You've heard the joke that babies don't come with manuals, right?
People are usually shocked at what it's actually like to become a parent. As a coach, I get a huge kick out of it, because it engenders great humility, since full grown adults are reduced to exhausted helpless heaps and begin to consider forgiving their own parents. (But I digress.)
The truth is that there is a manual. There are tons of manuals that explain all about how to take care of your new baby. You can read up on the developmental stages, growth and skill expectancy, how to feed, bathe, clothe and nurture them. Still, even after a few years of practice, most of us find that our unpreparedness keeps pace with new changes and challenges, and we don't actually get ahead of the curve. We aren't really getting the education we need on how to deal with being new parents. The focus is on the minutiae and thus critical principles and systems are overlooked, the accepting and designing of which would make all the difference in the new parents' and new child's life.
I am telling this story from experience. I hired a coach when my baby was six months old, because I knew I needed the right kind of help. Nobody in my household had slept for seven months, and all other dreams and relationships were on hold because of this baby, whom we loved uncontrollably, but had no idea how to deal with. I am so grateful that someone (my coach) screwed my head on straight. (And for you attachment parents, please let's not debate here. I was as far left as you can go about how close to stay to my baby. I breastfed one for four years and let her sleep very close to our bed until my coach helped me realize that my happiness was as important as, if not more than, my baby's supposed need for my body heat.) I am going to try to steer clear of the debate about HOW to raise your child, or the fact that every child/family is different (duh), and stick to the most universal things I wish someone would have told me sooner and that I am hoping you will heed, no matter how many excuses you have not to do so.
Here are a few key points to remember:
1) Do not replace your partner with your baby.
If you are interested in being a family and raising your child to believe in love and partnership, do not make this common mistake. This will be thoroughly tempting, especially if you are tired (and your nipples are sore). You may feel you only have enough love to give to one entity right now, but it's not true. The more you give, the more it replenishes and comes back to you. You may feel you need someone to blame for anything that isn't working. You may be so nervous or guilty in your own right that projecting negativity onto your partner feels like a good release (or an improvement on what you might do to yourself or your baby in case your fears, guilt, frustration were to leak some other way). Think of your partner as the most important relationship. By putting his or her needs first, by desiring to know his/her feelings, thoughts etc., and making sure all the new routines are working for him/her, you will find you and your baby happier as a BYPRODUCT! Even though this order seems counter productive, I beg you to do this.
2) Maintain your self-care.
Speaking of your partner's needs, having a baby is no excuse for stopping self-care, and that includes healthy eating, exercise and love-making. This is NOT your free ticket to let it all go. You must go back to caring right away that these get back into shape. If these were absent or dysfunctional before, for the good of the baby FOCUS on this now. Do not use the baby as an excuse to go another X years before dealing with the basics of your own self-respect and happy living. Your children's happiness and success in life has more to do with how happy and balanced you are raising them than how much tummy time they got or how many facial expressions they saw YOU make.
3) Deal with YOUR parents.
Expect any unresolved issues with your parents or their parenting style(s) to come up. What, nobody warned you? You could think of it as terribly overwhelming or an awesome growth opportunity. (I hope you choose the latter; it will make all the difference!) Babies and young children don't need constant attention if you set their environments up well and you give them undivided attention when it is time for that. Therefore, you have more time and energy than you think to work on your relationship with yourself, your parents and your partner. I'll remind you again, it matters a lot. So don't try and use your kid needing your attention as your excuse for not dealing with your own emotions and issues. Here is the time to write a lot and get a coach so that you can seize the opportunity of so much coming up. Being aware that you can EXPECT to disagree with your partner (and those nosy people on the street) about parenting issues from how to cover the baby's head, to how to raise the kids vis a vis religion, sets you up to discuss, hear each other and negotiate resolutions to each issue that arises.
Those are my top three "essentials" for getting your role as a parent off to the right start. But hey, even if you're already a parent, it's never too late to take these on with the goal of becoming a better Mom or Dad. Ultimately, these are about living intentionally and fully, and that will lead to better parenting. This I know from experience. My first year with my newborn was the most positively transformative for my relationship with myself, my body, my career and my spouse, thanks to coaching. I wish that on all parents.
P.S.- Are you struggling with issues around parenting or just want to understand parents better as a species? Join The Real Deal: Parenting and Partnership workshop in NYC (Sat,1/26) co-led by yoga coach, Elena Brower of Virayoga and my husband and Handel Group senior coach, Will Craig. If phone is more convenient, join Will for his teleseminar, Parenting by Design on Thursday, Feb 7.