Despite the numerous how-to books that line the shelves of bookstores, nothing can truly prepare a new parent for the rigors of raising a baby. Parents must make a total commitment to meet their newborn’s needs, and no book can adequately prepare parents for the beautiful and unexpected ways a baby will change their lives.
However, baby books due help parents get an idea of what they expect from their child in terms of typical behavior, and some idea of how to better manage their time. A baby’s schedule becomes the parents, and even though newborns sleep around 18 hours a day, that time gets broken up sporadically throughout the day. Between the fussing, changing, feeding, and playing, the time an infant spends asleep seems to vanish. Learning how to manage a baby’s sleep/wake cycle is just one of many challenges a parent will undertake during their first few weeks on the job.
While most soon to be parents understand that sleep will become a luxury, several aspects of being a parent can take some by surprise. Here a few surprises that new parents come to understand.
Welcome to the Club
Becoming a parent means you just joined a club that has an exceptional membership fee. The camaraderie shared between parents means that you’ll receive a few extra smiles, nods of the head, and other general pleasantries when out with your little one. Don’t be surprised if mothers or fathers you rarely talk to in the neighborhood ask if you’d like to join them on a play date. Coworkers may start to ask more about your personal life and want to see pictures. Even though this can seem a little disconcerting, it’s an entirely normal part of becoming a parent. Enjoy it and embrace your membership.
During pregnancy, a couple can bond together over the impending arrival of their child. However, once the baby arrives, the dynamic between a couple can start to shift. When a third party comes in the home, time that was once shared between two people must now be shared among three. That can mean less time spent among partners. If one parent ends up providing the majority of baby care, which is not uncommon when one parent stays at home on maternity leave and the other returns to work, the other can feel slighted or excluded. New parents also often get so busy and flustered with their baby they can forget to talk with one another. To avoid feeling like two ships in the night, schedule time with your partner to make sure the two of you get to spend time together.
Put out the Welcome Mat
A new baby in the home means parents won’t often feel lonely. Family and friends will be anxious to check out your bundle of joy, and parents can expect a steady stream of visitors for several weeks after bringing their baby home. As if the steady stream of visitors wasn’t taxing enough when you’re sleep-deprived and the house is a mess, new parents can also expect relatives and friends to bring plenty of stories and advice with them about how to raise their child. While you might find it impossible to turn someone’s way, if you begin to feel overwhelmed by the number of visits, it’s okay to say no. Good friends and family, especially those who have raised children themselves, will understand if you ask them to stop by at another time.
Guilty as Charged
As you gaze into the eyes of your child for the first time, don’t be surprised when you pledge to become the best parent ever. Of course, with such expectations comes a tremendous amount of responsibility. It’s perfectly normal for parents to wish they had their old lives back after not sleeping for three days or finding they miss their career or going out with friends. But since these aren’t thoughts great parents have, you begin to feel guilty that you aren’t enjoying every second of parenthood. Just remember, being a parent is the toughest job you’ll ever have, and it’s normal to have these kinds of thoughts. Talk with your partner, a friend, or parent about these feelings, and remember to remind yourself of all the things you’re doing right.
Again, no one is a perfect parent. So even if parenting books provide you a blueprint of activities to avoid with your child, don’t be surprised if occasionally you let your child engage in less than perfect behavior. For example, if your child is too old for a pacifier, but it helps her sleep, you’ll probably find yourself letting her keep it despite what the books recommend. Don’t beat yourself up. Every baby acts differently, so no one manual can tell parents how to raise their child. If in doubt about enabling some of your child’s bad habits, ask your pediatrician.