“Guess what, Mom?”
My daughter was calling with exciting news: she and her husband were expecting! Naturally, I was eager to give her the benefit of my child-rearing expertise, based on my years of experience as a mother.
Not that she asked.
But then I got a better idea. Instead of just my two cents, why not collect some advice from a bunch of experts? The good stuff from veterans in the field! So I sent an email to my network of mom friends asking for their help: what words of wisdom would you share with a new mother? A flood of responses came in from friends, family, and one total stranger who’d heard about my idea from a mutual friend.
Not surprisingly, sleep and the lack thereof was topic A: “Never wake a sleeping baby,” several mothers advised. Candace, a new mom herself, got to the heart of sleep deprivation: “Quit telling yourself the story of how tired you are. The less you focus on how little sleep you are getting, the more awake and content you will feel.”
Several moms urged my daughter to trust her instincts. In this era of blogs and Facebook, it’s tempting to post your problems—or Google “getting baby to sleep,” only to find 786,000 links. But Debbie’s advice was “try to protect that inner knowing/feeling. It’s like a little candle flame that’s growing inside you, sure and steady. Comments from well-meaning onlookers can’t snuff it out. No one can know your baby the way you will.”
Except for the baby’s other parent. Sara reflected on father-daughter bonding in her family: “I’d advise any new mom to share every bit of it, to allow both parents to work out the too-hot, too-cold, too-wet, too dry, sleepy/cranky questions, so that later they can work out boyfriends and money and cars and college.”
Phyllis advised, “It’s good for a mother’s heart and soul to play with her children. Start when they’re babies with pat-a-cake and peek-a-boo — and later, hide-and-seek and whatever they enjoy.”Joan, a wise mother and grandmother, said, “Cherish your children for who they are and not for whom you wish they were.”
Not all the advice was warm and fuzzy, however. Diane recalled that her son was “nothing like the calm, smiling baby I expected. He cried all the time, was colicky for months, threw up like the exorcist, rarely slept for two years, wouldn’t fall asleep on his own, and nursed for hours at a time. Let’s just say it wasn’t a picnic.” That said, she adds that it’s hard to have perspective when you are in the middle of a difficult period or phase… “but it does end—whether it’s a good phase or a more difficult phase which evolves into yet another phase. When the times get tough—that too shall pass and something wonderful is usually waiting just ahead.” Judy wrote, “Remember that even though there will be times that you think you have spawned an alien, there is a person inside that will eventually emerge as a loving, caring child who will amaze and delight you.”
Coleen advised any new mom to “take advice with a grain of salt and do what feels right to you. Motherhood is not a science; it’s an art and you are the artist.” And more salty wisdom from Nanette: “Receiving advice is like when someone passes the salt to you at the dinner table…you accept the shaker and perhaps use a little, use a lot, or simply offer it to the next person without using it at all…smiling the entire time!”
Wendy wrote, “Take your baby out in the world; if you are having fun, the baby will too.” Paula advised my daughter to “Read, read, read. Read everything, from the time they are born…children’s books, novels, labels, the newspaper, whatever.”
And from Julie: “You will learn an entirely new meaning for ‘being in love’ once you have that little one in your arms. Prepare yourself for a feeling like no other. And don’t worry that you will spoil your child by loving it too much. No can do.”
One of my friends surprised me with a copy of the “sage advice” (typed, no less) that my husband and I had offered to her and her husband at their baby shower many years before.We thought we were so smart! And we kind of were. Here’s an excerpt:
“One night every week must belong to the two of you and only the two of you. Get a sitter and go out to dinner, or have a quiet dinner at home after the children are in bed—even if it’s at midnight. Schedule this. Put it on your calendar once each week for the next 18 years. It is a mandatory relationship-survival tactic.”
More of our free advice:
Probably my favorite words of wisdom came from one of my daughter’s teachers, who came up with 15 Crucial Rules of Parenting. By listing a series of tongue-in-cheek contradictory “rules,” she prepared my daughter for the kind of push/pull advice every new mother has to weigh for herself. For example:
1) Use cloth diapers instead of disposable ones. Otherwise, you will clog the landfills and wreck the whole planet for your children.
2) Use sustainable disposable diapers instead of cloth ones. Otherwise, you will contribute to the unnecessary consumption of fossil fuels needed to deliver cloth diapers, and the chemicals, wasted water, and electricity needed to launder the dirty ones. This will wreck the whole planet for your children.
And in conclusion, she advises, “Above all, be consistent. Children smell fear.”
I compiled all these wise words into a little book that was finished in time for my daughter’s baby shower. I used the wonderful artwork on the shower invitation for the cover.
The answer to “Guess what?” turned out to be Madeleine, who’s turned ten this summer. She’s a lucky girl—her mom learned from the best!
Lisa, Carol and Molleen: Your wise words live on…