This morning, I heard my almost 10-month-old baby wake up, so I rushed down the hall to get him. He looked up, smiled a huge toothy grin, and gibbered some indistinguishable but happy phrase when he finally realized it was time to start the day. As I fed him, and rubbed his back with my hand, I watched his little fingers rest on his cheek, I thought, “How did I get so lucky?”.
That would not have been my sentiment even four months ago, and definitely not even six or seven months ago. Even though I knew what to expect medically with a new baby, I somehow felt blindsided by the initial fatigue, stress, and emotions that come with being a new mom. It’s not that every moment was bad and every moment certainly wasn’t always good. It’s just that the ratio of overwhelming to magical had been considerably shifted in one direction over time.
Back in our days of colic overload, sleeplessness, and tears, I wished that someone had sat me down and gone through “what exactly to expect in the first six months” in a very real, unfiltered way. Truth be told even if they would have it still wouldn’t have prepared me for the array of emotions that I would soon face. I honestly thought that internal and external battles were like something you only saw on television but I faced both daily. Here is my best attempt at “sitting you down” and offering all the advice I have to give to you new, tired moms and dads:
1. It will get better, believe me.
If you have an easy baby, congratulations I’ll personally bake you some cookies but STOP telling other parents how easy your baby is. Everyone isn’t as fortunate and quite frankly you just got lucky. On the other hand, if you have a tough, “hands-on” baby, talk about it to other moms, I promise you’re not the only one. That is the only way to get the support you need. Call your mom or your sister, find a mommy support group, don’t be embarrassed you’re not alone, and if you think you may be suffering from postpartum depression or anxiety, chances are you might be.
I can remember being in the store trying to grocery shop and push a stroller at the same time and some random lady says while gazing at my then 7-week-old colicky baby, “What a handsome, peaceful angel,” you have. I literally almost started crying not because she said anything wrong but because neither Ayden or myself had gotten any sleep the night before and the only reason he was sleep so peacefully is because Colic won and beat him to sleep! I stood there with spit-up in my hair and on my clothes, a day past my last shower, and responded thank you even though I wanted to say he’s only a perfect angel when he’s asleep.
I say all of this to say, that being a parent does get better and if you’re a single mom God has already equipped you with the tools you need to succeed at parenthood. Think about all of the mothers that have come before you who were able to cook while holding a baby, eat while rocking a baby to sleep, or even grocery shop and push a stroller (which I’m still no pro at).
2. There are always second chances with parenting.
You may not have won the fight today but there will be plenty things that you’ll kick ass at. Give yourself a break if you did not play classical music while your baby sleeps. One day you will hunt around in your diaper bag while out to lunch and realize you have no more diapers. Accept your mistake, learn from it and move on. You learned something today, and you’ll be better at it tomorrow.
3. There will be a day you think you have it all figured out.
.......................... Then everything will change again, and you’ll need to figure it out again.
As your child develops, the tricks that worked to help them sleep, to entertain them, and to help them grow will morph as they do. One day, they’ll love the swaddle, one day later, you may have to walk and bounce them until they fall asleep. The change in preference is not the big deal — it’s the two weeks it takes to figure out that’s the issue keeping them (and you) awake all night. The good news is, as you get to know your little one, those transitions will become easier.
4. Don’t forget to celebrate the 12-month mark.
There are so many transitional phases in the first year of a baby’s life. They are often great but let’s not forget about those that are challenging. I used to think that the 1st birthday was all about having a fun time or even throwing a small party. I never really considered it to be a huge milestone. I was so wrong. As Ayden’s first birthday is approaching I realize it is a big deal because I survived everything that I was sure would break me. Plan a birthday date for you and your partner to celebrate your hard work, and then plan a party for your child too! Don’t stress about it chances are they won’t remember it in a year anyways.
5. If your partner takes longer than you do to bond with your baby, don’t worry.
It will come in due time. Ayden’s dad and I argued a lot the first two months for this very reason. I wasn’t sure whether he was just nervous about being a father or if he just wasn’t trying. What I did know is that I resented him! Why was it always me having to wake up to change dirty diapers? Why did I always have to rock Ayden to sleep? I gained weight, my life had changed, and I never had enough time to do anything!
The truth is that just as things were changing for me, they were also changing for him and he thought I did everything better, so he just didn’t do much at all. He has a Type A personality and he’s use to being in control but the reality of it all was that parenting is uncontrollable. You don’t get to decide when you bond with your baby, you just keep trying until you do and then one day it just happens. Dad’s continue loving your baby and one day you’ll realize that you kind of like them too.
6. Learn to say “sorry” to your significant other.
You are going through one of the most significant changes in your life. So is your partner. There will be times when you explode for what appears to be no reason, but only you can verbalize the toll that this transition has taken on you. When you reach this point be open and honest, but most importantly call anyone you trust for help or advice.
Even the smallest things have been enough to hit my trigger. When you feel like the pot is about to boil over find a quiet space to pull yourself together. Mom’s deserve "me time" too. Mom’s we can’t control the rate at which a father feels connected with their child, but we can reassure them with some positive words. Being a parent is not easy especially when you’re young. The best way to overcome all obstacles is by working together as a team.
So many times, depression has resulted in devastating consequences for relationships. The truth is perinatal mood swings are real and both women and men can have them. Couples with new babies are busy. Feedings, diaper changes, and consoling a baby seem to take up endless hours of the day. By the time the mother and father do get to see each other alone, they are usually completely exhausted.
Research has identified five major changes that couples go through when they become parents, and each of these changes can lead to conflict between partners:
Regardless of the choices that couples have made prior to becoming parents, gender roles become more traditional once a baby is born. Caring for an infant can add 30-50 hours of additional “work” a week for parents and it is common for women to take on 2-3 times more of these parenting responsibilities than men, regardless of whether they are working inside or outside of the home.
Once a baby is born, there is significantly less time for uninterrupted couple-focused communicating.
Often, when a new baby joins a family, there is a decline in disposable income due to the new financial responsibilities that come along with that new bundle. This will often mean fewer individual and shared leisure activities (which often means less individual and couple self-care time).
Parenting is a busy time. Once a baby enters the picture, there is significantly reduced frequency and quality of couple time.
Men can feel extraordinarily betrayed if they are "rejected" both physically and emotionally by their partner. It is important to talk to each other about your feelings. There are other ways to be physically intimate with each other, such as cuddling and holding hands.