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Growth Spurts: The Pressure

In the last year or two, several of my close friends have entered the world of motherhood for the first time. As I went to the baby showers, visited the proud (and very exhausted) parents and babies in the hospitals, took meals to the new (and now beyond exhausted) families once they got home, and oohed and aahed over all the pictures on Facebook, I remembered those first weeks of life with a first baby.

They’re hard.

Oh, it’s beautiful and magical and precious, and there’s nothing else in the world like it, but let’s be honest–those are some difficult days! The sleep deprivation alone is enough to convince you to have anonly child. But then there’s the feeding and soothing, along with the general caretaking of a tiny, helpless human to figure out. And, of course, this is all on top of simply recovering from giving birth!

But you know what? All of that isn’t even what seems the hardest to me about being a first-time mom. Okay, the sleep deprivation might be the hardest, but a very close second is this: the pressure that we feel from other people watching us being first-time moms. It’s very intense.

There are a few different types of these observers. First, there are the family members. This one’s hard, because you find yourself just wanting to prove that you can do this thing and that you don’t need help. After all, you’re all grown up and have your own job and place to live and everything, so you and your husband should be able to handle this. You find yourselves putting on the “We’ve got this” attitude in front of your baby’s grandparents, but when their backs are turned, you and your hubby are shrugging and mouthing “I don’t know” to each other. I’m not sure why we have this urge to prove ourselves. I do know, however, that it somewhat wears off when Baby #2 comes along.

Another type of observer is the more experienced mom who seems to have it all together. First of all, she doesn’t. Let’s just be clear about that. She had to go through the trenches and learn it all for herself, too. She only seems to have it all together because she’s had more sleep now. But even when you know these things about her, it can still be quite daunting to display your mothering techniques in front of her. You start questioning your diaper-changing skills, your aptitude for breastfeeding, your calming procedures (which, of course, are not working at the moment), your level of preparedness (as if…), and even your choice of baby outfits. Oh, and swaddling! I never, ever got the hang of that. Now, if the observing woman is kind and not-so-removed from the infant stages, she’ll simply smile/cry in understanding. If she’s not this kind or seems to have amnesia about those first weeks of survival, well…just try to ignore her.

The last type of observer is the person who has never actually had a baby of his/her own but who feels compelled to dole out parenting advice. I’m sorry, but it’s just really hard for a weary mama to graciously receive counsel from the random shopper who seems to know exactly why the baby is crying uncontrollably on Aisle 5 and exactly what can be done to make it stop. These were the moments when I personally felt like a mama bear, just wanting to growl and make those people go away. Still, I felt the pressure. Why CAN’T I get my baby to stop crying?!

Then the pressure is intensified if the adviser is someone you actually know. It’s harder to ignore those comments and looks–in addition to the comments and looks that you imagine are happening when you’re not around. Even the most well-meaning friend can get on your very frazzled nerves if he/she doesn’t have the personal experience to back up the advice. However, if this person does have the opportunity in the future to gain that personal experience…well, let’s just say that “I told you so” doesn’t even have to escape your lips. The personal experience for that person will be quite enough of an “I told you so” in itself. You can just smile in understanding. And maybe snicker to yourself. C’mon, you’ve earned it!

Now, I’d love to say that the pressure eventually goes away and that people stop giving unsolicited advice. But that would be a lie. What does happen, though, is that you and your husband become more comfortable and confident in your own parenting techniques. And you realize something really beautiful: None of us really knows what we’re doing. It’s all on-the-job training of the toughest job you’ll ever love. (Sorry to disagree with the Army.) And there’s more than one right way to do it. If it weren’t so, there would only be one book on the subject.

Let me encourage you to hang in there, new mamas! Give yourself some space and grace, even if those observing you aren’t doing the same. Remind yourself that you will, in fact, make mistakes, but that you will, in fact, do some really incredible things–things that only you can do for this child. This is a high, high calling and responsibility. It isa privilege, but it’s also really, really, really hard. Don’t let anybody tell you otherwise (especially if they don’t have children of their own).

Let me also encourage you to keep an open mind and learn along the way. Things that used to be “I’d never…” (You know, when you were the one handing out the unsolicited advice before you had your own children) just might become “Hey, whatever works.”

One more thing–when you see another new mom, encourage her with a kind word, an understanding smile, or a story of your own mess-ups. Help relieve some of her pressure by distributing the same kind of grace that you crave yourself. It will make both of you feel better.

Oh, and get some sleep when you can.

 

Carrie Bevell Partridge is convinced that there is more than just one way to be a good and effective mother. She and her husband Kevin practice their parenting techniques (sans swaddling) with their three children at their home in Jackson, MS.

About The Author

Carrie Partridge

Carrie Bevell Partridge grew up in Memphis, TN with her parents and four siblings. She attended Mississippi College, where she met her husband Kevin. They have been married for 20 years and have five children. They live in Ridgeland, MS. Carrie has written the “Growth Spurts” column and managed social media for Parents & Kids Magazine since 2011. You can read more of her work at carriebevellpartridge.com and Facebook.com/carriebevellpartridge.

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