Allison Slater Tate spends her days mothering three boys, ages 10, 8, and 5, and one 10-month-old baby girl in the wilds of suburbia, over-volunteering for the PTA, pretending to work out, and writing. You can find her at www.allisonslatertate.com and the Huffington Post.
When I was pregnant with my first son, I registered for everything I might even possibly, in a few years’ time, need for that baby. I had a huge baby shower, and I received so many beautiful, wonderful gifts: Diaper Genies and bouncy seats and bibs and nail clippers and Pack ‘n’ Plays, sheets and bumper pads and quilts and gliders with matching ottomans, and about eleventy million tiny white side-snap shirts and onesies. I washed everything in Dreft and had a bottle brush, an instant steam sanitizer for cups, bottle, and pacifiers, and three sets of changing pad covers. I owned three strollers for one baby, because I thought I needed strollers for all different seasons and occasions.
Looking back, I think that I was so determined to buy or receive every single baby product that Babies ‘R’ Us carried because I was terrified. I had never felt so under-prepared for an endeavor in my life, and I was determined to ace this new project: parenthood. I thought if I had all the equipment — and I do mean all of it — I couldn’t fail.
Then I had something of a traumatic vaginal birth that required a lot of healing on my part and a very colicky baby who followed none of the plans laid out in any of the books I accumulated and read about newborns. All the wipes warmers in the world couldn’t make my baby stop crying for hours on end. Cue more baby “equipment”: yoga balls for bouncing and shushing, more books to read, newer, different swaddle blankets, Mylicon and gripe water. The crib and the cradle and the Pack ‘n’Play bassinet went untouched, as did the sheets and the quilts and the bumpers and the glider. All I really needed the first year for my first baby was the La-Z-Boy I slept in with him and a therapist. He never even took a bottle. I thought I had failed.
I had my fourth baby last year, ten years after my first. Turns out I didn’t fail completely: my first son is a remarkably well-adjusted 10-year-old boy who sleeps in his own bed very well and for many hours straight (I wish I could say the same for myself). His younger brothers and sister are all in one piece too. I now consider that success.
That first year of motherhood taught me a few things. First among them is that there is no one right way to be a good parent. I try to encourage my friends not to read parenting books for babies, because “one size fits all” does not exist when it comes to parenting and babies — not even “one size fits most.” Babies are as individual as their parents when it comes to sleeping and eating, and they don’t follow rules. Second, babies do not need a lot of stuff, just the right stuff. After I had my first, I had a word doc a few pages long of products I recommended to my friends. Now I have ten — not ten word docs, not ten pages. Just ten products that I recommend and think are truly beneficial to have on hand for a new baby. Finally, and most importantly, I learned that this too shall pass. Usually just when you think you might crack open in two from the stress, the worry, the frustration — it will pass, whatever “it” is. Just hang in there.
I didn’t learn that in a parenting book; I learned it by parenting.