At baby showers we are often encouraged to give our best piece of advice for new moms to the mother-to-be. I always give the same advice. It’s the single most important thing I have learned from the past 16 years in raising my 5 kids.
In my opinion, it is the absolute best advice for new moms.
It’s the advice I wish I’d been given when I was a 19-year-old first-time-mom who had only been married 11 months. I was so starved for real, helpful information. I’d read every book about birthing, breathing, and breastfeeding that I could get my hands on, but there was so much contradictory information out there. I needed this advice.
It’s the advice I try to remind myself about on a daily basis as I continue to navigate this motherhood thing. I’m trying to figure out how to be the best mom I can without wearing myself too thin or screwing up my kids for life. It’s a hard-to-find balance that sometimes feels impossible. I still need this advice.
That advice for new moms is this:
Do whatever works for you.
Of all the advice out there on “crying it out,” co-sleeping, babywearing, breastfeeding, bottle feeding, teething and diapers; my advice for new moms everywhere is simply to do whatever works best for you. Don’t worry about the “right” way to parent. Only do what’s best for you and your child. And be willing to switch it up as that kid changes and as different kids have different personalities and needs.
Pretty anticlimactic, I know. I’m sorry it’s not more exciting. I’m sorry I can’t answer the great mysteries of mothering for you such as breast vs. bottle and disposable vs. cloth. But it’s necessary, and a lot harder to put into practice than it sounds.
We are hit on all sides with advice from everything from books and websites to best friends, mothers-in-law, total strangers, and trolls on the internet. No matter what we choose to do as parents, someone will disagree with us and judge us harshly for it. Sure, there are things that are ideal. Breast is best, cloth is better for the environment, etc. But in real life we have to balance our immediate needs with our ideals.
It’s all about survival.
This lesson was really driven home to me when my youngest was in the throes of night-waking. It had been four or five months or so and I hadn’t slept well the whole time. When you are truly lacking sleep you cannot function. Period. You just simply cannot. And you will do ANYTHING to get the tiniest bit of shuteye.
What was I to do?
Was I to put the baby in his own room so his every breath didn’t wake me up? I’d done that for most of my other kids because I’m a light sleeper. But this kid was waking up crying so often it was easier to just have him sleep in a rocker next to my bed so I could feed him and put him back to bed with as little fuss as possible. There came a point where his doctor said that he should be sleeping through the night already, and I felt lost because all my other kids were sleep trained and they were amazing sleepers, but this little guy just would not stay asleep.
The doctor told me not to feed him in the middle of the night because he didn’t need it anymore, and that may have been true, but I needed sleep and I would do anything to get it. Including giving my baby a bottle in the middle of the night, every single night, so he would go back to sleep without crying. I just couldn’t take the crying keeping me up all night. I had to do what I had to do. And guess what? It didn’t ruin him. And now he is a great sleeper who sleeps 12 hours every night. Without getting up for a bottle.
There have been great moms who have done motherhood any number of ways and their kids turned out great.
Motherhood is not a competition for the most sacrifices rendered. It’s not a checklist of must-dos that either qualify us for mothering heaven or relegate us to mothering hell. Nor is it an all-or-nothing scenario in which we either deliver on our most lofty goals, or our kids with be irreversibly messed up.
Motherhood is a learning process.
It’s a time to bond with our babies by getting to know their needs and our needs and trying to find as much balance as we can. It’s best to cut ourselves a little slack and appreciate the amazing things we do for our kids every single day. Because when it comes down to it, we are doing a dang good job of it. And you know what? You new mamas will do a dang good job of it too.