There are some things about motherhood that you just can’t really understand until you have a child of your own. Sure, I received lots of very helpful advice from my friends with children and internet articles offer plenty of very valuable information, but nothing compares to gaining the experience firsthand. It seems that motherhood is a constant string of “I would never…” statements that eventually get abandoned. In just four months, Andrew and I have already broken countless “I would never” convictions.
I would never let my baby cry.
I would never give him formula.
I would never wake a sleeping baby.
I would never feed my son store-bought baby food.
I would never put my kid in one of those silly romper-things.
And the kicker…
I would never let my kid’s nap schedule completely define my life.
Well, here’s the truth after gaining four months of experience. Babies cry- a lot. And sometimes you just have to let them cry. Sometimes you just have to leave your screaming child in his crib and take a few deep breaths before going forward. Sometimes that’s the only way to maintain your sanity.
Formula is not the devil, and sometimes it can be a saving grace. Not every mother is going to be able to breastfeed. Not every mother is going to want to breastfeed. And that’s okay.
From time to time, you will need to wake a sleeping baby. When you have errands to run and only a short amount of time for them, you’re just going to have to risk waking the baby sleeping in their car seat. When your sleep-deprived child finally closes their eyes, you might realize that it’s already time to load them in their car seat to go to work, or church, or countless other places. Or you might be the mother of the baby who likes taking two hour naps right before bedtime. If you want to save bedtime, you might just need to wake them up.
Just like formula, store-bought baby food is not the devil. It also does not have to be unhealthy. While I have already introduced John to fresh banana puree, his first food was store-bought oatmeal with formula. Sometimes circumstances require that we use store-bought baby food. It’s more convenient for travel, and in a jam, you might need something that’s already prepared and ready to eat. There’s nothing wrong with making your own baby food and using store brands as well.
Babies in rompers are just adorable. They’re also super convenient when you have a diaper explosion. Nothing else needs to be said on this.
And as for nap schedules, if you want to maintain your sanity, I think we all just need to accept that sometimes showing up late for a party or turning down an invitation to go out to dinner with friends will be inevitable. Before I became a mother and even while I was pregnant, I made the ridiculous assertion that I would not let my child’s nap schedule ruin my social life. After seeing my friends with kids show up late for countless parties, turn down countless invitations to hang out, and request that people change their plans to accommodate their child(ren)’s nap schedule, I was convinced that I was not going to be “that kind of mother.” I was going to be the kind of mother who taught her baby to be flexible (as if you could do that with every kid). I was going to be the kind of mother who didn’t miss friends’ parties, or girls nights, or coffee runs because my son needed to nap in his crib in his own bedroom with his blanket and white noise every time. In fact, I was going to make sure that my son was able to sleep everywhere- in his crib, in his car seat, in his bouncy chair, in someone’s arms. He would be able to sleep with dead quiet and crazy loud music. He would be able to sleep for hours no matter where he was. And then I met John.
John did not sleep everywhere and anywhere. He hated his crib, and insisted on being propped up and rocked as he slept. He needed white noise to sleep, since he was likely to wake as soon as he heard any distinct noise, and loud places made him antsy. He loved sleeping in his car seat, whether we were driving or taking a walk, but as soon as we stopped or he was jostled too much, he would wake up. If he wasn’t in his car seat, he would only sleep for 20-45 minutes at a time, and if he fell asleep in the car and was woken ten minutes later, you could pretty much assume that he was going to spend the next two hours being a grump.
As much as I tried to make him flexible, I had to admit that I was failing miserably. Once we started Cry-It-Out (CIO), his nap routine became much more structured, and Andrew and I made every effort to make sure that he was only napping in his crib without his pacifier. Suddenly John was sleeping for one to two hours every time, and he always woke up happy and well-rested. For the first time in months, he was capable of independent play, and he didn’t need me right beside him, or holding him, the entire time that he was awake. Once we became more strict about his naps, John became an entirely different baby. And that was when I realized that it was ridiculous for me to assume that I would never become the type of mother who let my child’s nap routine govern my life. It should have been a no-brainer, but it took me a while to realize that a well-rested baby is a happy baby. And a well-rested baby is one who has some consistency in his nap schedule.
Now, I am not saying that parents have to be absolute slaves to their child’s nap schedule- sometimes you just need to break away from the routine- but I am advocating for a baseline schedule that you can then deviate from. I was being selfish when I judged my friends because they wanted to preserve just one nap for the day before they headed off to their party, or girls night, or the movies. I was being ridiculous when I assumed that babies don’t need routine, that they could just go with the flow with no negative side effects. Most babies thrive on routine, and it’s much more enjoyable if you’re bringing a well-rested, happy baby to the party, or girls night, or wherever. And it goes without saying that a happy baby makes a happy mama, and you can’t fault a mother for trying to make her life a little easier. It might have seemed inconvenient to me before, but now I understand why my friends wanted their kids to nap according to their regular routine and schedule. Life is so much less stressful when John has taken a solid morning nap. I am more relaxed, and I’m more inclined to be adventurous when John is in a good mood.
At this point, I can only apologize to my friends with children for my ill-conceived judgements in the past, and ask my friends without children to avoid making the same mistake that I made. I’m not showing up late, turning down invitations, or asking for our coffee date to be pushed back because I don’t value your friendship; I’m doing it because I need to. I’m doing it because if my son sleeps, then he’ll be happy, and if he’s happy, then I’m happy. And if I’m happy than I can really be present to you, and I can avoid the stress and anxiety of caring for a sleep-deprived child. Parenthood requires change, and this means that friendships will change too. Change is not always bad. Often it’s necessary, and sometimes it’s even good. And any change that preserves my mental health is a good one.
Mary Help of Christians, pray for us!