What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Parent
What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Parent
May 23, 2022

What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Parent

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What I Wish Someone Told Me Before Becoming a Parent

There’s no right way to parent. Despite all of the books, podcasts, social media posts and unsolicited advice from cousins, coworkers or neighbors that tell you otherwise, the best way to parent is whatever way works best for you.

That’s just one of the many things parents wish they’d known before having kids. What else makes the list? We asked real parents and perinatal mental health experts to share the most valuable insights they have. Read on for their answers.

1. Parenthood Can Be Fulfilling, Joyful, Frustrating and Exhausting All at the Same Time. That’s Normal.

Something as monumental as parenthood isn’t all good or all bad, all exhausting or all energizing, all happy or all sad. As reproductive psychiatrist Dr. Alexandra Sachs says, “It’s not either/or, it’s both/and.”

You often may experience different, and potentially contradicting emotions along the way. For example, you might feel like you love a certain stage of parenthood and also want it to pass. Ambivalence is a “hallmark of parenthood and a natural reaction to any complex experience,” Dr. Sachs says.

2. Feeding Requires Almost as Much Time as a Full-Time Job. Share the Load However You Can.

Before you have a baby, it’s hard to imagine the time commitment that feeding requires, says Stephanie André, a mother in Albuquerque, New Mexico. By one estimation, breastfeeding for one year amounts to 1,800 hours of work. To put that into perspective, a full-time job of 40-hour work weeks and three weeks of vacation is 1,960 hours per year.

This can be shocking at first, says André, who remembers being taken aback by the fast and stark transition to a “season where my main job is to feed and love on my baby.”

Whether you choose to breastfeed, formula feed or both, lining up support can help. That might mean having a lactation consultant on call (ask your healthcare provider for recommendations or explore options on sites like Robyn and Motherfigure). Feeding support also looks like asking a partner to clean pump parts or a friend to help out with a bottle here and there. You don’t need to carry the load of feeding alone.

3. You Might Not Feel an Immediate Bond With Your Baby. You’re Still a Great Parent.

“One of the greatest myths of motherhood is that you will immediately fall in love with your baby,” says Yael Sherne, a licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health. “Many women are told, ‘It will all be worth it once you see your baby for the first time!’ But this message can be harmful for those who don’t experience love at first sight and then might fear something’s wrong.”

Some people do feel that instant flood of adoration. For others, bonding takes time. It’s normal to feel a range of emotions after birth—including sadness or grief, Sherne says. “Don’t mistake conflicted feelings for a sign that you don’t or won’t love your baby or that you’re a ‘bad’ parent.”

4. Your Support System Is Not Limited to Friends and Family.

“I wish someone had told me years ago how important your support network is,” says Andy D., a father of two in Boston, Massachusetts. “You always hear ‘it takes a village,’ but the sheer amount of work that goes into raising a child is something you can’t really conceive of.”

Another reason support is so important: “Parenthood can be a lonely experience—especially during a global pandemic,” Sherne says. Social media has its perks, but “many new parents feel like they’re surrounded by images of ‘the perfect mother/father’ or that they’re the only ones struggling to adjust to their new life. I promise, you are not alone.”

If you ever feel otherwise, here are some resources to help you connect with other parents:

  • Meetup.com: Search “moms,” “dads” or “parenting” and then type in your zip code to find in-person or virtual events.
  • Fit4Mom: It’s fitness classes and a network of moms in one! Enter your zip code on the website to find a location near you.
  • City Dads Group: With chapters in 40+ U.S. cities, City Dads Group offers in-person and virtual events—sometimes with kids and other times just for dads.
  • Peanut: Often called “Tinder for new moms,” this free app lets you connect with women at a similar stage in life—from pregnancy and motherhood through to menopause.
  • The Center for Men’s Excellence: For dads seeking professional guidance, this San Diego-based facility specializes in men’s reproductive psychology and the transition to fatherhood. They also offer men’s support groups.

5. Changes in Identity are Normal.

“Your identity can shift a lot when you become a parent—and that’s not a bad thing,” says Lauren A. Tetenbaum, a licensed social worker and perinatal mental health expert who specializes in life transitions. But it’s something that often causes stress and anxiety in new parents.

“I wish someone had told me that I’d be different and that my values and aspirations would shift after having children,” says Raena Boston, a mother of three in Tampa, Florida and co-founder of The Chamber of Mothers. “I’ve always been very career-focused, but after starting a family, my aspirations changed to accommodate my new reality,” she says. “I could’ve saved a lot of stress if I took the time to get to know the new me, rather than trying to go back to who I was.”

Having a baby is a major life transition, so change is inevitable. Be proud of your ability to adapt, and give yourself all the grace and compassion you deserve, Tetenbaum says.

That said, you can still be your own person, and there are people who feel like their identity doesn’t change at all. It’s possible to retain the parts of you that have always been important. For instance, if you’re ambitious and career-driven now, you can still be that person once your baby is here. And you can still enjoy the things you enjoyed pre-baby. For every person who feels like their identity shifted seismically when they became a parent, there is also a person who feels like they maintained their identity. No two people or pregnancies are alike, and both sides of the coin are normal.

6. Nothing Lasts Forever. Every Stage of Parenthood Is Temporary.

Every season of parenthood is just that: a season. The first one, a.k.a. the fourth trimester, may feel overwhelming; that’s normal, Sherne says. “Hormonal changes, lack of sleep and new roles and responsibilities all contribute to fluctuating emotions. Know that these feelings are usually temporary.”

The other side of the coin is that new parents often get nostalgic looks from older parents, sometimes accompanied by comments like “Enjoy it while you can” or “It goes by so quickly.” They mean well, but comments like this can evoke guilt in sleep-deprived parents trying to adjust to their new life stage (cue thinking “should I be enjoying it more?”).

There are special parts about parenting a new baby. But the joys of parenting don’t stop at a certain age. When you recognize the temporary nature of different stages, it can help lighten stress when it feels hard and boost joy when it’s wonderful.

7. Ask for More Help.

Multiple parents we talked to said looking back, they wish they’d asked for more help, especially during the newborn phase.

Society sends a message that you should be able to do this yourself, says Cait Zogby, a mother in Washington, DC and co-founder and chief community officer of MotherNation. “Reject that message. You weren’t meant to do this alone. No one is.”

What’s truly helpful depends on the person, but here are a few topics to consider:

  • Sleep: Ask a friend or family member to come over every Tuesday and Thursday afternoon (or whenever you prefer) so you can nap.
  • Nutrition: Text someone a grocery list and ask them to drop off food.
  • Time for yourself: Ask someone to come sit with the baby for an hour while you take a walk or a long shower. And communicate your needs with a partner to ensure you both have time for yourselves.
  • Household chores: An extra set of hands to do laundry, dishes or tidy up around the house—whether it’s someone in your support network or paid help—can be invaluable postpartum.

8. Perinatal Mental Health Conditions Are Common, Treatable and Temporary.

Perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs) like postpartum depression (PPD) or postpartum anxiety (PPA) are extremely common. According to Postpartum Support International (PSI), one in seven moms and one in 10 dads experience PPD. It’s something Melissa E., a mom to a nine-month-old in St. Louis, Missouri, wishes she’d known sooner, along with learning that “taking a tiny pill every day can help.”

Treatment is different for everyone and may involve increased self care, support groups, talk therapy or medication. The most important thing to know is that “experiencing a PMAD is temporary and treatable,” Sherne says. You don’t need to suffer, and you don’t need a diagnosis to reach out for support.

If you ever feel like irritability, anxiety, sadness or overwhelm are getting in the way of your ability to care for yourself or your baby, talk to your healthcare provider. You can also call or text the PSI Help Line anytime at 1-800-944-4773.

EXPERT SOURCES

  • Stephanie André, a mother in Albuquerque, NM
  • Yael Sherne, Licensed marriage and family therapist who specializes in perinatal mental health
  • Cait Zogby, a mother in Washington, DC, co-founder of MotherNation and founding member of The Chamber of Mothers

Cassie Shortsleeve is a journalist, perinatal health coach and the founder of Dear Sunday, a digital platform for early motherhood. She regularly contributes to What to Expect, Parents, Shape and other national publications and is a co-founder of The Chamber of Mothers. She is a mom to two daughters, Sunday and Fiona.

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