The following post is an excerpt from The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year (Full Cup Press, April 2012). Meet the authors at a book signing at Isis Needham on June 2rd.
Expectations. We all have them. And, when we get real, we can see that they’re the source of our trouble. If we go into parenthood thinking our lives will stay the same, the new reality can be a shock to our systems.
Most Western cultures’ expectations of the baby experience go something like this: you have a pain-free birth thanks to an epidural or other intervention. You take your child home and put him in a crib soon after. He sleeps the whole night through, and begins taking regular, reliable naps. He cries a bit, but it’s always clear why, and you’re quickly able to learn why and to address his needs. You learn how to breastfeed easily, or if you don’t, it’s easy enough to switch to formula, no harm done. Your baby fits into your schedule with minimal disruption. If he doesn’t, you train him to. You continue your life as before, whether or not you go back to work, and your baby easily accommodates you.
When we expect our baby to accommodate us, we’re in for a battle, because there’s nothing in a baby’s nature that has prepared him to ignore his needs. His survival instinct tells him to scream for all he’s worth, and scream he will, until you respond or disconnect your ears from your heart.
But hear us and breathe: there’s another way. If we shift our thinking from mourning and grasping for our old life to embracing our new one—focused on the needs of a dependent, helpless, pure little being—peace settles in. People often ask us, “Don’t you get burned out?” Yes and no. Sure, we get tired like anyone else, but when you view this as a season, one you can never get back, there’s a sweetness in it, a sacredness, a desire to cherish every moment. No one wants to look back on their child’s first years and say, we survived. Instead, we thrived, is something we can all say—if we embrace our new reality.
Letting the baby lead sounds nice. (Or maybe not, depending on your perspective.) But how does it work? First, throw out any and all expectations of yourself and your baby. Unsubscribe from those Babycenter.com emails if they’re driving you crazy with unrealistic ideals. Here are some of the most common expectations that new moms tend to internalize: He should like the car. We should be able to get out of the house on time. He shouldn’t cry in public (or really, at all). I should be able to manage the housework and take care of my baby. See a common theme? Yup, the word should. These “should” statements will drain the life right out of you.
Instead of yearning for what isn’t, the best way to flow with motherhood is to recognize what is, and work within its parameters. More than that, find what you love about being a mama and focus on that. Your baby won’t nap on his own? Make snuggling part of your daily ritual. He hates the car? Bundle him into a carrier and share an adventure on public transportation. He cries when you leave the house? Host playgroups in your home.
It’s all in how you look at things. If you think a baby “should” fill-in-the-blank, which clearly he’s not doing, you waste precious energy arguing with reality. And you can always find a friend or relative to back you up on that stance. The “shoulds” are where the disconnect happens and when we begin creating situations that don’t respect a baby’s unique needs. Crying-it-out, for example, was created as a “solution” to the statement “he should sleep through the night.”
As Naomi Aldort, author of Raising Our Children, Raising Ourselves, likes to say, “the baby is always right.” He cries when left to fall asleep at night? Something’s not working for him—he’s expressing a valid need. Contrary to popular opinion, babies do not manipulate. They aren’t capable of it. So don’t worry about getting hoodwinked by your little one. Instead, nurture your own soul by nurturing him. The thriving relationship you’ll share, and the satisfaction of being in sync and being able to nurture your baby is unlike any job satisfaction we’ve known.
Megan Massaro and Miriam Katz co-authored The Other Baby Book: A Natural Approach to Baby’s First Year. Megan is a freelance writer and Miriam is a professional life coach. Both mamas live in Boston with their husband and daughters. You can learn more about the book or order a copy at www.theotherbabybook.com.
Parent Talk Members: Come to a local book signings (June 2nd from 3-5pm at Isis Parenting in Needham) and let us know you found us on Parent Talk. We’ll take $5 off the retail price!