Advice For New Parents

by Eric on February 24, 2009

Molly and I had our first son last August. It’s been great. Nothing is more fun for me than spending time with my family. It’s also been challenging.

I’m a fanatic planner/preparer. Before Ejay arrived, we went to the classes, read the books, watched the videos, etc. etc. All that helped. But babies are very complicated, and they’re all different. This inherent complexity/variability makes it impossible to fully prepare for a baby. In retrospect, there were a number of things I wish I’d known then.

To help future new parents, I’ve prepared a list of things I’ve learned since my son arrived. Ejay is only 6 months old, so I’m sure I’ll be learning more. I’ll post more as I do.

Your baby will cry.

For the first couple of days after Ejay arrived I operated in emergency mode. I treated every cry like a fire alarm. “He’s crying! Something must be terribly wrong! I have to figure it out! I have to solve it now!” All I did was wear myself out.

Crying means your baby wants something. It does not mean your baby needs something immediately, you have 5 seconds to figure it out, and if you fail the consequences will be dire and irreversible. Relax, figure out the problem, and solve it. Repeat as necessary.

You don’t have enough batteries.

Every product for babies must light up, beep, spin around, and play a tune. Accept it. Estimate the number of batteries you’ll need, then double it. Then double that. That’s a good start.

The first two weeks is boot camp.

For the first 2 weeks of his life, your newborn will require all your energy. You will feel like you can’t sustain that level of effort. And you will be right.

If you don’t expect the demands to lighten up, you might feel overwhelmed (I did). The good news is that it will lighten up. It gets easier. Just treat the first two weeks like survival mode. Don’t worry about the house, the yard, the laundry, etc. Just care for your family and yourself. The rest of it will be there when your baby’s demands ease up (probably about two weeks). Focus intensely for now, and know that there’s light at the end of the tunnel.

Everyone’s an expert.

Did you know that the act of procreation qualifies you as an expert on all things child-related? And that it becomes your duty to correct anyone you find doing it wrong? And that everyone’s experience should match your own?

It seems that everyone who’s reproduced successfully has an opinion about what babies should eat, wear, do, watch, etc. Many of these people feel compelled to educate everyone else on the right way to do it. And a lot of them will get fighting mad if you disagree. So don’t. You have X amount of energy. You can spend it caring for your child, or you can spend it arguing with adults.

By the way, don’t judge these self-appointed experts too harshly. Generally, they don’t believe that they know it all. They just want to believe that they did (or are doing) the best thing for their children. One way they can feel that way is by having other people agree with them. So don’t let them sap your energy. Just be cordial, listen, consider what they say, and continue caring for your child in the best manner you know.

Improve incrementally.

Be attentive for anything you can improve. Maybe you can raise/lower your changing table a few inches. Maybe you can go to bed a half hour earlier or later. Maybe you can keep the baby’s room 1 degree warmer or cooler. Are your curtains open or shut? Fans on or off? How’s the baby’s bath water temperature? Does he sleep better in cotton or polyester? In which brand of diaper does he sleep better?

So many variables affect how your baby feels and how you feel. Every time you can extend his sleep a few minutes, save yourself a step or two, or avoid searching for something that’s lost, it adds up. String together enough of these small improvements and you’ve bought yourself (and your child) an easier, more pleasant day.

That’s what I’ve learned so far. What do you wish you’d known when your first child was born?

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