I definitely don’t have kids but lots of people around me do. From what I can tell parenting is challenging and rewarding and isolating and communal and countless other contradictions. For what it’s worth, these are some of the things I’ve picked up as an outsider…
- You’re doing a great job. I try to tell my brother and sister-in-law this every time I see them and their (currently) four-month-old baby. I watched her one time at my house by myself for two hours and thought I was going to die. So as far as I’m concerned, if you have managed to put pants on and not leave the baby on top of the car or something, you’re doing a great job.
- You’re not being judged. I think parents feel constantly judged for their parenting choices and this is unfortunate because 1) that must not feel good and 2) we’re not judging you. We really don’t know anything about which sleeping method is safer and which feeding method is better and all those things you spend time researching and defending. A lot of times the feeling of being judged just comes from our own internal fear, doubt and criticism. Go a little easier on yourself.
- Your photos are fine. I will rail on your never-ending Facebook baby pictures all day long but then I will post several of my cats so… Who’s really winning in this situation? Post whatever you want.
- You might not know that we have absolutely no idea what you’re talking about. As much as you can’t imagine your life without your child, we can’t imagine our lives with one. Everything you’re experiencing with this new life is, no doubt, a first for you. For the rest of us, it’s a zero. We have no reference point from which to gauge what it’s like to create a life, not sleep for six months, and so on. There’s this new chasm between us but it doesn’t have to be a negative thing so long as we all agree that one side isn’t better than the other.
- You can tell us the truth. Two of my favorite new-mom moments came when the moms were unfiltered about their emotions. The first, minutes after the baby was born, looking up with tear-filled eyes to a room full of people who love her and saying, “I’m so happy I love her. I didn’t know if I would love her.” It was one of the most tender, honest moments I’ve ever witnessed. The second, a new mom explaining her first month: “I’ve never so much as punched another person but I would kill anyone that tried to hurt her. I would kill them. That love was immediate and instinctual. The harder part that no one tells you about is that as easy as the love is, it takes a while to like your baby sometimes.”
- But not too much truth. I think any mention of secretions or chapped nipples or whatever is just not fit for the public domain.
- Your parents are grandparents now. I don’t know if it’s just because I’m still the forever child while my brother becomes The Dad but… I am floored that my parents are now grandparents. I remember the day my parents left to go to the hospital to have my sister. I was handed a Fisher Price wedding cake (best ever) and Grandmother Betty’s hand and instructed to wait for the arrival of the child I suggested we name Peter Rabbit. (They ended up going with Julie Elizabeth, weird.) I didn’t see my grandparents a ton growing up so they were always these mythical, untouchable, gift-bearing creatures with the coolest houses on earth. Seeing my own parents step into that role completely shifts my view of my grandparents further to the “real and relatable” end of the spectrum. Think of the things you remember about your grandparents and then watch those moments unfold with your own parents. And remember them.
- Not everyone wants what you have. It’s so important to remind all of us that not everyone wants kids–either not right now or not ever. As offended as you probably are when your young, wild and free single friends make you feel like your home is now a prison from which there is no escape, we are equally offended when you infer that our lives without a family are selfish and meaningless. This is a lose-lose if we keeping trying to debate it. Let’s all just avoid that mess and live our own lives without such concern for what everyone plans to do with their uteruses.