I have a 2-year old. Sometimes I need to repeat that to myself out loud. My son is TWO YEARS OLD. I have survived two whole years of adulting and being a parent to this quirky little nugget. On the one hand, I cannot imagine my life without him in it – it feels like he’s always been here. On the other hand, I’m in total disbelief that it’s only been two years, and we have all managed to actually survive with our sanity and all appendages intact.
When you leave the hospital with a newborn baby, no one hands you an instruction booklet on how to keep this little person alive. Yes, the nurse sat us down with a checklist of basic, common-sense-type things that she needed to review with us before we left (don’t forget to bathe your baby, make sure you feed him, let him sleep, use a car seat, blah, blah, blah), but that was about it.
Which is odd because the last time we purchased a laptop computer, we left the store with more instructions that we knew what to do with. And a giant, thick manual. And two extended warranties. And a 24-hour helpline. And a comprehensive return policy.
When we left the hospital with a TINY HUMAN BEING, we left with nothing but optimism, instincts and a shit-ton of love.
Sure, you can buy all the books (my stash included The Happiest Baby on the Block, The Wonder Weeks, The No-Cry Sleep Solution, Parenting from the Inside Out, And Baby Makes Three, The Vaccine Book – all of which I referred to continuously and religiously for months). You can belong to all the online parenting forums, and Google the shit out of every last burp, spit-up, cry and monster-nap-marathon. You can ask every mom-friend you have, or call your own mother (or, heaven forbid, your mother-in-law).
But I’m here to tell you, from experience, this only made me feel completely insane, relatively useless and utterly confused.
And so, for those of you with new babies, or who are considering having babies, I’m about to bestow upon you, the greatest piece of advice I can possibly give you. The only advice you will ever really need, and I wish someone had given it to me (actually – they probably did, I just didn’t listen….so LISTEN).
The reason that babies don’t come with an instruction manual is because….
wait for it……
Every. Baby. Is. Different.
Furthermore, every toddler is different. Every child is different. And – surprisingly – every person (mama, parent, human being on this planet) is also different.
I had NO idea how many decisions I would need to make when it came to bringing this child into the world. Should I have an epidural or go drug-free? Will I breastfeed or formula feed? If I introduce a bottle too early, will he get nipple confusion? Should I vaccinate? Is it safe to sleep train my baby? Will crying-it-out make him feel abandoned? What daycare should I choose? Or would it be better to be a stay-at-home mom? How much TV can he watch? What about time-outs?
OH. MY. GOD.
Yeah, no one tells you about HUNDREDS of decisions you will have to make, and continue to have to make as this little person grows up. But everyone will tell you what they did with their own kid, and why it’s the best thing to do, and how such-and-such a study backs it up, which leaves you feeling like if you don’t do exactly what said person did with their kid, then you are somehow obviously going to completely fuck up your own kid for the rest of his or her life. ($%&^%#!!!!)
IT’S NOT TRUE. Let’s all say it together –
Every kid is different. Every mama is different.
So, yeah, I had an epidural. I breast-fed and formula-fed. We introduced bottles on day two and never dealt with nipple confusion. We vaccinated. We sleep trained. We cried-it-out (both me and the baby – ha!). He went to daycare. He watches Sesame Street and Jimmy Fallon’s barbershop quartet videos. And I have used time-outs for discipline (oh my goodness, we have used a lot of these lately!).
And two years later, my kid is still alive and healthy and happy. Huh.
But ultimately, it doesn’t matter. Because my kid isn’t the same as your kid, or my sister’s kid, or your sister’s kid, or ANYONE’s kid.
That’s the thing – my Macbook computer is pretty much the same as every other Macbook computer of the same make and model. I can count on that instruction manual to have all the answers because each laptop is basically identical.
Not so with a kid.
The joy of not being given an instruction manual is that you get to write your own book.
You get to listen to your gut and your instincts. You get to collect information and make educated decisions. Your child gets to be his- or herself, and you get to learn new things about them every single day.
That stuff can’t be found in a book. That stuff can only be found in the optimism, instincts and shit-ton of love that you left the hospital with. No manual required.
A version of this post originally appeared on Stratejoy.
Eran Sudds is a photographer, mama, and postpartum depression survivor. She is the creator of the Good Mother Project, and is passionate about making sure other mothers and mothers-to-be know how amazing they are, as both moms and women.
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