Momming is hard. New momming is harder. Nothing prepares you for the joy and awe (shock and terror) of holding your baby for the first time, regardless of how they made their way into your arms. Perhaps you have not slept in more than 30 hours. Perhaps you ache. Perhaps you’re floaty. Perhaps you’re under the influence of heavy painkillers. Congratulations! At this low ebb of your existence, you will now assume care of another human being for the first time. You deserve that Hunger Games finger-kiss and a stiff drink. Neither is forthcoming.
People tell you terrible things. You will never shower again! You will never poop alone! Sleep will become a distant memory in the hazy caffeine tides of your life! However, they have an ironclad solution to all this nonsense. You will listen as they share it with all the fervency of a newly minted cult member. This makes new momming even harder. Suddenly, there are rules. You must obey the rules—or you will break the baby.
Take a deep breath. You will not break the baby. At this moment of doubt and panic, you don’t need more parenting advice. You’ve sifted through a Google’s worth of parenting advice. You need an umbrella drink and a life coach. Force one of those advice-mongers to pour one and buckle up.
1. You have permission to feel scared, sad, and angry.
Sappy cards will call your child a “bundle of joy.” Newsflash: your baby is a small human, not a gift bag of premium coffee. People will say they never knew love before seeing their newborn. But some moms feel apathy instead. Some become overwhelmed by their sudden and irreversible life change. Some doubt they made the right decision about this whole parenting thing. Some feel all these things. None mean you love your baby less. You can love them desperately, want them desperately, and still wish you could run away. These are not mutually exclusive, and you are not a bad person. Give yourself permission to feel whatever you’re feeling—without the guilt trip. You don’t deserve that.
2. You have permission to ignore parenting gurus.
The world demands you pick a parenting philosophy, as if you were writing a corporate mission statement instead of keeping a human happy. These philosophies come with rules. Did you sign up for a new religion? No? Then play cafeteria: pick what works and leave the rest. Dr. Sears does not know your baby. I used to run a babywearing group, and some babies hated to be worn. Dr. Ferber also does not know your baby; my kids would’ve lost their minds if I left them to cry. Take what works. Ditch the rest.
3. You have permission to ignore absolutes.
One bottle will not give your baby nipple confusion. Crying for two minutes will not lead to attachment issues. Wearing your baby will not spoil them. Ignore the all-or-nothing stuff. Take a deep breath. Does it sound extreme? It probably is.
4. You have permission to trust your instincts.
You know your baby best. You know what works. If something feels wrong, it’s probably wrong; if something feels right, it’s likely right. You have common sense. Listen to it, and listen to your gut. Does your baby kick and scream when they’re swaddled? Maybe you shouldn’t swaddle them, even if conventional wisdom says you should. Does your baby vomit and scream after every meal? Maybe you’re right about that infant reflux thing. Listen to those instincts.
5. You have permission to go full mama bear.
If a stranger touches your baby, you don’t have to smile. You can say, “Don’t touch my child.” If your pediatrician won’t believe that your baby’s ill, you can say, “We need to reevaluate this.” If your mother insists on using a bottle and you prefer breast, you can say, “No, this is what works for us, thanks.” Having a baby gives you permission, more than ever before, to stand up for yourself—and it’s easier because you’re standing up for a person you love. Be rude if you need to. Your baby is more important than someone else’s feelings.
6. You have permission to do “nothing.”
Who decided we should bring home a squally, inscrutable human being without language capabilities… and then clean the house in our “downtime”? Were they male? Severe amnesiacs? Sadists? Mom, park yourself on the couch and do nothing. Watch those TV shows you’re ashamed of. Drink tea. Wear a fancy robe. Your job is momming: you do not clean the house.
You may find this difficult. Lean on the authority of your tea and fancy robe. Seriously: they project devil-may-care noblesse oblige. You’ll feel fancy, and you’ll feel powerful, and you’ll remember: all humans are not the same; therefore, all babies are not the same. What worked for one person may not work for you. All those you-shoulds and you-have-tos should come with big asterisks: I don’t know you, your baby, or your life situation. What I’m about to say is conditional on many things, and you should probably ignore most of it, anyway.
You have permission to ignore all advice. You have permission to take a deep breath and chill out. You have permission to ugly-cry. You have permission to sleep and shower as you see fit. New parenting is hard enough. Don’t make it harder by stuffing down your feelings or obeying rules that feel wrong. Trust yourself. You’ve got this.