So much of those first weeks as a new parent are a blur. I have a very vivid memory of being wheeled to the hospital exit by a nurse, thinking to myself, "This is it? They're just going to let me leave with this baby?" But, beyond that, I have very few memories of settling in at home with our newborn son.
I do remember that everyone, everywhere had an opinion about my baby. From the person who stopped us at a coffee shop to tell us that five days old was too young to have an infant in a coffee shop to the random strangers at the park who stopped us to make sure we were shielding our baby from the sun -- I have a vast collection of cringe-worthy tales involving unsolicited parenting advice.
What is it about a newborn that makes everyone think its parents are just dying for assistance?
As my kids, now 6 and 4, have gotten older, though, I've realized that all of those people who stressed me out when I was a new, frazzled mom really were being kind. What's crazier? Some of the comments that were made to my husband and I in those early, bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived days actually make sense now.
"They'll tell you you have to breast feed, but I was formula fed and I went to Harvard."
I had a lot of problems breastfeeding in the beginning. Sitting in his office in tears, I heard these words from my pediatrician. While I didn't fully understand it at the time, his comment helped me stop stressing and make the best decision for myself and my baby. I get it now, though. I wish that I had enjoyed the journey more, stressed less, and trusted myself to make decisions. That's what parenting is all about -- you do the next best thing for your child over and over and in the end, it all works out.
"Little kids, little problems...big kids, big problems."
After returning to work, I sat at a board meeting, complaining about sleepless nights and nap time difficulties when a board member said this to me. I remember smiling, but feeling annoyed. After all, my newborn worries may have seemed small to him, but they were big to me! As my kids get older, this makes so much more sense. In the past week, we've dealt with my first grader being called names on the bus and my preschooler fracturing her tibia -- much bigger problems than nipple confusion and diaper rash. I can't even imagine what the teen years will be like.
"Maybe he just needs Grammy to rock him."
I remember when my in-laws came to visit my newborn son for the first time. The baby had been crying for hours and my mother-in-law took him from my arms, said these words, and sat with him in the rocking chair. I went into my room and cried. Oh, hormones. As much as the nervous, new mom in me didn't want someone to take my baby out of my arms, the mom with two kids and a few years under my belt fully appreciates what an amazing Grammy and Granddad my in-laws are to my kids. My in-laws have helped us in ways we didn't even know we needed help. I don't know where our family would be without them. And even at the ages they are today, my kids still need their Grammy to rock them -- and I need her to, too!
"You deserve to have dinner like a real person. Let me hold that baby while you eat your food."
My stressed out, new mom self also cringed the first time I heard these words, said to me by the amazing woman who owned the little pub we could walk to from our city row home. But, even though I was silently freaking out a little, I let her take my son and carry him around the restaurant while my husband and I ate dinner. After that, she'd always do it when we came in for dinner. She became one of my son's favorite people. Looking back, I see what an amazing gift she gave my family by allowing my husband and I to reconnect over something as simple as a burger and a beer after a long day with the baby. Moms, you do deserve to eat dinner like a real person at every possible opportunity -- go on date nights, ask for help, invest in your sanity -- it's worth it.
If I could go back and talk to new-mom-me, I'd say this about people and their unsolicited baby advice -- They mean well. They are being kind. Accept their help when you can. Even if it doesn't make sense in the moment, it just may be more clear once you've put in more time as a parent.