I have to admit it: before my son was born I didn’t have very much respect for parents and even less respect for full-time mothers. I had thought that parenting would be easy. I’d thought it would be “just like babysitting, but twenty-four hours a day.” Boy was I wrong. There’s one thing they don’t tell you when you’re pregnant: there is no owner’s manual that comes along with your little bundle of joy – and even if there was, chances are it would be wrong anyway. There is, however, a set of golden rules that every parent should know.
There’s no way to be a perfect parent. Get that notion out of your silly little head. You can scan as many books as you want to, take all the advice that Great Aunt So-and-So has, and visit as many online parenting forums as you want – you’re still going to make a ton of mistakes. And what no one tells you (and they should) is that it’s OK. In fact, it’s part of the learning process on the road to becoming a great parent. So you yelled at your newborn a little because he wouldn’t cooperate during a feeding. So what? You snapped at your older child in the midst of a particularly challenging diaper change? No biggie. As long as it doesn’t cause physical harm to your child and as long as you apologize to anyone you may have offended, outbursts and frustration are expected. Having a child is a very difficult, life changing event and it will take lots of practice and lots of getting used to. You’re going to screw up once in a while.
Don’t compare your kid to your friend’s kid/relative’s kid. My aunt used to tell me that my child would be a like a “special little snowflake,” and I used to gag a little every time she said it. Now that we’ve been though the majority of first year milestones with him, I get what she meant. Within the first month of my son’s birth I found myself fervently checking Facebook to see what all my other new-mom friends’ kids were doing that week, month, and second of the day. “Friend X’s kid is already smiling! Do you believe this?!” or “Wow, it seems like everyone’s kid is sitting up on their own, except for ours!” were common exclamations that would sprout from my mouth. Siblings are no exception to this rule. My first son’s development was nothing like my youngest son’s. It’s unhealthy to obsess over your friend or relative’s kid (or even one of your own) and what their physical and emotional capabilities are. Your baby will develop at his own rate. He is not mentally or physically challenged just because your friend’s kid is a little ahead of the curve.
The experts are full of it a lot of the time. How many of you reading this article are guilty of getting a positive result on a pregnancy test and running to the nearest book store to grab as many copies of self-help parenting books as you could fit in your arms? Here’s the thing with that: most experts who write those books are either a) not parents themselves (though they might be child psychologists) or b) writing from the experience they have from having their own child without taking into consideration that every child is different. While there’s nothing wrong with trying to help someone by giving them the tips you yourself used to get through the tough spots, that advice is not the alpha and omega of parenting. There should be a mandatory preface in all parenting guides that say “this is not written in stone, and it may not work for your kid.”
Stop cleaning and worry about whether or not your kid is happy. A lot of first time moms are especially guilty of breaking this rule. I’m one of them. I came home from the hospital after having a c-section and thought it was still my duty to have the house spotless, the dishes and laundry done, and dinner on the table every night. I still sometimes worry about whether or not there is dog hair on the carpet and not whether or not my son is bored to death in his exerciser. The thing is, no one else is really worried about all that other stuff. Enjoy your child for a change. Having a clean house is not going to make your kid a genius 18 years from now — but quality time reading books with his parents might just do the trick. Let the dishes go – even if it’s just for another hour.
All-in-all there’s really only one thing to remember, and coincidentally it’s something that has been drilled into us since we were little: No one’s perfect, there’s no way to make an omelet without cracking a few eggs, don’t cry over spilled milk — use whatever cliche you like. Parenting is a hard, demanding, tiresome job. It’s a job that there’s no immediate reward for. You don’t get paid, you don’t get weekends off, and there are no sick days. Some days you might feel like you just want to pull your blankets up over your head and stay in bed all day. The thing is, it’s like that for everyone (yes, even miss perfect on Facebook whose kid has been sitting unsupported since 4 months old). For all those days when you think you’re going nuts, there are twice as many filled with giggling children, kisses (however slobbery they may be), and unrelenting love from your child. As long as you remember that, you’ll be OK.