What I want my friend who just had her first baby to know about parenting

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

To my dear friend who just had her first baby:

Congratulations! He is wonderful. He will only grow more so. He will fill you with so much wonder that you will find yourself dizzy with it. Overwhelmed with wonder, plus gratitude and joy and love and, also, a little terror.

Totally normal.

You might have a million questions about breast versus bottle and cloth versus disposable and swaddle versus ... not swaddle. I might have a million opinions. (You know I have a million opinions.) I'll share them if you ask, but mostly you can find that stuff in books and the friendly confines of your pediatrician's office.

Here's some advice that's harder to find in books.

- Don't sweat sleep training. I failed at it. I tried. (Not very hard.) (I had the will power of a beagle near food, which is to say none.)

People - friends, people I love - would scold me.

"You know you're going to be sitting there, soothing her to sleep every night until she's like 5."

They were wrong. I was sitting there, soothing her to sleep every night until she was 12.


It was wonderful.

Our best, hardest, happiest, trickiest, most vulnerable conversations all happened at bedtime. Lights off. Guards down. Distractions absent. Quiet.

This isn't to say that sleep training isn't the way to go. A bunch of families swear by its virtues. I believe them.

It is to say that little "failures" along the way can turn out to be gifts in disguise. I wish I realized that earlier.

- Live in moments, if not in the moment. Sometimes a whole day begins and ends and nothing goes wrong. No one has an ear infection and no one finds a tick on them and no one falls off the monkey bars and breaks an arm and no one forgets their clarinet on the day of the clarinet test. Sometimes that happens.

Usually, though, the day you set out to have and the day you actually have are very, very different. This is especially true with a newborn. This remains true until your kid(s) leave for college, I'm told. (I suspect it's actually longer.)

I'm not going to tell you to enjoy all of it. So much of it is truly, spectacularly unenjoyable. But I will suggest you try to savor the mundane beauty of moments when everything is peaceful and no one needs a ride to urgent care.

I used to think our best moments as a family would be on vacation. Or on holidays. Or in the middle of some milestone - a graduation, an athletic victory, a big birthday.

Now I know those things can be joyful and perfect, and they can also end at urgent care.

Now I know our best moments happen around our kitchen table with Uno. Or during a car ride to school. Or on a walk around the block. All those little moments add up to something monumental.

- People's judgment is a useful tool. You are about to experience the weight and the words of every well-meaning (and the occasional not-so-well-meaning) stranger who looks upon you and your sweet little baby and decides you're doing it wrong.

He looks cold.

He looks hot.

He shouldn't be in the sun.

He shouldn't be using a pacifier.

He should be hermetically sealed.

These are your moments to shine. If you start politely shutting down these comments early and often enough, by the time your son is old enough to observe you and learn from you, you'll be a pro.

When my daughter was old enough to start putting on her own shoes, she preferred to wear them on the wrong feet. Often, she preferred to wear shoes from two different sets, each on the wrong feet. This bothered me far less than it bothered strangers.

"Her shoes are on the wrong feet," people would say.

"Oh, thank you," I would reply. "She likes them that way."

"It's not safe," they would say.

"Yeah, thank you," I would reply. "No injuries so far!"

One day at the Garfield Park Conservatory, my daughter took over answering for me. "Thank you," she told the woman who stopped us on the sidewalk out front. "No injuries so far!"

She carried this ability to barrel through life unencumbered by other people's opinions of her uncombed hair, her mismatched outfits, her perfect imperfections for much of her childhood. It was lovely.

Now she's 13. She cares about her appearance. She runs track and does gymnastics. (The weird shoe thing didn't do any lasting damage.) And she shrugs off petty judgment better than anyone I've ever met.

I don't know if I get any credit for that or not. But I do think our kids watch our cues on what to shrug off. You'll come up with your own list. Exercise it with pride.

That's enough for now. I'm sure you're out of time. We'll talk later. We'll keep talking. You'll be amazing. So will he.


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