When my water broke 51 weeks ago today, I had no idea what I was doing. I had no clue how to be a mother. Today? I still have no idea what I'm doing. Every day is a guessing game.
There is no way to train to be a parent--it's a learn it in the field kind of job. But over the past year, I have learned a few lessons that I wish I could have grasped earlier in this journey.
1. Release your grip on perfection.
Sometimes you have those perfect days...the baby is cuddly, your marriage is blissful, and your life feels like a walking Christmas card. Most days, though, have a slightly less perfect flavor.
While I was pregnant, my twin visions involved lots of matching outfits and sibling love. I spent hours poring over the babies' "coming home" outfits. Then they arrived, and my perfect fantasy immediately crumbled. I didn't get that iconic shot of dad holding both babies right after their birth. I had to consent to my son being fed another woman's milk. And when they were finally ready to come home, their perfect outfits looked like potato sacks on them, and I had to improvise with Wal-Mart onesies.
Life with children is full of stained clothes, dirty faces, and pushing each other down to get to what each one wants. Life is no Norman Rockwell painting, and a perfectionist like me can have a hard time coming to terms with that. But once you let go of your pristine fantasy and embrace the perfectly imperfect life you have been given, you will find true joy in the messy moments. There is nothing more heartwarming than a baby with oatmeal smeared through his hair; a precious outfit ruined by a little one's diligent efforts to learn motion; a mom covered in drool from the loving embraces of her child; or a preemie finally making its way home, even if it is in a simple Wal-Mart onesie.
2. You are not doing it wrong.
Is your child breathing? Is she relatively clean? Is she happy (at least as happy as is within your control)? Then you are not doing it wrong. When we brought the twins home from the NICU, I was paralyzed with fear, so afraid that I wouldn't mother correctly. After 11 months, I have finally learned that there is no "right." Every parent has his or her own style. Find the style that works best for your family, and don't feel the need to apologize when it differs from someone else's parenting beliefs. We all do it differently, and we all do it good enough. And good enough is right.
3. Have friends with kids.
Sometimes you need to talk about poop. Or breast feeding. Or pureed squash. Unless a person has kids, I can guarantee you that they have no interest in these conversations.
4. Have friends without kids.
Sometimes you want to talk about anything other than poop, breast feeding, or pureed squash. Friends without kids can be a great respite from your baby-filled world. Go out, have a glass of wine, and engage in a serious conversation about the latest celebrity gossip. You will be a better mom for it.
5. Learn to smile and nod.
Whether you have one kid, two kids, or seven kids, people will inevitably say crazy things to you. When are you having another? Doesn't he look just like a girl? I wonder why your twins are different sizes. Are you sure they are twins?
Even more than crazy commenters, though, you will surely run into your fair share of "my life is so much harder than yours" moms. While I wish I could say that this was a rare breed, these moms are all too common. No matter what your circumstance or how hard your day has been, theirs has been worse. Your newborn cries all night? Theirs cries all day AND night. You have infant twins? They have an infant and a three year old, which is clearly much more difficult.
Smile, nod, and enjoy a laugh in your head.
6. Put down your phone.
And your computer. And any other device on which you check your email, facebook, or blogs. Purposefully disconnect with the world so that you can fully engage with your little one. This is hard for all parents--especially me. If you work outside the home, you may feel pressured to be constantly available. If you stay at home, these outlets may feel like your only connection to the outside world. But let them go. Set a schedule, allowing yourself to be on the internet at pre-planned, specific times (nap, lunch, after bedtime). You don't want your child's first drawing of you to include a phone in your hand.
7. Keep a camera handy.
Andrew and I have taken an embarrassingly huge number of pictures of our twins, and we've had more professional photo sessions than I care to admit. But I don't regret a single one. I've never heard a parent say, "You know, I really wish I had taken fewer pictures." Pictures help us remember these sweet moments that may grow fuzzy over time. They capture a story--the way Frances crawls, the way Barnes scrunches his face--when words are just inadequate.
8. Just go.
You really need to pick up your dry cleaning. You realize that doing so will require packing the diaper bag, strapping the baby in the car seat, driving to the cleaners, removing the baby from the car seat so that you can go in the store for all of 3 minutes, then putting the baby back in his seat (most likely to protests from said child), and finally driving back home, during which time he may fall asleep and throw his nap completely off schedule.
Doing anything with a baby can seem daunting. But the thinking about it is usually worse than the actual doing. Plus, sometimes you have to get out of the house. So just go. Get up, get out, and take a little break from the ordinary.
9. Realize that it's okay to not enjoy every moment...or even every day.
I do not enjoy every second I spend with my sweet twins. In fact, there are probably whole days that I would classify as hard. Am I thankful for the twins every day? Yes. Would I ever trade them for anything? Absolutely not. But that doesn't make them less difficult. This year has passed so quickly...but I would be lying if I said that the days weren't sometimes achingly slow.
A child is a miracle, the most abundant blessing. But raising a child is work. Luckily, most days are sprinkled with enough endearing moments to make me remember how blessed I truly am. Relish in those moments--use them to propel you forward. And remember that it's okay to admit that life with young kids is hard.
10. Ignore 90% of all advice you receive.
Everyone gives new parents advice. Everyone thinks their way is the right way. Truth is, though, your way is the right way for you. While your neighbor/cousin/mailman imparts his parenting wisdom, employ your smile and nod tactic, then discard 90% of whatever you were just told.
Which means you can discard items 1-9 on this list. #10 is really all that matters.