An e-mail request arrived from my friend Rebecca this week. She was collecting parenting words of wisdom for Jen and Matt’s baby shower today.
Ah, the daunting task to come up with the perfect advice to share. What sparkling gem could I possibly add to those endless parenting books and resources filled with whimsical, controversial, or spot-on tips?
Oh, that pang of remorse for not having already written at least a somewhat enlightened missive about parenthood or even a simple note to my own kids for reading years down the road about what they’ve taught me and how much they’ve changed me. I am two offspring and almost four years in. Will I ever find time to write such essential thoughts much less a new parents’ top-ten list?
Would my guidance be trite, as in, “Always wash your hands” or “French fries really can be considered a vegetable once in awhile”?
Would I encourage new parents to do the impossible: “Nap when your children nap!”?
Would my counsel be ignored? I, admittedly, fail to always check that the car seat is still fastened into the car and that there is not more than one inch of movement at the seat belt path.
I would not offer advice I don’t believe, such as, “Sleep deprivation is not forever.” I don’t think that light exists at the end of my tunnel.
Of course, there are common sense creeds I could convey, like, “Take time to care for yourself” and “Nourish your marriage.”
But I fail at those routinely.
So I forwarded Rebecca’s request to Greg, hoping he might do more than his usual glimpse at my subject line before hitting Delete and send some brilliant words on our behalf. My husband is a brilliant writer after all.
But Thursday afternoon, while doing the frantic naptime runaround of getting the house cleaned, clothes folded, bills paid, work e-mail checked, dinner ready, etc. and later, while nursing my two-year-old back to sleep for one of the very last times (he is fully weaned as of his birthday, yesterday – so bittersweet…) some thoughts began to gel.
So here’s what I will say to you, Jen and Matt – and also to Lisa and David, my sister- and brother-in-law whose precious little one should appear any moment – and to every other parent to be.
Get square with your spouse on child rearing philosophies before the baby comes. My friend Miguel gave Greg and me this advice. It has made all the difference.
Likewise, don’t get mad at your spouse when he or she reminds you about the ways of parenting you’ve agreed upon. Even in the heat of the moment. Especially then, because you’re likely doing the opposite of what you intended.
Breastfeed. (By the way, dads, supporting breastfeeding is a big, significant job.)
Respect your child as a complete person who has her own preferences, feelings, and agendas.
Routinely tell your child what is going to happen before it happens.
Don’t just grab your baby’s legs and throw them up in the air to diaper him. Ask permission first, tell him what is happening, and smile while looking him in the eye when you switch his nappies.
It may seem obvious or natural to act so kindly in the beginning, but potty training happens at age 2 or 3, or even later (probably much later in the case of Raphael). Point is, the poopy years yield into drudgery. Keep respectfulness present.
Don’t tell your kid she needs to clean up her toys when it is you who has that need. When her agenda is to keep playing, be clear that you need her to pick up now. And start with putting away just one toy at a time. Perhaps, just the blue one… After all, don’t you like ginormous tasks broken down into manageable pieces, too? (And by “ginormous,” I’m talkin’ the disaster a toddler can make of a room in just 23 seconds.)
Don’t say to your child, “You’re OK, calm down” when he’s having his mid-day tantrum. Acknowledge and name his real feelings for him. Muster up some empathy, and be sincere with it. Never lecture. He’ll calm when he feels understood and he’s vented.
Listen when your kid talks. She will communicate from day one. Your job is to really hear it. And also to wait for it. Let her finish.
Being respectful is a skill and a habit. Work that muscle.
Also, be goofy.
Know this: make believe is powerful. Placing a super-friendly, little pretend monster under a frightened boy’s pillow in the middle of the night to scare away all the other monsters works like magic.
Ask for help. Take it when offered. This is not easy. This is an important thing to do for yourself and for your family and also to model for your children.
Confidently reject any advice that doesn’t suit you (such as anything on this page). Try not to take things personally. You get to decide what fits for your family. Isn’t it about time you get to be the one who “says so”?
Read books together. Use them as springboards.
Trust your child.
Just know that as a new parent, you are about to enter an abyss of endless decisions to make. My sister Suzanne is right. She says as soon as you choose one thing, you’ll feel guilty about not choosing the other. Truly, mommy guilt is eternal. Move on.
Be kind. Be polite. Don’t talk at people from another room. Your child is watching, and learning to do, every single thing you do.
Narrate your day together to your child. Explain things in regular, adult language. Your child is listening to everything. Your child will surprise you by understanding and repeating your grown-up words.
Sing a lot.
Soak in the smell of your baby’s head. When I am on my death bed, no matter how old my children, I want them to lie next to me and snug right in so I can drink in the smell of their heads.
Let stuff go. You simply must.
Children thrive on your smile. Be generous with it.
And last, whenever you use disposable diapers, be sure the mud flaps are pulled out from the elastic around the legs and not tucked under. You’ll see why.