The Top Five Things I Wish New Parents Understood (But They Don't)
1) You WILL fight with your partner. And if you're a single parent, you will fight with your primary support person. This is normal. You have two people with brand new responsibility, challenges, and roles operating on little sleep with the physical recovery, stress, and anxieties that all come with being a new parent. Being a parent is one of the biggest stressors a couple faces together. Maybe you remember wedding planning? Everyone has an opinion? It's like that, but way more. If it feels unmanageable, seek support with a couples counselor to work through it.
2) There is NOT a CORRECT way to do anything as a parent. There is no one right way to handle feeding, sleeping, eating, playing, or returning to work. There are endless amounts of people that will tell you they figured it out, their way is right, its backed by science, its backed by generations of tradition, it worked for them... at the end of the day, their way worked for them and their family and their baby. It may, or may not, work for you. This was an insanely hard one for me personally; I wanted to be able to Google the "right" thing to do and then do it, but it just doesn't work that way. Get advice, do research, explore your options, and then trust your gut. Whatever choices you make are between you, your baby, your baby's other parent, and your pediatrician. The rest is just noise.
3) Mom guilt usually happens to dads too. Parent's often turn inward, stressing over their guilt in silence. Seek support from your partner, your friends, or a therapist. Even saying your guilt outloud can help take some of the power of it away. We call it Mom guilt, because traditionally mothers were the primary caretaker of children and the role of primary parent is often put on them, but secondary parents and/or fathers often feel guilt too. They may feel they are not a good enough father or husband, that they aren't supporiting their wife enough, or that they aren't working hard enough or earning enough money to support their families. Even with mothers who clearly express they want to work, some fathers may feel guilt that they don't make enough that their child's mother stays home. Toxic masculinity is a real thing and often rears its head when men become fathers.
4) Intrusive thoughts about accidentally hurting your child are very common, very distressing, and will get better. You're walking down the stairs and you imagine falling, dropping your baby, and landing you both in the hospital, you picture slipping and dropping your baby in the bathtub, you worry about scarring your child mentally when you change their diaper, you imagine getting in a horrific car accident every time you try to put your baby in the car. These are intrusive thoughts- meaning you can't control them, don't wnat to think them, and they distress you- and they happen to a lot of parents. Intrusive thoughts are your brain's way of telling you that this precious child is very delicate and you are very worried about keeping them safe. Remind yourself you are being as safe as possible, take a pause, a deep breath, and think of the most likely outcome- you have walked down the stairs safely and securely a hundred times, you are careful in the tub with your baby, you are keeping the baby's diaper area clean, and you will drive safely and slowly. They should lessen over time, but if they are unmanageable or you are unable to redirect your thoughts, seek some support from a therapist to learn coping skills to help.
5) We take it for granted that most women have childcare experience and often expect fathers to know more than they do. Let me say first, fathers, it is your job to teach yourself how to be a parent and/or find someone to teach you; however, most women have had some sort of childcare experience prior to being a mother- whether that was babysitting, helping with younger siblings, or even just playing with dolls. Many men were not allowed to play with dolls, were never expected to help out with siblings or cousins, or never babysat for extra income. As a society, we need to normalize boys caring for children, but as a parent, ask your partner what experience they do have and what they need to practice or learn (maybe even before baby comes!) Offer your friends free babysitting and bring your future parent so they can get some hands on experience before the sleep deprivation and stress hits.
Parenthood sounds stressful, and it is, but it is also incredibly fun, rewarding, and exciting! It is getting to be a true teammate with your partner and working together in a new way to raise a tiny human the best you know how. You can do this and you can do it together!