Last fall I vividly recall sitting on my therapist’s couch with a cup of coffee in hand. I had tears streaming down my face because I was facing so many battles with myself as a new parent. It was almost as if a light switch had been flipped on, and I was suddenly analyzing and dissecting every bit of my childhood and the relationship I had with my own parents. Parenting is by no means simple math. It is complicated, ever-changing, and filled with many emotions. When you are truly healing and doing the work, you realize that therapy and healing from your own childhood traumas will help you be successful in parenting. I felt empowered knowing that motherhood was pushing me to break generational curses and seek a different foundation for my own parenting style. It is true – I learned so much in my first year of parenting. There were also a lot of mistakes that I made. And while there are no real parenting hacks, I do believe these fundamental values and tips have helped me flourish in the world of parenting:
- Do set boundaries. Contrary to popular belief, your family, in-laws, friends, co-workers and so forth do not dictate or override your parenting boundaries. You and your partner should sit down and discuss what parenting looked like in your home growing up and how you wish to change things – if anything at all. It’s a blessing to come from a home full of love, but for many people this was not their foundation.
- Protect your home and peace. I made the huge mistake of inviting a family member into my home during postpartum recovery. In fact, some of this caused me to spiral deeper into postpartum depression. I do believe that there can be exceptions to this rule if you (and your partner) are on the same page. Most importantly, the family member should be there solely to support and nourish your new lifestyle as a family – not be intrusive. For example, my mother and step dad spent a few days with us in postpartum recovery. They bought us groceries, prepared meals, and even stored leftovers in the freezer to take a load off after they went back home.
- Save money on children’s clothes. Children have a long life ahead of them and plenty of time to develop fashion interests. Let the kids be great and don’t spend excessively until they are steady in their growth patterns. While I am grateful for all of the new clothes gifted to us, I appreciate my close girlfriend who gifted us with Aiden’s entire summer wardrobe. I will never say no to gently used clothing, especially with a steady growing toddler boy!
- Make your own traditions. As my husband Keith and I evolve into parenting we are less focused on materialistic ideologies. Last Christmas our gift to each other was taking Aiden on a road trip to Chattanooga, Tennessee. It was such a hit and we plan to do a road trip for each holiday. I even decided to cook a prime rib and yummy vegetables, rather than spending an entire day cooking a feast that is dangerous to my health. We gifted Aiden with three inexpensive toys that would enhance his development and cognitive thinking skills. When you know better, you do better!
- Make food fun. The transition from the newborn to toddler phase can be very overwhelming. How can you make food fun? Try fun shaped foods like cutting apples into stars, or serving peas in a circular shape on your little one’s plate. Have kabobs on hand? Your child might be curious to try a new food simply by placing it on a kabob for their own exploration. The possibilities are endless. Don’t stress. Know that your child will signal if they are hungry or full (open fist or closed fist). Always introduce new foods with an option that your child is familiar with. This eases anxiety and increases curiosity. Remember – if your child simply touches or holds the new food, you are already making progress!
- Reduce screen time. We have days where Aiden does not watch any TV or play with electronics. We only allow the iPad or phone for long travel periods, or if we are dining in a restaurant and need a distraction to enjoy our meal. The key is to limit screen time early and this will prevent less tantrums and dissatisfaction when the screen is taken away. What are great activities that don’t involve the screen? Ball pits, wooden puzzles, library visits, zoos, aquariums, walking, building blocks, finger paint, and so much more. Need some inspiration? Head over to Pinterest and start exploring.
- Establish your date night schedule. Sit down with your partner and decide on how often you would like to have date nights each month. It might seem like a lot of work, but pulling out your calendar and setting up those dates in advance will not only make you anticipate spending time with your partner, but it will also help you establish a routine and stay committed to honoring time with your love. Keith and I commit to two date nights per month and it has been refreshing for us. Get creative as well. Sometimes we opt for day dates and brunch dates. There is no wrong way to do it, just be committed to what works for you and your partner.
- Babysitting. As someone who lives far away from the immediate family I grew up with, there were times I found it challenging to find a sitter. I have tremendous support in Atlanta from my dad’s family, but I also choose not to exhaust them – we all need breaks. If you live far away from family and are seeking childcare, try to seek assistance in the communities that you are involved with. Many of us overlook the fact that we spend so much time at work and you tend to develop close relationships with some of your colleagues. One of Aiden’s babysitters is my husband’s former colleague. Perhaps you can seek childcare support through your church or a local fitness group that you participate in. A recent trend is drop-in care for many daycare centers. That’s right – you can set up a time to drop off your child for a few hours and have uninterrupted time with your partner for a one-time fee. As always, be cautious, put safety first, and know your boundaries. COVID is still on the rise, so do take the health of your family into consideration during this vulnerable time.
- Naps. Enjoy them often and early. I definitely did not appreciate the newborn phase and constant cycle of napping. The best approach to napping is to monitor your child’s sleep schedule and look for cues. Fussiness, glossy eyes, yawning, etc. One tactic that I learned in the hospital was making note of sleep and feeding schedules. It takes time for your little one to adjust into a routine, but letting their bodies naturally develop into this space is key. By 6 months of age I had studied Aiden’s sleeping schedule so precisely, that I could tell babysitters exactly when he would eat and nap. Be patient and observant.
- You will make mistakes. Parenting is not easy. I have great days and not so fun days! There are times I lose my patience and temper, and other days I put my efforts into rewiring what I knew about parenting so that I can be the change I wish to see. Mistakes will be made and the best thing you can do as a parent is acknowledge it, learn from it, and do better next time.
So, what did you learn in your first year of parenting? What do you hope to achieve in parenting? Stay tuned for more parenting content!
Photo By: George Becker (StockSnap)