I just got back from Mom 2 Summit last weekend, where I talked to other moms about surviving your first year of motherhood. This was part of a collaboration for Plum Organics’s new Keeping It Together campaign which explores the life-altering experience of becoming a parent. We talked a lot about expectations verses reality. Best quote? “I was the best mother before I became a mother,” from Amy Morrison of Pregnant Chicken.
It’s true, parenting is never exactly what we expect it to be. Namely because, you can’t ever imagine loving something so much until you have that baby in your hands. And you can’t possibly imagine all the headaches this tiny little person is going to cause you either. Parenthood is a roller coaster and the initiation period, aka that first year, is basically your uphill road to the top. It’s slow, scary, exciting and seems like it goes on FOREVER. Then your baby’s first birthday arrives and everything goes careening forward at whiplash speed after that.
Here are a seven tips on how to survive the first year, and maybe even enjoy it:
1. Repeat after me: I am not Kate Middleton.
We all saw the pictures of Kate emerging from the hospital, a day after she had each baby, looking perfectly put together and like she had somehow lost every ounce of baby weight overnight. You need to know that’s a totally unrealistic portrayal of new motherhood. Most women take months to get back to down to their pre-baby size, if not much longer. Deva from My Life Suckers said she left the hospital 78 pounds overweight and it took over two years to lose. This is not the time to come down on yourself. The most important thing I did after I had a baby was a bought a few new clothing items that fit, instead of constantly trying to squeeze myself into my old clothes. Once I put on clothes that were appropriately sized, I felt so much better. I remember saying, “I’m actually not that big! I was just wearing clothes that were too small.”
2. Understand that Grandma isn’t judging you. She just wants to help.
When I first had Mazzy, my mom was around constantly— changing wet diapers that I didn’t realize were wet, putting Mazzy’s socks back on whenever they would fall off, playing with her whenever I would pass out on the floor. I’ll admit, it annoyed the crap out of me. I thought she was doing these things because she thought I couldn’t do them myself. I’ll take it a step further. I thought her thinking that I couldn’t do it myself meant that she thought I was a terrible mother. No. This was not the case. In reality, she was just as excited about developing a relationship with the baby as I was. And because she wanted to be around, she wanted to make me feel like I needed her. I did need her. But it took me a while before I realized that “needing help” does not mean you are failing. It’s quite the opposite. A good mother knows when she needs a break and is confident enough to understand that she doesn’t have to be the one source of comfort and care for her baby. Her baby is going to love her the most regardless.
3. Give up on some of your unrealistic parenting goals.
When I had a baby, I thought I was going to breastfeed exclusively, make my own baby food when she started solids, get her on a strict napping schedule and keep all screens away from her until the age of two. None of this happened. At a certain point, I needed formula to supplement my milk supply. I quickly gave up on making my own baby food because it was a pain in the ass, and why not use the stuff that I could easily buy in a store? I also found that Mazzy slept really well when I carried her around in a carrier against my chest. Yes, it kinda felt like cheating, and it didn’t help her adjust to falling asleep on her own in the crib, but you know what? It was “mother daughter bonding time” and it felt WONDERFUL. Lastly, our nanny started showing Mazzy YouTube videos on her phone and turns out, she didn’t morph into a screentime zombie like I had feared. She learned the alphabet. And how to count in Spanish! My point is— every misstep can be reframed to look at the positive. And readjusting your parenting goals does not make you a failure. It makes you human.
4. Carve out time for yourself.
This is the hardest thing to do. I get it. The first time my mom suggested I go for a walk on my own, I thought she was out of her mind. But again, that was part of my own need to be EVERYTHING for my baby. It had nothing to do with what my baby actually needed. It’s important to separate and feel like yourself, untethered to another human, for a moment. It’s important for your baby to get used to feeling comfortable with other people too. You can’t always sacrifice your own needs or else you aren’t going to be in the right frame of mind to be a good parent. It’s that concept of putting on your oxygen mask first. Whether that means sitting down and eating a proper dinner while it’s still hot, taking a much needed shower or leaving your house for the sole purpose of getting your eyebrows professionally done, that’s up to you. I suggest picking one indulgent thing— manicures, a trip to the movies, a nap, a night out with your girl friends and then telling whoever you need (your partner, your mom, a sitter) that their help is required to make it happen. It’s okay to be a little selfish. Make friends come to you. Send your husband on ridiculous errands. Tell your co-workers that you need to leave at 5pm and stop apologizing for it.
5. Find your people.
You know how people without children complain that once their friends have kids, they totally drop them? Maybe you were even one of those people once upon a time. It’s true. It is never our intention, but people without kids often just don’t get it. They don’t understand why you have to make plans at the few awkward hours between nap times. They get annoyed when you show up late for brunch, without realizing that you just spent the last two hours trying desperately to leave the house. They look slightly horrified when the stench of poop wafts into the air just as their eggs benedict arrives. Or maybe they don’t think any of these things, but new parents are so insecure that we just imagine they do. In any case, you need to make some mom friends. And not just any mom friends, moms with kids at the exact same age as your own. Does that cool mom you met at story hour have an older kid at home with a sitter? Sorry. She’s not going to be your new friend. She needs to make playdates with moms of kids who can entertain the older one. I suggest you go to classes, the playground, the library or join an online community which brings moms together in your neighborhood. If you work, make friends with the woman pumping at the same time in the lactation room. New motherhood is really like the first year of college. Everyone is out there looking for their people.
6. Accept that your relationship is going to feel a bit unbalanced for awhile.
Everything I believed about gender equality in my home and at the workplace came crashing down when I got pregnant and had a baby. It didn’t feel equal or fair at all, and I’m not sure how much of that what was my responsibility or my husband’s. Before we had a baby, Mike and I lived fairly similar lives. We’d both go to our own jobs during the day and come home to spend time together. But when I was on maternity leave, I was home while Mike still went to work. He basically got to go about his regular life as if nothing as changed, while every second of my life was consumed with motherhood. And even if we were both at home, there was a learning curve to catch up on. He didn’t know where the baby’s things were or what schedule she was on. He had to ask me EVERYTHING. He also had slower reaction times. I would jump when Mazzy started crying, whereas Mike could calmly finish his last bite of food, or take off his shoes, or whatever, before tending to the baby. It wasn’t fast enough for me, so I ended up doing everything while he was home too. Plus, I was breastfeeding throughout the night and pumping when I went back to work, so it just didn’t feel even. And I was always the one who needed to be home on time to relieve our nanny, even though we both had equally demanding jobs. It made me a bit resentful. But the truth is, I could have taken the same tact my husband did. I could have forced him to figure things out for himself, or stopped pumping and relied on formula, or made a plan to take turns being home for the nanny. It just wasn’t what I wanted. Ambitious moms want to excel at motherhood just like we do in our careers. We want to feel needed and successful, so we often become maternal gatekeepers. It was unbalanced. And it still is, although not nearly as much as when we had a newborn. But I’ve learned that I can’t completely blame my husband for that. I may take on more of the hands-on parenting responsibilities, but my husband does more of the cooking, the scheduling and managing the household. I have learned to appreciate that we have different roles in making our family work.
7. Don’t compare yourself to perfect images of motherhood, in real life or on social media.
It’s not just Kate Middleton. It’s everywhere. On Instagram and on Facebook, moms are posting their perfectly clean houses with their beautifully dressed babies and it’s enough to make you weep, it’s so adorable. And you might think that once you have a baby, you’re going to get those perfect pictures too. It’s not real. None of it. Before you feel inferior for what your own experience looks like, understand that the moms you follow on Instagram are often photographers, art directors, stylists and decorators. Making motherhood look beautiful on their Instagram is their job. There are just as many moms to follow who tell it like it is. But you need to search to find them, because their photos don’t pop off the discover page like those well dressed babies in a bed of pristine white. I try to keep it real on my Instagram (@mommyshorts), but even I admit, my life looks a lot prettier in pics than it does in reality. Photos never tell the whole story. Find an online community that is there to commiserate and give advice, instead of judge. Recently, I started a Facebook group called “Remarkably Average Parents.” It is filled with smart, funny, awesome moms and dads who succeed and fail daily. Those are my people.
8. Take one day at a time.
When you think about the sleepless nights, the overflowing diaper genie and the bags of pumped milk piling up in the freezer, the first year can seem endless. Try not to think things like— how much longer can I possibly keep it together??? Just focus on one day at a time. Before you know it, that baby will be turning one, then two and then you’ll be walking him or her off to kindergarten, wondering how you got here. Try having a third grader, like me! You’ll start googling “how do I stop my kids from growing” instead of “how do I get my baby out of my bed,” I promise.
In a few short years, when you come out the other side, life will be a new kind of normal. You might not want the baby years back, but I guarantee, you’ll want to slow down time with all your might.
This post was sponsored by Plum Organics, one of the brands I turned to in my first year of parenting, when I realized I was absolutely not going to make all my baby’s food myself! Thanks for being there for me. Check out more stories from real parents and hear expert advice you can really use from Plum’s Keeping It Together campaign.