1. Everyone’s an expert, but you’re the authority on yourself and your baby
Once you get pregnant, everybody seems to have something to say about what you should (or absolutely should not) do with yourself and your baby. But everyone’s experience and perspective are different. The way you deal with pregnancy, birth, and your baby comes from who you are, where you’ve been, and what you believe in.
So, while getting advice from friends, family and other experts can help you along the way, keep in mind that what worked for your sister, your mother or your best friend will not necessarily work for you . . . and vice versa. Experts’be they professionals or strangers’have ideas, but they may also have agendas. Take the advice that makes sense to you and take the rest with a grain of salt. The important thing is to be able to filter what you hear through an understanding of what matters to you and your family.
2. Confidence is more important than instinct
People often tell parents to ‘trust their instincts.’ Go with your gut and you’ll be confident about your choices. But it takes confidence to trust your instincts in a world of conflicting advice! Nothing builds confidence like hard-earned experience, but in the meantime, you can help build yours by seeking supportive environments.
Know yourself and what makes you feel safe and secure in who you are. Stay away from people who make you feel bad about yourself, and look for situations that make you feel stronger as a parent. Instincts are an indispensable tool, but they’re worthless without the confidence it takes to put them to use.
3. Strive for imperfection
When we’re pregnant, we are warned to hone our diet for ideal fetal development. We must advocate for the optimum birth and bonding experience’often fighting against the tide of hospital policy. Later, we learn tips to help our babies reach their milestones on time, or better still, early! The desire for children to succeed is as old as mothers. What’s new is the mile-long list of do’s and don’ts, and the mounting pressure on moms to make it all happen.
An alarming number of studies focus on maternal responsibility. But no amount of fish oil, flash cards or quality time can guarantee an A+ in motherhood. And the quest for perfection sucks parents’ energy and enjoyment, leaving resentment in its wake. You may think your child will feel only the benefit of your attention, but the pressure seeps through, too.
If you’re trying to be a perfect parent, your child may think the same perfection is expected of him. Kids need permission to be themselves, not performers. Parents need to cut themselves some slack, maintain a sense of self, and be as wary of overparenting as they are of underparenting. We think ‘good enough’ parenting is not just good enough, it’s better.
4. Parenting is out of control
Becoming a parent inevitably means giving up some level of control. When you’re pregnant, you can’t control how your body responds’whether or not you feel sick, for example, or get stretch marks. And though you may be able to curtail some weight gain, we never met a pregnant woman who didn’t feel ‘too big’ by delivery time. Birth itself is the ultimate exercise in letting go. Afterward, many people are desperate to keep the baby from disturbing the peace of their lives. They worry that they’ll be ‘chained to the couch’ or ‘lose themselves,’ or become ‘boring parents.’
Having a baby will change your life whether you fight it or not. It’s not that resistance is futile’it can actually be healthy. But the happiest parents we know are the ones who learn to surf the waves rather than try to conquer them.
5. There’s no such thing as a ‘natural’ mother
People talk about ‘natural’ mothering. Natural mothers breastfeed. It’s not natural to breastfeed your child beyond six months. It’s natural for babies to cry. Babies only cry when we resist our natural impulse to comfort them. For some women, it is natural to trust a doctor when it comes to their body and baby. For others, the natural way to give birth is at home with midwives and family. But one person’s natural is another one’s weird, or worse. We live in a culture with complex’and sometimes contradictory’rules, expectations, and ideals, and what feels natural to you depends on your point of view.
6. Shift happens
Babies grow, and growth means change. Sometimes this is a relief; you go to bed at the end of your rope and wake up to find that the problem has passed. Sometimes it’s frustrating; just when you think you’ve got the hang of things, the landscape shifts and your baby enters a whole new weird/wonderful phase. Either way, it means that whatever is going on, it probably won’t last forever, for better or for worse.
Try not to despair when things are miserable, or get smug when things are going smoothly. Both babies and the world around them are in constant flux. If what you’re doing isn’t working anymore, do something else. Try not to get too attached to any one way. Keep your eyes and your mind open, and be ready to adjust your strategies accordingly. It’ll help you enjoy the ride.
7. Babies are people, not problems
Pregnancy, birth, and, to some extent, babies, are all too often seen as problems waiting to happen. Parents can be so anxious about what to expect and what’s ‘normal’ that every hiccup becomes a potential crisis. Often, the real problem is unrealistic expectations. People expect their pregnancies and babies to develop in a certain way, and when they don’t, it can be hard not to panic and try to fix what may not be broken.
It’s tempting to think that there is a simple, almost mathematical solution to whatever you may be facing with your baby, but raising a child is not a science. Babies are people. You can’t input the same data into every one and expect the same result. Techniques may work for you as promised, or they may not. Individual people have individual needs, in infancy as well as adulthood. We don’t believe in one-size-fits-all formulas for any other human relationship, so why would we expect one to work with babies?
8. Frustration, resentment, anger, exhaustion, exasperation, aggravation, jealousy, nostalgia, regret, etc., don’t make you a bad parent
Every parent (well, almost every one) has bad feelings at one time or another. Sometimes it starts in pregnancy, when you’re too big and tired to climb the stairs to your bedroom. Sometimes it starts in labour when you feel like the baby is ripping you apart. And sometimes it doesn’t hit you until the baby’s screaming through the fourteenth night in a row and you really, really wish you could just go out for a margarita, or read a book, or take a bath, or take a nap. Or even just sit down for five seconds without a baby in your arms or screaming in your ear. Whatever the trigger, we all have our bad days when we wish for a fleeting moment (or more) that things were a bit more like they used to be. How could we not, considering the havoc a baby wreaks on our lives? But then we look at the adorable little thing and are overcome with joy . . . rapidly followed by guilt.
Well, we’re here to tell you that you can love your baby and hate how your life has changed at the same time. Pretty much everyone feels this way sometimes, even if they won’t admit it. Feeling mad or sad about what you’re going through doesn’t make you love your baby any less, and it definitely doesn’t make you a bad mother or father.
9. Look forward, not backward
‘Life as you know it is over.’ From the minute you’re visibly pregnant, strangers on the street will stop to remind you of the radical, life-altering reality of having a baby. Certainly some aspects of your life will return to a semblance of ‘normal,’ but it’s true that your old life isn’t coming back. Of course, you’ll miss it sometimes, but the important thing is to mourn the losses and move on to the gains. Challenge the old, depressing, and oft-repeated notion that your life ‘is over’ by thinking toward the future. Your life isn’t over, your old life as a nonparent is over’and your new life has only just begun.
10. There is no right way
Remember, no matter what anyone else says, there is no across-the-board evidence that any one way of parenting is better than any other way. The best way is whatever works for you.
Excerpted from From the Hips by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris Copyright © 2007 by Rebecca Odes and Ceridwen Morris. Excerpted by permission of Three Rivers Press, a division of Random House of Canada Limited. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.