How to Be the Mom You Want to Be From Day One

No longer new to parenthood, I thought I'd share what I wish folks had told me—that is, if they'd been able to grab my attention when my babies were babies.

Mom in Orange Striped Dress Smiling Full Body Shot THAYER ALLYSON GOWDY
I'm turning into that mom. The one behind you in line at the supermarket who beams at your baby and says, "Enjoy this time! It flies by." And you're like, "Really? Does it fly by? Because I've been standing in line in this same spit-uppy T-shirt to buy diapers for this crying burrito of a human being for what feels like all eternity! It's not exactly flying by." Don't worry. I remember it well. So I'm not going to bog you down with advice about the little stuff. There are plenty of people in your life happy enough to weigh in on when to introduce pureed lamb (um, never?). This is the bigger stuff. The way-of-life stuff that encourages you to live with intention and optimism. Because—oh my God, don't hate me, but your tiny burrito will be a big kid before you take your next loving, heartachey breath. 

Know It's Not Forever

When you're sleep-deprived and deranged with love, you don't understand that every challenge is not Everest. Good news: Most of the molehills are just molehills. The newborn who never sleeps will become the toddler who is afraid of doorknobs who will become the teenager sobbing over her algebra homework. Then a new chapter will begin, and you'll look back and shake your head at how worried you were. 

Savor the Moments

Due to the great responsibility you feel to get it "right" (Ha-ha, as if!), raising a child can start to feel less like a happy adventure and more like factory work. But it doesn't have to—and making it more joyous can be easier than it sometimes feels. Smile at your baby when she wakes up in the morning or after a nap. Laugh when she laughs, and take her everywhere you go, so she learns to love what you love, whether that's bluegrass music, sushi, or a walk in the park. Look for the silver linings in tough moments. Sure, you're stuck at the pediatrician's office, but you're still getting to look into that beloved little feverish face. 

Get Less Stuff

Adorable baby items can call out with a siren song. But plug up your ears, if you can—not because of your credit-card debt (although that, too), but because your kid needs your attention more than the next and newest whatever. Also, buying less stuff means more DIYing—using old things in new ways, like turning a handful of acorns into a weird oak-themed puppet show. My only exception is before they're born when, yes, it's fair enough to count and recount all of those miniature socks and teeny little sleepers. When you don't buy something that tempts you, put that money in a jar and save it, either to give away—which is a great practice to start with a little person—or for a family experience that will make memories that last forever, no warranty required.

Mom in Orange Striped Dress Profile Shot THAYER ALLYSON GOWDY
Put Down Your Phone

Sure, your newborn doesn't know what you're doing on that tiny gadget. But he's still a person! A person learning to engage, connect, and love from watching you engage, connect, and love. And you'll definitely regret missing that first smile because you were scrolling through your Instagram feed. One day you'll be so glad you trained your child to look up and grin when he's greeted, and to power down his phone so you can connect as a family over the dinner table. 

Listen to Your Heart

Friends and family—and even strangers!—will have lots of opinions about your baby and how to raise him. You should let him cry it out in the woods! You should let him sleep strapped to your belly in a crocheted womb simulator! But all babies are different, all parents are different, and you're the only one who knows what's right for your family. You'll have to silence all of that external noise so you can tune in to the quiet hum of intuition and rightness that comes from your connection to this small person. Don't worry if you don't have it yet. That knowledge is like a language, and you'll soon learn it so fluently that you'll be able to easily distinguish an "I need a nap right now" cry from an "I could use a cuddle" cry. (You'll also learn to smile at well-meaning advice givers and say, mildly, "Thanks for weighing in," even though you fully intend to ignore their suggestions.)

Lead by Example

It's easy to get caught up in the hard moments. One day you'll find yourself in a supermarket with a tiny person who is laying on the floor, crying because of something you're not buying her. Try your best to keep your eyes on the prize, which is to raise a human being who can handle disappointments with a measure of grace, even if everyone in your zip code is staring at you in horror. "It's hard not to get what you want," you can say to her. Or, "Should we make smoothies when we get home?" Maybe your compassion will rub off on any judgmental onlookers. Or maybe not. Either way, you'll have invested in helping your child grow.

Mom holding baby above her head THAYER ALLYSON GOWDY
Nurture Uniqueness 

This will matter more later, when he wants to dye his hair pink or tour with an emo band, but it begins now, when the other babies in his play group start to sit, stand, even cruise, while your kid is lying on his fat back, happily sucking his fat toes. Someday that same baby will be a 15-year-old lying on the couch, reading the IKEA catalogue while the other kids are tossing around a football, and it will all make sense. 

Give Him Space

Even though every cell in your body may want to step in whenever possible and help your child out, back off. Later, you'll describe what you're trying to accomplish, with words like "perseverance," which will mean sitting tight while he struggles to crayon a self-portrait (or write a college essay). But for now your baby is reaching for the Tupperware lid—reaching, reaching—before putting his face down on the rug and crying, and then craning up to reach again. Let him keep going! Eventually, his fingers will close triumphantly around that lid—or they won't, and you can scoop him up and tell him what a great job he did trying. 

Don't Always Put Yourself Last

Taking care of you might not feel right, because, yes, your baby is crying on the kitchen floor, and, yes, you are standing in front of the refrigerator shoveling cold spaghetti into your starving face, and of course you will go and comfort her, but you have to feed yourself first. Other self-care that falls into this category are showering, exercising, using the toilet (alone), crying when you need to, and drinking a quick glass of wine. "I have to finish making this pot of coffee so I can help you," you will say, in your calmest voice, even though your child is 1 month old and doesn't know what coffee is or how desperately you need it. She knows only that her diaper has swelled up like the Goodyear Blimp. But one day she'll understand.

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