When I became pregnant for the first time, I went into full throttle preparation mode. I spent the vast majority of my nine-month pregnancy reading and researching every single thing you could think of. I learned how to swaddle, when to apply diaper rash cream, what the best car seats on the market were, and how to purée the most nutritious baby food. Yet, the long-awaited and joyous arrival of my little baby boy left me feeling completely bewildered and unprepared.
The thing is, for all the reading and researching I had spent my time on, it completely escaped my notice that my baby was not a product that I could figure out by using a manual. The first few months of my child's life were filled with immense love but also tinged with frustration and failure when I simply couldn't get my son to do the things that these parenting books and blogs advised me to do.
"Want your child to grow up as a self-sufficient adult? Don't cosleep with him."
"Do not give your baby a pacifier unless you want to ruin his chances of having good teeth."
"Start setting your baby on a feeding schedule at six weeks, so you can sleep through the night by the 12-week mark."
"No matter what happens, don't stop breastfeeding if you want the best for your child."
Looking back on it now, it seems so simple to spot what I missed entirely, which was the importance of trusting my own instincts and not using the baby books as the know-all-and-be-all of good parenting. I think a lot of first-time moms feel inadequately prepared to thrive at motherhood and turn to parenting books and expert advice to help them find their way. But the fact of the matter is, no one can hand you a map about how to grow your little one into a well-balanced human being. So much of that wisdom comes from time and experience.
I wish that when I was a new mom, someone had stopped me in my tracks and told me that at the end of the day, I instinctively knew what my child needed. And while the books could be useful, they didn't have the intimate knowledge of knowing how to raise my son. As the months of being a new mom sped by, I began to notice that the more I expelled "expert advice" from my way of parenting, the more content my child and I grew to be.
So as I began paying more attention to my son's needs as an individual human being, I got better at catering to those needs. I came to see that a pacifier actually soothed him if we were at the grocery store and I didn't have to dart out with a wailing baby (and no groceries) every single time. I noticed that when we coslept, we all got more sleep and felt better for it. When I stopped breastfeeding and switched my son to formula at six months, the relief I felt was enormous and helped me parent better.
As a veteran mom now with 12 years of experience under my belt, I always tell newbies to trust their instincts. I tell them that books and blogs and experts can be helpful, but parenting is not a one-size-fits-all format, and you have to first know your baby as an individual to fully know how to parent him or her. There's nothing more magical or scary than the first year I became a mother and a little bit of confidence in myself would have gone a long way. It's terrifying to be suddenly in charge of another human life, especially one so fragile, and that is part of the inexplicable wonder of becoming a first-time mom. Knowing that at the end of the day, deep down you already know instinctively how to best take care of your offspring is the most valuable life lesson a new mom can have.