it at the same time, all the time.
You will be a different parent every morning to a child who will also be different, sometimes changing in just hours, or minutes, or before your eyes. There will be good days and bad days, good minutes and bad minutes, good choices and not-so-good ones.
You will do some things, probably a lot of things, wrong. Be gentle with yourself, because you are wildly loved and incredibly needed. You are climbing Mt. Everest with basically zero conditioning—expect to be kind of terrible at it for a while. You are beautiful. We are here for you.
2. Postpartum bodies are squashy and wobbly and dimpled and stretched and...
...foreign and embarrassing and difficult and painful and gorgeously imperfect, and they tend to stay that way for quite awhile. You made a human. Now make your peace. Eat good food. Walk around when you’re well enough. Listen to the people who tell you you’re beautiful. Take them at their word. Remember where your worth comes from.
3. Your baby is not like the other babies.
Your baby is the only one of herself who has ever been, and you and your partner are the only experts on her. Your baby will not behave like the books say, won’t like what she’s supposed to like, won’t do what she’s supposed to do when she’s supposed to do it, and that’s normal and great and perfectly OK.
The best thing you can do is put down your literature and get to know your baby. What does she like? What makes her laugh? How does she best fall asleep? What does hungry sound like? The discovery of these things will serve you so much more than any stranger’s care instructions ever will.
You don’t have to make your life or your family look like any particular model—you don’t have to follow the rules. You just have to create a life that works for you and fosters love and security and a whole lot of laughter. If that looks like 2 a.m. pancake parties, I’m not going to tell on you. I might actually admire you and be just a little bit jealous.
4. We have got to stop telling people that things should be easy and painless.
We live in a culture that equates ease with value—the easier it is, the better it is; if it hurts you, something is wrong. Reality check: sometimes things that are hard and painful are also really, really good.
Every once in a while as a parent, one of the things that you thought would be really difficult turns out to be incredibly easy and drama-free. This is called a miracle, and though it might be somehow related to some book you read and the alignment of the stars and a magic way you pat the soles of your baby’s feet and the tea you drink on Thursdays, it’s still mostly a miracle, and the odds of that same miracle happening to EVERY OTHER PARENT EVERYWHERE are pretty slim, even with books and stars and tea and so much foot-patting.
We get excited in our victories, and want to share them, but it’s important to remember that we are all struggling with different issues. One daddy’s easy is some mama’s nightmare. And just because your baby doesn’t sleep through the night at five weeks or eat with a fork by her first birthday or cries a lot or your boobs get sore from breastfeeding (even though her latch is perfect)—just because it isn’t EASY and PAINLESS—it isn’t necessarily wrong. Sometimes hard is OK, sometimes, often, it’s even good. Hard is how we grow. And guess what, kiddo—parenting is hard.
5. Oh mylanta, the poop.
They warn you. They tell you. And despite every warning, it is still baffling and alarming and downright awe-inspiring how much of your next year is going to be spent dealing with, assessing, smelling for, washing off, evaluating, discussing, logging and transporting poop. Get good and comfy with poop, friends. The poop cometh. For whom the poop tolls. The hunt for poop—you get the idea.
6. The sooner you can figure out how to accept unwanted advice gracefully, the easier your year is going to be.
For whatever reason, people love to weigh in on babies—everyone has an opinion, and everyone wants to share. I believe that most of this advice is pretty well-intended—most of it falls into the “it worked for me and I am so happy and I want to share my joy with you because you look very tired” category, which is at least only mildly offensive and really very sincere.
Here’s the thing—you can stumble through this crazy first 12 months in defense mode, snapping witty comebacks at judgmental old ladies or know-it-all childless people, or you can decide to give everybody the benefit of the doubt, smile and say thank you, and become very zen and confident about knowing what’s best for your child and not giving one ounce of your abundance of poop about what anyone else says.
If I were you, I’d aim for zen.
Nobody is out to get you. Everyone wants you to succeed. And screw them all anyway, because you are raising a child, and that is awesome. Did your kid eat something today? Is she relatively hygienically sound? Smiles occasionally? You win all the things. You are awesome enough to absorb any and all commentary, keep the bits you like, and toss the bits you don’t. How sweet of them to care.
7. Start stretching, because it’s time to get flexible.
I’m not a big fan of general statements like “All babies like swaddling,” or “Co-sleeping is best for everybody,” but there is one I can get behind—babies are really inconvenient.
Your schedule, your sleep, your stellar punctuality record, your deadlines, your best shirts, your relationships—everything is about to get messy and complicated. You have two choices: become a weepinghungrytiredmess of doom, or swallow every ounce of pride you have and become flexible.
Ask for help. Admit failure. Be late. Stay in your pajamas. Ignore the dishes. Let slide what can slide and rejoice when you make it through with all your bare necessities intact. You are going to miss a few parties and a lot of snoozes and probably many other important things, and it will be OK. It will be better than OK. It will be amazing.
8. It actually does take a village.
The most important thing to get for your baby is not a Rock n’ Play, nor a good set of swaddling blankets, nor a high-end stroller. The most important thing to get for your baby is a village.
Your village will keep you afloat. They will carry you when you are tired, feed you when you are starving, forgive you when you are unkempt and hours late and a neglectful friend who can’t remember to wear socks let alone whose birthday it is. They will love your baby when you are too tired or frustrated to hold her at the moment, because you are imperfect and human and have imperfect and human failings. They will remind you who you are when you start to think your whole life is only about poop. They will lift you up.
9. We have to lift each other up.
Raising babies is the hardest thing many of us have ever done. We can tear each other to bits, criticize choices and turn up noses, or we can love each other, admire adorable babies, offer a hand and celebrate victories. This is not a difficult choice, people. Nobody cares that your way is better. Everyone cares that your kid is gorgeous and let’s chat over coffee and what have you been doing with your hair lately because, girlfriend, you look fabulous. Don’t be horrible. It isn’t really that hard.
10. Success is found in being willing to grow.
Here’s the truth: you don’t know much of anything.
A year from now, after your fantastic kid turns 1, you won’t know much of anything still. Gather wisdom around you. Learn from your mistakes. Stay humble. Stay open. When you know better, do better. Be a better parent tomorrow than you were today, always, everyday, as often as you can. Try things out and leave them behind shamelessly if they don’t work out.
Life isn’t a contest or a game—it’s simply only beautifully life. Live the minutes instead of scoring them. Love that incredible baby.
Oh, lovely -- you are going to have so much fun!
A version of this article was originally published on Girl of Cardigan.