Most expecting parents browse through dozens of books looking for expert insight on the exciting changes a baby will bring to their lives. They quiz relatives about their experiences. They query their friends. They even seek input from complete strangers in the grocery store. Yet no single source of information has all the answers, or even most of the really important things they need to hear.
Listed below are some vital bits of information that even parents eagerly awaiting their second or third child should take into consideration.
Our first born was a wonder infant. You could set your clock by him. Change him, feed him around 7 p.m., tuck him in his crib, and he would sleep until 2 a.m. Change him, feed him, and tuck him back in. He’d sleep until at least 6 a.m. Night after night, month after month. Marvelous! Wonderful!
When he learned to crawl, we could put him on the floor on a circular play mat fringed with toys. He would gladly stay in the center of the mat and entertain himself while we did housework or laundry. Such a delightful young fellow. When we periodically checked on him, he would laugh and smile at us, then go right back to his play.
Two years later his brother was born. He cried nearly non-stop for the first two weeks. Where his older brother’s circadian rhythm cycled like clockwork, he had never heard the word "schedule."
In fact, he never slept consistently through the night until he was 12 or 13 years old. Late night rockings often turned into later night drives through the neighborhood, complete with fervent prayers that the traveling motion would lull him to sleep. More intensive prayers occurred when trying to remove his delicately sleeping form from the car seat without waking him. During one visit to out-of-state friends, I actually wound up sleeping in the car with him for several hours. It’s not nice when the guests keep the whole house awake. All. Night. Long.
That circular play mat, with the developmental toys enticingly displayed around its edge? We stopped using it after about a week because it was too dangerous. We would place him in the middle of it, then had to be careful not to trip over him as he instantly scampered off in some unpredictable direction. At that point, we gently folded away the play mat and any hope that our youngest would follow in the orderly, self-regimented footsteps of his older brother.
That reason is so that they don’t turn into teenagers. Linguists believe the word "teen" is actually an ancient Gaelic term for "grief." Barring some miraculous incident where Mother Teresa or Francis of Assisi is reincarnated as your offspring, there will come a time, in all likelihood, when the fruit of your loins irritates, upsets, and angers you more than any other sentient being in the history of the world. At least, in the words of one long-suffering neighbor, "You will rue the day when your child learns to drive."
I propose the reason our children can cause such emotional distress is because we love them so fiercely. Our tremendously high expectations for them practically necessitate disappointment. Because we see them constantly we lose sight of the fact that we're probably wearing socks older than they are. They are such an intimately significant part of our existence we forget they don’t have our insight, experience, and perspective on life.
While we've grown adept at planning and executing, they can barely think past the ends of their noses. Yes, these darling little children who were so cute once upon a time can often turn shockingly ugly with each other or their parents.
This is the time when the most challenging, most important type of parenting takes place. Nurturing the straight-A student who begs for more homework while volunteering at the local homeless shelter does not require quite the same amount of skill it takes to help a distraught teenager complete an overwhelming school project the evening after his girlfriend has dumped him for his best friend.
A woman’s body goes through a tremendous transformation during pregnancy. Musculature changes, hormonal shifts, psychological variations, and rampant mood swings are all part of the miracle of pregnancy. The mental and physical challenges women face during this time are truly remarkable. Coping with those challenges can place incredible strains on both mother and father. Both look forward to the ensuing birth with mixed levels of anticipation and anxiety.
Yet, on the other side of that experience awaits the opportunity to greet a beautiful new person; a depository of love and source of responsibility. The mother’s physical strain is past and now there is only the grand afterglow of welcoming a new child into the family. Or is there?
There are countless authoritative sources of vital information about how to weather the stormy nine months (give or take) of pregnancy. This time span is traditionally broken down into three three-month phases called trimesters.
However, few of them give enough attention to the very important fourth trimester. The first three months after the baby is born requires your family to adjust to having a new person in the mix who requires around-the-clock care. All too often, expectant parents give little or no thought to this crucial time period.
Make sure you devote careful consideration to feeding schedules, additional laundry needs, and those ever-popular middle of the night baby rocking sessions. Virtually all of the groundwork for the next two decades of child care will be solidified in those first three months.
Anything good that happens after that is just icing on the cake. Glimpsing your child for the first time is life-altering. No question about it. The months, weeks, or in some cases, years you have endured anticipating the moment you finally see your child in the flesh melt away the instant that precious baby is placed before you. The joy, the exhilaration are beyond compare.
Except for the instant you're holding that same child a few days or weeks later, tickling his chin or caressing her cheek, perhaps making silly little noises all the while. Their eyes lock on yours for a moment and they unleash a heart-melting smile of purest joy. They recognize you. They know you. You can see the realization in their eyes. There is no mistaking it.
In that moment, any disappointment, any hardship, any upset, distress, or sadness your child may have caused, or could ever cause, is swept away. That single tiny smile may last only an instant, but the impact it has on your life is eternal.
The bottom line to all this is that no single resource holds all the pertinent wisdom necessary to successfully raise a child or children. This is primarily because no two are exactly alike. While the majority of children’s behaviors and personalities fall within a general range, they all have their outlying tendencies and uniqueness.
And that’s fantastic. That’s what makes each child special and precious and so vital to this vast world we inhabit. So if you're expecting a child or are already honing your own parenting skills, take heart. You are not alone. Many of us are here to lend our support and advice.