Two Words – A New Parent Survival Mantra

Thank goodness there are people out there reminding me. Whether it’s a trivial reminder like my hormonal teenager commanding, “Get dark chocolate,” when I’m rushing off to the store, or the more profound “Aha’s” I glean while hearing a sermon at church, or from reading a story, article, even Twitter occasionally (yup) — I depend on others to set my priorities straight. And I seem to need these reminders much more than I used to, but we won’t go there.

The other day a reminder came to me in the person Nancy Beyda, a Labor Doula, childbirth educator and prenatal yoga instructor touted by moms in my new infant class. I called to ask her about lactation issues, wondering if she thought making feedings a peaceful, relaxing time of togetherness might not only help build a relationship of trust, but also make the mechanics of nursing smoother and easier. She agreed that it did, but also expressed empathy for moms who feel the need to multi-task. A mother of 3 herself, she understands the pressure we feel to do it all, be supermoms.

And then she said something I was glad to be reminded of, words that have been key to my survival as a parent. They brought back a flood of memories: “letting go”.

For me, new motherhood wasn’t about being super productive. An actress/model before becoming a mom, I had never been a hard or consistent worker. And although it was intimidating to hear about actresses going back to work after a few months (or even weeks), losing their pregnancy weight instantly, giving the impression that childbirth was just a brief aside in their careers, I didn’t have high expectations for myself in that area.  I just wanted to be able to accomplish something besides caring for a baby all day. Others seemed to do it, and I got terribly frustrated when it seemed that I couldn’t…ever.

I’d looked forward to motherhood my whole life, but the reality — especially combined with physical complications, baby blues (to put it mildly), and zero education about parenting besides a lesson in the “burrito wrap” — was much harder than I had thought it would be. I was surprised and totally overwhelmed.

One of many meltdowns came when, 5 or 6 weeks into parenthood, I decided to finally try to get my body back in shape with some exercise.  I had a shiny new stair machine given to me by my generous husband so that I could conveniently exercise at home after the baby (a machine I probably used a total of 5 times before we finally gave it away a few years ago, in case you’re considering one).  I placed my daughter, fed and rested, in her bouncy seat on a table near the machine. Three minutes later she started crying, and I stopped climbing, removed her from her seat and brought her to my bed. While her crying waned, mine took over.

Later, with the support and encouragement I found through infant expert Magda Gerber, I finally learned to let go, to lower my expectations of myself and try to stay in the moment. It not only made life with a baby more tolerable and enjoyable, but as Nancy Beyda reminded me, this is the spiritual lesson that our babies are here to teach us.

When we try to do many things at once, we don’t do anything very well. If we go down the list, we often find that much of what we think must be done right away can be postponed. The new parent transition is a natural downshift to a slower pace. When I resisted this, I was continually frustrated.

New parenthood is also a time to learn to ask for help. There were tasks I felt responsible for that could be delegated to someone else. When my second baby was born, I was surprised to find that a market in my area would deliver groceries to my home for no extra charge. I used this service religiously in those first months, even though I never quite got over the weirdness of having a stranger pick out my apples. Sometimes a trusted neighbor stood by while my baby was napping, so that I could do a quick errand without waking her.

It also helped me to try to keep my perspective. Back then each day seemed impossibly endless, but now those first years seem like such a brief period of time in the scheme of things. There’ll be time later for those online degrees, re-entry into the social whirl, going back to work, or starting a home business.  Life and parenting are about priorities, and with children it’s the quality of our relationship that matters in the end — and the memories, the blur of perfect and imperfect moments we’ve spent together.  Most of us wouldn’t trade those for anything.

I really loved it when at the end of the call Nancy reminded me, “It’s not that we can’t have it all. We just can’t have it all at exactly the same time.”

Do you have a hard time letting go? What are your parenting survival tips? Please share…


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. With my youngest daughter, I decided that I would stay at home, in a nest of sorts, and not expose her to the stimulus of the ‘world’ other than our own home, for an entire 6 weeks. My husband and eldest daughter (who was 5 1/2 at the time) ran all of the errands. I almost made it. At about 5 weeks, I just had to attend our eldest daughter’s school’s May Festival – a yearly tradition that feeds me so. I did stay in the early childhood room with other nursing mamas, and I have many friends who stopped by to visit. But I wasn’t too hard on myself for it. With my first daughter I had to go back to work after 4 months, but did see her every 2-3 hours to nurse her (daycare was 5 minutes away). With my second, I stayed home much longer and only worked part-time. Each child taught me different things about myself, and my relationship to work and life in general. There is no such thing as being a ‘perfect’ parent, this I know. Once I got this simple truth, I let go of a lot…but still hold on to what matters the most and feel good about that.

  2. Great post! I totally agree, it is all about letting go. Sometimes your mind doesn’t want to and is constantly screaming at you to “go go go” and get it all done. You always have to remember, though, that you are on their time now. It’s a good excuse to slow down, to not do everything, to enjoy little things more.

    I have a 2 yr old daughter and a 5 month old son and I find that some days I am frustrated by my inability to get ANYTHING done. Dishes pile up, it takes me all day to do one load of laundry, the dogs haven’t been walked in months, I haven’t showered and i have a stack of bills and receipts to go through. But on the flip side, I’ve colored, read books, played outside in the yard and spent quality time with my kids, both together and alone since I’m constantly stuck in the nap-trap.

    Since finding your website via Twitter, I’ve made a conscious effort to keep my son more free to move around (within limits of course–have to keep an eye on my daughter and my dogs to ensure my son doesn’t get stepped on.) I think it has helped us both. Thanks.

    1. Liz, thanks! Your mental process around letting go is very familiar to me. And as long as the dogs don’t stage a mutiny, sounds perfect! I’m really glad that giving your boy opportunities for free movement and independent play is helping both of you. Providing him that time is extremely positive for his development, too.

  3. Miven Trageser says:

    I use a different two word phrase that I think Magda Gerber recommended if you are overwhelmed by all the instructions and ideas and guidance you are getting:
    Slow down.
    I like it because it’s easy to remember and very forgiving.

    1. Yes, Magda Gerber encouraged us to slow down — that’s a great one to remember. I often caught myself rushing with my babies, stopped and thought, “What’s the hurry?” Rushing was just habit. I still have to remind myself to slow my speech down with the infants and toddlers in the RIE classes.

  4. Janet, I totally agree with this. But I also think it is the hardest thing to try to do. Especially with the whole world (or at least what feels like the whole world) telling you to do the opposite as a parent. The messages we get as parents is that we should try and do it all. That babies need x, y and z to be happy and healthy and if you don’t give that to them… This is something I truly struggle with. I know I can be a control freak, and so the concept of letting go (and slowing down) is not an easy one for me. 18 months in and I am still learning. Hopefully by the time we are ready to have a second baby I will be better at it!

    1. I have faith in you. And it’s always easier to get the perspective needed to give it up with the second… even easier with the third!

  5. Almost instantly, my baby (now 18 months) taught me more about life/priorities than I had learned in the 27 years prior. I am so glad I found your blog when she was a few months old– it has really helped me gain perspective. Thanks again, Janet!

    1. Kari, Thank you. I’m so glad you’re enjoying your baby.

  6. Nicely said, Janet.

    We can only hope that the many new mothers have someone to say ‘let it go’ to them. Today. Having a life partner and some life experience helps but as we both know, does not completely stave-off the feelings of inadequacy for the publicized mothering of others. Frankly, I no longer believe in ‘superMom’ (fairy)tales. With honesty, something in their lives is not getting enough attention.

  7. Hi Janet,

    I love your blog. I am not a mother but am a childcare provider..I watch two little girls (2 families) in their homes. I love what I do and so enjoy observing their development and how they are just “in the moment”. I learn a lot from them everyday and feel so enriched.

    I had a moment last week that I think fits into the “letting go” category and I posted about it on fb:

    It struck me (again) earlier today just how observant, clued in and curious children are. I was taking a walk with Mia (21 mos old) and at one point she wanted me to carry her part of the way…we were just going around the block. So I picked her up and started walking again. We were both silent and at one point I looked at her and she was studying me, my face, my expression, something. I looked away for a couple minutes and then looked back and she was doing it again. I can’t explain it…it was just a beautiful moment..we were just savoring being together in that time and place. It was truly lovely.

    I guess what I mean by letting go in this situation is that I didn’t feel the pressure to entertain her or even actually engage actively with her..we could just “be” with each other and it was incredible.


  8. My very first blog post was about my parenting philosophy- and here’s the first sentence of that philosophy:

    “To me, parenthood is a gradual process of letting go.”

    Snap! 😀

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