There are a million advice columns out there that will tell you all the things you need to know about caring for that sweet baby peacefully sleeping on your chest right now. I know because I read them all the day my husband went back to work and left me alone to care for our new son just five short years ago. Now as I sit here nursing our third child, I'd like to share whatever wisdom I've gained so that you, new mom, might be more prepared for what the next year may bring. I'm no expert. I'm just a mom like you. My advice might not be any more useful to you than the last Dear New Mom post you read, but perhaps you'll find comfort that every other new mom out there has been in your shoes and lived to tell the tale. Or maybe, you'll find a tidbit of knowledge that sticks and helps you find your new normal.
1. Acceptance is the key to surviving without sleep. At 3am, I used to bargain, beg and plead with my son to go to sleep -- too delirious to think straight. "If I could just get 2 more hours before I have to be up for the day, I'll be able to survive tomorrow," I'd tell myself. And inevitably he'd wake up again just as l drifted off to sleep. Make no assumptions about how much sleep you need or want; no matter how little sleep you tell yourself you need, you'll somehow find yourself below the minimum threshold and it will crush your delirious, sleep deprived self. Which leads me to item number two...
2. It's enough. No matter how much sleep you had last night, decide that it is enough. Because it is all the sleep you got and it will have to be enough. The half a load of laundry you managed to put away today? It's enough. The amount of time you spent playing with your child between laundry and dinner prep? It's enough. If you gave it your best, it's enough. There is so much to juggle, don't kill yourself over not doing enough for your family, your child, your household, your job. If you gave today your best effort decide that you did enough. Maybe you'll accomplish more tomorrow. Maybe not. But whatever you do, it will be enough.
3. Know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. You know how people are always saying "sleep when the baby sleeps" and you are thinking "HA! But when am I going to shower or eat or do some laundry because I really need a shirt that doesn't stink like sour milk?" Often you may find that you need to power through a few things while the baby sleeps, but know when to throw in the towel and take a nap. You can trudge through your chores bleary-eyed or you can leave that big stack of dishes for later when you can tackle them in a more productive state.
4. It's lonely. Get thyself out of the house and to a mother's group, a coffee shop, a park or anywhere else you might find an equally tired and overwhelmed mother to commiserate with. This is of the utmost importance for your sanity.
5. You will judge other moms for their parenting choices. Stop Judging. You are spending every waking moment trying to be the best parent you can be so naturally when another mom chooses to parent differently, it may make you feel insecure. You may feel the need to defend why your style of parenting is best. I've found that as long as your kid is healthy and happy there's no wrong way to parent. Moms are different. Kids are different. What works for you might not work for someone else. And if you choose to have a second child you may find that the parenting style you've worked so hard to perfect, isn't effective with your second child. By all means share what's working for you. But reserve your judgement. An older, wiser, more experienced you will thank you later for not alienating your new mom friends by making them feel inferior.
6. Resentment is a (relationship) killer. Resist the urge to resent your husband. When he comes home from work exhausted from another day of sitting in a comfortable chair in front of a computer and going out to lunch with his coworkers then proceeds to ask what you did all day as if it wasn't obvious by the spit up on your shirt and the crying baby in your arms...resist the urge to resent your husband. He doesn't fully understand what it is like to be a new mother, but most likely, he's trying to figure it out. He is also struggling to get comfortable in his new role as dad and possibly bread winner. In his mind getting to stay home in your pjs all day sounds awesome and he might even be a little bit jealous. You are both in new territory with new roles so try not to let resentment get the best of you.
7. Bump uglies, do the horizontal mambo and make love often. After all it's how you got into this mess and you'll be surprised how much it will help you out. I know that sex is the last thing on your mind after having a clingy baby projecting bodily fluids at you all day, but being intimate reminds you that you love each other when the days are long and hard. If you have to, put it on the calendar once a week and do it whether you feel like it or not. Or just get in bed naked and see where it takes you.
8. Apply the Occam's Razor Rule of Husbands daily.
9. Be gracious. Forgive yourself for being impatient. Forgive yourself for not being the mom you hoped you would be. Forgive yourself for not being the wife you used to be. Forgive your husband for not being the dad you expected him to be. Forgive him for not being the husband he was. Forgive him for not understanding how hard you are trying and how much feel like you are failing. Forgive him for expecting more. Eventually you will both be comfortable in your new roles as parents and partners, but until you figure it all out, be gracious with yourself and one another.
It's hard out there for a new mom. You will get the hang of it. In the meantime, meet me at the coffee pot.