My son, Henry, turned one at the end of April. I watched him eat (a little) cake, open presents (very slowly) and caper around with his Dad and Opa, and I wondered where my helpless infant had gone.
One of the best parts of my first year with Henry, aside from all the cuteness, was that I learned a lot. I’ve been through a tough undergrad program, but it wasn’t anything like that. What I learned went deeper and will be, I believe, foundational for me. Here are my top five life lessons after one year of parenting.
Make decisions and move forward:
When making decisions that will impact my son and our family, I dive into research and get overwhelmed by the immense about of information. I so want to make the right decision that I get paralyzed. I had to learn to not get mired in research, or my friend’s opinions, or what the lady at the bank told me. I try to accept that I won’t know the outcome of some decisions right away. I can only control the decision making process. This has forced my husband and I to become better at making decisions, something that will serve us well. Still, it’s hard for me. I have to remember to be confident and that each decision is another step forward.
Stay in the present:
The first six weeks were so excruciatingly hard that I was nailed down in the present. I was so present that I sometimes worried it would never end. Once things settled down and life wasn’t solely diapers and cluster feedings, I’d find myself straying from the present more easily. Will I go back to work when Henry’s one? How will I start freelancing? When will I lose this baby weight? All those questions, while valid, would tempt me to start worrying about the future. I found that I needed to give worries a container so that they didn’t overwhelm my days – because they could. So I write my worries down or share them with someone, and then move on. If something is really nagging me, I’ll look at it more closely and take action.
I used to think that kindness wasn’t that important… I’d rather someone be honest or funny or smart. Now, I just want to be kind, and want others to be kind to me. Life is hard, I’m doing the best I can but that “best” isn’t always stellar. Especially over this past year, each time my family, friends or a stranger were kind to me it felt like such a huge wonderful thing. I am kinder now, too. I smile more. Partly because I have this cute baby to play with, but I find myself smiling even when it’s hard more than before. This also means that when sadness or anxiety rears its head, I am kind to myself, my husband, Henry, etc. We are all working so hard, we might as well be kind to each other.
Pay yourself first:
If I’m not in an at least semi-positive frame of mind, then we all suffer. And I can’t operate like I used to – run, run, run, collapse, sleep 12 hours, repeat. So that means I pay myself first, as best as I can. In the morning, Henry and I go on our run after breakfast, but before the dishes are done. I eat a small handful of chocolate almonds almost every day. In the evening, I sometimes leave Henry with my husband so I can walk around the block or go to a coffee shop to write for an hour. Recently I picked up some colored pencils and a coloring book and will spend 10 minutes on it after Henry is asleep. Finding ways to do this as a parent is difficult because parenting is innately selfless, but I’ve come to believe it’s important to maintain my sanity so that I can help maintain my family’s sanity. My husband agrees.
Just when things are the hardest, they will become easier. Just when things become settled, they will change:
Consistency was my dear friend and, if anything, this first year was a lesson in learning to be flexible. And then learning again. And then one more time. It felt like every few weeks (at first) and then every few months Henry would change his sleeping, eating or playing habits and I’d be left in the dust. To say it was discouraging would be putting it lightly. But at some point I just decided I would believe what my mom and friends were telling me – “You are doing better than you think” – and try to relax into this new way of living as much as I could.
Summing up my first year as a parent is a somewhat laughable task… I could write a set of encyclopedias on it. But these five lessons are what stick out the most in my brain, and what I cling to most tightly when I’m having a bad day. I know for certain I’m a better person than I was before, that there’s a long way to go, and that I’m so glad to have my family as companions.