Thursday, 21 June 2012

How to revise your parenting expectations

I’m not exactly sure how, given that I have four younger siblings, but I honestly had no idea what having a baby would be like. I was shocked by my friend Carly’s admission that she was quite tired a few months after having given birth. Don’t babies just sleep most of the time, and the rest of the time blithely look around in awe at the world while absorbing language and learning how to use their limbs? Well, no, actually. For those of you who don’t yet have children, let me tell you a few salient points, so that once (if) you do have a baby, I can tell you “hey, I gave you fair warning.”

1. Life as you know it will end. No matter how hard you fight it. We were under the impression that people made the choice to let babies take over their lives, and were determined we would not let that happen to us. No, we would continue doing everything we had before, just with baby in tow. This idea was, of course, idiotic.

Not only do many activities preclude the involvement of babies (surfing, snowboarding, staying out drinking until 2 am), but even seemingly benign activities (going out for dinner) are made unpleasant with an unhappy child squirming in your lap and flinging toys and utensils at other diners. We had the mistaken idea that if we just took baby everywhere from the start, he’d get used to it and we could transcend this unpleasantness. He’d get used to sleeping anywhere and we’d be able to continue our semi-nomadic and active lives. Not so much.
Swimming becomes slightly more contrived with baby in tow

2. Babies do sleep a lot, but generally they wake up every 1-5 hours and need something from you. Hence, you will not experience an uninterrupted stretch of sleep for the foreseeable future. Unless you are the father. And you sleep in a different room. But really, ladies, let me be honest: even if your partner offers to feed and/or change the baby in the middle of the night, you’ll be awake anyways, with your special baby-is-about-to-wake-up-and-start-screaming sensors in full overdrive mode.

3. That advice about sleeping when the baby sleeps is only useful for the first few days. Everyone will tell you, “It’s Ok to let the housework lapse so you can nap when the baby does.” This is crap. Unless they are going to come over and cook and clean and do your laundry, at some point you will have used up all of the clean dishes and clothes, and sadly, there are no Mother’s Helper fairies to come fix everything.

4. Your baby may refuse to be “worn,” thus thwarting all of your hippie ideals and plans to keep your life under control and have a baby at the same time. I had the idea that I would pop the baby in a carrier and then go about my business as usual, occasionally feeding and changing and comforting my otherwise happy or sleeping child. This might be all well and good if your child is small, thus not causing your back to break from wearing him all day, and/or if he actually likes being in the carrier.

This is the kind of mother that I imagined being.
This is the kind of mother I actually am, because this is the kind of baby that I produced.
5. You will do a ridiculous amount of laundry. So buck up and buy a washer, and go ahead and use cloth diapers—it’s cheaper, and better for the planet, and it’s not that much more work. (Extra tip: it may not appeal to you, but it’s even cheaper and greener if you buy used diapers—you can sanitize them before use). Please hang your voluminous laundry to dry—it would be nice to leave the planet semi-intact for that little poo and puke-machine you’ve decided to create.

6. Do not believe TV shows. During our nights in, we now watch quite a bit of TV on Hulu (since we are too brain-dead to do anything productive). These invariably paint the picture of parenthood that I thought was real before giving birth. Most of the time the baby is just conveniently not around, or is happily sitting in its car seat making no noise and demanding no attention (see Weeds, Up All Night, etc…). I suppose the shows would be a bit chaotic and hard to follow if the main character was interrupted every few moments needing to attend to her child, but it’s just cruel to perpetuate the lies.
So, there you have it, more or less. Your baby will consume your entire life, and your pastimes will spawn cobwebs. But when you wake up in the morning and he’s smiling at you with the biggest toothless grin possible, it makes it all Ok.

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