Friday, March 15, 2013

How to Be a Perfect Parent in 5 Easy Steps, or Probably Never

You'll notice I don't dole out much parenting advice on the blog. That's because I have an almost eighteen month-old and spend most of my days feeling like a complete and utter fraud and failure.

Behold my tiny violin, which plays only Night Ranger ballads.
I know that sounds depressing, but here is the truth that will set you free: that's what parenting is. I know there are loads of people out there writing books and articles and essays and blog posts about how to get your baby to sleep through the night at 8 weeks, or use a potty by a year, or signal for more macaroni in morse code, and all of them make it seem easy, and like you're an asshole for not pulling up your sweatpants and wiping away your tears and just doing it already. "This is the secret to getting your baby to _________," these self-anointed experts scoff down their noses. And I'm like, no, bitch, that's the secret to getting YOUR baby to ________. It's the same old shit that Cosmo tried to sell us when we were fifteen, about how all guys just LOVE a nice scrunchie wrapped seductively around the... um... scrotal area (?). Let me tell you I have never once met a man who had a hair elastic fetish. Must have just been that one guy who was banging that Cosmo intern, and I can only imagine the undue pain, suffering, and confusion he caused his fellow men.

Don't be that guy.

So what are some non-patronizing* things I've learned?

*Unless you have more than one kid, in which case you are probably giving me the "talk to the hand" gesture right now, because in my brain it is forever 1994

1. You Are Always, ALWAYS Doing Something Wrong... So Stop Worrying About It

In case you DON'T know what you're doing wrong, here is a handy chart:

(Read it here if you can't enlarge.)

2. Sleep is an Evil Horcrux. Emphasis on the Whore.

There is literally nothing you will obsess about more in the first year of parenthood than your child's sleep patterns. You will read studies. You will make logs of night wakings only to find in the morning that you accidentally used a lo mein-encrusted chopstick and a DVD case to record this vital information. You will volunteer nap schedules--without prompting--to total strangers. You will study the floorboards in your house like a military operative searching for land mines in Afghanistan.

I can't stop you from doing this. However, I can tell you that no matter how your child sleeps and how you choose to address it, sleep will suck big scrunchie balls for the first year at least. If you DON'T sleep-train, it will suck because it's unpredictable and erratic, and you get kicked in the side of the head a lot. If you DO sleep-train, it will suck because you'll be sentenced to live out the same schedule day after day like Bill Murray in Groundhog Day only with less imminent death (and sleep-trained babies STILL have days/weeks/months of relapse). So chill. It sucks for everyone. You can't really fuck it up, because it is inherently fucked. Anyone who pretends they know what they're talking about is either lying or trying to sell a book, probably both.

3. Your Life Will Resemble a Michael Myers Movie More than a Nancy Meyers Movie

I don't know about you, but I pictured motherhood as a big ol' sappy rom-com full of growth chart montages and fun, photogenic family trips to the park and nap times (see above) spent typing away on my laptop with heretofore unheard of bursts of creativity. I don't even think I included "showered every day" or "didn't cry once for a whole half hour" in my fantasy, because those were givens in my rosy, perfect life, in which the kitchen would overflow with bowls of ripe organic fruits, and poop would never accidentally get on my blouse.

I hate to break it to you, but parenthood is basically the opposite of everything I just said. Of course there are plenty of amazing, beautiful, transformative moments--but those generally take place when you are on the toilet by yourself. The rest of it is messy, both physically and emotionally. You will survive it, but it will not always be pretty. THIS IS NORMAL.

4. It Pays to Treat Your Partner Like Doug E. Doug 

My relationship with Jeff was rock-solid before Sam came along. And then, I'm not going to lie, we took a detour into some dark Edward Albee territory. Suddenly all of the attention and patience and affection you saved for your partner is going to your baby, and things can get heated (in the unsexy way). I had to work hard to learn how to appreciate and nurture my relationship again. I think it helps to think of the two of you as Derice and Sanka from Cool Runnings. That's what I did, anyway. And just like the Jamaican bobsled team, I'm pretty sure we'll at least make it to the finish line.

5. "If Mama Ain't Happy Ain't Nobody Happy" Sounds Like a Tyler Perry Movie But Is Also Totally True

All of the organic, fair-trade, pasture-raised artisanal Play-Doh and 800-count recycled hemp crib sheets in the world won't matter if you as a parent don't feel at least reasonably happy and cared for. This means taking time--by force if necessary!--to eat, sleep, and do things that matter to you, whether that's work or crappy reality TV or a manicure or a spin class. If you find yourself flailing, and contemplating buying Brooke Shields' "Down Came the Rain" for Amazon overnight delivery, as I did, get help. See a therapist, get meds if necessary. Or just schedule a night out with friends when you can bitch about your problems and get tipsy and feel like a free person again. Whatever gets you to a better place. Your happiness matters. It matters just as much as your child's happiness, because your child's happiness depends on you. Everything depends on you. NO PRESSURE OR ANYTHING, JESUS.

But seriously, if there's one thing I want you to take away from this, it's that in eighteen months I have only learned five things. And one of them is not how to stop sleeping in my jeans so often.

Don't say I never gave you an easy act to follow.
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44 comments :

  1. Now I have the "Jamaica we've got a bobsled team" song from Cool Runnings in my head, which I haven't heard in, oh, twenty years and didn't want to hear again. So thanks for that.

    As someone who frequently takes time for sleep "by force" (aka Ambien), I appreciated these tips.

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    1. I am so honored to have gotten that stuck in your head. Next, please focus on "Do the Freddie" from Troop Beverly Hills.

      And I don't flatter myself that these are actually helpful tips. But if I can make someone feel better about themselves even just for a second that's good enough for me. :)

      Delete
    2. By the way, this shit is kind of going viral on my FB page. I posted a picture of that meme and like 7 people (including men--yes, I suppose they are people, too) have shared it.

      Too bad my FB page is not HuffPo.

      Delete
    3. You are awesome, for many reasons, but because you just inspired me to post this on HuffPo.

      Delete
  2. I adore this article. YES! The mom of a 7 year old and a 12 month. ..you said Parenthood is Wonderful and Messy. I just appreciate the moms who tell it like it is as opposed to the pretend Gwyneths who have military schedules, ironed pants, and their children can speak in English and Latin before age two.

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    Replies
    1. Double high-five! I am, obviously, secretly jealous of those women but I'm learning to love my messier reality.

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  3. Thank you for your honesty. I'm sick of the Mommy wars, and trying to stop looking for The Secret to get your kid to eat/poop/sleep how, where, and where you want them to in 3 easy steps. There are no secrets, there are no "right" ways -- there's only what works for you and your family. And I've learned that without sleep, nothing works.

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    1. Truth. And yeah, I've had it up to here with ANYONE making ANYONE else feel bad about their choices. The only reason we care about what other people do differently (pretty much ever but especially when it comes to parenting) is that it makes us insecure about our own decisions.

      Clearly there are some ground rules: love your kids, bathe them occasionally, spend lots of time with them and put quality things in their stomachs and brains. But other than that, each family can figure out the details for themselves.

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  4. Um. Yes to everything.

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    Replies
    1. Maybe in the future I can pen a bestselling parenting book with testimonies from well-adjusted adults who did things like eat from made-in-China plastic bowls and slept in beanbag chairs.

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  5. Thank you. I needed this.

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    Replies
    1. You're so welcome. I need it too. I rarely listen to my own advice.

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  6. I sent this to a friend who's been having a really hard time as a mom lately, and it made her smile. Thanks, Una!

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    Replies
    1. Aw, that's awesome. Thank YOU!

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  7. And to think they kicked YOU off of Park Slope Parents.

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    Replies
    1. Seriously. I have so much to give.

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  8. HURRAH. All very true. It's like having a really complicated Tamagotchi.

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    Replies
    1. That is an excellent analogy. My sister once had a Nano Puppy that she left at the beach during a thunderstorm, and somehow we found it the next day and it was STILL ALIVE.

      There's a lesson in there somewhere but I'm not confident it's legal.

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  9. My husband and I laugh at people with only one kid (we have three, yes, we are masochists). One kid is EASY, that's the one that teaches you what to do. Of course, our first kid was a perfect baby, the second one not so much, and the third is demon spawn. But, we love them all to pieces! Your blog is spot on. I can't tell you how ecstatic I was (yes, ecstatic) when Baby Einstein (or any baby-oriented) DVDs were debunked. Baby don't need a DVD to sing to her, baby needs YOU, in all your tone-deaf glory. My husband sings to all our kids (10, 8 and 5) every night. Every night. The rest is filler. Can't wait to see your next 5 things!

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    Replies
    1. Ha! Awesome. And Pauline, I added that asterisk about people with multiple kids just for you. :) I always forget that in the grand scheme of things I'm still at the starting line.

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  10. Oh my goodness, you are so right. I'm a mother of 3, eldest now teenage, and I STILL don't know what the hell I am doing. I'm going to print off that chart and stick it somewhere I can see it when I am tempted to give parenting advice, and to anyone I've already subjected to my views, I am very sorry and I was probably drunk or sleep-deprived.

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    Replies
    1. Hey, your kids are alive and relatively healthy, you DO know what you are doing! Good on ya! :-)

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  11. Jessica9:06 AM

    One of the most important thing I have learned so far as a first time mom is that you can read every website and every book about how to get your kid to sleep, but if you don't combine that with, you know, actually paying attention to YOUR own kid's cues and doing what's right for YOUR kid and YOUR family only, then you are going to be miserable.

    Another is to ignore all the "your baby should'"s and "your baby shouldn't"s. Ugh. Sometimes I think parenting would be easier without the internet. Often i will tell myself that for centuries, children have been raised without it.. without Google where you can look up every symptom, every sleep problem, memorize 15 different naps schedules AND be judged for whatever you decide to do. :P

    Long story short, amazing post.

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  12. We have 10 kids (oldest is 23, youngest is 4) and I still don't know what I'm doing. You make it up as you go along. What works for one kid has no effect on another one. At the end of every day, if they are all alive, have been fed, have clean clothes to wear the next day, and clean dishes for the next meal, we are doing good. ;)

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    1. Yep, if my kids are still alive at the end of the day, it's been a good day.

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  13. This. Is. So. Awesome. Yeah you pretty much summed up everything I want to say in my blog in one freaking page. Thanks a lot. I think you just made me obsolete. Also, I think I love you.

    :)

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  14. That was the funniest shit ever. I'm lying in bed with half my body dangling off the edge because my 11 month old's feet are in my rib cage, reading this on my iPhone in the dark. I haven't had to suppress so much laughter in so long. THANK YOU. If I can take one thing away is that there is actually humor in all this. And if just one more thing - I'm not alone in this crazy motherhood mindfuck.

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  15. Man, even moms I know won't admit this stuff and just shift around uncomfortably and squint when I talk about these truths and I'm just like: come ON! Don't be denying my words ladies! You know you go home and lay on the floor and cry into stale cheerios like I do. So thanks for backing me the eff up!

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  16. "Of course there are plenty of amazing, beautiful, transformative moments--but those generally take place when you are on the toilet by yourself."

    You are waaaay ahead of the game if you can pee by yourself : )

    (and way ahead of the game since you've already learned these truths. Why are we making raising the next generation so hard on us?!)

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  17. Hi, I´m from Brazil (sorry if my English is not correct) and I just got your article from a friend from California, and I must tell you how inspirated I was by reading this... I guess the right word is liberated.

    And you know what, we´re living the same shit down here! Women have gone crazy about "mothering" (in Portuguese, "mother" is a verb now), and I just can´t stand all that crap about sleep-training, food and milestones and how french women got it right, and all the bla bla bla they´re talking about these days! Of course I read it all and try to do my best, but somehow things just dont happen this way on reality!

    I´ll just print this article and post in each room of my house, so that everyday i can remind myself how NORMAL I AM, specially having 6-months-old-premature-TWINS!

    Yes, I have nannies (here it sooo much cheapper and basically everyone can hire at one, so dont blame me for living in a third world country), Yes, I introduced solids at 04 months, and I still dont know how to manage they´re nights "correctly". Plus, there´s the twin-guilty (I could talk about it, but dont have enough English to describe it)...

    I just want to THANK YOU for setting me free, even for a second, from all my guilty and worries!


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  18. Anonymous11:26 AM

    Please excuse my following post as I know I will sound slightly (very) crazy. But, in my defense, I haven't slept in about four years. Here goes...I love you. Seriously. I happened to read another blog post yesterday morning- something about "don't you just hate *this* kind of mom???" and I was a little bit the kind of mom they were talking about and it really got my panties in a wad for some reason for the rest of the day. I kept wanting to go and leave comments in the comments section all day like the other crazy lunatics as if I had an actual argument with a real live person and I kept thinking "I should've said this..." And then right before I went to bed my (child-less) friend sent me this and I loved it so hard I got tears in my eyes. (I can't actually make tears that leave my eyes anymore because they have dried up from tiredness). When I read about the sleep log and the chop stick I laughed for like five minutes straight because I think I have done that. It was just so refreshing to hear someone say we are ALL doing it wrong! It's just so positive! Or feels that way to me. So then I became slightly obsessed with you and found more of your blogs and I found out your love of Footloose (my fave movie, I named my son after Ren McCormick) and when you called yourself a "Bravo ho" I nearly fainted. My friend who sent me your blog post and I also love to live stream during awards shows. I have been a mom for four years now (2 boys) and have never met another mom like me. I keep waiting...but, just to know that you are out there makes me so happy. PLEASE keep writing. You have inspired me to do the same.

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  19. Anonymous6:10 AM

    THANK YOU for this! It is so spot on and came at the perfect time. I have a 7 mo old son who I love to pieces. Nothing has gone smoothly for us. I thought I would have a beautiful natural birth with no drugs and I ended up with an urgent c section 3 weeks early and spent 9 days in the hospital with complications. I thought I would breast feed immediately and for as long as possible but because he was super tiny we were told to supplement with pumped milk and he decided he liked a bottle better. Which I didn't accept until I was spending half my waking hours crying at each feeding bc it was agony and we both didn't like it but isn't that what good mothers do? I thought as he grew and matured the sleep thing would just come naturally and at 7 months we are still struggling. I didn't even realize he was a colicky baby until long after the fact because I was afraid to complain that my baby cried so much. I didn't know it was possible to get so little sleep and still be upright during the day. It has been hell a lot of the time and I have felt crazy and like I better not open my mouth bc surely then everyone will know I suck at this. I am creeping back towards health again thank god but this article was the best medicine I could get! I literally laughed out loud and couldn't stop and also had a tear in my eye. Thank you for being bold and brave in your writing. We all needed this!
    (and yes I am also sitting up alone in the dark typing on my iPhone. I have reported this in Facebook!)

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  20. This was great; thanks Una!!

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  21. What a great piece! I have 11, 6, and 2 year old boys, and every single thing you say is true, and so important to try to absorb.

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  22. 17 years later, and I'm still sleeping in my jeans.

    You are a genius. So proud to say, I know you.

    xo

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  23. I am a mom to 3 boys (5, 7, and 9) and most days I am just hanging on by my fingernails (www.threeboysmama.wordpress.com). I have tried to come to terms with the fact that my house will never be clean, my hair will never be styled, and the nurses at the ER will know me by name.

    Thanks for saying it like it is.

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  24. Anonymous5:06 PM

    I decided that when your last kid successfully leaves the nest is when you are handed your Parental Handbook. Thats why I will be an awesome-er grandparent than I was at being a parent!

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  25. I'm a sporadic lurker (mostly because I'm a sporadic internet user-lame, I know), but every time I come here, I laugh until crying or puking is really the only option. Thank you. Also, I dearly wish I'd had this to read 15 years ago. You've said it far, far better than any parenting book ever could. Keep it up (it does get easier, promise.)

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  26. My parenting plan involves the following mantra to live by: you can't fall asleep in your jeans if you never put on pants! That will work, right?

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  27. I absolutely LOVE LOVE LOVE this article. LOVE! Because I still feel like a royal parental fuck up daily and it IS so part of the journey.

    And seriously on the Cosmo sex tips - I found one once that told me I should rub a rock on a guy's perineum. Seriously?? A ROCK?!?

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  28. Anonymous10:16 AM

    Thank you. I love everything about this.

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  29. Anonymous11:43 PM

    I was recently reminded that Tarzan was raised by apes and he turned out fine. Not that I'm condoning letting apes raise your kids, but I've seen a couple of the mother apes at the zoo and they are very gentle but firm. I think this may be the solution to our child-rearing problems. Apes that is. Just sayin'

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  30. Bloody fantastic. Thank you.

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  31. As I just told some friends with a newborn - this post, particularly the helpful chart, has been my gift to all parents facing ridiculous judgment for their choices. THANK YOU!

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