I don't dole out much parenting advice as a rule, largely because I have an almost 18-month-old and spend most of my days feeling like a complete and utter fraud and failure.
I know that sounds depressing, but here is the truth that will set you free: That's what parenting is.
Look, there are loads of people out there writing books and articles and essays and blog posts about how to get your baby to sleep through the night at 8 weeks, or use a potty by a year, or signal for more macaroni in Morse code, and all of them make it seem easy, and like you're an asshole for not pulling up your sweatpants and wiping away your tears and just doing it already. "This is the secret to getting your baby to _________," these self-anointed experts scoff down their noses. And I think, no, bitch, that's the secret to getting YOUR baby to ________. It's the same old shit that Cosmo tried to sell us when we were 15, about how all guys just LOVE a nice scrunchie wrapped seductively around what E.L. James might describe as his "throbbing manhood." Let me tell you, I have never once met a man who had a hair elastic fetish. It must have just been that one dude who was banging that Cosmo intern, and I can only imagine the undue pain, suffering, and confusion he caused his fellow men.
When it comes to parenting, I try not to be that guy.
However there are a few non-patronizing* things I've learned:
*Unless you have more than one kid, in which case you are probably giving me the "talk to the hand" gesture right now, because in my brain it is forever 1994
1. You Are Always, ALWAYS Doing Something Wrong... So Stop Worrying About It
In case you DON'T know what you're doing wrong, here is a handy chart.
2. Sleep is an Evil Horcrux. Emphasis on the whore.
There is literally nothing you will obsess about more in the first year of parenthood than your child's sleep patterns. You will read studies. You will make logs of night wakings only to find in the morning that you accidentally used a lo mein-encrusted chopstick and a DVD case to record this vital information. You will volunteer nap schedules -- without prompting -- to total strangers. You will study the creaky floorboards in your house like a military operative searching for land mines in Afghanistan.
I can't stop you from doing this. However, I can tell you that no matter how your child sleeps and how you choose to address it, sleep will suck big scrunchie balls for the first year at least. If you DON'T sleep-train, it will suck because it's unpredictable and erratic, and you get kicked in the side of the head a lot. If you DO sleep-train, it will suck because you'll be sentenced to live out the same schedule day after day like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day only with less imminent death (and sleep-trained babies STILL have days/weeks/months of relapse). So chill. It sucks for everyone. You can't really fuck it up, because it is inherently fucked. Anyone who pretends they know what they're talking about is either lying or trying to sell a book, probably both.
3. Your Life Will Resemble a Michael Myers Movie More than a Nancy Meyers Movie
I don't know about you, but I pictured motherhood as a big ol' sappy rom-com full of growth chart montages and fun, photogenic family trips to the park and nap times (see above) spent typing away on my laptop with heretofore unheard of bursts of creativity. I don't even think I included "showered every day" or "didn't cry once for a whole half hour" in my fantasy, because those were givens in my rosy, perfect life, in which the kitchen would overflow with bowls of ripe organic fruits, and poop would never accidentally get on my blouse.
I hate to break it to you, but parenthood is basically the opposite of everything I just said. Of course there are plenty of amazing, beautiful, transformative moments -- but those generally take place when you are on the toilet by yourself. The rest of it is messy, both physically and emotionally. You will survive it, but it will not always be pretty. THIS IS NORMAL.
4. It Pays to Treat Your Partner Like Doug E. Doug
My relationship with my husband Jeff was rock solid before our son came along. And then, I'm not going to lie, we took a detour into some dark Edward Albee territory. Suddenly all of the attention and patience and affection you saved for your partner is going to your baby, and things can get heated (in the unsexy way). I had to work hard to learn how to appreciate and nurture my relationship again. I think it helps to think of the two of you as Derice and Sanka from Cool Runnings. That's what I did, anyway. And just like the Jamaican bobsled team, I'm pretty sure we'll at least make it to the finish line.
5. "If Mama Ain't Happy Ain't Nobody Happy" Sounds Like a Tyler Perry Movie But Is Also Totally True
All of the organic, fair-trade, pasture-raised artisanal Play-Doh and 800-count recycled hemp crib sheets in the world won't matter if you as a parent don't feel at least reasonably happy and cared for. This means taking time -- by force if necessary! -- to eat, sleep, and do things that matter to you, whether that's work or crappy reality TV or a manicure or a spin class. If you find yourself flailing, and contemplating buying Brooke Shields' "Down Came the Rain" for Amazon overnight delivery, as I did, get help. See a therapist, get meds if necessary. Or just schedule a night out with friends when you can bitch about your problems and get tipsy and feel like a free person again. Whatever gets you to a better place. Your happiness matters. It matters just as much as your child's happiness, because your child's happiness depends on you. Everything depends on you. NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING, JESUS.
But seriously, if there's one thing I want you to take away from this, it's that in 18 months I have only learned five things. And one of them is not how to stop sleeping in my jeans so often.
Don't say I never gave you an easy act to follow.
Follow Una LaMarche on Twitter: www.twitter.com/sassycurmudgeon