My Most Challenging Aspect of Becoming a Parent
Becoming a parent is certainly—by far—the most challenging transition I’ve ever experienced, and simultaneously the most beautiful and rewarding. When you take that tiny baby home for the very first time, exchange expressions of pride and adoration with your spouse, stare at your miracle child with wonderment (and then happy / ugly sob together due to overwhelming, sappy emotions you can’t even describe and feel totally undeserving to have……… or was that just us??), everything from that moment on is brand new. “Everything” of course includes your identity, your understanding of love, the level of dependance on you, the abilities your female body now possesses, your indescribable capacity to nurture and protect, and—unfortunately—your entrance into the realm of the complete unknown.
This realm of unknown was not part of the plan, though. Before my baby was born, I had read every book & resource on early childhood development and parenting techniques I could squeeze in before d-day. I had keenly observed every baby/toddler and parent interaction I encountered (yes, like a professional detective—which sounds better than “stalker” or “eavesdropper”). I had also become strangely aware of every pregnant belly (and baby gadget!) I passed, as if I had some sort of internal radar activated by my own pregnancy.
But, let’s be honest. Your adorable, squishy newborn is a unique person with delicate and specific needs and you’ve NEVER been a parent before. You’re basically flying by the seat of your pants with a hint of sleep, a whole bunch of faith, and a healthy dose of oxytocin. [Many can probably make this same point as parents of older children, minus the oxytocin.] You’re convincing yourself of your own confidence the whole time, paying close attention to instincts and getting to know your tiny, new human intimately. You’re now extra concerned with deciphering and implementing uncharted topics like sleep patterns, eating patterns, breastfeeding positions, soothing techniques, diaper changing ninja skills and trying every baby-wearing contraption you thought you’d never use. Let’s not forget to mention the navigation of the changing dynamics of your emotional and physical relationship with your spouse… (that’s for a whole different blog post altogether).
Everything about becoming a first-time parent is hard. But, if I’m honest, the most challenging aspect I experienced personally was the unsolicited advice I received from others. I completely agree with Matt Walsh’s quote, “Parenting is the easiest thing in the world to have an opinion about, but the hardest thing in the world to do.”
Whether it was a photo of a cute cry face or sweetly sleeping diapered babe, it seemed like nearly every photo I posted in the early days warranted public comments, direct messages or text messages to me regarding how I should be doing things differently, trying a different method, joining such-and-such community who could help with “those types of problems,” or questioning my decision to have “that” philosophy. REALLY? From a single photo of a millisecond in time, that many people had the audacity to force-feed me their “two cents”? I hadn’t posted any open forum questions or confessions of my perceived desperation—I’m a photographer, just posting little moments with short captions, giving my faraway friends and family a glimpse into our lives with a baby. Less than two weeks into being a mother though— and before I had even left the house!—I had already felt the need to defend myself, my husband or my baby more times than I could count.
Now, my first reaction as a vulnerable new mom was to feel hurt, offended, and attacked by some of the forward messages I had received. My second reaction was to be dumbfounded at my naivety to our American culture of parenting that was so clearly divided, competitive and shaming. However, after taking a deep breath, getting an earful of encouragement from my husband, and even receiving some counter responses from supportive friends privately, I was ushered in to a much wiser, humbler response. THAT is the response I want to share about here in hopes of encouraging any other new parents who are experiencing the same challenge. It boils down to these four perspectives:
- You are doing just fine, Momma.
Trust your gut. No one is spending the amount of time that you are with your child, therefore you are the expert! You don’t need to defend your parenting decisions, nor are you ruining your child. Take a deep breath and brush it off.
- “Unsolicited advice is usually more about the needs of the giver than the receiver.” –Charles F. Glassman
Their advice to you likely has nothing to do with you at all! You may never know the root cause for a person to respond aggressively (or passive aggressively) to you. Maybe they are trying to correct some perceived mistake they (or someone they know) made as a parent, maybe they truly do not know the full story but want to feel “involved,” maybe they have a sense of nostalgia over child rearing because it was so long ago for them, or maybe they have no idea how their “nuggets of wisdom” are actually coming across. Regardless, they really do feel they are helping you in some way and are not meaning to attack you personally.
- Ask for advice only from those experiencing the results you desire. Consider unsolicited advice with an open mind and politely thank others if you feel it’s necessary, but leave it at that.
The best advice on parenting may not come from your close friends. If you’re wanting sleep-through-the-night advice for instance, you should NOT ask your best friend with a four-year-old and a two-year-old who still wake eight times each at night. Right? Decide what your desired results are, and then seek advice only from those people or resources experiencing those results you want. (For this very reason, my husband and I often look to parenting resources from other countries, actually!)
- Let this be a check point for you: do not give advice out to other parents unless they ask you directly.
Even with my closest friends who are parents, I am now hyper-aware of the advice and open opinions that I hand out flippantly. Unless they specifically ask me, I won't give my advice. I'm more focused on listening openly, not being judgmental, and being as supportive as possible. After all, I know how it feels to need someone in your court simply encouraging you along!
Don’t lose hope—everybody starts from the same place in parenting. Take it one situation at a time, one day at a time, one week at a time, one month at a time. Time flies, but don’t let it become overwhelming—especially in the midst of chatter disguised as criticism. Soak in each moment and enjoy it to the fullest with grace, humility and love. Smooch that baby. You've got this!