Friday, March 9, 2007

What Michelle Wishes She Had Known... Thoughts On Having Children

Dear Janet and Doug -
We are so thrilled that you will be welcoming little Baby Burns into the world soon. We await the news of BB's safe arrival, and we want before and after pictures (eg, Janet 9 mos pregnant and BB).

We will send BB a gift later, but wanted to provide this gift to you both...thoughts on having children, things I wish I had known. I admit that the below is a hodgepodge, but I hope you find it useful and/or inspiring. Mostly, just know that I support you wholeheartedly and welcome with all love your new little baby.

1) I was surprised at the incredible depth of love I had for my babies. They have true, unadulterated unconditional love for me. It is an overwhelming feeling, and it was only when I had children that I truly understood Kahlil Gibran's comment about "the pain of too much tenderness" and how one can be "wounded by your own understanding of love." There is nothing like holding a baby or child in your arms, close and warm, and pouring your heart and soul into theirs. There is also nothing like feeling powerless to help a baby feel better when s/he is crying hard for no reason you can fathom or no reason you can help with.

2) I was also surprised by the incessant nature of the job of being a mother. It is 24/7/365. There are no real vacations, no lunch breaks, no coffee breaks, no bathroom breaks. Depending on the nature of your child, you may not have any time to yourself for a long time except when the child is asleep. For the first several months, you will want to be asleep also. Gradually, you may have some additional time during naps if the child takes naps longer than 45 minutes. And I hope BB does! The absolute best way to deal with this is to reduce all other obligations, including cooking, cleaning, and ANY volunteer activities. We ate a lot of frozen foods the first several months with babies, and I just couldn't worry about the nutritional aspects of that (though I did try not to have pot pies every day!). Regarding volunteer activities, you don't have to give them up, but, realistically, it might be worth expecting to put them on hold until the child is 2 or 3. You can then exceed your expectations by taking on small roles when you feel ready for them. I had to turn down several things - and still am - though I sometimes feel I did not turn down quite enough. It is hard to say, "no!"

3) I have learned that all children are different. The best possible thing you can do for yourselves and your baby is to accept your baby for who s/he is, respect her/him, and refrain from trying to control the behavior and feelings of the child beyond what is necessary to be safe. There is so much time for the child to learn about manners and sharing and picking up after oneself. Just because at 2, s/he doesn't want to share or is afraid to join in the festivities at a birthday party in an unfamiliar place does not mean s/he will always be like that. In fact, if you can give her/him the space to just experience her/his feelings as they are, s/he'll get more comfortable faster. I regret that I compared Clare too much with other children in a quest to understand what was normal for her age. In fact, there is huge variation, and giving her the space to just be herself has been working wonders now. But I didn't clue into that until she was a little over 5 years old. Imagine those 5 years where I was trying to change her so much! Even something as simple as trying to get a baby to stop crying is controlling. Respectfully, try instead to figure out why and take care of it. If you can't do anything, then just let him/her cry. Hold her/him, but let it rip. I am convinced babies can feel the stress of people trying to get them to be quiet when they just feel like they have to cry.

4) I have also learned that all parents are different. For a long time (a little over 5 years), I felt that I had to change myself to be an effective mother. Most of this feeling came from the fact that I did not relate well to most parenthood advice books, but being inexperienced, I turned to them because I didn't know what I was supposed to do. If I could do it all over next time, I would not read them, except for a precious few. I will list those later. No one knows you and your baby better than you do. Find a good pediatrician who will evaluate the child's development on all levels - not just physical, but cognitive, emotional, etc. And go with your instincts. I am sorry to admit that I even felt like I needed to change what kind of clothes I wear because of being a mother (I thought maybe my preferred all-black wardrobe was not so appropriate). The best thing you can do for yourself and the children is to just be yourself. After all, what are you teaching the child if you feel you have to mold yourself into something else because of what society seems to expect? This is related to #3...apply it to yourself, too!

5) Raising children in a loving, respectful environment is such an incredible gift to them. Keeping them feeling good about themselves, truly trusting in their worth as human beings, is in my opinion the most important thing. This does not mean indulging them unnecessarily. When I need to help Clare and Hannah learn limits and learn to control their impulses, I try my hardest to do it in a helpful manner as opposed to getting angry. I am not always successful at this, but I hope I am more times than I am not. With this foundation, a child can do whatever s/he is meant to do in this world. Most of all, ignore what everyone thinks and says unless you feel in your heart it is the right thing. It might take a few false starts while you are learning how to be a parent. The baby is learning how to be a baby, too!

6) I wish I had started using babysitters a lot earlier than I did. Part of the challenge is finding good ones, especially if you have a spirited and sensitive child. Ed and I struggle to get time together, though we have reached a point where we can both cover for each other to go out with friends or go out to meetings or whatever. If you have a nanny, try to get one who might be able to work a night every two weeks or something so that you can spend time together. Even if you have to trade a half-day during the day, this seems like it would be worth it.

We love you so much, Janet and Doug, and we cannot wait to give you and Baby Burns a big hug!!

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