Thursday, August 15, 2013

Lessons Learned

I'm going to do some chatting about family here in a second, but I thought I'd start with a few food photos.  The peach photo I put up last week was just the tip of the iceberg. I bought a half bushel of Missouri peaches and have been putting them into everything I can think of.
Here I'm peeling them and then putting them in lemon water before freezing.
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It's finally sweet corn season. With butter, salt, lime, and chili powder. 
I'll have a lot more cooking to share with you soon, including a recipe for peach ice cream and some talk about making soap.  But today I wanted to share some thoughts, and ask what advice you'd share with new parents.
Parenting has taught me so many lessons, in that way that only certain experiences can. This is one of many reasons that I feel conflicted about having a second child. I wonder if the learning increases exponentially (as I hear the work does), or if it gets lost among the chaos.  With one child, there are spaces in my day, moments between events where I can process and reflect. This is the greatest gift meditation and mindful living has given me: that pause between thought and action. The ability to practice observation of my behavior and emotions, rather than simply being caught up in them. Is this the luxury of an only child? I have seen simplicity improve other areas of my life. Fewer clothes in my closet makes me feel better about what I do choose to wear, and helps me constantly reflect on whether a certain piece has earned its place or should be given away. Fewer dishes in the cabinet make it easier to find what I need and really use. Fewer products in my routine help our space feel calm and efficient.
So, would choosing to have just one child, to simplify my mental and physical space, ultimately be the best choice for my family? Or would another child help me see her and myself more clearly? The waters are murky for me here. There is no way to use logic to make the choice to have a child. It's an inherently emotional decision, and for many, the practical drawbacks that you accept when you choose to get pregnant are enormous. Your life is never more convenient and peaceful than when you don't have children. At some point, you either decide that having children is not for you, or you make the leap and go all in. I suspect it's the same with a second child. A variety of reasons dictate that having another isn't an option right now, but I can't help but wonder if it's not the right choice for us anyway.
A friend of mine just had her first baby, and thinking about the lessons I've learned made me want to write out some advice that I'd give to her. Like all big lessons, these are mostly the kind you have to learn on your own, but these are some things I wish someone had told me back when I first became a mother.

Babies cry. And that's ok. When E was first born, I couldn't stand to hear her cry. I consider all crying a form of communication, and I hated to see her frustrated and uncomfortable. I also couldn't separate her emotions from my own. I'd snap at my partner to give me something that I needed for her because I felt like she needed it RIGHT NOW WHY AREN'T YOU MOVING ANY FASTER?! I thought she was in pain and it felt urgent. But I now realize that babies just cry. They just do. And they're usually fine. Try to figure out what they need, stay with them, let them know that you're there and love them, but don't fix your hopes on trying to get them to stop crying, because they might not.

Whatever happens, it will be ok. I used to (ok, I still do) get so caught up in sleep time. I would get so upset when E obviously needed sleep but wouldn't. Sleep has always been my job, and I put a lot of pressure on myself to get her down when I was certain that she needed it. But now I realize that I should just give it my best shot and if she doesn't go to sleep, it's ok. Really. She will eventually fall asleep. She will eventually eat. She will eventually stop crying. It's going to be ok.

The baby is trying to break you up. Ok, this isn't really true, but it certainly feels true. Babies test relationships in a completely unique way, and it's helpful to say this aloud when things are getting really difficult. It's a funny and light-hearted way to recognize that you and your partner are indeed on the same team.  My friend and new mom Sarah wrote candidly on her blog about going through this as only she can. If you're not already reading her blog, please click over and enjoy.

It's just a phase. Baby not sleeping for more than 20 minutes at a time? Just a phase. Refuses to eat anything but cheese? Just a phase. Babies change so quickly, but it can be hard to see past the current trend. Take a step back and know that it will be over soon.

Development is not a straight line. I just assumed that babies just kept getting better in one straight line. I thought her newborn days were the most she'd ever nurse, the least she'd ever sleep. It works that way in a general sense, but there are a lot of hiccups ("regressions") along the way.

Don't take it personally. I know it sounds ridiculous, but for some reason it's easy to take your baby's behavior personally.  As if they're somehow doing this to you. This doesn't make any sense, but it's easy to forget because we're all naturally self-centered. It always makes me think of this section of the DFW speech I mentioned in Recommended Reading:
"My natural default setting is the certainty that situations like this are really all about me. About MY hungriness and MY fatigue and MY desire to just get home, and it's going to seem for all the world like everybody else is just in my way. And who are all these people in my way? And look at how repulsive most of them are, and how stupid and cow-like and dead-eyed and nonhuman they seem in the checkout line, or at how annoying and rude it is that people are talking loudly on cell phones in the middle of the line. And look at how deeply and personally unfair this is."  

Do less.  It is natural for new parents to want to do everything for their child, to show them how loved and special they are. In my experience, the best way to do this is to be quietly present. Be attentive, but not in their face. Let them know that you're there and interested, but let them be alone. Children can develop the capacity to be alone if they're given the chance. They can develop their own sense of what's good and bad, what's interesting and what's boring, if they're given the opportunity to make their own judgments and choices. I have learned much about this from the work of Magda Gerber, founder of RIE.

You're doing GREAT.  Really. You are doing very important work and you're doing great.

Would you consider sharing some of those big lessons you learned early on in your parenting journey? I'd love to benefit from your wisdom.

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