I’ve always been a procrastinator. I’m not lazy; I just don’t realize how much work things actually require until it’s almost too late. It isn’t the most fantastic trait in the world, especially when it comes to parenting. Perhaps I can blame my unfounded confidence in successfully completing tasks on my Myers Briggs type. (I’m an ENFP, btw.) I tend to underestimate the difficulty of situations while overestimating my ability to conquer them.
Like some women, I had a lot of opinions on what parenting would and should be like long before I ever had a child myself. I’d roll my eyes at the parents who “let” their toddlers scream in the middle of the store. I vowed to never let my child eat processed food. And I would laugh with my girlfriends about ever wearing comfy clothes in public. Let’s all take a moment and quietly chuckle at my blissful ignorance.
Once I was pregnant, however, my assuredness went completely out the window. Even though I registered for all the perfect items and read all the best books, I had no faith in my ability to be a good parent. I secretly hoped that, just like that fabled pregnancy glow, my natural mothering instincts would somehow kick in once the baby came. So many times in the early months of my son’s life I sincerely questioned nine out of the 10 decisions I made. But maybe the harsh reality check of new motherhood is a rite of passage all its own. For me, all those times of uncertainty made the rare moments of contentment that much more meaningful.
I spoke with 12 women about being unprepared new moms. Here’s what they learned from that experience:
1. Kids Know More Than You Think
“The biggest lesson I learned pretty much immediately was that my kids were already who they were from the very start without any input from me. I'd always thought it would be my job to teach them everything and shape them into little fully-formed people. But then they were born and I realized they were already fully-formed, with their own likes and dislikes and feelings and quirks. That realization has made me so much more relaxed and open-minded. I know now that I don't have to do everything perfectly or by the book. I just have to be there for them, give them boundaries, and keep them safe while they figure out the rest.” — Alana, 29, of You And Me And Everyone Else
2. Take A Step Back And A Deep Breath
“I learned to relax. Babies can sense fear or stress in a parent. Everyone will give you tons of parenting advice. Do what works best for you and your child. No parent is going to do things the same way you do. And that's OK!” — Khrysten, 25
3. Listen To Your Gut, And Give Yourself Some Credit
“Trust your instincts, but don't be afraid to ask for help if you're not sure or overwhelmed.” — Pam, 54
4. Be Flexible, Because Nothing Is Going To Go According To Plan
“I have learned that unrealistic expectations are detrimental to the mind and spirit of motherhood. It's OK that we don't have it all figured out and just getting through that hour and that day IS a success. It's taught me patience and to live in the moment, to roll with the punches and just enjoy what's happening right now, because it goes by in a flash.” — Alison, 33, founder of Appetite For Honesty
5. Be Your Own Biggest Cheerleader
“My first unsure moment was the second day I had Bella home. I was exclusively breastfeeding, and she latched fine at the hospital. But as soon as we got home, she wasn't taking the milk the right way. I remember crying and being scared because I refused to give up. The next day I drove my butt up to the hospital and spoke to the lactation consultant. She showed me everything. Since then I have taken classes because I really wanted to learn so I could help other people, too. I feel much more confident.” — Diana, 26
6. Sleep When You Can, Where You Can, Because No One Is Going To Judge You For Napping In The Car
“After being told time and time again that it was unsafe to sleep with my baby, I finally figured out a way to bedshare safely and it was a lifesaver. I slept well knowing I was in tune with my baby and would wake if he was hungry or if he needed me. From then on, I just focused on listening to my baby, instead of popular opinion.” — Olivia, 30
7. People Are Going To Tell You That It Flies By, And They're Right
“What I learned as a new mom was don’t take anything for granted. Always take the time to slow down and be in the moment.” — Sarah, 23
8. Prepare. Or Don't. But Be Ready For Whatever Happens!
“What did I learn that has helped me be a better parent? That you have to be ready for what you did not prepare for.” — Anonymous, 30
9. Everyone Else Is Making It Up As They Go
“I don't think that most people plan to become pregnant that first time. We tend to have this idea of how it should be, based off of how we were raised to think or what society tells us. So upon finding out that I was pregnant for the first time at 21 years old, I was very nervous and scared. I was not married. I also hadn't finished school. I felt ‘too young’ to be a mom. That was a fear I had. I came to find out that many other new moms felt the same way: unplanned pregnancy, young, and unaccomplished. The best advice I ever received was from my first prenatal doctor. She told me, ‘Sweetie, no one is ready for their first baby!’ It may sound silly, but I'm as serious as they come when I say how comforting that was. ‘No one plans them, this all is going to work out,’is what I told myself every day until it just became normal.” — Lacey, 29
10. Asking For Help Doesn't Mean You're Bad At This Whole Mom Thing
“I think I was afraid to let anyone know just how nervous I really was. I felt like I had to be an expert from day one. Now I look back and see that it would have been easier if I’d just been honest with myself and everyone else, too. I’m less afraid to ask for help now.” — Sadie, 28
11. Don’t Compare Yourself To Everyone Else. It’s Not Worth It Now, And It Won’t Ever Be.
“I had to learn that co-sleeping was the best thing my family could do in order for everyone to sleep well. But for some families, it may be the worst thing you could do. I was super against it and fought it hard for weeks, but ultimately, deciding to give it a whirl was great for us. It seriously felt like a parenting hack.” — Jamie, 32
12. Trust Me: What Worked Tonight Won’t Work Tomorrow.
“I had to learn that just because it worked great for everyone else doesn't mean it would work for me. I ignored everyone who said crying it out was the worst thing in the world. It took my kid one night and 45 minutes of fussing to learn how to sleep. I'll never regret it. Biggest thing I'm still learning: just because it worked yesterday, or even two seconds ago, doesn't mean it will always work.” — Samantha, 27