Being a parent is no easy task. It’s one that comes with a lot of self-doubt and stumbling, and a lot of societal judgement. Someone always has something to say about some aspect of it all, and if you’re really, really lucky, you’ll have at least one person (hopefully your partner!) in your corner, supporting you and being an active decision-maker and participant.
Unfortunately, more often than not, parenting in the 21st century can feel like a very lonely place. Even when you join mom groups or turn to church or family members, the self-doubt is there, shuddering beneath every conversation as you jiggle your darling, snub-nosed newborn with petal-soft skin and listen to the other moms debate buying vs. making baby food, or cloth diapers vs. disposable, or breast vs. bottle, or attachment vs. authoritarian parenting. Everyone has an opinion, and once your pregnancy starts showing, everyone feels it’s their right to share their opinion.
Over the past 10 years of being a mom, I’ve learned many truths about myself, my son, and our family. But when asked for parenting advice, or when complimented on my son’s manners and asked, “How do you do it?” I just smile blankly and politely. So I’ve come up with the three most useful yet generic pieces of parenting advice I feel comfortable offering to prospective parents, and in honor of a decade of motherhood, I’ve decided to do so:
Expect the Unexpected.
I was married for one month when I became pregnant. Less than that, actually — possibly only a week, or even pregnant at the alter. We were married in the last week of April, and I found out I was almost 2 months along in mid-June. It was, to say the least, somewhat unexpected. We hadn’t actually talked about children; how many we wanted or what our parenting style would be.
Back then, I thought I would have lots of kids — at least 5, like my mom. Preferably a nice round dozen. Much of my spare money in my teen years had been earned through babysitting jobs, and I liked to volunteer in Primary at church. I did a lot of tutoring the younger grades in school, and in general was considered by the adults around me to be a helpful “mothering type.” My mom attributed my endless collection of stray animals and shiftless, directionless boyfriends as yet another expression of my apparently innate caretaker/ mothering abilities. So I just figured this whole parenting thing would be natural and easy. I mean, I had a vague inkling that full-time parenting was more difficult, but I had no idea how fully unprepared I really was.
Now, doing it “right” starts the moment you find out you’re pregnant — or, more accurately, being told you’re “doing it wrong” starts the moment you tell people you’re pregnant. That’s when the questions and implied judgment start. Believe it or not, I had people who became irate with me because I didn’t want to find out the gender of my child. They felt this was simply irresponsible and selfish of my husband and I. Then there were the various types of childbirth, and everyone had an opinion and experience to share.
I wanted to do it the “right” way. The “right” way, I thought back then, was a natural birth attended by a doula. I was even tilting toward a water birth. In the end though, I developed gestational diabetes, and was induced early. There were problems during labor, and they ended up doing an emergency c-section. The funny thing is, I’d been worrying about getting a c-section throughout my entire pregnancy, and been continually reassured by everyone from my husband to my doula to my doctor that I was fine and would have a normal delivery.
This whole ordeal was the first experience I had in realizing that being a parent is never as cut-and-dry as those shiny parenting magazines and soothing What to Expect . . . books try to sell you. It’s messy and surprising and full of unexpected detours. This has been the most oft-repeated lesson of motherhood, for me. I like to plan things out, to know what’s coming, to know what to plan for. Being a mom . . . well, by the time he was a year old, I’d adopted the Boy Scout Motto, amended slightly: Be prepared for anything.
. . . cont. tomorrow with Lesson #2.
This is also moved from my hubpages account, and significantly altered/ edited for the blog. I’ve also decided to chop the single (long) hub article into 3 separate yet related blog entries. The hub is here.