I hadn’t seen my friend Emily in a few months, and a lot had happened since then. The biggest? She had given birth to her first baby — and she was ready to get out of the house, so we made plans to get together.
I arrived at the coffee shop first — and given the fact that I am punctuality challenged, that should have been my first clue that something wasn’t right. As I waited, I repositioned the tissue paper in my belated "Congratulations!" gift bag and made sure the card was peeking out at just the right height. A couple of minutes later I spotted Emily heading my way. It wasn’t hard — a herd of elephants would have had an easier time approaching undetected.
She had an overstuffed diaper bag slung over her shoulder that was bigger than the suitcase I take on overseas flights. She was also dragging along a bulky baby carrying case, giving her the look of a weary Sherpa at the end of a long trek from a faraway land called Babies R Us. There were dark circles under her eyes and the serene aura that had enveloped her for her entire pregnancy was completely gone.
When she finally made it to the table, she collapsed into a chair, looking like she could use a shower, a vodka tonic or a cigarette — or in a perfect world, all three.
Some people are crazy about the very first year of parenting. Others view it more like a not-at-all fun to watch (and even less fun to compete in) reality show.
“I can’t believe you didn’t level with me about how hard this whole thing was going to be!” she tore into me. “I mean, I feel like I was the only one on the outside of this huge conspiracy. Why didn’t you tell me?”
This wasn’t the warm, fuzzy reunion I was expecting. What about the exchange of pleasantries and the customary oohing and aahing over her little bundle of joy? And wasn’t she even the least bit curious about what was in this festive gift bag?
Emily seemed genuinely put out with me — it was as if she really and truly felt like I had deliberately hidden the ball from her. This surprised me for a couple of reasons. First, Emily always seemed like the sort of person that was going to be a natural at parenting — like she was born to be a mom. Second, she had been my daughter Hannah’s babysitter when Hannah was little — and Hannah had not been one of those easy-breezy babies.
“Emily, what are you talking about? You of all people knew this would be hard work. The first day you babysat for Hannah she projectile vomited all over the breakfast room. t took both of us the rest of the afternoon to get everything cleaned up. When it comes to full disclosure, you can’t get more tangible than that.”
She just glared at me.
I could tell by looking at her that spending the next hour defending myself against unreasonable accusations was going to be a waste of a perfectly good coffee break. I also realized that when it came to gifts, Emily didn’t need more cool toys for her baby. What she really needed couldn’t be gently nestled in a gift bag and surrounded by clouds of tissue paper. But since I couldn’t afford to get her a live-in nanny, I gave her the next best thing: Reassuring advice.
This is what I told her:
Not everyone is bananas about mashed bananas. Some people are crazy about the very first year of parenting. Others view it more like a not-at-all fun to watch (and even less fun to compete in) reality show where contestants get endurance tested in areas like how many consecutive hours of frantic crying they can listen to before they themselves start sobbing, how many loads of laundry they can complete on two hours' sleep before they or their washing machine breaks down, and how long they can go without any adult conversation before they start communicating in monosyllabic grunts that bear even less resemblance to words than the sounds their babies make.
Just because you don’t love a particular phase of your kid’s development doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid.
And some parents loathe the adolescent years, while others find the constant eye rolling, erratic mood swings and the ability to transform any statement into a crude joke to be that certain cine qua non that makes a house a home.
My point is this: Just because you don’t love a particular phase of your kid’s development doesn’t mean you don’t love your kid. And just because whatever phase you’re not crazy about happens to be someone else’s (or even everyone else’s) absolute favorite doesn’t mean that you’re somehow a bad parent.
In Emily’s case, because everyone seemed to be gaga over the “goo goo” phase, she fully expected she would be, too. Turns out she wasn’t, but there was no way for her to know that until she actually had a baby.
I can relate. Parenting came a lot more easily to me once my kids hit the important milestones of being able to sleep through the night and speak in complete sentences. And once they were potty trained our house really became a happy home. It wasn’t that I didn’t love them before those things happened; but everyday life was a heck of a lot more fun afterwards.
This too shall pass. It sure doesn’t feel like time flies when you’re sleep deprived and up to your elbows in dirty diapers. In fact, it seems more like time has regressed to the point of forgetting how to even crawl. But regardless of what it feels like, time really does continue to march along.
This is important to remember when you are working on an issue with your kid, like weaning your toddler from his pacifier or convincing your six year old to stay in her own room all night. If you find yourself getting worked up about your lack of progress, take a few steps back and consider this: How many people do you know over the age of twelve who still depend on a pacifier? And how many teenagers still want to get in bed with Mommy and Daddy each night?
Don’t let your efforts to break your kid from sucking his thumb end up sucking all of the joy out of your family life.
So, relax a little. Don’t let your efforts to break your kid from sucking his thumb end up sucking all of the joy out of your family life. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t keep working on the things you know your kids need help with, but don’t get frantic if things take longer than you expected. This particular struggle won’t last forever.
No parent is perfect. Parenting involves unknowns and uncertainties. But there’s one thing you can count on: Mistakes will be made. Once you accept the fact that you will make mistakes, the real question becomes how to handle them. I believe each mistake is a mine of valuable information. The key is to safely extract all the resources within it, then close the mine up and move on.
Not only do your mistakes hold important lessons for you, they can also provide great teachable moments for your kids. By watching how you handle your mistakes, your kids will learn how to handle their own. Do you deny any responsibility and try to blame others? Or do fall at the other end of the spectrum, blowing everything out of proportion, calling yourself an idiot and beating yourself up? Whatever you do, keep in mind your kids are taking notes.
When you make a mistake, follow these steps to get back to where you need to be:
1. Own up to your mistake.
2. Apologize to anyone who was negatively affected.
3. Do what you can to correct it.
4. Learn what you can so you won’t repeat it.
5. Move on.
When it comes to apologizing, make sure your apology is sincere, but don’t overdo it. Over-apologizing magnifies your mistake and keeps the issue alive. As a result, over-apologizing can actually make the situation worse. So, aim for the sweet spot: Say you’re sorry like you mean it, then move on.
Several years have passed since that day I had coffee with Emily. I ran into her recently at a farmers market and this time she had not one but three kids in tow — the youngest was three and the oldest was six. Her serene aura was back and her kids all seemed to have inherited it, too.
Emily may not have cared for the infant phase of parenting, what with its sleepless nights and endless chores; but I’m glad she didn’t read too much into that and throw the baby out with the bath water. Judging from the looks of her and her three smiling children, motherhood overall clearly agrees with her.