I am currently the proud, harried mother of a teenage son and a preteen girl, and I love my kids. They are my little friends, my little people, and even though parenting is full of challenges, I have liked each stage of their growth more than the one before it. Kids who can clean the kitchen well? Yes, please. Kids who can enjoy Dr. Who with me? Yes, please. (For the sake of brevity, we’ll skip over the times they bicker and argue with one another, making me want to pull my hair out by the roots.) You see, it’s easy to forget, as I live life with these wonderfully unpredictable adolescent creatures, that they weren’t always so big.
This one time, I had babies.
Sweet, wide-eyed, tub-of-goo babies. Babies who gave me fat on my thighs when they were inside of me and bags under my eyes when they were outside of me. Babies who had to be fed and burped and diapered at all hours (day and night). Babies who threw up on my friends. Babies who cried at times, it seemed, for no good reason except to drive us to the brink of insanity. But still they were gorgeous babies, for-the-most-part healthy babies, and my husband and I were so blessed to have had them.
We know this, in part, because between our two babies was a pregnancy that didn’t end well. Teeny tiny twins. Who never grew any bigger than dimes. Who didn’t want to leave my body. And we grieved the loss of these who never made it into our arms.
But that’s another story for another day. Today, I want to remember the pull of sticky fingers tangled in my hair, the sweet smell of Burt’s Bees baby oil rubbed into the soft skin of little arms and legs, and how it felt to hold babies who leaned into you and clutched at you like you were the air they needed to breathe.
Truly though, the thing about babies is that when we’re blessed with them, we often lose ourselves—understandably so—in all the newness and stress of parenting. (First-time parents are most susceptible, though for a few this affliction may get worse with each baby.) And sometimes the more we focus on parenting, the more we lose sight of that totally unique and precious baby.
If we can’t pull our eyes off this thing called child-rearing and put them on the actual child in front of us, we run the risk of getting caught up in methodology and drowning in the weight of arbitrary expectations—both our own and those of others.
- Is she sitting up yet?
- You’re letting him have a pacifier?
- I thought you weren’t doing formula.
- You’re still rocking her to sleep?
If you are living in the confines of judgment—for yourself or for other parents—I must say to you: Take a deep breath, friend.
The Realist longs to offer you comfort. And truth.
Ten years from now, when that child is a preteen, no one—not even you, I’d wager—will care if your baby came to you on an airplane, through an eight-inch incision, or through a miraculous two-push natural birth. No one will care if your child slept through the night at six weeks or 16 months. And no one will care if you nursed for two years or gave up after two days.
Yes, I know that right now the whole world seems to hinge on the importance of these decisions and experiences, and it might be hard for you to imagine a day when they really won’t matter. Especially if you’re part of a community where adhering to a particular parenting style is seen as the highest form of enlightenment or the measuring stick of your spirituality, and these communities are out there. I’ve seen them. They come in all shapes, faiths and sizes, and some will shun you for not having a natural birth and some will shun you for not believing that your six-day-old newborn is a sinner in need of discipline. But the point is, I know these fanatical groups of parents are real. And they can get into your head if you let them, so I urge you: Do not to let them.
For your sake and the sake of your irreplaceable baby, leave those toxic communities behind and find yourself a village where the people won’t ask if the baby cries a lot, they’ll ask if you do. Where the people won’t ask if your cranky baby has had a nap, they’ll simply pick him up with love and gentleness in their arms and ask if you’d like one. These communities are out there too. I know it because I was blessed enough to be in one that patiently and gently—and perhaps in some cases unknowingly—pulled me out of the constraints of parenting methodology and into the freedom of motherhood before my baby days were over.
Look, I also understand that right now you’d probably give anything for a day where the only human waste you have to deal with is your own. That you’d really appreciate three full hours where no one touches you and a morning that doesn’t begin with the shrill cry of a hungry infant.
I also know if you are anything like me that this—taking care of a tiny person—may be the hardest thing you’ve ever done or ever will do. But more than anything I understand that while the days can be very, very long, the years pass quickly.
Yes, the years pass quickly, and before you know it that precious baby will have disappeared, morphed first into an amazing child and then a wonderful, if not baffling, adolescent and then—someday, we pray—a remarkable young adult. That baby will one day be a sweet, sweet memory to be conjured up in pictures and home videos, but never again in your arms.
Which is why The One Who Reaches for the Thing with Feathers has words of comfort and truth as well.
And she’ll whisper to you now what she would murmur in the ear of Tamara the First-Time Mother, if only she could turn back the clock:
Judge other parents less, love them more.
Judge yourself less, love yourself more.
Worry about less, love that baby more.
Study parenting methods less, love that baby more.
Love that baby more.
Love that baby more.
And don’t wait until you have reached the end of your tattered rope
and used the last ounce of your strength
to cry with someone who loves you,
and ask the people around you for help.
Yes, ask the people around you for HELP.
Pray to God for courage …
And then love that baby more.
*For the women of Foothills E.V. Free Church in Rancho Santa Margarita, who never once handed me a parenting book but always extended their arms.
A very important P.S. to my sisters mired in postpartum depression: If you are struggling in darkness, asking for help should also include telling a doctor or counselor how you are feeling. And if your doctor doesn’t listen, tell another doctor and another doctor until you find one who does. I know it’s hard, because I’ve been in that place. But help is out there. You are worth it, and your baby is worth it too.