Here in 2017, especially among the WASPs, women are growing their families in abysmal isolation. It is common for new parents to have no clue about child-rearing and child development. Many have never been around infants or even held a newborn.
Most fill this gap by taking a lot of classes. Attend a 17-week birth class, take a breastfeeding workshop, do a hospital tour, learn about diaper changing, infant CPR and car-seat safety from an “expert” on a Sunday afternoon at 1pm!
And then they take their babies home and…feel utterly lost. The minutiae of baby sleep grunts, weird nursing bras and how to drive with a crying baby – those are the thousand paper cuts that bleed them dry.
Parents can ask their Pediatricians, but so much of basic parenting is beyond the scope of medical school. Your pediatrician can tell you if your baby needs antibiotics, but they may not know how to ease the transition out of a swaddle.
There's a giant chasm in our baby-knowledge.
I have a proposal.
Instead of trying to LEARN ALL THE FACTS ahead of time, what if parents armed themselves with an arsenal of resources? How about erecting a living Encyclopedia of FRIENDS to call upon when shit is hard?
These are the sort of friends that you, new parent, can call for the philosophical, logistical, emotional and confidence-building questions of raising a human being.
The long-view friend:
The long-view friend has older kids that YOU LIKE. Their teenagers or adult children are people you admire and would be proud to have as examples for your own children. Somehow, this long-view friend has made some pretty good decisions along the parenting journey, so their overarching approach is worth emulating.
That person can help you know what to sweat and what not to sweat. They’re your lighthouse through the years.
Where to find this person: It could be within your own family! Your own parents or extended family members may have done a great job of it, so you look to them for advice. Or perhaps it’s your partner’s family.
It may be in your church group, at work or around your neighborhood.
If you can’t think of anyone at all, start paying attention to young people around you. If you admire their work ethic, compassion and sense of personal responsibility, ask if you can call their parents for advice.
When to call this person:
– When you are worried you’ve lost your sense of self in motherhood and need to know if there’s life after this.
– Your toddler is doing something absolutely atrocious, like biting kids at daycare.
– You found cigarettes in your pre-teen’s room and are curious about military school.
Cons: The long-view friend has very likely forgotten what it’s like to have a newborn, a baby or a toddler. If you ask them how to get the baby to sleep, they’ll mutter something like “Don’t stress. They’ll sleep eventually.”. Reassuring, but really doesn’t help with the nitty-gritty details of your day-to-day parenting.
Which leads you to need…
The just-ahead friend:
The just-ahead friend is still in the trenches, but has enough distance from your particular stage that they have navigated your struggles. They’re usually 6 months-2 years ahead of you in the child age-range.
This person can help you with logistics and tactics. They may have tried several ways to introduce solids and has figured out what stains clothes. They will likely be eager to share with you what they just learned.
Where to find this person: Your Facebook feed is a good starting place. Parents like to post pictures of their kids. Go hunting for pictures of babies.
The local park. When you’re pregnant or a new parent, take walks to the nearest playground. Look for parents with kids older than yours. Bonus if they have more than one. Don’t be creepy.
Check into parenting meetup groups or local parenting groups on Facebook. La Leche League meetings, Baby and Me yoga classes, new mom support groups.
Call this friend when:
– You need the best local lactation consultant, stat.
– You need to know if it’s normal for baby to stop sleeping at 6 months.
– You wonder if you’ll ever have sex again.
– You could use some potty-training advice.
Cons: However, if the just-ahead friend has only one kid – they probably are pretty smug about what has worked for THEIRS. They’ll give you a book on sleep, swear up and down that “This is the ONE!”, not realizing that every kid has their own sleep patterns and tendencies. The narrowest parenting advice can come from the novice who thinks they have it all figured out. You’ll notice that 90% of mommy-blogs are started when the first baby is 9 months old.
So choose this person wisely. It helps if they're humble.
The parallel friend:
The parallel friend is right where you’re at. This is the voice of normalization and validation. Someone who can say “Oh yeah, my adorable baby turned into a willful teenager at 18-months, too”. It is so reassuring to hear that your little Johnny is right on track.
I also recommend a few books for this. The Wonder Weeks is fantastic for learning what's normal in the first year. Your One-Year-Old and other books in that series by Ames and Ilg are quite validating as baby grows.
Hang out with parents of similar kids, learn about child development.
This is great for the emotional support we all need.
Where to find this person: If you’re taking any sort of prenatal classes, hang out with the other parents after class. Make plans to get coffee outside of class. Take prenatal yoga just to find new buds.
Ask your doctor or midwife about local new parent support groups. Check out Meet-up groups. Go by any pregnancy or baby stores in the area and read the announcement boards.
While it’s awesome to have a real-life friend for this, online support can be helpful too. There are a million parenting groups on Facebook or Meet-up. Each one has it’s own slant, level of support and admin oversight. Stalk several to find where you fit in. Some forums have “due-date clubs” that continue even after the babies are born.
When to call this person:
– When you could use a social visit with someone else who gets it.
– When you feel isolated and surprised by this stage of life.
– When you want to vent about your frustrations without judgment.
Cons: The parallel friend is also in the thick of whatever you’re going through. They may not have much support-bandwidth available. And if you are both stuck on similar problems, there aren’t a lot of solutions.
The person behind:
The Person Behind can be someone who is not a parent yet or is earlier in their journey. This person will look to YOU for advice and support. Their questions will remind you that you have learned some things.
This is great for your self-confidence and perspective. And just as everyone joked “Sleep now!” when they found out that you were expecting, now you can pay it forward. (Ok, don’t really do that. No one likes it.)
Where to find this person: They find you.
When to call this person:
– Anytime. Though they’ll probably call you.
– When you want to hear the echos of your former self, naively anticipating when the last stage would end.
– When you have some patience left after dealing with your own trials.
Cons: Everyone thinks they will be a better parent than you BEFORE they’re a parent. Don’t ask them for advice.
Perspective isn’t always helpful. It can take you out of the present moment to wistfully, gleefully or sorrowfully revisit your past worries. Get support from this friend sparingly.
My hope is that this got your gears turning toward a more meta-preparation for parenthood. Instead of knowing the right things, know the right people. Curate this list now.
Call them as needed to get your support. Thinking to yourself, “What support do I need right now? Long-view (Perspective), Just ahead (Logistics and Reassurance), Parallel (Commiseration) or Just Behind (Ego-boost)?” And remember you're doing your brilliant best.