Photo: Ariel Brewster
I had been working at Today’s Parent for three years before I had a baby, but that doesn’t mean I had any idea what I was doing when we welcomed Cal to our family in November 2014. Nothing prepares you for the day-in, day-out hard work of parenting. Though I’m pretty new to the scene, I’m happy to share what I’ve learned along the way so far.
Forget giving anything 100 percent. I will never be able to stay at work as late as I’d like, and I will never get dinner on the table as early as I’d like. I will never exercise as much as the magazines tell me I should, and I am newly at peace with the fact that my kid is going to be the one with marker streaks on his pudgy toddler hands and a little bit of leftover breakfast oatmeal in his hair. Feeling good about a 75 percent approval rating—and striving to please most of the people in my life most of the time—is my new normal.
Repeat after me: zippers, not snaps. Zippers, not snaps. I don’t care how cute or on-sale those snap-up footie PJs at Baby GAP are, resist all buttons and snaps and fussy outfits with multiple components. You may adore washing, folding and organizing these teeny-tiny ensembles when you're pregnant, but you will not have the patience for them after the third diaper mishap in an hour, or when you’re trying to finally (for-the-love-of-God-please) leave the house with a fed, burped, changed and clothed baby during your short window of time for errands. (Note: If you do have a weakness for irresistibly cute and complicated outfits, it’s easier to indulge in this when the baby is younger and immobile, because he can’t fight you on wardrobe changes yet.)
When your baby sleeps through the night for the first time, do not gloat on social media about it. In the first meeting of my hospital-based mom’s group, the nurse who ran the program warned us that if your baby was already sleeping long stretches, to keep it to yourself, because everyone else would hate you. But there’s another reason not to gloat: Babies change quickly, and even the good sleepers can go through challenging sleep phases for a few days or a few weeks. The amazing, we-have-this-totally-figured-out period doesn’t always last. (Have you weathered the four-month sleep regression? Has your baby learned to roll over in her sleep yet? Fun times.) Add growth spurts, teething, travel, time changes or your baby’s first ear infection into the mix, and sleep habits change again. Even the most rigorously sleep-trained infant may need to be sleep trained repeatedly, I’m sorry to say.
Feeling judged by other parents turns us into our own harshest critics. The constant, “Am I doing it right?” self-questioning is exhausting. When Cal was a few months old, I tried out a few different postnatal yoga classes for moms and babies. At the first class, all the moms had their newborns peacefully dozing in bucket car seats while they downward-dogged—genius! At a different studio a few weeks later, I did the same—only to see that every single mom in this particular class had worn her baby in a wrap or carrier and proceeded to incorporate her cooing infant into her yoga moves. Meanwhile, my poor, neglected newborn was restrained in a car seat in the corner while his selfish mother took an hour to stretch. Of course this was probably all in my head (and yanking him out of the car seat and disturbing his nap would definitely have been a bad idea), but I felt like the other moms were feeling sorry for my infant and our clearly sub-par mother/baby bond. This ridiculous yet nagging thought ruined the class for me and I never went back to that studio.
The idea might be overwhelming at first, but consider taking a big trip with your infant (before you have to pay for an additional seat!). They’re so portable at this early age, usually sleep well with the white noise of planes and they really have no idea where they are. We took a mid-winter beach trip to Mexico when Cal was only seven weeks old, and it was the best thing we did. I was nervous about going (and totally overpacked), but all he really needed was my boobs, diapers and a few onesies. He slept through most of the flight. If you’re going to be logging lots of time with a snoozing baby on your chest, you might as well do it snuggled up pool-side, or while spending time with family.
When you have a newborn, everyone says, “Don’t worry, it gets easier,” in this knowing, reassuring way. Don’t hate me for saying this, new parents, but everyone is totally lying. The sleep deprivation has gotten better, sure. But then other things have gotten harder since Cal learned to roll, crawl and walk. Changing his diaper is a physical feat that I’m pretty sure qualifies me for the steer-wrestling competition at the Calgary Stampede. I now wish I’d gone to more Mommy-and-Me movies during the sleepy newborn days, before he became so squirmy. I wish I’d put my phone down and read an actual book while I still could (What to Expect During the First Year does not count!). Once your baby is getting into everything, you can barely check your email or make dinner, let alone get through a chapter. I’m only at the toddler stage, and I imagine each phase is awesome in its own way, but still hard, too. The saving grace has been that as your baby learns how to do new—and sometimes frustrating—things, he transforms from a mysterious creature into a small human with a personality all his own, which is very cool to watch.
The ability to Google an urgent breastfeeding question at 3 a.m. was a lifesaver for me. (How did our mothers’ generation manage without smartphones?) If you haven’t seen it yet, check out the Today’s Parent My Family app, which can help you log feedings (as well as diaper changes and developmental milestones). I do feel a little guilty about all the time I spent nursing with my baby nestled in the crook of one arm and my phone in the other hand, instead of cherishing every second. But breastfeeding can be pretty boring, if I’m being honest. A friend who is a mom of two pointed out that she stuck with nursing a lot longer the second time around because she always had something to read on her phone to make the time pass. And my phone connected me to other moms, just a text message or Facebook post away with helpful advice. In the wee hours of the night, it’s really comforting to know that there’s an army of parents out there who are rocking their babies back to sleep, too. (One-click, smartphone diaper orders on Amazon are also pretty awesome.)
When Cal was a newborn nursing every two or three hours, I started counting down the days until he was six months and could start solids. But each milestone comes with its joys—and challenges (read more about first year milestones here). Little did I know, I should have enjoyed the on-the-go convenience of breastfeeding and my short-lived freedom from preparing—and cleaning up—baby breakfast, lunch and dinner (plus snacks!) while negotiating with an active, opinionated little person who doesn’t want to stay seated in a high chair. The milestones come on their own anyway. Might as well savour where you are instead of living in anticipation.
Even though I’m a parenting magazine editor, there are plenty of expert recommendations I ended up ignoring, especially around sleep. We co-slept for the first four weeks, which I hadn't planned to do at all. For more than a year, I nursed Cal to sleep—a bedtime habit the pros warn against, even though it is incredibly effective and women across cultures have been doing it for centuries. (Yes, nursing to sleep is very cozy and nice, but I "chose" it because it worked, and I'm lazy!) And at 15 months old, he still prefers snoozing on the go to napping in his crib, which also goes against traditional parenting advice. But I would not give up my leisurely summer mat-leave months of long neighbourhood walks and park hangs while Cal dozed in the stroller for anything. I may not be doing everything by the book, but my baby is now an easygoing, healthy and curious toddler—we call him our friendly little maniac—so I figure I must be doing something right.