Being a parent, I’ve realized, is basically a series of one cliché after another eventually ringing true – the very same clichés, mind you, I found so annoying to hear throughout my pregnancy, dispensed by friends and strangers alike, and disguised as advice. But guess what, guys? IT IS ALL SO TRUE. Just true in a way that isn’t obvious or interesting or useful until you are In It. “Enjoy that sleep now.” (DEAR GOD. NO COMMENT.) “You’ll never feel such love.” (I MEAN.) “They grow so fast.” (HOW IS BAILEY ALMOST SIX MONTHS OLD.) (NO, REALLY, HOW.) I now see that the longstanding tradition of speaking those clichés to every preggo stranger on the street is actually part of a greater effort to ensure that soon-to-be mama that she is not, actually, alone in the universe when she finds herself changing a screaming baby’s diaper at 4am on a Saturday night, unshowered and unloved and about to give up. These clichés are a support system in disguise: We’ve all been there, love. It will be ok.
All of this said, one aspect I did not hear about over and over, however, is the GUILT that comes with suddenly being your own family unit, and trying to do what you deem is best for said family unit. Remember when, say, a pal would have those birthday drinks that start at 10pm, and despite having had a long week at work and a few too many beers at happy hour you’d rally and show up with a smile? Or when your friend from work had her (magical) wedding in New Jersey during a snowstorm when you were 38 weeks preggo and you not only stayed for (almost) the whole thing but you danced, too? I do, because, up until recently, that was me: The one who, due in no small part to a strong sense of loyalty and a constant case of FOMO, would always HAPPILY show up to the party.
…Then, along came Bailey. And, suddenly, I found myself having to say No. No to activities and events I desperately wanted to attend, no to activities and events I desperately didn’t want to attend but would have anyway, due to the aforementioned combo of loyalty and FOMO. I found myself having to say no on behalf of Bailey, no on behalf of our new little family – and you know what? I wasn’t let off the hook! I’d assumed that everyone I’d said yes to so many times before would understand that my circumstances had changed, and that, therefore, my priorities would need to change as well. But they didn’t! Very few gave me the benefit of the doubt or seemed to recall that it was my M.O. to always say yes pre-Bailey. No one said, “Hey – you just had a baby. We’d love to see you, but do what’s right for your family. Give yourself a break.” (This phenomenon was shocking to me, by the way.) As a result, I spent the first few months of Bailey’s life feeling incredibly guilty for missing this or for skipping that, for putting my little family’s needs over others’ wants. This guilt caused a particular breed of stress I didn’t anticipate experiencing in my early days as a parent – perhaps because it wasn’t one of the clichés repeated to me on a daily basis during the 23 months I was pregnant. So you know what? F it. I’m going to both become a cliché (the new parent sprouting clichés) and create my own cliché, which I will say to any new mama who will listen (even if she doesn’t want to):
“Hey – you just had a baby. Do what’s right for your family. Give yourself a break.“