If you are trying for a baby, or are waiting for one to arrive as a first time parent, you are going to hear all kinds of things about what lies ahead for you and your partner. Your parents (who haven’t had a baby in the house for years) and your childless friends will wax lyrical about how life affirming and wonderful and fulfilling the whole experience is going to be, as if they could actually remember (in the case of the relatives) or even knew (in the case of the childless friends.)
If you head off into into TV and magazine land celebrities are featured all the time gushing about the joys of parenthood and how it is the best thing they have ever done. Or to be more accurate in most cases, the best thing that they and their nannies, maids and personal assistants have ever done. Even your friends and family who do have younger kids will often only smile (very encouragingly) and tell you that the sleep deprivation is probably the worst of it.
The fact is that most of those parents are hiding a big secret from you. along with all the good, great wonderful stuff that being a parent brings to your life there are also times when being a parent, to be frank as a parent and not just a medical professional, sucks.
Except it is hard to admit that. Society just won’t tolerate the idea of a new Mum or new Dad saying that they feel anything negative at all about their new life so for the most part they all adopt the keep calm and carry on mantra as best they can but still cannot help but be at least somewhat distressed about the fact that for them, this is not the bed of roses with a few sleepless nights thrown in that they expected.
Feeling this way is not about post natal depression, which is a real, serious medical condition that deserves a completely different discussion of its own (and by the way, new Dads can suffer from it as well.) These are feelings that most parents have occasionally and then feel like they are terrible, evil individuals for ever having such thoughts even for a second.
And yet it is normal and however many books you read, or classes you take, or however much advice you get for a first time parent being faced with the reality of being in charge of a tiny, truly helpless creature is terrifying. And when that tiny creature takes charge of your every waking moment – and there are a lot of them – only a truly emotionless person could stay calm and collected all the time in the face of all that.
Instead of keep calm and carry on most of the time taking action is a better choice. In order for a Baby to be happy and healthy their Mum and Dad have to be happy and healthy as well. The following are ideas and tips for things that you can do to embrace the bad side of being a parent and minimize the impact of it on the rest of your happiness.
The Power of the Car Ride – Put a screaming, squalling Baby into their car seat (which can be a trial in itself admittedly) and head off for a drive and a magical thing almost always happens within just a few minutes or so. The baby that has been refusing to sleep for the past hour, no matter how many songs you sung or times around the room you walked with them suddenly magically falls asleep.
For new Mums taking that drive yourself should only be something you do as a last resort. Really this should be a Daddy task, especially if you have been at home with baby all day and he has been at work. When my first child was born it fell to my partner to undertake a 45 minute drive to the Dunkin Donuts and back. That gave me almost two hours of blessed peace and he still got rewards as well – a big jelly donut and the admiration of all the staff about what a great Dad he was, dealing with that little baby all by himself.
Don’t waste the me time this allows you though. Take a nap or if you can’t sleep because you are actually just a little too frazzled at least relax with a cup of tea and read something really dumb and mindless online or watch a silly TV program. Alternately take a long, hot bath while listening to your favorite grown ups music.
Walking Away is Not a Bad Thing – Whatever some parenting books may say about not letting you baby cry itself to sleep, no baby has ever cried itself into an injury while safely tucked in his crib while Mum and Dad take a few minutes break in the room next door. A crying baby that will not stop for any reason cannot be rationalized with, or bargained with, its something most babies do. They are not hungry or wet (you have checked both of those things) they are not snuffly, they do not have a fever (things that would have to be addressed) they just want to cry. And lots of the time at this point their parents do too. Taking a few minutes to walk away to the next room is the very best thing you can do when the frustration is just getting too much.
Encourage People to Help You the Right Way – People do love to come bearing gifts when they visit a couple with a new baby and that is not a bad thing. Some gifts can be a lot more helpful than others though. Yet another baby toy for the ever increasing pile in the corner of the nursery is nice, a cute outfit is fine (even if it is something that you might not ever dream of choosing for Baby yourself) but if you are a little forward and ask for things you really need its of more help.
Take food for instance. Parents do still have to eat and a new baby can end up taking so much of your time that the choices end up being soup, instant noodles or fast food every night, things that can end up being as expensive as they are unhealthy. So what would be really nice is if someone could pop over with something tasty and healthy that is also easily microwavable and freezable and then maybe even stay a while and watch the Baby and let you both eat in peace…
Being a parent is a great experience and there are a lot of positives. Understanding that there will be negatives and there will be bad days before Baby actually arrives can help.
These days there are a million and one Internet memes out there about the joys of parenting but I still think that this line, as uttered by Bill Murray when in character in the movie “Lost in Translation” might be the best one of all. As Bob he says “The most terrifying day of your life is the day the first one is born. Your life, as you know it, is gone. Never to return. But they learn how to walk, and they learn how to talk and you want to be with them. And they turn out to be the most delightful people you will ever meet in your life.”