Joe and Sue, sitting in a tree, K-I-S-S-I-N-G,
First comes love, then comes marriage,
Then comes a baby in a baby carriage.

If you’re like me, this familiar little rhyme sums up the blissful dream you pictured when you thought about your future. From the time we first fully noticed the opposite sex, right up to the birth of our first child, we were "lost" in the dream life this little rhyme depicts.

And then it happens. Reality hits us square in the eye in the form of a crying, wriggling, needy bundle. The blissful dream disappears in the wake of sleepless nights, breastfeeding battles, worry lines and an endless stack of diapers. Is this really what we signed up for?

Welcome to your new reality! No matter how prepared you think you are, when you become a new parent you quickly realize you really aren’t prepared at all. Life as you knew it is over. And the new reality can leave many new moms and dads longing for the days before baby.

I know. I’m one of them.

Don’t get me wrong, I adore my daughter. I can’t imagine life without her. But parenthood brought with it a set of challenges and emotions that I did not expect, despite all my preparation. The past 17 months have been a huge learning experience. But the most important things I’ve learned are not so much about my baby, but about me.

I learned to relinquish control

I’ll admit it, I’m a control freak. I thrive on routine. I plan ahead. I do my homework and plan for every eventuality. So it goes without saying that I spent nine months planning out how I would care for and raise my new baby. I read all kinds of pregnancy, parenting and baby care resources, and I entered parenthood fully prepared.

But as my mother pointed out to me not long after my daughter was born, my baby had not read those books! She didn’t have a clue what the books said about crying, breastfeeding or sleeping. The dream of a schedule for each day went out the window, as did my plan to establish a sleep training routine from day one. And my intention to breastfeed didn’t account for a baby who would not tolerate breast milk!

The control freak in me freaked out, and I was left feeling overwhelmed and ill-prepared. This forced me to my knees, needing daily reminders that God was in control. With His patient direction I learned to be flexible and take my lead from the baby, to allow myself to relax, and to enjoy the precious moments before they’re gone.

I learned to give myself permission

Normally, I can keep my emotions in check. While I may get misty-eyed at a touching movie or TV commercial, I am not one to cry or be overly emotional. So when I prepared to welcome our daughter into the world and read about "the baby blues" and postpartum depression, I dismissed them as something I’d not have to deal with.

What I did not account for, however, was the roller coaster of emotions that came along with being a new parent. Hormones raging through my body, sleepless nights and the anxiety of caring for something so small and helpless elicited powerful emotions I had never experienced before, catching me by surprise.

Through the patience of friends and family, I learned to give myself permission to feel overwhelmed and to acknowledge moments when I just didn’t think I could handle it any more. I learned to permit myself to cry, and even scream! Putting the baby in a safe place for a moment so I could walk out of the room to regain my composure was key to my survival in the first few months. I realized that letting her cry for a few minutes would not harm her. Not getting my emotions under control, however, might mean harming her in ways I didn’t want to think about!

I learned to accept the moments when I found myself wishing for my old life back. Instead of feeling guilty, I realized these feelings were normal. I learned, too, not to feel guilty about moments when I resented having to care for my baby – even though I knew I loved her more than life itself! And I learned to allow myself to need help – to let go and admit that I couldn’t do everything!

I learned to rely on others

An important lesson to learn, as a new parent, is to accept the help that is offered – whether it be from your parents, the neighbour next door, or your best friend. All too often new parents try to do it all themselves. Don’t let your pride get in the way; that can take you down the road to burnout fast. The people who love you want to help... so let them! It may be a homemade meal to save you the burden of cooking one night, or an offer to babysit so you and your spouse can get reacquainted; view it as an opportunity to love your baby in a way you hadn’t thought of! A parent who has had some time away to sleep, refresh and unwind is the best gift you could give your child!

Learning to rely on your spouse is even more important, especially for moms. Many new daddies are eager to be involved, but often feel helpless when it comes to caring for a new baby – what the baby needs most is usually provided solely by the mother! Ensuring that daddy doesn’t feel left out isn’t just important for him . . . it’s important for your baby, too!

Learn to let go and let your spouse do what they can to help. Let him change the diapers when he’s home. Let him in on the midnight and 3 a.m. feedings (with the use of a breast pump and bottle if you are breast feeding). Give him a chance to sooth the baby when he’s crying. My husband’s most cherished memories of our daughter, in the first few months, were the moments when he was up late at night with her – just the two of them, cuddling and sleeping. 

When all is said and done, the most important thing every new parent needs to remember is that "this too shall pass." The sleepless nights won’t last forever. The midnight feedings will soon be a distant memory. Even the diapers will someday be gone. So relax, enjoy each moment, and take advantage of the support network around you. Most of all, hold on to the promise that God never gives you more than you can handle.

Shari Lau served on the Care Ministries team for Focus on the Family Canada at the time of publication.

© 2010 Focus on the Family (Canada) Association. All rights reserved.

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