Novice Parenting 101
I never actually thought I knew how to be a parent. I didn’t expect to be amazing at every aspect of it. The love and nurturing of a baby, I knew I would have no trouble with. But the more practical stuff? Please. I’m sure I intended to read all kinds of books on parenting, but I didn’t. I bought What to Expect the First Year and I read it in dribs and drabs when I have the time (ha!) and inclination (double ha!). So yeah, I’d say I’m about as unprepared for a lot of the practical aspects of parenting as I could possibly be.
For the first couple of months, you can get by on instinct. People don’t tell you that, but it’s true. I’m not trying to undersell it. Those first two months are HARD and EXHAUSTING and NERVE-WRACKING and lots of other caps-lock-worthy words. But you don’t actually have to have a specific plan or the faintest clue what you are doing. You just tap into your mommy instincts (and daddy’s instincts, too) and you go with your gut on most things. I had never changed a diaper, never rocked a baby to sleep, never even held a newborn for more than about five minutes. I certainly hadn’t breastfed before. The first few of those were easy. The breastfeeding thing definitely was not, and I needed a lot of moral support and advice from those more savvy than myself. But gradually I figured it out. My instincts kicked in and told me when things weren’t right, and when they were.
Now that we have a four month old, a rapidly maturing and growing little bundle of chub and adorableness, instinct alone is not enough. It is still my primary resource for all decisions, but it is not enough. Up until now, for instance, we have been swaddling E at night. The pediatrician says we should stop. They don’t even make the velcro-y swaddle blankets for babies any bigger than E is now. And I don’t know how to do this. We tried going cold turkey but he slept about 40 minutes and would not. go. back. down. So we are trying to wean him off gradually, letting one arm out each night (even alternating arms). We haven’t been brave enough to go back to both arms out yet. Maybe it’s silly. But we’re muddling through the best we can.
Then there is sleep training. We haven’t decided what method(s) to try yet. Some people say not to do it at all. Some say go cold turkey. Some say read the books and pick one method, others say to develop our own hybrid method based on all the books combined. I don’t know what I want to do. I don’t even know if we’re ready yet. When I hear E crying in the night I can’t imagine *not* going to him to soothe him. But I do feel it is something we have to do at some point, and probably sooner rather than later.
On a related note (can you tell sleep is on my mind a lot these days?) there is napping. I have let E nap when he happens to fall asleep – I have never tried to put him down for a nap when he wasn’t already conked out. Perhaps that was foolish. Perhaps I let him develop bad habits. Perhaps it’s too late to fix without some hardcore day-time sleep training. But there have been days where he took multiple two hour naps (ah, blessedly beautiful days, where have you gone), and yet most days he takes a few cat-naps and that’s it. Those are the days when I feel like a bad mom who doesn’t know what the hell she is doing.
And then to top it all off, the breast feeding. I thought we had finally gotten it down and we were good at it. I could nurse him in public, in other people’s homes, with or without various paraphernalia (pillows, nursing covers, etc). No problem. And then suddenly he hit four months and got fussy. Maybe it’s pre-teething, maybe it’s just a greater awareness of his surroundings making him easily distracted – who knows? But he will often nurse for about three minutes and then pull off and start crying, or just look around to see what’s going on and when I try to put him back on he freaks out like I just tried to injure him. There have been days where I had to pump to relieve my engorgement (and maintain my supply) because I just could not get him to nurse. Luckily I know he is well fed – he is gaining weight nicely and he is generally happy otherwise, so I’m not too concerned. But it’s just another thing that makes me feel like I am flying blind.
Thankfully there are people, books, websites, doctors available to ask questions. But my instinct has no answers for me on some of these things. Sometimes I feel like I know even less about motherhood than my infant son does. I try to get him to teach me but there can be a bit of a communication failure at times. All we can do is try our best. Most of the time we manage okay.
And I’m sure in a few months I’ll be giving my pregnant friends advice on these things as if I’m the expert. It’s hard to imagine that right now. And while I wouldn’t wish away a minute of my time with this little boy, I am ready to be a bit smarter about this whole motherhood thing.