Recently, my son—and first child—turned one. The past 12 months were a total whirlwind of joy, exhaustion, love and self-doubt. I recognize that with my baby on just the brink of toddlerhood, I still have so much to learn about parenthood, but to the extent my wandering experiences can help other newbie and soon-to-be Mamas and Dadas, here are my lessons learned in this first year.
1. You need to sleep up
When the days of sleeping in are over, if you still want to feel well-rested (or even moderately rested), the only option is to go to bed earlier. So, turn off Netflix and move up your bedtime. An extra hour of sleep will feel so much better than 60 minutes of whatever show you are currently binge watching (unless it’s Game of Thrones, in which case, forget sleep—after all, the night is dark and full of terrors).
2. It’s okay to revise your childcare plan
Did you think you’d love staying home and ended up hating it? Did you think you’d love going back to work and ended up hating it? Are you stuck somewhere in between searching for the magic balance of working from home or part time? It’s all okay. Every decision is personal and none are permanent. Do what is best for you and your family for now. You can figure out the rest as this journey continues.
3. In fact, it’s okay to revise any plan
There’s a silent agreement between parents that once you have kids, any plan you make is tentative at best. After all, between now and next Tuesday, your nanny could cancel, a snowstorm could close down your daycare, and your whole household could breakout with hand-foot-and-mouth disease. I sincerely hope this exact scenario never happens to you, but what might sound like a series of unfortunate circumstances too extreme to be true to childless friends and coworkers can often be a sad reality for parents. Be forgiving of yourself and others if they need to reschedule.
4. Don’t be ashamed of anything you need—instead, communicate and normalize it
Does a meeting conflict with your pumping time? Is there no changing table in the men’s restroom? Do you need a high chair, ice for your breast milk or maybe a gluten free, nut free, dairy free snack for your baby? Whatever your needs are, it’s reasonable to communicate them to the people around you. If others aren’t initially helpful, it’s probably not intentional—more likely, they just haven’t been in your shoes so the best you can do is be direct and normalize it for the next person.
5. Sometimes, one partner really is doing everything
The first time my husband and I boarded a flight with our son, he was four months old. We were exhausted, nervous and carrying more than either of us could hold. Pretty much anything could have set us off, but the TSA agent at Newark had a particularly abrasive bite. And so, when she inevitably chastised my husband—who is generally one of the calmest people I know—he lost it and turned to me, yelling, “Well, I’m doing EVERYTHING!” To which I snapped back, “Well I was doing EVERYTHING before this!” And while the Battle of Newark 2018 was a futile standoff, we were both right. In that moment, my husband was the one breaking down the stroller, car seat, and our luggage while I had the seemingly easy job of holding our son. But that same morning, I woke up an hour before my husband (for a flight that, mind you, was already ungodly early) to pump, triple check our son’s luggage, and then proceed to wake, nurse and change our son—while also calling an Uber.
My point is: sometimes you split tasks evenly and other times the distribution is totally disproportionate. One spouse will be at a bachelor party brewery tour while the other is at home being projectile vomited on by the baby in between her own projectile vomits. But then, the next weekend comes and the tide turns when Projectile Parent goes to Soul Survivor, indulges in a manicure and decides to not check her phone for two hours. If you don’t have kids that might not sound that relaxing, but trust me, it’s the parenthood equivalent of two weeks in Bora Bora.
6. Try to spend time with your baby every day
This may seem small to some parents, but if you work, commute, and your baby sleeps 12 hours at night, getting even ten minutes with your baby can be a challenging feat. So leave when you need to—for me, with a 90 minute commute, this meant running out of the office at 5:30 p.m. to have even just 15 minutes with my son. At that point, it’s hard to feel like it’s quality time, but it’s better than nothing. If your work isn’t forgiving at seeing this as reasonable, then it’s probably time to find something new.
7. Give your baby a hug and kiss, because despite the chaos and exhaustion, you’ll miss this
I have days where I feel exhausted, dejected and eager to put my son to bed so that I can finally shower, respond to work emails and pack his daycare bag all over again, but before I rush to shut his bedroom door, I hug and kiss him goodnight and remind myself that he is the most important thing. Ten years from now, I won’t remember whether or not I packed his favorite snack for the next day, but I will miss hugging him when he would still let me.