Whoever first said don’t sweat the small stuff obviously didn’t spend a lot of time around new parents. New parents sweat ALL the stuff. They read a lot, too, buying magazines and books and bookmarking blogs to find out how their babies should be sleeping and eating and when they should be rolling over and how early is too early to apply to an ivy league preschool, anyway? But in the day to day when moms and dads are sweating that small stuff – the strained peas in the cracks of the high chair and the diaper that will simply not stay on – all those magazines, books, and blogs aren’t much comfort.
Here are seven things I think all new parents should know because they are a comfort when the going gets tough – and I think they might just help moms and dads sweat the small stuff that much less.
It doesn’t matter that much how you feed your baby. While some babies (like preemies or babies with allergies) have special needs that make breast milk or formula or even certain kinds of specialty formulas the very best possible food, most babies most babies are going to do fine whether they nurse exclusively for six months, get bottles of formula from day one, or eat some combination of breast milk and formula. The benefits of breast milk and the dangers of formula have been exaggerated – and I’m saying this as someone who fought like hell to breast feed. Any neonatal nurse will tell you what’s most important is feeding the baby.
There will come a time where you will feel like the worst mom or dad on the entire planet but not for the reasons you might expect. You will get used to turning around to find your crawler eating what the cat puked up in some secret spot. That thud sound that clumsy toddlers make when they fall head first onto the hardwood will cease to even make you cringe. My own worst mama moment came when I got rid of a doll that my daughter had not played with – had not even seen – for six months. (It was bald and had no eyelashes and someone had drawn on its face and I had just plain never liked this doll.) Cut to me bawling in the bathroom at regular intervals when not a week later my daughter began a frantic search for that stinking doll.
Milestones don’t matter much. The big list of things babies and toddlers and kids should be doing by whatever age has become a kind of bible we all reach for when we want a little reassurance that our little ones are normal – or confirmation they’re ahead of the curve. But children do what they do on their own schedules not on ours, which is important to remember when yours is the only one not talking or walking or reading or riding a bike. And sometimes you have a child who you know will probably not meet the major milestones on time or at all, so you adjust your expectations and you learn to find joy in accomplishments that will never make it into the pages of a parenting magazine.
Kids are washable, and clothes can be thrown out. This should be obvious but I’ve watched too many parents try to maneuver a poop-soaked undershirt over a sobbing, squirming baby’s head, hoping to salvage the shirt without smearing the kid. It’s an undershirt (or a onesie or a dress or a pair of tiny overalls) – just grab a pair of scissors and cut it off and throw it out. Let your kids play in the dirt, don’t worry so much about the clothes which can be picked up cheap if you buy secondhand. Let them eat berries and ice cream in a cone and let them roll down grassy hills. Let them be kids and know that it helps to not get too attached to the clothes.
You’re going to lose your cool. You may use some colorful language of the kind you swore you’d never use in front of your children. You might even throw something. Chances are the first time you have an epic freak out because of something your kids did or didn’t do is not going to be during their teen years. It might not even be during their school years. I am horrified to admit that I yelled at my reluctant nurser after a particularly terrible 48 hours of trying and failing to breast feed. Luckily my small bundle of joy responded with great serenity to my 3 a.m. shouts of “Why won’t you just freaking EAT?” Luckier still, bigger bundles of joy are very forgiving.
The world is a big, confusing, and sometimes scary place for little people. You have twenty or thirty or forty years of experience to help you understand the whys of everyday life. Like why it’s important to be on time or why some sorts of things happen at certain times of day. Why it’s so important to always say please and thank you. Or even why it’s not a good idea to smear yogurt all over the living room rug. Societal conventions that make perfect sense to you can seem mind-bogglingly bizarre to a three year old. A three year old who is trying to make sense of a world where everything from kitchen tables to other people are absurdly huge. Be forgiving when children lack logic – they’re still learning.
You don’t have to feel guilty if you don’t want to. Like about anything. Everyone makes mistakes but if you’re not abusing your kids, you give them the necessities all the time and the extras when you can, and you love them plenty then you are already doing a damn fine job. Even if you raise your voice more than you think you ought to or go to McDonald’s a lot or are secretly bored out of your head at your kids’ sports games. Everything else you do above and beyond loving them and keeping them safe and healthy is icing on the cake. There are literally hundreds of millions of articles and blog posts about mother guilt and the assumption is we’re all parenting under the weight of it but guilty mothering doesn’t translate into good mothering.
Remember, moms and dads, that you are doing a good job. In fact you are probably doing a better job that you will ever give yourself credit for!