Before I had kids, I was pretty sure I knew exactly how to do this parenting thing. While pregnant with my first child, I encountered a rather unhappy toddler and her mother at Target. The child was screaming uncontrollably, and her mom didn’t appear to even notice; she was simply perusing the clearance rack, apparently not bothered in the least by the ear-splitting shrieks coming from the cart right in front of her.
I’ll admit: I totally judged. That’ll never be me, I thought. There’s no way my future child would behave that way in public … oh, so naive.
As it turns out, it’s quite easy to know exactly how to parent before you become a parent. It’s a whole lot harder when you’re living with that fussy baby/whiny toddler/stubborn preschooler. Like most parents, reality slapped me in the face when baby made three (and then four), and I’ve since been that seemingly oblivious—or perhaps more accurately, beyond-the-point-of-caring—Target shopper more than once. And you know what? I don’t dare judge anymore because I get it: We’re all doing the best we can and trying to figure it out one day at a time.
So if you too have a list of nonnegotiables for once baby arrives, know that it’s perfectly OK if you need to deviate from those plans at some point. And to show you that you’ll be in good company, I am sharing seven other things that a pre-baby me would have never done, would have judged another parent for, and are now a part of my daily routine.
I Swore I’d Never … Feed My Baby a Bottle.
Oof. I know how that sounds but hang with me. I knew I wanted to nurse, so when the lactation gurus told me to refrain from using anything that might cause nipple confusion, I took their advice to heart. But during one particularly sleepless phase, I reached a very low point and my husband sent me to bed—alone—with very stern instructions to not emerge until I got a little rest. I crawled under the covers in tears, feeling like a total failure. My mom came over, and together she and my husband fed my son a little pumped milk from a bottle.
When I woke up three hours later, I felt so much better. I immediately nursed my son (because my breasts were dangerously close to exploding), and he had no problem latching on. No harm, no foul. In fact, that bottle brought us nothing but happiness.
A few weeks later, my son enjoyed a bottle from his grandma again while I went to a doctor’s appointment. And then my husband started taking the night shifts on the weekends with either expressed milk or formula. The end goal is a mom and baby who are both happy and healthy (and fed!), and when a bottle helps you reach that goal, by all means, use it.
I Swore I’d Never … Graphically Rehash My Labor and Delivery.
So you don’t want to hear about the third-degree tear in my perineum? I can’t imagine why not. When people would go into great detail about their deliveries before I had lived through my own, I would listen earnestly and try not to be disgusted by the talk of the bloody show, tabletop bowel movements, and astonishing vaginal stretching. But inside, I was thinking: Ew. Please stop. I did not understand why anyone would feel compelled to share every step of their baby’s journey from womb to world.
And then I had a baby—and I got it. Because childbirth is, in a word, amazing. How could you not tell everyone you see (who will willingly listen) how awesome it is to witness a new life entering the world? How could you not tell them how strong and brave you are, how intense it felt, how emotional it was, how it came with highs and lows (both predictable and surprising), and how incredible it was to finally meet your baby for the first time? It’s impossible not to share—even when your kid-free friends and loved ones are looking a little squeamish. Every birth story is valuable, and every mom deserves to tell her story.
I Swore I’d Never … Refer to Myself As “Mommy” and My Husband As “Daddy.”
I barely even remember our pre-baby names; I don’t think we’ve used them in years. Now it’s just, “Oh wow, I think it’s Daddy’s turn to change a diaper!” or “Mommy, this sweet baby is looking for you.” Strangely, I’m not even sure that using these names was a choice we made because it seems as though everyone else automatically assigned us these generic titles—pediatric nurses, our family, strangers.
Sometimes it feels like our old names, and in some ways, our old identities are simply gone. In every sense, we have become Mommy and Daddy, and to be honest, the parenting monikers aren’t quite as bad as I thought they’d be. Sure, I’m ready to not hear my “name” for the rest of the night come bedtime, but I still think it’s the most important name I’ve ever been given.
I Swore I’d Never … Have My Home Taken Over by Toys and Baby Gear.
This one is downright laughable. I registered for modern gear in neutral colors that would camouflage seamlessly into my home’s décor. (Sounds familiar?) And it all looked perfect—until the baby was born, and we started using it. A sleek baby swing smack-dab in the middle of your living room is still a baby swing smack-dab in the middle of your living room. Regardless of its Scandinavian design, it’s not going to blend in.
And that small bin of carefully selected toys in the corner? It has been replaced with a full-fledged kiddy toy box that is loaded to the brim with bright, loud, obnoxious baby toys. What can I say? The kids love them, and I love the kids. I still try to opt for aesthetically pleasing wooden toys when I can, but sometimes that talking plastic phone is the key to my sanity.
And although I was hesitant to borrow my friend’s huge colorful activity center when she insisted it was well worth the visual displeasure, I found within minutes that she was absolutely right. That thing was magic. I went out that day and bought one of our own, and it sits in a place of glory where I can appreciate its function to this very day. I recommend one to every new mom I know—flashing lights, circus colors, and all.
I Swore I’d Never … Let My Kid Sleep in My Bed.
I fully planned to have my first son sleep in a bassinet in our room for his first few months and then transition to a crib. My husband and I agreed: No baby in the bed. Within days we broke this promise. In our defense, it was out of desperation. The kid just would not sleep. As soon as his back touched any nonhuman surface, he would begin wailing in protest. Snuggle him up next to a person, and he would sleep like, well, a baby.
At first, we lay beside him cautiously on the bed, scared to close our eyes or move. Then exhaustion kicked in, and we began sleeping like logs—all three of us, together in the bed, every night. The baby could nurse with ease. My husband was less zombie-like at work.
I finally remembered what it was like to close my eyes. That bassinet I insisted on buying was perfect for holding diapers, wipes, and extra sleepers. Not exactly what I had in mind for it, but let’s focus on the positive: We were all getting some sleep.
Now for the public service announcement: Sharing a bed is not recommended by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is considered unsafe as it leads to an increased chance of infant suffocation and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). If you do co-sleep, you should do so with an approved co-sleeping device. (We splurged on one the second time around.) Do as I say, not as I do. Because while we survived co-sleeping in the safety sense, we quickly realized that it presented another unexpected danger: Your child may never, ever leave your bed. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but it’s just as hard to get a toddler to sleep in his bed as it is a newborn.
I Swore I’d Never … Wipe My Kids’ Noses With My Sleeve.
Or catch their vomit in my hands. Or eat half-dissolved puffs off their highchair trays. You get where this is going. Parenting is a disgusting business sometimes.
For the first six months of my youngest son’s life, spit-up was pretty much my only accessory. It was on my clothes; it was in my hair; it was all over the burp cloth slung permanently over my shoulder. I tried to stay on top of the mess, but there was so much, and I was so tired. I bet I grossed out quite a few people when they spotted—and smelled—the dried baby vomit on my back. Hopefully, they recognized the new mom haze and didn’t judge me too harshly. But they probably did. After all, I know exactly what I would’ve thought of someone in that state three years earlier. Oh, the irony.
I Swore I’d Never … Bring Up My Children in Every Conversation.
Although I do try not to do this, I fail miserably. I blame my kids—they’re just so stinking adorable. On nights out with friends, I’m the dork in the corner thumbing through 800 blurry (often identical) pics of my kids doing various everyday things, like playing in the sandbox. And on date night, my handsome man and I spend at least 75% of our time talking about how mind-blowing it is that we created such wonderful, amazing people. I’m still the same woman I was pre-motherhood, but you’re going to have to hear a thing or two about my offspring these days. It’s just the way things work now that I am a proud mom.
Perhaps the oddest thing about how much parenthood has changed me is how little I care. Many of the things I thought would be important just aren’t. And because I’ve now lived the dream (and sometimes nightmare) of being a parent, I’m so much less judgmental and concerned with appearances. My kids made me a better person simply by showing up on this planet—and for that, I am thankful every single day. (Have I mentioned how awesome they are?)