A Beginner’s Guide to Imperfect Parenting
August 24, 2012
Meggie Simmons lives in Brooklyn, NY with her husband, young son and neurotic dog. They're facing year two of parenting with lots of coffee and a heaping measure of God's grace.
When people ask my son Grayson’s age—one year—I tell them and quickly follow up with, “I kept him alive for a whole year!” This remark generally receives a polite smile, but the truth is, I’m serious. It is no small wonder to me that I kept this baby boy safe and healthy for an entire year—and what’s more is he seems to actually be happy. This is miraculous stuff in the book of a new mom.
When I think back to life a year ago, it is no surprise that this accomplishment seems so magnificent. I remember the day my husband and I left the hospital with our two-day-old son. We were utterly in love, terrified and exhausted, all in equal measure. The doctor signed her name on a few papers, watched us nervously snap Grayson into his carseat and sent us on our way like it was no big deal, like we actually had a clue what we were doing. She even had the audacity to joke and say, “We’ll see you soon for number two!”
Navigating the first few months of parenthood is not for the faint of heart. It is wonderful and awe-inspiring to behold the life you created and at the same time, endless sleepless nights and newborn cries are exhausting and frustrating in ways you could never anticipate. So, as I look back on this inaugural year of parenting, there are a few things I wish I could go back in time and tell myself, nuggets of truth to cling to as the chaos unfolded.
1) It’s OK to Cry.
A new baby is wonderful and terrifying: wonderfully terrifying. Life as you knew it has suddenly and drastically changed and regardless of how prepared you thought you were, you quickly realize you had no idea what you were getting into with this parenting gig. So, go ahead and cry—cry over how in love you are with this tiny life, cry over how much you miss when it was just you and your husband, cry over how tired you are, cry because there’s no butter in the fridge. Just cry. And most importantly, don’t apologize. The tears will dry up eventually, your hormones will subside and your sanity will return, but in the meantime crying is the best free therapy around so let the tears flow.
Long before the days of infant video and breathing monitors, carseats and temperature-regulated baby baths, babies lived, survived and even thrived.
2) Babies are hard to break.
Newborns are impossibly small and vulnerable creatures, and the desire to protect them from all of life’s dangers can be all-consuming. Many a mother has spent sleepless nights mulling over potential dangers that can befall their new baby. Allow me to share with you an amazing truth: Babies are really hard to break. Vulnerable? Yes. Fragile? No.
Long before the days of infant video and breathing monitors, carseats and temperature-regulated baby baths, babies lived, survived and even thrived. Our current culture would have you believe that a baby is best kept in a plastic bubble where no harm can befall them, but the truth is babies are tough little cookies. So, try to let it go if the cat playfully paws at your little bundle, let nieces and nephews give hugs that are a bit too tight and take a deep breathe—the baby will be fine.
3) Google is not your friend.
I know this one is hard to believe. Google is your friend for so many other aspects of life. But when it comes to motherhood, the search engine of all things parenting on the World Wide Web is just not on your side. When Grayson was a newborn the internet convinced me I’d ruined any chance of successfully nursing because he took a pacifier, and when he was two months old, Google diagnosed him with Tourette Syndrome. I spent hours pouring over different philosophies on sleep training, introducing solid foods, and teething, only to come away more confused and agonized over what was best for my son.
The desire for advice and knowledge can be overwhelming as you navigate the new and choppy waters of parenthood but at a certain point, you have to learn to trust your gut. But the beauty of it is that 99% of the time, your maternal instinct is dead-on and trumps any bit of knowledge the web can throw at you. So, put down your computer, pick up your baby and let your instincts get to work.
4) Your partner is a parent, too.
Those maternal instincts are both a blessing and a curse. While they give you invaluable insight to your baby, they can also make you feel solely and completely responsible for his well-being, which is exhausting. So, repeat the following to yourself until you believe it: My partner is a parent, too. You are not in this alone and the sooner you begin to believe that, the better things will be. Allowing your partner to share the reigns is an important and necessary part of parenting. Don’t be afraid to go out for coffee with a friend and leave baby home with Daddy, let him change diapers and feed the baby a bottle. He may not do everything exactly like you would, but that’s a good thing, and in the end the bond he’s forming with your little one is what you’ll remember in the long run, not how long it took him to wrangle your kid into a onesie.
5) Don’t worry about savoring every moment.
A few weeks ago I attended a baby shower and the host asked each mom to share a bit of wisdom with the new mom. One seasoned mother’s advice was to cherish the night-waking, because it’s over far too soon. I believe the mom was absolutely well-meaning, and perhaps for some this is good advice, but I found it to be terrible advice from a mom a bit too far past the newborn season to clearly remember what night-waking entails.
Here’s the truth: Waking several times a night, every night, for an indefinite period of time to tend to a screaming little one is no fun for anyone. It is exhausting, it is disorienting and it can make you downright crazy. Yes, it’s sweet to hold a sleeping newborn on your chest, but eight uninterrupted hours of sleep in your own bed is also pretty sweet.
There are aspects of parenting that we do because we just have to, because we’re the parent and no one else is going to take responsibility, and in those moments it’s OK to just do the task at hand and move on. Quite frankly, there’s not too much to cherish about a blowout diaper change, or a four-hour road trip with a baby. It’s OK to cut yourself some slack if you’re a bit grumpy or frustrated in the process. There will be plenty of other bliss-filled, beautiful moments to cherish—but there’s no need to fake or force them.
6) Let go of perfection.
When I first held Grayson, I was overcome with the need to provide everything for him, to make life as magnificent and perfect as possible for this wonderful baby boy. The pressure I put on myself to do everything right (or at least, what I thought was right) was enormous and suffocating at times, not to mention intensified by everything I wasn’t doing right. I was quickly forced to face reality: Despite my best efforts, I am a woefully inadequate parent. I get tired, I am selfish, at times I want to run away and hide somewhere quiet, and there are days when I count the minutes till bedtime.
It is clear I am nowhere near perfect and while this can be a bit of a hard truth to swallow, it is actually the most fantastic and freeing bit of truth I cling to as I navigate this road. Because though I am not perfect, God is, and He is the one who knit Grayson together. God has called every newborn child fearfully and wonderfully made, and knew each day of his or her life before all time. I am not and will never be the perfect parent, but God is perfect for both for me and for Grayson, and He gives sufficient grace for each of my failures. And my hope is, that somewhere along the way, I’ll stop trying to convince Grayson that I’m perfect and instead teach him about his Heavenly Father, who is.