3 Life Lessons I've Learned Since Becoming a Parent

by Camilla Cheung on 22 May 2012 6 comments
Photo: doriana_s

The past few months have been a blur as my husband and I welcomed our first child into our lives. Between 3 a.m. feedings, poopy diapers, walking and rocking the baby, and trying to fit a shower into my day, the parenting learning curve has been a steep one. I’m learning more every day, and in the midst of this dramatic life change, three glaring lessons have stood out to me since I brought my daughter into the world; three life lessons that took becoming a parent for me to learn. (See also: 7 Important Lessons Frugal Parents Teach Their Children)

1. Don’t Judge

I have to confess that before I had a baby, I subconsciously (and let’s admit it, consciously) judged other parents. This included parents frantically trying to calm a screaming baby while shopping, mothers quickly mixing a bottle of formula to give their children while on the run, frustrated parents yelling at their kids, parents who put their kids to sleep in a swing, etc….

I guess the universe had a karmic lesson to teach me — after my baby was born, I had difficulties breastfeeding, and finally, when my baby wasn’t gaining weight, I was forced to supplement with formula. Good gracious, now I was the one feeling judged and guilty when I whipped out a bottle of formula in front of other breastfeeding moms in the nursing lounge at the mall! Additionally, while I had sworn I wouldn’t be one of those moms who bought every swing, bouncer, or toy available, now I found myself desperately spending money on any gadget that promised to let me put my baby down for a few minutes and have a cup of coffee. Lesson learned — don’t judge other people’s parenting choices, or life choices in general. Instead, I’m learning to accept that everyone makes the best choices they can given their unique circumstances.

I’ve found a new level of acceptance and camaraderie with other moms, even if they’re just strangers I meet at the grocery store. We swap stories of staying up late at night, which swing works best for calming a baby, and “crying-it-out” versus “attachment” approaches to sleeping. The best thing is, although we’ve all made different choices, our babies are all doing fine.

2. It's OK to Accept Help

Whoever coined the saying “It takes a village to raise a child” never said a truer word. While I admire superhero moms who seem to manage to take care of their families on their own with nary a helping hand, I accept that I am not one of them. After days without sleeping, I finally accepted offers from family and friends to watch the baby while I napped, or to clean the house while I held the baby. I was grateful to relatives who bought groceries and made dinner, and I stopped feeling bad about asking the in-laws to take the baby for an evening so I could have some time to myself. I realized that although I felt like I was inconveniencing my friends, they were genuinely happy to help, and I finally found the freedom to feel grateful rather than guilty.

In fact, I’m starting to believe that modern American life is not conducive to raising children well. Think about it — in traditional cultures, the entire extended family lives in close proximity, so that grandparents, as well as aunts and uncles, are close participants in the raising of a child. It’s not all on the mom or dad. But in our modern culture, where extended families are separated by large distances, all the responsibility falls on the two parents, one or both of whom are probably working full time. Instead of relying on a network of relatives, parents now have to find community through parenting groups, play dates, lactation workshops, and other modern inventions. There’s probably nothing we can do about the culture, but it’s helpful to realize that we were meant to raise our kids in a community, and that there’s nothing wrong with needing help.

3. Beware of False Guilt

There are so many things that make you feel guilty as a parent, as I’m sure all you seasoned parents can attest. As a first-time mom, I tend to feel guilty about everything. A short list includes giving my baby a pacifier, letting my baby sleep in her swing, bonking my baby’s head on the car seat handle, and more. That’s not to mention the guilt I feel when well-meaning friends ask me what I do all day at home (because I should be working) or when I have to decline doing someone a favor because it will interfere with my daughter’s naptime.

As a natural people-pleaser, there are days when I feel like everything I’m doing is wrong. But I’m slowly starting to learn that I have the right to make mistakes and say no to other people’s requests, and I don’t have to feel bad about it. I’m able to bring a lot more happiness and joy into my family’s life when I’m not guilt-ridden. In fact, I hope that my daughter will learn the same lesson and will eventually grow up to be a joyful, confident person who can learn from her mistakes and stand up for herself without being burdened by false guilt.

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Guest's picture
Sandy

Wonderful post - thank you! My daughter is 15 months and I experienced much of what you describe in this article - doing things I always said I wouldn't and suffering from false guilt. Motherhood has been the most rewarding, but challenging transition I ever made. It's somewhat comforting to know I'm not the only one who feels inadequate as a mother some days. Your words in the last paragraph are inspirational - our children will lead by our example.

Guest's picture

I have two daughters, one is four years old and the other is two. Even though I am not a first-timer I still feel like one sometimes as I became a mother at a very young age. When I first became a mother I learned that babies are beautiful and unique. Before I had a baby of my own I thought all babies looked the same and didn't really pay much attention to them. Now I feel differently. Very.

Guest's picture

I will become a first time parent in October so these are good things for me to know.

Guest's picture

Unfortunately, it is part of our human-nature to judge people on almost everything we pick up on; appearance, actions, communication and everything in between. Sometimes it takes learning from personal experience to really grasp how different every single person is and acts- and why. I love your take on the fact that historically, it really did take a "village" to raise a child. A community of family has traditionally been around to lend helping hands, and there is no justice in allowing others to judge you for needing a little assistance from time to time.

Guest's picture
Lana

What a great article! Incredible the clarity these little people bring to our lives. As they grow so do we. Thank you for sharing your experience in this setting. I put a link to this on my blog this morning. You got me to thinking! What have I learned?
Have a lovely day,
~Lana
http://thecraftyrecycler.blogspot.com/

Guest's picture

I can relate COMPLETELY! My son is almost 8 months old -- I had planned on breastfeeding, too, but I just didn't produce like I needed to. I was told by many that I was doing and "evil" thing by giving my son formula. That really hurt. But you know what? He loves it. Lol...and he's fine. Thanks for a dose of reality. :)