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…