You just have to accept that some days you’re the pigeon and some days you’re the statue.
There may be a few times in life when an unwillingness to compromise is admirable—but after becoming a new parent isn’t one of them. That’s why I believe the official bumper-sticker slogan for all new parents should read, Be flexible—or die!
Part of the fun, and responsibility, of being a mom or dad is to be able to choose which parenting options make sense to you and works for your child. However, it’s also important to be able to throw your choices out the window and start all over again when things are not going the way you planned.
If you’re a person who enjoyed being organized, on time, and having a spotless house, this new flexibility may require practice—and deep breathing. But you may as well take it all with a sense of humor because the time has come when your milk will gush down the front of your favorite blouse and when your little darling will empty her diaper load on your white sofa!
If you can, throw away your to-do list for a few months. Accept that the clock on your wall has been temporarily transformed from a time-management tool to a decoration. And know that for a while, day and night will cease to have any true relevance.
You’ve “bought your ticket,” so let go and open yourself to the marvel, awe, and exhilaration of one of the greatest adventures of life!
6. Know Thyself: How Do Your Baby’s Cries Make You Feel?
When your baby screams in your face, are you able to calmly think, He must be having a bad day? Or do you think, Oh, my God, I’m doing something wrong! or I don’t deserve to be a mother! Or even, Who the hell does she think she is?
There’s no question your baby’s screams may trigger a flood of upsetting feelings from the past. You may suddenly remember voices of anger, criticism, and ridicule directed at you long ago. And you may begin to get angry or defensive. Of course, your newborn’s cries can’t possibly have a connection to your past traumas. She’s much too young to feel anger or to be able to criticize or manipulate you. However, fatigue and stress can sometimes fool your mind and make these innocent cries feel like stinging attacks.
This, too, is a normal part of being a new parent. When these emotions well up inside you, take the opportunity to be brave and share your feelings with your spouse or someone else who truly cares about you. The more you discuss your past pains and your current fears, the more clearly you’ll see how unrelated your baby’s cries are to those old experiences.
7. Don’t Rock the Cradle Too Hard: Babies, Frustration, and Child Abuse
David suddenly felt a wave of anger blow across him like a hot wind. After weeks and weeks of colicky screaming by his twin sons, Sam and Ben, he got so angry he punched his hand through the door. “I was so frustrated and exhausted I couldn’t control myself. I would never hurt my boys, but for the first time in my life I understood how a parent could be driven to such desperation.”
Few things feel better than when we can easily calm our baby’s screams, but when everything we do fails, few things can make us feel worse.
Remember, your baby can belt out a shriek that is louder than a vacuum cleaner. That’s why it is so difficult to take when she’s on your shoulder and blasting right next to your ear. The sound of her cry also sets off a “red alert” reflex inside your nervous system that makes your heart race and your skin cringe, creating an urgent desire to stop it. This crying can become almost intolerable when it’s coupled with fatigue, depression, financial stress, hormonal chaos, family conflict, and a history of being abused. When these stressful forces combine, they can sometimes push even a loving parent over the edge into the dark abyss of child abuse.
A mild-mannered father I know told me that he once shocked himself, in the middle of the night, when his daughter’s cries started to “get to him” and he found himself rocking her cradle “a little too hard.” “I felt like such a terrible parent. My little Marlo was so unhappy, yet nothing I did seemed to help. I felt so incompetent.”
Another great frustration for parents is when a technique that usually calms their baby suddenly does nothing. It’s like getting mugged in broad daylight when you least expect it.
However, no matter how desperate you feel, always remember that there’s a big difference between feelings and actions. When you are exhausted, you can joke all you want to about leaving your baby on someone’s doorstep but, needless to say, you’re not allowed to do it.
What should you do when you are feeling like you’re near your breaking point?
Lighten your workload and get some help to clean the house and watch the baby.
Do something physical to vent your energy: dig a hole, hammer nails, beat the sofa, scream into a pillow, sob into a towel, or just go out and run!
Talk to someone: a friend, a relative, or even a crisis hotline. (The National Child Abuse Hotline—800 4-A-CHILD—has counselors available every day, all day.)
8. Keep Your Sense of Humor Handy
He who laughs … lasts! Mary Pettibone Poole
There are times when parenthood seems like nothing but feeding the mouth that bites you. Peter de Vries
The only normal families are the ones you don’t know very well. Joe Ancis
Babies are always more trouble than you thought … and more wonderful. Charles Osgood
It’s not easy for me to take my problems one at a time when they refuse to get in line. Ashley Brilliant
Raising a child is a constant series of tasks and challenges. You don’t want to make mistakes, but you will. Remember, perfection is found only in the dictionary. So, forget dignity … forget organization … be gentle with yourself … and laugh, laugh, laugh.
Laughter is exactly what this doctor orders. Rent some funny movies or watch reruns of I Love Lucy. Try imagining Cleopatra burping her baby and getting a giant spit-up down her back.
Laugh at your hair, laugh at your baby, laugh at your messy house. Laugh at the fact that you are now one of those women you used to avoid who gets into heated discussions at parties about burping and the color of her baby’s poop.