Letting Go

Driver's Ed

I just got back from taking my “baby” to get her driver’s permit. She passed! And now I have to decide what emotion I’m feeling after paying the $32.50 that was required for her to smile for a photo that allows her to legally get behind the wheel of an automobile. Is it pride? Fear? Sadness?

Wistfulness might be the closest to what I’m feeling, but not in a melancholy or regretful way – wistful, as in reflective.

I have raised my “baby” to grow up to be an independent, young woman. And to be honest, I was shocked that she’d waited this long to take the test – an accurate picture of how different it is growing up in Portland, Oregon rather than Indianapolis, Indiana. Portland, as you may have heard in any number of magazines, is one of the easiest places in the world to get around without ever needing to know how to drive. We have several ways of getting from point A to point B. Our Tri-met system includes busses with routes all over the city and beyond, The Streetcar, The Max, and more bike lanes than almost anywhere else in the country. Indianapolis, on the other hand, was a place where to take a bus from where I lived, I’d have to drive to find a bus stop several miles away, first. Things might be different today, but the day I turned 16, I made my parents take me directly to the DMV so I could pick up my license and drive us all home – and I never looked back.

It just seems that now that it’s my girl’s turn to be in the driver’s seat, that the time has passed too quickly. Now, I promise all the newish parents reading this that I have not forgotten how rough it was at first. When I was doing it myself, I felt like the 4th Trimester was some of the hardest work I’ve ever done in my life! For the record, I still feel this way! But despite these feelings, I did it again three more times! What is wrong with me?!

Well, it gets better from there (I promise!) And while I’ll admit that there are moments in that newborn period that are so full of wonder and awe it’s almost magical, I think those same babies become so much more interesting as they get older.

Half of my children are teenagers right now, and I’m going to share something with those of you still stuck in diaper and breastfeeding mode: Do not buy into the myth that teenagers are terrible people that you will hate having in your life almost as much as they will hate having you for their parents.

I think this narrow expectation is at the root of a lot of the issues that can crop of between parents and their teens, but it doesn’t have to be that way. Broaden your expectations about this time, and try to remember what it was like to have your hormones in control of your body, your mind and your soul  – and you’ll do okay. I’m not saying it’s a cakewalk, I’m just not sure that reality always fits the myth. So true for most of the stories you hear about parenting – at any age.

One thing that I’ve been told (by my own mother, nonetheless) that has proven to be absolutely true about parenting is this: “The days go by slowly, but the years go by too fast.”

I am reminded of this today, as my girl takes that next necessary, anticipated and completely supported step toward her full independence from me. I remember our first Christmas together as a new little family and marvel at all that has transpired since. This act of parenting never ends, and in ways even though it’s so much easier now, in others it’s even harder.

Not the parenting, per se, but the act of letting go.

It’s been happening since the moment she left my body, even before the umbilical cord was cut, she was already leaving me – this one being suddenly made two – and I am preparing myself for her full leave-taking which will be happening soon. The next two and half years will be chock full of days that go by at a snail’s pace, but I will blink and the years will have flown away.

So, in this season of gifts, recognize the gifts of your family as they are, in real-time, in all its messiness. Try your hardest to not wish it to move forward too soon. Time is already taking care of that for you.

Look at your baby in your arms once again. Memorize the contours of her sleeping face, feel the weight of her warm and trusting body nestled against you. Give thanks to the ones that made you a parent. And begin the wistful process of letting them go.

The secret beauty of it all is that they never really leave you – they are forever imprinted upon your heart.

Are you still in that phase of, “When will this challenge ever end?” Is it possible to pause to be in these moments with your little one(s) – even if this moment is not pretty and moving in slow motion – and savor them?

Perhaps, Perhaps, Perhaps…

Perhaps3

Perhaps, you thought that you and your partner would be on the same page in terms of “growing up” and taking care of your new little baby? Perhaps, you thought you’d both suddenly be so much more mature? Perhaps, the reality of where each of you are in your development as new parents is causing you distress?

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

I’m in the beginning stages of learning from the magnificent, Elly Taylor and her Becoming Us Program. And one of our recent lessons mentioned the word, “generativity.” This is a fancy term coined by psychologist, Erik Erikson and basically it means becoming less selfish and more selfless. Moving into this stage of generativity usually happens somewhere in adulthood and it often coincides nicely with people who are becoming parents for the first time.

This makes sense to me – a baby is born, a family is created and suddenly you find out what real responsibility means. You now have to take care of this completely helpless person. You are “nudged” into growing up and maturing into the role of parent so you can put your needs on the back burner while you attend to all of your baby’s needs.

It would be so lovely if both you and your partner grew up and into your role as parents at the same time and at the same pace. But oftentimes, this isn’t the case.

Maybe it’s the sheer physical demands that a Momma goes through during pregnancy, or through the birth itself, but she’ll often reach this state of generativity at a quicker rate than her partner. This can be cause for great conflict in the early weeks and months of life with your new baby. Because of her physical ties to the baby, especially if she’s breastfeeding, the Momma might feel resentful toward her partner who’s still finding time to carve out a quick run, a long game of golf on the weekends, or a regular evening out with his buddies. “Doesn’t he see that all I do is give, give, give to our baby day and night?”

Partner might see her in this role and doubt whether or not he is ready or able to fill such impressive shoes – his learning curve is oftentimes much steeper than it is for her as she’s usually had some experience with babies via babysitting. “If I can’t do it the way she does it, I’m a failure.” And society still sends the message loudly and clearly, that by virtue of being female, she’s automatically the “better” parent (which is utter crap!) If Momma asks him to be more focused on the home front, he might actually end up feeling stifled and controlled.

This does not make for a happy couple on the other side of giving birth to a bundle of joy that was supposed to bring you closer together!

How to resolve this? There’s a lot that I’ll be learning as I complete this course, and I promise to pass that along to you here. But I have a few of my own thoughts that I’d like to share.

For partners, especially men, pregnancy and birth might be the first time in their lives where they feel completely out of their element. And from a societal standpoint, we do very little to welcome them into this world of women. They might go to every clinic appointment and ultrasound, they might want to be really involved – but end up feeling like a third wheel most of the time. Or maybe, deep down, they’re completely freaked out and long for the days when they could’ve been smoking cigars in the waiting room and not required to step foot into the labor and delivery room – but if they tell anyone that, they’ll be labeled an insensitive, uninvolved jerk. What if we tried to meet them wherever they are during the pregnancy (without judgement) and then support them better in their role as expectant father? I think this might be a good first step.

Communication between the couple has to happen early and often so that you both know where the other is in terms of adopting this new role of parent. This can feel like an emotional land mine if you don’t respect the “no judgement” policy. Your partner needs to be able to reveal his true feelings about becoming a father. And he needs the time and space to move into that role.

There’s also something to be learned from our partners as we move into the world of motherhood. We need to remember the importance of self-care, of figuring out what individual needs we have that we don’t want to lose in our new role of Momma. Instead of feeling resentment toward our partner, maybe we can learn from them how to carve out the time and space we need to feel whole and separate from our role as parent.

Of course, I’m speaking in general terms. Sometimes our partners are beyond ready for their role of fatherhood and it blows us away, and it’s us new Mommas who are slow to catch up. The reality is that very few couples reach this stage of generativity at the same time. But instead of putting a wedge into your relationship, perhaps this can become a new and better way of understanding each other as individuals. Perhaps we can learn from each other as opposed to being intimidated by or resentful of one another. Perhaps this can be a period of growing together, rather than growing apart.

Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps…

You might think you know the song of this same name, but I’m not sure if you’ve heard the band Cake sing it. If you like Cake, like I do in all it’s many forms, than this version is worth a listen. (I love it when I can find a tune that goes with my blogpost – it feeds the rocker in my soul!)

Can you see how you and your partner might be approaching parenting at a different pace from one another? Is this helpful to realize how very common and normal this stage of development is and that it’s possible to “catch up?”

The Opposite of Permanent

Temporary

My Mom, wise Momma of six, used to tell me on the days when I would call in tears to report that I’d already lost it with my kids ten times before 9:00 in the morning: “The days are long, but the years are short.”

I took great comfort in these words, because it helped me to realize how temporary my situation was in the moment. It validated the intensity of the situation I found myself in as a young mother, but remained incredibly hopeful. Another phrase you might have heard that means something close would be: “This too shall pass.”

I like my Mom’s words more because they encouraged me to recognize how all of it is temporary.

Thankfully, the dirty diapers end! The midnight wakings are reduced to the occasional nightmare or fever spike, not the round-the-clock feedings or just because they can’t figure out day from night. The not-knowing how to handle a newborn is finally replaced with a hard-won confidence that can only come from doing the work.

But, it’s also a reminder that all of the good stuff from the newborn stage comes to an end as well. The contortionists stretching that newborns do when they first get up from a nap – it goes away. The tucked under your chin snuggle eventually stops because they just can’t fit anymore. The sweet smell of milk on your baby’s breath eventually gets mixed in with the smell of strained carrots and peas. And my personal favorite, the “knuckle dimples,” fade away as they grow big kid hands.

I think that understanding the temporary nature of the newborn period explains why so many parents who go on to have subsequent children seem to be so much more mellow when it comes to having their kids sleep in their own beds, or get them potty-trained at an early age. They have been “taught” by their first-borns that it’s all temporary – all of it. So they might choose to linger a little bit longer than first-timers do in this newborn stage.

Because you know what? My Mom was right. There are still days where I think to myself, “When will it end? When will this day come to a close so I can lie down and recover from the craziness that is my family today?”

But then I sneak a peek at my kids, and realize that even those days are but a blip of time. My “babies” are no longer babies and they haven’t been for a very long time.

When you’re in the thick of it and feeling like all you’re getting from this newborn stage is the hard stuff, it can be challenging to not wish it all away as fast as possible. I get that. But as quickly as the hard stuff goes, so do the sweetest moments of this stage.

And what I can tell you for sure is that you don’t get those moments back. Not unless you are willing to live through the hard stuff again with another newborn.

In my opinion, a small price to pay – because it’s all temporary anyway, right?

Have you already noticed how some of your baby’s sweet and adorable behaviors have stopped? Does that thought hearten you that the really challenging moments of this newborn stage will be ending soon? Does the thought of this stage being temporary ring true for you, or do you have a hard time believing it?

Make ‘Em Laugh

Laugh

One of the things that can be really frustrating for new parents is the lack of positive feedback from their newborns. They are needy little creatures at first and many new parents are hoping for babies who might not be laughing straight out of the womb, but will at least smile every once in a while. And oftentimes, they do. I was caught on video when my 4th was less than twenty-four hours old remarking, “Look he’s smiling already!” 

But during those early weeks and months, baby smiles don’t usually correspond to anything specific that you are doing. They have yet to master the “social smile.” I tell new parents to be on the lookout for smiles and to claim every single one of them as real no matter why it might be happening! We all need as much positive feedback as we can get from our newborns. Otherwise, the 4th trimester can be pretty bleak.

Most babies will start smiling socially, on purpose, in your actual direction, at about six weeks of age. That’s a long month and a half of a whole lot of nothing from your newborn. It’s a really, really good thing that we’re hard-wired to think babies are so cute. Especially our own babies. Their sweet little faces are designed to elicit a response in us so we will continue to take care of them even as they prefer the ceiling fan to us. Watch this great video that explains how and why this happens.

While it might take awhile before we ever get rewarded with that social smile, it’ll be even longer until we get to hear them laugh. But once they’re consistently in that zone, which takes about six months, it’s the greatest thing ever. You will spend a huge amount of your waking hours trying to get your baby to laugh over and over again. The stupid and ridiculous things that your baby will laugh about are unbelievable. But that’s nothing in comparison to the stupid and ridiculous things you’re willing to do to get your baby to laugh! There’s nothing in the world quite as addictive as your baby’s laugh. Knowing that you are the cause for their laughter makes it even better.

For any of you who are still in that pre-six weeks phase where your baby is smiling when they’re sleeping or passing gas only, or if you’re just in need of a little pick-me-up while you’re reading this, check out these videos. I dare you to not crack a smile, or start laughing out loud yourself.

It’s moments like these that we long for as new parents, and they’re coming to you. The day your baby laughs out loud at something you’re doing can make up for an awful lot of “lack of social interaction” in those first few weeks and months!

Did you find it challenging when your baby wasn’t very social as a newborn? What kind of crazy things were you willing to do to try and get them to at least crack a smile? When did you first hear them belly laugh? How’d that make you feel?