Yesterday, our daughter went to a nearby aquarium with our neighbors. It was her first time going away for the better part of the day without us. She was excited. So were we. As my husband and I enjoyed some quiet time at home together, we marveled at how fast our daughter is growing up. I wondered if our first year as parents would have been drastically different if I had known that, five years later, we’d be lying in bed in the middle of the day—alone—while our daughter was having a blast feeding turtles with her friend.
The answer is a resounding yes. But as my husband pointed out, we completely lacked perspective then. And because of that, life was harder.
When you are in the thick of caring for an infant, waking up every two hours day or night, it’s difficult to imagine that life will ever be different. I really thought those first few months were my new normal forever. I was certain that I would never have a full night’s sleep again. I was wrong, yet too tired to know it.
If you are struggling to get accustomed to new parenthood, let me give you a bit of perspective and hopefully save you some heartache. We’re only six years ahead, yet we might as well be on another planet, and this is what life looks like there:
On our planet, children fall asleep on their own. There’s bath time (or if you’re in our house, shower time). There’s teeth-brushing time (and sooner than you think, they do that on their own, too). There’s story time. Then you make sure Tiger, Bunny, Doggy, and the other half of the stuffed menagerie are at their appropriate posts. You fill up a water bottle. You turn off the main light, turn on the night light, and leave the room with a blown kiss and an I love you. Moments later, when you walk past the bedroom, your child’s asleep. And chances are high that she’ll sleep through the night and so will you. Really.
Now, I won’t lie, a bedtime like that requires rigorous training and regular tune ups. But more often than not, that is our reality now. And it’s vastly different from the days of nursing until you feel sucked dry, rocking until you can’t feel your arms anymore, and enduring the crying and screaming until it’s very likely your head will explode. Going to sleep is not something babies consider a priority. Go figure!
On our planet, mommies get to sleep in. Now, let’s be honest, that means getting up at around 8 a.m. at the latest and definitely not everyday. Still, for someone who woke up at 5 a.m. for the first couple of years, 8 a.m., even sometimes, is a major improvement.
My daughter is still an early riser, ready for the day at around 6:30 a.m., but we’ve trained her to occupy herself (screen free) until we leave our own room. The training took some effort, but the return on investment is huge. We get an extra hour to ourselves each morning. Sometimes I use it to sleep; sometimes I use it for some much-needed alone time.
On our planet, children don’t scream in their car seat. You can travel all day long. (Because, well, on our planet, children don’t nap either. Okay, our planet is not perfect.) You can make multiple stops at multiple stores with no meltdowns, except for the butter if it’s a really hot day. I know some people on your planet are blessed with babies who are lulled by the car and sleep in their car seats. My child wasn’t one of those babies. So moving to this new planet really was life changing.
On our planet, children go to the bathroom on their own. The “Mommy, I need to potty,” cries will only require a cheerful, “Make sure to wipe well and wash your hands after.” I know it sounds too good to be true, but it is true.
I’ve heard of another planet where mommies get to go to the bathroom on their own too, but I am not a regular on that planet yet.
On our planet, mommies can claim some time off. This looks different depending on each family’s circumstances. I’ve enjoyed this benefit sporadically since my daughter was about three years old. But as of this year, I’ve made it a weekly practice.
Every Wednesday, I leave before lunch and come back just before dinnertime. And although it is not her favorite day of the week, my daughter doesn’t kick and scream as I step out of the door, and that feels out-of-this-world great!
On our planet, mommies read books. They have the time to read but, more importantly, they have the energy to. I finished reading The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty in one day not long ago (see Mommy’s Day Off above). Yeah. That was nice.
On our planet, mommies get to shower, eat a warm meal, and take a nap all in the same day. I’m not even kidding!
I know you want to buy tickets and move here right now. Sadly, no tickets are available for purchase. Getting to this planet requires a slow, arduous journey. You just take it day by day—sometimes minute by minute. But rest assured, your reservations were made the day your child was born. Being a new parent is hard. Even if you have one of those easy babies (I hear they exist), parenting is not easy, especially not in the beginning. But don’t despair.
Just do your best now. Enjoy it as much as you can, and on the days you can’t, well, have a good cry and hang on to the belief that it will get better.
That other planet is not as far away as you may think.
See you there!
QUESTION: What are three things that are particularly hard for you in this season of mothering?
CHALLENGE: Look at each difficult aspect of parenting with the eyes of your future self and try to gain a new perspective. Talk to a more experienced mother. Take comfort in knowing that “this too shall pass.”
Edited by Lisa Hoelzer and Katie Carter.
Family photos provided by the author. Feature image from Shutterstock; graphics by Julie Finlayson.