A while back I went to a baby shower, and the host had everyone write down their best advice on parenting for the expectant couple in an album. When it was my turn to come up with some pearls, I paused. The truth was that the very best pieces of advice were rarely about whether or not to co-sleep or use a pacifier (um, for the baby, yo) or wait an extra year for kindergarten, though those are topics of much anxiety for parents. And the top words of wisdom I got almost never came from books or the doctor or even my closest people. Parenting is funny that way. You depend on the kindness of strangers for very general and life-saving stuff.
Now one of my closest friends is about to have a baby any day now (on her own, too---she got tired of waiting for a suitable life partner and knew she wanted kids) and I thought I'd again ask people I don't know for something helpful. Here's the best advice I got. Then you offer what worked for you, and we can share it with my friend.
1. It gets easier. When my baby was six weeks old and I was almost googling orphanages, I made a bleary trek to the grocery store. I must have looked like holy crap, because a woman I'd never met whispered to me: "It gets easier." "When?" I asked desparately, my eyes filling with tears. She thought for a moment, and said, "Two months. Then again at six months. Then again at a year..." She was right.
2. Along those lines, new parents should cry as much as they want. Now is not the time for stoicism. Basically the job of the new parent is to keep the baby and themselves alive, and that means you sleep whenever you can, you eat whatever you want, you drink tons of water, you live in a messy house, and you cry as much as you like. All of these work best when you have sympathetic people around, and the weeping thing lets people know you need help. I got this gem when I was in the emergency room three days postpartum with a horrible bladder infection. I began sobbing, and the nurse told me not to cry. From the curtained bed next to mine, a woman yelled, "Don't you tell her that! Honey, cry as much as you want. When I had a newborn I wept constantly." I don't even know what she looks like, but that woman was an angel.
3. Kids behave badly when they are going through a developmental phase. I tell everyone this, and I don't even know where I got it, but it's the best thing I know. Just when my child has been the devil for a month and a half and I'm sure I have really screwed up because I am raising a monster, she abruptly changes back into her sweet self and has some new skill to show for it. Crawling, walking, talking, social skills, reading...All were preceded by heck.
4. You probably won't know what to do until it happens. Plan all you want for how you'll teach your child to stand up to bullies, and then watch as your kid turns out to be more likely to pick on others. Choose a preschool when your kid is an infant, then realize your particular child is probably going to do better in a small home-based daycare. Vow to never use a pacifier. End up using a pacifier. Hey, most of what we do is on the fly, so it's best to just be flexible.
5. Lead by example, especially when you screw up. Because you will, you'll probably yell or realize you have been ignoring your kid or say something unkind and wish you could take it back. But think of this: Your kid is on a baseball team. They are a sucky player, they refuse to pracice, and then they drop the ball during a key moment. Do you tell them, "You stink, you aren't fit to be a player, you are screwing up baseball forever"? I sure hope not. Instead, you tell them to just do their best, to move on and have fun. Some of my finest moments have come after I messed up royally and lost it with my kid. I say I'm sorry, I practice doing it differently, I learn from it, and I just move on and do my best.Click here to read more...