I’m pretty new to this endeavor. My kids are 2 and 3, both boys. My wife and I are very happy with how things are progressing, but like everyone who finds themselves in this predicament, we have found there’s an endless supply of new challenges to be conquered. At different times we could really have used a more experienced parents advice. But where to turn? Simply no one has any advice for parents! Crazy, right. Thought I’d give away freely some knowledge that I’ve managed to learn over time. Some of it was evident and obvious and surely something anyone could figure out, and some of it was only stumbled upon, accidentally, in the dark after thinking the situation hopeless. Regardless, I hope you can benefit from whatever it is I’ve learned.
1. The Great Illusion: The Dr.’s will tell you that your child needs an incredible, seemingly unattainable number of hours of sleep per day. As babies it’s like 15+ and through toddler years its still close to 12. Yet this is countered by the many parents in your life that will tell you how tired they are and how much their kid has ended sleep for them. What I found was that my kid was within range of all the targets the Dr.’s set forth but I only discovered this if I’d track the hours. Left to my intuitive reckoning on those days my baby slept 15+ hours it never felt like it. Which is inscrutable! How can someone sleep in excess of 60% of the day, yet still manage to have that sleep be at such inconvenient times for the sleep cycles of their adult? It’s baffling.
2. TV is an excellent babysitter: I’m in no way saying that you can go out to dinner or leave them unattended. I’m simply saying that set to the right programs, with ample food and liquids available and fresh diapering applied its remarkable how refreshing it can be for anywhere from 20 mins to an entire afternoon to know they are fine, fed and safe. Sure, I’d prefer they were being read to, but they will be. Later. And it will be the same six board books that you will read to them interminably. So give yourself a break, set up some Curious George or Team UmiZoomi and check your Facebook feed. You deserve it.
3. Kids will sleep wherever and whenever they choose to: So make bedtime whatever the hell you want it to be. If you want them never to feel the sting of being removed from your room then put them in their own room night one and be happy with your choice. Or put them in your bed and let nature decide when they are to leave. Use a co-sleeper or don’t. Cuddle them to bed or sing and pat their back. Let them cry it out or pick them up whenever you hear a noise or the urge hits. Whatever you wanna do, do that. Because you’re the grown up and its not only about what’s best for them in vacuum, it’s about what’s best for the collective you. In our experience getting the first one out of hour bedroom happened at 6 months or so, and he was never in the bed. For the second it went closer to a year because it was our last go around and we wanted more of it. He’s also found his way to our bed from time to time. No biggie. Both have worked, and worked is a malleable term. So have at it.
4. Children have evolved to survive our ineptitude: It is an elegant system that has come to be. They are adorably cute and perfectly designed to cause in us a worry we have never experienced before, driven mostly by love and also mostly by fear. Love of this perfect creature, flawless in every way, sure to bring great joy to a world it has been sent to brighten. Fear that this perfect specimen has been mistakenly left in your wildly inept and uninformed hands and the well being of all mankind hangs perilously in the balance. It’s crazy intense and its no time for perspective. You believe it is the end all and be all. And you need to. How else would you have the energy?
No kidding, when we brought our first home we stayed awake, one of us at all times, to watch him sleep and make sure he didn’t stop breathing. It was crazy dumb, and because we’re who we are and he was who he was, entirely unavoidable. But the reality is he was in the perfect position to survive us and our crushing stupidity. Emerging competent takes months, years even, and feeling competent still isn’t a definite, at least not for us. So it’s wonderful that as we navigate all this learning, and tolerate the incredible strain a baby has on you personally and the wear it can have on your relationship during those early years, we get to navigate it in a space that is hyper real for us, like the most intensely real moments of our lives and he won’t remember or really be affected by any of it. It’s gotten easier already. Things will get harder again, but that early time is banana’s. At least it was for us. But eventually we took a breath and realized we were doing this thing. It’s a good feeling at the end of a long series of what feel like monumental screw-ups but is really just the normal learning curve for new parents.
5. Your home won’t be fully clean and orderly for the foreseeable future: You’ll make it nice for when relatives come over. At least at first. You’ll learn how to create the illusion of neatness and order for the sake of society, but even that illusion will be difficult to reach and will ONLY be done so for guests. Again, you may be different, just want you to know that this is a real thing and if you fall into it, don’t worry. It’s just like that. For us we’re getting close to a time when we might be able to host pizza Fridays for cousins on a regular basis soon. But we’re four years in. And the sink is still full. So are the counters. I think a box of Cinnamon life lived between the fridge and the wall for over a year.
6. Dates can be had right at your kitchen table: Dating now is a frame of mind, not a set of plans and a reservation. Those opportunities to get out as grown ups come so rarely that is hard to be assured you’ll even be able to relax those shoulders on that specific night. So much of our well being is now intermingled with our kids that we can’t know when will be the right time for us to hang out like adults. The white noise and real noise of two toddler boys can really impinge on that. So if it doesn’t happen the way you hoped it would on that rare, and in our case that means one single evening in the nearly four years we’ve had kids, night that you can get dressed and go out like grown ups, don’t sweat it… wait for that time your making each other laugh during evening clean up and pounce. Break out the wine and beer, set up a space free of kid flotsam and jetsam and have at it. Dating is now a thing to be captured in the wild rather than planted and cultivated like it was before. Feeling flirty and fun and attracted to your spouse in any way, ride that wave as far as it will take you!
7. There is a new found understanding and empathy on your part for parents you might have judged before you knew: It’s true. You can’t know what it is a parent is talking about until you’ve been there. Parenting is very much like magic mushrooms this way. At least that’s what I’m told. I remember being in your shoes and having strong opinions about parenting practices and about specific parents in particular. As a camp director and behaviorist I may have been the most judgy of all. But going through it is very democratizing. It breaks you fully down, but it then rebuilds you, modifying you for what your life will be now. This has compelled me to feel for those experiencing it for the first time especially, but for all parents in general as well. It makes you root for them. You know it’s touch and go their early on for everyone. Emotions and hormones run high while sleep and patience run low. So feel for the brothers and sisters going through it. Support those looking like they’ve given up. Let them know you’ve been there. Remind them about the benefits of TV’s and Ipads, and NEVER tell them something they are happy with is WRONG. Who the f**k do you think you are? If it provides them any comfort just shut up, be happy for them and share your judgements of others with your spouse at the aforementioned kitchen table dates. Otherwise, keep that mess to yourself and put forth only love, understanding and acceptance. It’s my experience that despite many mistakes and many more to come, and short of total incompetence the likes of which are highly unlikely in anyone reading this, nothing you can do, as long as you love them and are doing the best you can, will really hurt them in the long run. Try your damnedest to identify with the mom who’s kid is going ape in the hall and being a total bratty 4 year old and know that you are them and they are you. Its an interesting thing to feel an instant connection, a deep and abiding one, with strangers who are enjoying this most primal and connective experience we are able to have as humans. I for one relish it.