Contributed by Michelle Hassler
Becoming new parents is an overwhelming endeavor. However, after becoming a mom myself, I found that there is no better resource than fellow parents who have been in your shoes. In order to compile some “need to know” information for first-time parents, I asked my version of “experts” – moms and dads who are currently in the trenches, whether they are raising babies or teenagers. Interestingly, almost all of their responses expressed a similar sentiment: there is no right answer. New parents will find out that being a parent is a unique learning experience filled with ups, downs, smiles, tears, and (hopefully) lots of laughter.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Each child is different and no family operates the same way. You do not have the same life as the mom across the street. Appreciate and cherish your own life – challenges and triumphs alike. Your child may not reach milestones at the same rate as her peers. Your nephew may be walking before your child (who is the same age) has expressed any interest in crawling. Guess what? That’s okay. Children learn and develop at different rates. Also, what works for one family may not work for yours. The latest research-based strategies in your parenting book might not be practical for your family. Keep trying until you find effective practices for your individual child. Unfortunately, what is effective may change on a weekly basis. Just keep going.
Accept Help When Offered and When Needed, ASK!
Despite the situation, asking for help has proven to be a difficult task for many people. As new parents, you WILL need a break or extra help from time to time. Accepting help or admitting that you need extra assistance does not reflect poorly on your parenting skills. In contrast, taking time to take care of yourself or recharge will help you to be a better parent. If someone offers to watch the baby for an hour or two, drops off dinner, or gives you a gift, graciously accept. Parenthood is selfless work, and taking care of children is often overwhelming. Take a deep breath. Have faith in yourself, forgive yourself, and give yourself a well-deserved pat on the back.
You Can’t Do Everything – All the Time
There will be days when the living room may look like a tornado just passed through. The dishes will remain untouched in the kitchen sink. Breakfast will consist of a donut on the way to daycare. Sometimes play time, teachable moments, and unforeseen struggles will interrupt scheduled duties. As new parents, and at any stage of parenting for that matter, flexibility is a must. Things do not always go according to plan, despite the best intentions. It is important to not put too much pressure on yourself. This also applies to high expectations regarding your child’s activities. You do not need to do it all. Over scheduling will only leave you and your child stressed and overwhelmed.
Embrace and Enjoy Each Stage
I’m sure you’ve heard it many times. Childhood goes quickly. It is easy to look forward to the next big milestone, but try not to focus too intensely on getting there. Enjoy each stage, as every single one is unique and exciting. However, truth be told, you will not enjoy every moment. There will be times when you want to pull out your hair and times when your hair will be pulled out. Remember that when you get through it, which I promise you will, you will find joy in the small moments and big milestones. Take pictures and write things down. Hold them as much as you can. Some time it will be the last time and you probably will not even realize it. With new firsts there are new lasts.
Connect With Others
There are times when parenting can be a lonely experience. Despite being in the company of children day in and day out, you can feel as though you are on your own island. At the end of a busy day, it may seem like you have no energy left – not even for a short phone call. Be sure to carve in some time to socialize with others – fellow parents and non-parents alike. Being able to seek advice, vent frustrations, or simply divulge information that you may think only parents can sympathize with will help you recharge. Touching base with good friends helps you to stay connected even if your lives may be very different.
In conclusion, there is no one right way to care for a child. Be true to yourself and accept advice graciously. New parents have an amazing amount of knowledge that cannot be found in a book. Oh, and speaking of information, go easy on the internet searches. Google can quickly turn from a helpful friend to your own worst enemy. Instead, be sure to voice any concerns to your child’s pediatrician. If he/she isn’t worried, things are probably okay. And you will be okay, too.