Tuesday, February 3, 2015

5 Lessons I Learned in My First Year as a Parent


5 Great Lessons I Learned in My First Year as a Parent // Bubby and Bean

Essley is now 13 months old. I officially completed my first year as a new mother. And I survived. I also learned a lot, especially in regards to how I anticipated the experience to go versus how it actually played out. It would take me a novel (or several) to outline all of the lessons that surfaced along the way, but there are a few in particular that stand out for me.

Before I get started, I want to clearly state that this is my experience. No one else's will be just like mine. There are countless books, articles, and blog posts out there that claim to know exactly what to do and how to do it when it comes to parenting, especially in the first year. There are also plenty that detail personal experiences with an assumption that others' experiences will be the same. This post is not any of those things. I will get into this more in #2 and #3, but I wanted to make certain that I explained this. These are just things that I learned. Me. And I'm sharing them on my blog. That's all. So here goes.



1. I am a very different kind of parent than I thought I'd be. For me, this was the biggest lesson. If you are pregnant (or in the adoption process) for the first time, you probably have a pretty clear idea in your head about how you are going to parent. I did anyway. And guess what? I ended up doing things a lot differently once I was actually experiencing motherhood. I had my opinions about various parenting methods (more on that in #2), and I was sure that I knew exactly how I was going to go about sleep training, weaning from breastfeeding, feeding, schedules, etc. For the most part, I've done everything at least somewhat differently than I'd anticipated. Many things I've done completely differently. I could ramble on forever about the specifics with this. From how I would react to her right after birth to how I'd handle sleeping to when I'd stop breastfeeding, I've done almost nothing the way I pictured. So I'll just leave it at that. (I'm happy to answer specific questions about these things in the comments.)


2. It doesn't matter what anyone else thinks about my (or anyone else's) parenting. I'm not going to sugarcoat here. Parents judge one another, and parenting topics can be very polarizing. Do a quick Google search about sleep training, or vaccines, or just about babies in general. You will come across what seems like an infinite number of conflicting arguments on how to handle things, from message boards to legitimate articles written by 'parenting experts.' Often they're not very nice when it comes to others' ways of doing things. Sometimes they even end up focusing more on questioning the validity of others' experiences than the issues themselves. I mean, you can probably just look at your Facebook feed for a couple of minutes and there will be some sort of parenting debate. Guess what? I used to judge parents too, mainly because I had created an idea of what was right and what wasn't. Then I became a parent. And then we started to go down different paths than initially planned. And as a result, I started to worry about what other parents would think.

Here's an example. Referring back to #1, when I was pregnant, Robbie and I were sure we'd do sleep training with Essley, possibly even a mild cry-it-out type of technique. We were also certain she'd be sleeping in her own room by 12 weeks. Well, it didn't work out that way. We decided that letting her cry for extended periods of time wasn't something we wanted to do, even though it worked for some of our friends. She ended up sleeping in our room exclusively until she was 6 months old, and even then, on the nights we didn't co-sleep all night, she didn't stay in her crib for very long. Now, at 13 months, she usually sleeps about half the night in her crib, and half in our bed. Sometimes when Robbie is on the road, she and I co-sleep all night. And it works great for us, but I can't tell you how many times I felt scared to admit to my pro sleep training friends that we partially co-slept. On the other side, I also worried about telling my pro co-sleeping friends that she spent at least a few hours of each night in a crib. Eventually I realized how ridiculous this was. There isn't one right way. Period. There is only what works best for each child, each parent, and each family. And if someone is doing their best to be a genuinely good parent and someone else chastises their methods because they're different, that's really too bad - because if we all encouraged one another, regardless of parenting techniques, parenting would likely be collectively easier for everybody.


3. I don't need to read parenting books. (Or other 'how to' sources.) This isn't because I know everything, because I don't. Not at all. Not even close. I just mean that I learned that I was mistaken in thinking that I needed to read all the parenting books ever in order to function as a parent. I mean, you guys should see the stack of baby books I have sitting in my bedroom. I was so scared when I was pregnant (and later, caring for a newborn) that if I didn't read every manual on childbirth, nursing, baby sleeping, and baby behavior, I'd end up traumatizing my kid for life. No really, I was. It ended up being a substantial source of stress for me, because not only was there a ton of contradiction between different books, I also felt a lot more overwhelmed by all of the information with which I was bombarding myself than I probably would have knowing nothing at all. There are a couple that I did end up finishing, but with most of them, I got through a chapter or two. Lucky for me, slowly over the course of the first 6 months of Essley's life, I realized that I was able to - gasp - figure it out on my own along the way by paying attention to the process and educating myself on the important issues rather than feeling bound to follow endless parenting instructions. And so far, she seems to be doing pretty well.  

I don't want to completely discount parenting books, because there are some that are incredibly helpful, and I did learn some things from the ones I read/partially read. The same can be said for parenting websites and magazines, online parenting groups, classes, and even message boards.  I think that it's crucial to educate yourself (thank goodness for my birthing/newborn class, our awesome pediatrician, and the occasional Google search), but for me there needs to be a balance between consulting outside sources and learning through our own experiences as a family. For me, real life experience has been 95% of what I've learned.


4. It's not as hard as I thought it would be. I think that this, more than any of the other 5 lessons I'm sharing here, differs greatly from person to person - so I want to reiterate that these are things that I have learned about myself as a parent, and by no means can they apply to everyone. I have friends who are wonderful parents with wonderful babies who have had much more difficult experiences than they anticipated, and I have friends who, like me, have been surprised to find out it wasn't as hard as they thought.

In my case, I think I really built it up in my head that raising a baby would be almost impossibly difficult for me, so ultimately, it just feels much easier in comparison. First of all, I got pregnant later in life, and I spent my twenties and much of my thirties focusing on my career, traveling, and only worrying about myself. I had a long time to convince myself that my freedom would be all but destroyed upon becoming a mother. Second, my husband works for a band and is gone on the road for nearly half the year. I work full time from a home studio, and knew that if we had a baby, we'd have to find a way for me to continue to work the same hours on top of taking care of this baby, often by myself. This terrified me. Add to this all of the usual fears and legitimate concerns that people have about becoming parents (pre-parent experiences sitting next to screaming kids on airplanes and in restaurants, imagining the days when that will be your child, don't help either), and I was convinced that it would be the hardest thing I'd ever had to do.

It turns out that, for the most part, it's actually (usually) easier than it is hard. Once I got used to the lack of sleep (and truly, I have just gotten used to it, because it's still there 13 months later), the rest has sort of fallen into place. Robbie and I have somehow figured out ways to make our work schedules, well, work, and I've actually become a much more productive small business owner as a result. (It's amazing how much better you become at time management when you don't have much time.) As for the freedom part, we've made a conscious effort to go on dates without Essley, which has made a big difference. I also took a two day trip and met Robbie in Atlanta for New Year's Eve last month, without Essley, which was an incredible break and time to focus on myself. But truthfully, Robbie and I both feel more free (cheesy, yes, but true) when the three of us are doing stuff together as a family.

It's not all rainbows and unicorns, obviously. There are times when I feel so overwhelmed I can't do anything but cry - especially when Robbie is gone for long periods and it's up to me to be both parents, on top of working. Without fail though, every time I'm feeling really frustrated, Essley will do something to remind me how much I love being her mom. And it's in those moments that I think back to the nightmare I imagined this would be and feel grateful for how wonderfully different it actually is.


5. Time flies. It is such a cliche, I know. It's also probably the thing you're told more than anything else by other parents when you're just starting out, which makes it sort of annoying by default, to the point where you (okay, I) assume it's not going to be that way for you. Also, in the beginning - in those first few weeks (months, even) when your baby cries all night long and vomits on everything all day long and your hormones are all out of whack and you have absolutely no parenting experience - each day can feel like an eternity. You might even want to punch the next person who tells you to "hold onto the moment, because it will be be gone before you know it" square in the jaw. (I'm not saying I wanted to. Not saying I didn't either.) But for me, after about 9 months, I was like, "wait, what happened to our baby? Where did the time go?" Truly. The other day I was looking back through pictures and videos on my phone from just a few months ago and I was genuinely flabbergasted. Babies change so much in the first year.  I mean, wow. And I can't seem to get a grasp on the fact that the little girl who is sitting on the floor of my office right now, turning the pages of a book with her hair in pig tails, basically fit in my freaking hand a year ago. It's intense. The sensation of time passing so quickly with a child has also taught (and continues to teach) me how to better live in the moment and focus less on the future and the past - which means this lesson is one I can take well beyond parenting.


So there you have it - five of the greatest lessons of my first year as a parent. If you're still reading, you're a champ. Thank you for letting me share this stuff, and for being interested enough to read it. I can't wait to see what I learn this year.

If you're a parent, did you learn any similar lessons in your first year? Or anything completely different? I'd love to hear.

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27 comments:

  1. Yes, I could so relate to these lessons. I especially loved what you wrote here: "There is only what works best for each child, each parent, and each family." That's what I find frustrating about society and parenting. So many people think their way is the right way, but the only "right" way is the way that works for your family. Everyone has different philosophies (and as you mentioned, so does every parenting book). You take a bit from every pot and find what works for you. I wish as a society we were more supportive of each other. Parenting is hard work, and we should be building each other up, not tearing each other down.

    Anyway, I learned many of the same lessons my first year. And sometimes it really freaks me out how fast my daughter is growing. I still can't wrap my head around the fact that she is technically a toddler and no long an infant!

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    1. "You take a bit from every pot and find what works for you." Exactly! So glad you can relate.

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  2. I loved reading this so much. I am pregnant and this honestly made me feel better about my fears, especially reading all the baby books that have been given to me with notes about how each of them are the best book available and also living up to other parents standards. Thank you.

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    1. Oh girl, please do not stress about those baby books. I wish someone would have said that to me when I was pregnant! Like I said in the post, what worked for me was educating myself on the basics, taking a birthing/newborn glass, and talking to my doctor. Whatever you decide to do, you'll be fine if you're doing your best. :)

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  3. what a lovely post. it's nice to read something about parenting that's honest without being judgmental. do you still nurse? my sister nursed for almost two years even though it was hard at first.

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    1. I am still nursing. My original plan was to nurse for a year. When I left for two days over New Year's Eve (right after her first birthday) I was sure I'd come back and she'd be less interested after not nursing for a few days. I was wrong - it was the first thing she wanted! We have substantially cut back (usually it's once before bed, sometimes once in the night, and usually once in the morning; almost never during the day), but so far it's a slow weaning process and I'm fine with that. There is actually a name for it called "Don't Offer, Don't Refuse" - I guess we're following it. Or something like that. :)

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  4. I love this oh so very much. you hit the nail on the head and I always love any parent who is brave enough to be open and honest about the expectations vs. realities of parenthood.

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  5. I'm not a parent, but I get why you bought all those parenting books! I do this in other areas of my life, and then find out that reality is totally different than theory :) Love what you say in the first paragraph!

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    1. Yes! Reality is totally different than theory! :)

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  6. I LOVED reading this, Melissa. I remember distinctly being excited about you welcoming baby E...I checked your blog for THE update and was so looking forward to your "welcome to the world" post. I also remember distinctly leaving you a comment to the effect of "do what works for you" in one of your baby anticipation posts. Am so glad that you and R have come into your own and are enjoying E as much as you are! We are SO lucky to have our children - it is the greatest responsibility ever and I know you appreciate the life you have been entrusted with SO much! Lovely...

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  7. Maybe the best parenting post I've ever read. I don't have any kids yet but I still thoroughly enjoyed it, and your point of view is refreshing. I love the part about how you thought it would be harder than it is and about how it doesn't matter what anyone thinks about how you raise your kids except for you! =)

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  8. I love this post so, so much. I'm the only mama out of all my mama-friends that co-sleeps and ("STILL?!") breastfeeds my baby boy. There's judgement everywhere when you become a parent, and I'll admit I've been on both sides. It's hard, because you feel like you're doing the absolute right thing, and so does every other parent. So I have these strong feelings about the way I do things, and it took me a while to 100% be okay with what I do and what other parents do, and the fact that it's nobody else's business! Anyway, congrats to you for being such a great mama to your baby. My husband is gone a lot (works nights and is in the Army) so I know that juggling it all by yourself can be so exhausting, but you've done it! And there's hard moments, but like you said, during those moments our little ones will do something that make motherhood absolutely worth it!

    <3 Kelsey | Chaos Parade

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    1. I'm sure that's hard being the only one out of your friends who does things a certain way, but kudos for continuing to do what works for you! Congrats to you for being a great mama too. :)

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  9. I love that these are no your typical "lessons" you read about from new moms and dads. Heartfelt and honest and I agree with everything you said.

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  10. I don't have kids yet but I'm all "Preach!" about point #2. There's a ton of judgment about parenting and motherhood, not just with people you interact with day-to-day, but also on Facebook and in the comments of articles online. It's just inescapable. Thinking about how I'll have to deal with that eventually just makes me so tired. Hopefully by then more people will adopt your mindset and parents will be more supportive of each other in general. There's more than one way to do things, folks. Awesome post. :-)

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  11. It was really refreshing to read this. I have been guilt of judging other parents and I also feel judged more often than I should. It's too bad. I love your take on time passing quickly too. My baby girl just turned 10 months and I'm just now realizing how crazy that is! Thank you for sharing your experience.

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  12. Loved this post. #4 was good to hear because I am terrified of not having enough TIME if I ever have a baby. I spend so much time working I cannot imagine raising a human on top of that! It gives me hope to heart how it's easier than you thought and that you are more productive. :)

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    1. You will be able to make it work. I was terrified too. Somehow you just figure it out! :)

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  13. You're right. It's not always rainbows and unicorns. And lots of the time it does end up being easier than you thought (at least for me, because I worry & stress quite a lot).
    I love that you posted this! My first year of parenting had all the same realizations. But I think one of the best things I learned was to let go of what you think you should be doing, and just do your best. It's something that you can learn and practice even not being a parent too! =0)

    PS - I love all the images, and the last one - it totally made me smile!

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    1. Thanks so much! It took a lot for me to feel confident enough to let it go - but you're absolutely right.

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  14. Loved reading this post! Thanks for sharing, mama! xo

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