Seasoned mothers explain (exactly) what they wish someone had told them.
Motherhood is a sisterhood. But if you're a new mom, you may feel like you had the hazing—morning sickness, a twelve-hour labor—but missed the initiation! Lian Dolan asked a sorority of Seasoned Moms to think back to the magic and mayhem of the first year of motherhood to answer this question: What's one piece of advice you wished you had known—and followed—as a new mom?
Here are the six essentials to making the most of the first year of motherhood:
Don't Stress About the Mess
The number one sentiment that Seasoned Moms want to pass along to New Moms is to relax. How can you relax when the baby won't latch on, there's a sink full of dirty dishes and you can't fit into your pants? We get it (we really do), but it's important to remember to trust your instincts, not stress about the dishes piling up in the kitchen and know that someday you will be able to wear non-expandable waistbands. When you're a new mom, everyday situations can cause a panic: the unexplained rash, the debate over co-sleeping, the comparisons to other babies who may be eating solids or talking earlier. My freak-out moment? In the aisles of Target after realizing that my 6-month-old son was the only one in his playgroup without a crib gym, a complicated piece of equipment designed to increase a baby's strength and coordination. The horror! My son was going to "fall behind" if I didn't buy him a piece of gear we couldn't afford. Boy, do I laugh now, looking at my son who plays two varsity sports and has above-average upper-body strength. At the moment, though, that crib gym brought me to tears.
Ditch the Do-It-All Attitude
If someone offers to watch the baby for an hour, cook a meal or change a diaper—let them do it. The only person you need to prove anything to is your baby, not your mother-in-law, not Mrs. Buttinski at the grocery store. Dana, a working mom of two from Dallas, tried to cram all the "togetherness" she could into the weekends to make up for being at work during the week. "I was ready to pass out by Sunday night," she says. "I wish that I had arranged for child care every Sunday afternoon for a few hours to allow me to rest or do something for myself, like meet a friend for lunch, get groceries in peace or just sleep in a chair at the bookstore." The smallest breaks, like paging through a magazine while getting a mani-pedi, can be just the spark you need. As Chris, an often-tired mom of tweens says, you have to take a break so "you can do what you need to do again and again and again."
Babies Don't Need That Much
Remove that $1,200 stroller from your "take out second mortgage to buy" list, because the truth is, babies don't need very much for the first year. Kristine, a mom and business unit director at a Fortune 500 company, recently reminded me, "Newborn infants need love and closeness, food, sleep, a clean diaper and regular visits to the pediatrician." Other seasoned moms agree, noting that the latest gear and expensive outfits don't necessarily improve the child's quality of life. Interaction and attention do. As my mother told me, "Save money on the baby's clothes and spend it on yours!"
Remember Someday You'll Like Your Husband Again
Really, you will, but maybe not for the first year. The minute the baby come home everything in your relationship changes: your roles; your emotional and physical needs, your tolerance for all-day golf games, your sex life. You and your partner will adjust, but it will probably get worse before it gets better. After you spend 10 hours home alone with a newborn, your only wish may be to hand over the baby and recover. But circumstances like nursing can prevent an equal split of duties. It can seem as if the father gets off easy, doing less of the care without concerns for feeding schedules or nipple confusion. His life appears to go back to normal with lunches and adult conversation, but dads admit to worrying about family-related issues like financial stability. You wish he could understand your predicament and he wishes you could understand his. That's when resentment and frustration build, especially if your postpartum arrangement includes a new job description for you, like "stay-at-home mom". It was the transition to this new "job" that Barbara in Idaho found hard to handle: "No matter how helpful your husband is, how much of a team you and your spouse are, you will resent him for going to work every day. And, it's okay to feel that way." Most Seasoned Moms I talked to said that by the time they were planning the baby's first birthday party things had returned to near-normal (even their sex drive.)
Get Out of the House
Does the baby need social interaction at eight weeks? Probably not. But you do. It's tempting just to stay home—why risk being more than five feet from a changing table—but don't. If I hadn't won that free session of Mommy & Me at the hospital's labor and delivery orientation, my experience the first year would have been vastly different. I probably would still be wearing those saggy red sweatpants and wondering where to find organic lemonade juice boxes. The cardio component was minimal, but the companionship of other moms was vital. New motherhood is isolating; connecting with other women in the same situation changed my whole attitude. The moms I met there became my go-to friends for years, providing a constant flow of laughs, advice and cut-up grapes. When I was on bed rest with baby number two, it was my mother’s group that stepped up to provide food for my family and care for my 2-year-old.
Celebrate the Firsts Before You Forget What Happened
It may be hard to believe now that you'll ever forget your daughter's first real smiles or the sound of her happy babble in the crib, but you will. Document the year with words and pictures, but don't worry about creating a museum-quality scrapbook. Take five minutes here or there during the day to jot down the first words the baby says, what Junior calls the dog, how he looked coming down the slide for the first time. Be sure to record your own emotions, too. When your "baby" is a grumpy teen, you'll appreciate looking back on a time when life was simpler and the word spaghetti could make him crack up. And don't forget to have some pictures of you in the baby book! Beckett, a podcaster with one boy, says "Almost any stranger will be more than happy to take a picture of you with the baby. Don't end up with a photo book full of just Daddy and baby."
Lian Dolan is a mother, wife, sister, friend and daughter. She is also a writer, novelist, producer and talk show host. Her first novel, Helen of Pasadena (Prospect Park Books, November 2010), a romantic comedy about a modern mother in transition, is a Los Angeles Times best-seller. Known for her humorous take on the day-to-day issues that face women everywhere, Lian talks about her adventures in modern motherhood on The Chaos Chronicles, her website and weekly podcast, currently in development as a half-hour comedy for Nickelodeon.