Monday, January 11, 2010

Open Letter to New Moms

New to motherhood? Welcome to the roller coaster! This truly is the toughest job you'll ever love. Being a mom is a glorious burden.

When I became a mom I was sucked into reading EVERY book on parenting, spending precious moments on the computer trying to find answers to every question, crying while my child was crying, fighting with my husband (and our moms) about the "right" thing to do, and refusing to believe I had anything to offer my child.

I learned a lot between my first and second child. By the time I had Pax, I had 2 books I casually referred to but I can't pin-point exactly where they are and I do not have any sections memorized. I made it clear I am NOT parenting by committee. If I want your advice, I'll ask. I learned there is no ONE WAY to do anything. ANYTHING. I realized NO ONE will know my child they way my husband and I do and therefore, I have everything to offer my children.

So, here is some casual advice. I am NOT a doctor or a professional. All this non-sense is my advice but let me remind you that the best advice ever given is that you don't have to take it!

~Read with a critical eye
A lot of books assert that there is one way to do things. And amazingly, the ways are generally polar opposites. Some will say if you don't breast feed or sleep with your child, he or she will be ruined and never will trust you. On the other hand, you'll hear that your kids won't get enough vitamin D if you breast feed and your baby will never move out of your bed if you sleep with him/her. The truth is somewhere in the middle and totally based on your feelings, perspectives, and beliefs. Read with a critical eye. There is good info out there but use what works for you and ignore what doesn't.
~Refuse to believe that there is a "natural" way to parent.
I exclusively breast fed Pax but M.E. had a bottle once a day. I babywear but do not sleep with my kids. Even though you'll read (mostly by Dr. Sears who I like) that breast feeding, co-sleeping, and babywearing are the most natural ways to parent, don't believe it. What is natural is doing what works for you and your family. Anything to the contrary is unnatural.
~Be aware that your relationship with your mom and mother-in-law (MIL) may change
The general rule is that if you had a good relationship with your moms before, it might be strained after because they'll be TOO open with advice, telling you what you are doing wrong,etc. On the other hand, if your relationship is strained before it might get better after because you'll both agree that your baby is the cutest and most lovable baby ever. My MIL was totally offended that I didn't go to her for advice and even more offended that I didn't do things her way. It seemed more natural for me to seek advice from friends who had more recently had children or to do things the way my mom did them. Communication is key.
~Place healthy boundaries
Put boundaries in place BEFORE issues become a problem. We wish we would have done this! For some reason, our parents assumed we would parent by committee and whenever an issue came up thought we'd take a democratic vote. When we didn't do this, it hurt a lot of feelings. When we sat our parents down and explained that we thought they were good parents and we loved them BUT we were going to do things differently, obviously since we were raised differently, it helped. Now when we say, "Pax goes to bed at 6," we don't get, "we never put you to bed that early!" Instead we hear, "OK." Even if they disagree, we've made it clear that we are M.E. and Pax's parents, their Biblical authority and what we say goes.
~Retain the right NOT to take advice
Mine, your mom's, his mom's, your friend's, Dr. Sear's, Dr. Weisbluth's, your baby's Ped's ...
~Put your baby to bed within 2 hours of waking
As soon as your new baby starts showing sleepy cues (generally within 2 hours of waking but often sooner), put him or her to bed. You can rock to sleep, nap with baby, or lay baby down and walk away. Whatever manner you choose, get baby to nap before he or she is overtired.
~Put baby to bed EARLY
M.E. was an awful early sleeper. She barely napped from 2 weeks to about 5 months. And at 5 months she still hadn't slept through the night. We'd put her to bed at 10 and she'd be up and 1, 4, 6 and up for the day by 7:30. When we read Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child we thought the guy was a nut. But by 5 months we were desperate. The first night we put M.E. to bed at 5:45 she screamed for about 15 minutes, fell asleep, and slept until 7:30 am. She's gone to bed early ever since. We've had times when it didn't work perfectly and times when she still fought us on sleep but overall, the child sleeps like a champ! At four M.E. is in bed by 7:30 pm at the latest and sleeps until 7:30-8 am. Pax (nearly 8 mo) is in bed by 5:45 and sleeps until 7ish. Not only does the early bed time seem to help kids sleep better, it provides Matt and I a time to chat, relax, enjoy one another, and do personal projects we enjoy.
~Give your child the grace to be who s/he is
Let your child wear whatever clothes he/she wants--s/he'll learn to coordinate, or not. Let your child eat dirt and fall down. There are some absolute NOs at our house (anything that is sin) but everything else is an OK. If the worst thing that happens is our daughter wears a princess dress to church and Pax bleaches his hair, I'll be cool with that!
~Determine your discipline system and be consistent
You might use corporal punishment; you might not. If you do, make sure you are doing it in a Biblical manner (hitting out of anger and wrath is NOT Biblical). If spanking makes you uncomfortable, learn appropriate and successful ways to discipline. But most importantly, make sure you and your spouse are on the same page and be consistent. Side note, this is one of those areas where grandparents get NO say.
~Watch your mouth and actions
Your kids are watching you. Use your words and actions to breath life into their lives.
~Turn the TV off
I know those movies seem educational but studies show TV before 2 is bad for children and lots of those "educational movie" companies are being sued for not coming through. A little TV once in a while is OK but not every day and never more than 1/2 hour. Some other things you can do: read, books on tape/cd, listen to music ...
~Get toys that encourage imagination
Books that read to you, trucks that make all the sounds, Princess dresses and crowns, Barbie soda fountains--with today's toys there is really little need for creativity. But your kids need a chance to be creative. So, get them blocks, and boxes, and paints with white paper, and old funny clothes so they can imagine and create!
~Spend time away from your children
You'll be a better parent and woman if you spend some time alone doing what you love. Reading, exercising, cooking--whatever it is, carve out at least 20 minutes a day and do it!
~Trust your spouse and give him room
He might not do it your way, or the best way, but allow your husband time to have the kids alone and let him find his way. He's new too so cut him some slack. If you don't let him have alone time with the kids or if you nag that he doesn't do it "right" then don't be shocked when he stops helping.
~Advocate for yourself
If your spouse won't help and you are at a breaking point, call a friend, family member or sitter and take a break. When you're calm, explain to your husband that you need a break. If this doesn't work, consider counseling.
Spend time offering multiple opportunities for your child to play. Play with him or her. Let him or her play with other kids. Don't underestimate the value of allowing him or her to play alone. For 2 days make a tick mark every time you tell your child "not now". If it is a lot, it is time to re-prioritize. They won't want to play with you forever so engage them now. Cook, read, dance, sing, stack, walk, bounce, ride ...
~Repeat this as needed
It's only a phase. If it's good it's a phase; if it's bad it's a phase. It's only a phase.

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