Surviving the First Year: Top Five Lessons Learned from an Accidental Full-Time Mom

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Children weren’t really on my radar when my husband and I got married. I was at a pivotal time in my career and my future seemed laid out before me, almost simply: I’d secure a post-grad-school job and we’d enjoy a DINK lifestyle – dual income, no kids. That was the plan, and I was excited for it to begin!

Plans. We make them with a goal in mind. We count on the structure they provide. We rely on the stability they promise. Often, plans work perfectly according to schedule. Many times they need to be adjusted or tweaked to meet a specific need or goal, and sometimes the original plan is altered completely. I fall into the latter category. Life has an entirely different path for me than the one I originally expected. And as any inherent planner can attest to, when things go awry, it can be really challenging to find your foothold.

I was absolutely overjoyed when our firstborn son arrived. He was tiny and healthy and perfect! The day of his birth was one of the best days of my life. That being said, I was terrified at the prospect of staying home with him full time. My husband and I had recently moved out of state, and didn’t really know anyone. Moreover, the hubs had a crazy work and school schedule: he was gone every weeknight and at least one day on the weekend. We have an amazing family support system, but they lived over two-hundred miles away. I was pretty much by myself with my new little man. I’ll never forget the exact moment when that realization dawned on me. My husband was about to walk out the door to return to work, and it just hit me: this was my life now. There was no desk to return to, no employer awaiting the end of my maternity leave. I had a completely new role, and my boss was a six pound, blue-eyed babe with a set of lungs like an opera singer. Could I handle it?

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Boy, did my little guy and I do a lot of bonding that first year. We cried together, we laughed together, we muddled through and eventually figured it all out together. I felt like a rock star when his first birthday arrived. I did it! I might have been sleep deprived, sporting a few new gray hairs and wearing a spit-up stained shirt, but I survived. I endured the sleepless nights, infant acid reflux, nursing, the teething (oh my goodness the teething!), and the numerous other challenging, terrifying and lovely aspects of year one. But those first twelve months were hard. Incredibly hard. Here are the top five lessons I learned that year, and what I wish I would have known the day I brought my little guy home.

 

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1. Relax & Trust Your Instincts
You can read a million books about how to get your baby on a schedule, whether or not you should breast or bottle feed, or how to sleep train. There are a ton of websites and discussion forums about any and all things baby. Use them, but to a degree. Information is great, but to a point. Trust yourself and listen to your baby. You know your baby, you understand what works and what doesn’t work while caring for your precious infant. If your son refuses the bottle, don’t worry about it. If your daughter seems too attached to the pacifier and you read somewhere about nipple confusion or the importance of self-soothing, don’t stress out about it! Relax. I’ll say it again: RELAX. Trust yourself to make the most fitting choice for your child.

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2. Don’t Sleep While The Baby Sleeps
Everyone always says “sleep while your baby sleeps”, but that didn’t work for me. I am a person who functions best when all is in order, and clutter is at a minimum. I have two very active boys, so this is a hard one to maintain currently! But when I just had my first little guy, I could finally take a shower, clean my kitchen, or throw in a load (or ten!) of laundry while he took a nap. This was my time to organize my home – while perhaps simultaneously catching up on my DVR – and it was important to me. So I decided not to sleep during the day while my baby slept. That being said, if clutter and mess don’t bother you, by all means get some probably much needed rest!

3. Fit In Some “Me Time” Outside of the Home
I still struggle with this one almost six years later, but it’s important. When you have an infant, you need a break. I think your baby needs it too. Hand your little man or lady to Dad or a trusted care giver for a few hours. Go grab a coffee or walk around the mall. Call a girlfriend and have lunch. Clear your head for a few hours and enjoy a little bit of time for just you. Even a drive around town on a beautiful day has proven beneficial for me. The walls can seem to cave in on us a little bit when we’re home with an infant. I know there were many times when I even felt a little isolated. Get out and enjoy a fresh perspective for a bit. I truly believe you’ll be much happier and even a better caregiver if you do!

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4. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
My first baby cried all the time. All. The. Time. Sometimes I could calm him down, but often times I didn’t have much luck. Bedtimes were particularly challenging. For the first three months of his life, he screamed for at least an hour right at the time when I expected him to settle for the day. Eventually, I took it personally: what was I doing wrong? Should I be doing something differently? Nothing, and no. I had addressed any potential medical needs and made sure he was fed, cuddled and loved. He was just a screamer. There wasn’t anything else I could do, and it wasn’t personal. Thankfully, as time passed it got easier and I learned not to judge myself too harshly.

5. Reach Out and Connect with Other Moms
Use Detroit Moms Blog! Seek out moms groups in your community, sign up for a baby and me class. Get yourself out there! I joined an infant music class, and unexpectedly met a great friend. Our husbands became friends as well, and we easily transitioned from play-dates to adult dinner dates. This isn’t necessarily an easy thing to do, especially if you’re not a naturally outgoing person. Do it anyway, you never know what might happen!

Every new mom has their beautiful story. Each of us learn so much about what it means to be a mother during that precious first year. Having a baby – whether you are a full time mom, or continue with your career – is an incredibly challenging and rewarding experience. Share part of your story! What lessons did you learn, and what would you add to my ‘Top Five’ list?

10 COMMENTS

  1. I totally agree with every single one of these…much easier to remember them the second time around though!

  2. Couldn’t agree more! Sometimes we forgot about ourselves and only focus on our role as “mom.” Similarly to trusting your instincts, I’d add ‘take advice with a grain of salt,’ because everyone will be chiming in to tell you what to do.

  3. So true. I never slept when my kids slept either. Just had to get some things done, just a few, or maybe spend a minute regaining my sanity! It’s such a difficult time, yet so rewarding as well.

    • Thanks for your comment Nicole! I’m so glad I’m not the only one who didn’t sleep while my baby slept, it’s definitely worth it to use that time to regain some sanity – no doubt, lol!

  4. Great article! I needed to read this today! I have a 4 month old who didn’t sleep at all last night and my husband is out of town on business. Even when he is in town he works really long hours and we just moved to Michigan a few months ago, so I have no support system either. This article pretty much describes my days…thank you for making me feel like maybe it does get better.

    • Thanks for your kind comment, Danielle! I’m so glad that this article resonated with you. In writing it, I remembered just how difficult that time can be, especially when you sometimes feel like you’re in in alone. Yes, it does get better, I promise! 🙂 Best of luck with your little one!

  5. This is perfect. I have a 6 week old and mu husband works out of state. I get to see him every weekend, or every weekend and it sucks. This article comes at a right time in my life. I do have an excellent support system bit I feel bad about using them for non “necessary ” things, such as watching her so that I may go get a pedicure, or lunch date. Its good to know we aren’t the only ones out here.

    • I’m so glad you enjoyed the post! I completely understand where you are right now with your hubby traveling so much – it’s HARD! Hang in there, and definitely try to fit a pedicure or lunch date in if you can, without feeling guilty – you deserve it! 🙂

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