JJ Keith’s first book, Motherhood Smotherhood: Fighting Back Against the Lactivists, Mompetitions, Germophobes, and So-Called Experts Who Are Driving Us Crazy, is about how surprisingly easy it is to lose your mind as a new parent. Here, Keith shares her tips for new parents in the form of a list of things not to do.
1) Taking too much advice
I realize the contradiction: I’m advising people to take less advice, but hear me out. In my early days of being a mom, I took in way too much advice from parenting manuals, Dr. Google, and random people on message boards who—I’m going to optimistically assume—had malfunctioning caps lock keys. Some advice is good, but if you don’t filter it, you will be overwhelmed. Besides, there isn’t just one way to do this parenting thing.
2) Pretending that they’re totally in control of their lives
You just brought a new person into your life, and that person is a hell of a wildcard. You can literally get s**t on at any given moment. Babies are notorious for not sleeping when they’re supposed to, massively overreacting to having to go to the grocery store, and generally being, well, selfish, which is their right, I suppose. It’s not that your baby is the boss of your life now, but well, your baby is kind of the boss of your life. At least for a while.
3) Trying to know what they’re doing
Any time I have gotten close to thinking I know how to be a parent, my kids have up and changed on me. I sort of had a grip on dealing with a new baby and then, welp, she learned to crawl—totally new ballgame. Once I finally learned how to put a baby to sleep, she started talking and I had to learn how to negotiate her to sleep.
And then I had another baby, one with a totally different personality, and I had to learn everything again—from scratch.
4) Thinking that all babies are fundamentally the same
Even fresh-out-of-the-oven babies have their own personalities. That’s why no one parenting manual or technique will work for everyone. Some babies sleep through the night right away, and some seem to have mastered the sleep-deprivation techniques outlined in the Bush-era Torture Memos. Some babies think tummy time is a blast while others will react to being put on their bellies as if you just threw them in a lion’s den. Some babies will hang out with you quietly cooing while you read a book and others seem to have mistaken you for a one-person vaudeville troupe obliged to provide constant entertainment. And then the next day they may be the opposite way. You know, just to keep you on your toes.
5) Planning too far ahead
When I first became a mom, I had this crazy idea that I needed to figure out how to parent her, not just as a baby, but through every stage of childhood. I distinctly remember holding my newborn daughter and running my mouth off about how I didn’t want her to have too many extracurricular activities when she was in school as if I had any idea about what it would be like to be the mother of a school-age child. That was dumb of me. Don’t be dumb like me.
I eventually realized that I was just going to have to wing it. There isn’t space in any one person’s brain to know all the things that a parent has to know over the course of their child’s life. My youngest isn’t even four yet and I’ve already forgotten how to hold a baby. (Upside down by the feet, right?) My mind is too stuffed with what I need to know to keep my kids from looking and acting like they are being raised by wolves to be worried about how old they’ll be when I let them have cell phones.
6) Comparing themselves to other parents
It’s so easy to look at other parents and beat yourself up. Yes, some moms look as lithe as a teenager on their way home from the hospital. Some parents never seem to lose their cool, even when cleaning baby vomit out of their hair. Others may seem ridiculously organized and not the least bit stressed by the demands of taking care of a baby. It’s not that these people are phonies, it’s that you’re not seeing the whole truth.
Skinny mom may have had hyperemesis gravidarum, which caused her to suffer dire morning sickness throughout her pregnancy. Organized Parent may have a short fuse and Patient Parent might be living in a house-shaped pile of dirty laundry. We are all a messy conglomeration of strengths and weaknesses, with none of us having it totally down and none of us being completely inept. No, we’re all just partly inept. Welcome to parenthood.
JJ Keith has written about parenting for Salon, Reader’s Digest, Babble, The Rumpus, Mamamia, The Hairpin, and several other websites. She lives in Los Angeles with her husband and two kids, neither of whom looks as if they are being raised by wolves (at least today).