So, you’ve joined, or are about to join, the parenting club. Welcome! No matter where you go in the world you will find you have sisters and brothers who are willing to extend an abundance of empathy, wisdom, encouragement and assistance. Indeed, consider this blog one such resource. In this entry I’d like to offer 10 tips for this phase of your parenting life. (I will write this as if you are in a two parent household, but these tips can be easily adapted to other situations.)
#1 Establish your boundaries with in-laws and other well intended people. Some in-laws are wise and know not to offer unsolicited advice. But, others need help in understanding that you will reach out if and when you want advice. I’d suggest each of you speak with your own birth parents about this. This needn’t be unpleasant and can be done in a lighthearted way. Then, insist on these boundaries lest you want to live with no end to unsolicited advice.
#2 Don’t put the pressure on yourself to act like you know what’s coming. It doesn’t matter how intelligent and insightful you are. There is no way to reason to how much love, exhaustion and lunacy you will feel, and that’s totally okay. So, try to be at peace with that.
#3 Try to accept that there is no way to prepare fully for the chaos. Sure, it’s totally okay to nest and set things up. But, at some point the preparation can become like a soldier ironing his trousers before going into battle. Developing a certain comfort with chaos is very helpful to your mental health. (As a related matter, it’s always interesting to watch couples trying to determine the “perfect” time to have a child, as if a tornado could be put in a box.)
#4 Make an active plan for couple time. If you are not disciplined and proactive about this your romantic relationship will take a heavy hit. For a related blog entry click here.
#5 Agree to a childcare plan. Many parents wonder if it’s better for the child for the mom to stay at home or not. Bottom line: assuming the person(s) taking care of your child do a good job, it’s best to do the thing that will make you and your partner feel most satisfied. There is no one right choice. It’s a matter of personal preference.
#6 Agree to a nighttime feeding plan. Your new baby will sleep for only a few hours at a time until he or she gains enough weight to not need feedings throughout the night. So, have a discussion about who will do what when. There are so many permutations of this that I haven’t space to list them. It’s just important to talk it out lest the person doing all or most of the work builds up resentment.
#7 Make sure to take maintain a self-care protocol. Like many parents, you may be tempted to go on a cross for your child, but this is rarely in a child’s best interest. Just like the tip above regarding couples, it takes a proactive plan to stay at your best for your new baby.
#8 You are going to make lots and lots and lots and lots of mistakes and that’s okay. I still remember trying to lullaby my eldest Morgan to sleep, at around 3 AM, with the melody from Hush Little Baby but with made up NC-17 lyrics having to do with how much I needed her to get to sleep. As long as you keep trying to do well you’re probably doing at least well enough.
#9 You’re going to overdo things as a first time parent, and that’s okay. I remember having wipe warmers for Morgan and our grandmother neighbor finding that to be very funny. (I would now find it to be funny too but it’s semi-disrespectful to show such to a first time parent.) It’s normal to overdue for the first one, so don’t let anybody mock you for that. (By the way, by the time you might have a third child you end up carrying him or her around by the ankle.)
#10 Set up a college fund. Even if you put in a few bucks a month, that’s something. The expense can be overwhelming later, so this is an area where it’s better to err on the side of over preparing.
May God bless you!