What advice would you give to a woman pregnant with her first child? I mean, I don't know. Don't drop the baby? Don't forget to change their nappy every few hours? Find a wooden spoon and bite on it until the baby turns 1?
I have two friends pregnant with their first babies, both of whom were recently kind enough to pretend that I might have some advice for new mothers. I couldn't come up with much useful information on the spot. "Uh, you don't need a stroller, but it's nice to have one?" "Definitely get a carseat." "Swaddle, I think, if it works. It's like wrapping a burrito. Eh, Google it." As for books? "Anything but Babywise" was my best tip.
My youngest isn't quite 2 yet, but already that baby stuff seems far away. My kids are almost people now! Some of the time they even voice their preferences with words , and I couldn't be more pleased with this development. But my "smell ya later, infancy" attitude isn't helpful for my pregnant friends, so I gave it some thought. Here's the best bits of advice for new mothers I could come up with:
1. Childbirth is just one really rough day with — odds are very good — a happy ending. Prepare for it, but don't let it define you. Epidurals suck, but there's no gold medal for pain endurance. If you get a C-section, you still get a baby. I bore one with an epidural and bore one without. It really wasn't all that different. Both hurt before, during and after. In one case, I also got a nice rest that I paid for with having to get a catheter. It wasn't really worth it for me, but it might be for someone else.
2. You don't need a title for how you parent. Have one if you want one, but it isn't essential. You can pick and choose from different philosophies. I might be a minimalist parent or an unparent. I'm not sure. It doesn't matter. I just do shit and shit happens. I try not to be a dick to my kids, but it's okay if sometimes they're inconvenienced by my needing to be a human in addition to being a mother.
3. Co-exist with your children. They don't revolve around you and you try to get to a place where you don't revolve around them, but forgive yourself for the fact that itty bitty kids require an intense buy-in and you might not have much of a personality for the first year or two of their lives.
4. You might lose your mind. That's okay. Get help.
5. If you have a partner, use him or her. Co-parent! Leave your partner home alone with the baby while you go to the shop. Or even better, send them to the shop together while you stay home alone. Don't fix it when your partner dresses the baby in two types of stripes. Don't deride your partner's babyminding faculties. Don't believe that only you have the magic to make your baby happy. Don't hover over your partner when he or she's with the baby and treat him/her like an employee who has to be trained. Don't refer to what your partner does as "babysitting."
6. Both sleep training and not sleep training are messes. Figure out what you can tolerate and then act accordingly.
7. If you don't control your tendency to be controlling you will imprison yourself. Go ahead and try to be perfect if you want, but don't blame the institution of motherhood or your baby when you go two years without finishing a sentence, sleeping through the night or having sex.
8. Join a mother's group, but stay with it only if it's nurturing to you. If you feel judged or you feel judgy of the other mums, quit. Find a new group. Or don't. It's not high school. You don't need a clique.
9. This homemade baby food nonsense ends with you. Grab a banana, smoosh it with a fork, then feed it to your baby. You don't have to puree peas. When they want to eat peas, they will just eat them with that cute little pincer grasp they've been working on. Carrots too hard? Steam them. You do not need a two-week course, several reference manuals and specialized appliances. It is so much simpler to feed your kid fresh fruits and vegetables than anyone lets on. It's not a thing. It's just food. Also, they sell this stuff in jars and pouches and it's not too bad.
10. All the seemingly divisive decisions — pain meds in labour/newborn sleep arrangements/feeding — are often phrased as moral imperatives from both sides. Screw that. Take care of your kid. Do what works.
11. You can't win at parenting or homemaking. If you think you're winning then everyone else thinks you're a dick.
My philosophy can be summed up with "Really?!" It's what you say when strangers tell you that your baby is freezing in 30 degree weather and how to respond to the mums in your play group who tell you either "Ferberizing is the only way to go" or "Sleep training causes brain damage." And "really?!" is the only acceptable response to a partner who claims "I don't know how to change nappies as well as you."
When in doubt, ask yourself what a pioneer lady on a wagon train would think is important. Suddenly, organizing baby socks will fall off your to-do list and you'll feel a lot better about your day. ("Sock organizing? Really?!" you'll say to yourself.) And "really?!" will come in handy as your baby gets older. Kids are beautiful and majestic little human unicorns who are full of total bullshit and they need to be called out on that.
That's all the wisdom I've gathered three-and-a-half years into this gig.
What would you add to it?
This article was first published on The Huffington Post here and has been republished with full permission
JJ Keith's writing has been featured in Reader’s Digest, Salon, The Hairpin, Babble, The Nervous Breakdown, Alternet and other publications. After earning her Master of Professional Writing degree at USC, she stayed on at the university for a few years as a lecturer in the undergraduate writing program. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two young children and is working on a memoir about underemployment called Behind the Green Apron. For more information go to www.jjkeith.net.