Here's the thing - nobody can tell anybody else everything they'll need to know about parenthood. It would be impossible. I recognize that now.
I recognize lots of things now. Things my mother has said to me for years that I never really understood . . . or that I misunderstood. Things that I wondered about when I saw other people dealing with their children. Things that I heard people lament or rejoice over and secretly thought to myself, "That's silly!" But now I know. It's not silly. It's not simple. And even the parts of it that are "natural" go against the grain of my self centered humanness.
Even now as I write this, I have a sleeping baby strapped to my chest. He had his first laugh today at almost two months old - best moment of our day so far, absolutely precious and priceless. But late last night as I was up changing his diaper and trying to get him put back to sleep I got a message that someone needed to fill in as a keyboard player for church Sunday. And I'm the only one who sort of can . . . but it isn't like it would have been before. I can't just say, "yeah! Sure! Love to!" Nope. I have to say, "I'd like to and I can, but I can't do the rehearsal because that's bedtime for baby. And I might be late to sound check because I have to feed him in the nursery at the church . . . do you still even want me???"
See . . . the precious things do come with a price. All parents are called to be selfless in a way that our former lives can't teach us. When we are not parents we enjoy a freedom that many of us don't know we have (friends without kids, enjoy that and know that even when it's gone you'll have new freedoms. I'm not saying your life will be over!) - don't read this as me saying that I don't want what I have now. I want it. Believe me. I have endured things that my old self would never have knowingly signed up for in order to have this. And I'd do it again. But I do wish I'd taken off my rose colored glasses before the day our son was born. Wishes like that are usually not fruitful. And perhaps it's not possible for new parents to do anything other than what all of us do. But for all of my friends and readers and listeners who may someday become parents, I want to give you some new secrets I've learned.
1. You might not be "in love" with your baby. Because you'll be sleep deprived and your home life will have changed completely. You might have to come to a bigger love than "in love" - I remember falling in love with my husband. So very much in love. And I don't have that same feeling anymore - almost 8 years after falling for him. Now I have something I consider to be much deeper. It may be that way with a baby. It was with my son. I instantly wanted to hold him close, but my sense of love for him is not a butterflies and unicorns kind of feeling. It's more like a stay up all night, change a million diapers, cry with him when he can't be consoled kind of love. It's a love with some weight to it. And weight is hard to carry. That's ok!!! It really is!!!!!! Don't let anyone tell you that you have to be elated with your new body, new schedule, and new family structure immediately. We grow into these things. And growing is difficult.
2. It takes a bit to be confident with the baby. Family members and friends with more experience are great resources and you should let them help you. But when you feel strongly about something and you're hearing opposites from your trusted helpers, go with your gut!!! You're the mom or dad. I have to tell myself this every day. I'm fortunate to have understanding people in my family circle, and they give me lots of grace and space. But sometimes I have to say to one of them, "No - this is my decision because I believe it's best for my particular baby." That's an uncomfortable thing to do, but with practice it gets easier. Give yourself permission to show your confidence to those helpers and authority figures.
3. Your baby won't immediately "give you unconditional love." That is not a baby's job. Many people told me that my baby would instantly love me unconditionally. No. I love him unconditionally. He is learning trust and love from me. And I am daily praying for God to teach me again - "He first loved us." - the oldest parent/child relationship is repeated again. And it's hard for my husband and I because we're just people. We've never had to love unconditionally before. It is different from loving each other in our marriage. It is different from anything else we've done. TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE OFTEN ABOUT HOW YOU BOTH ARE FEELING. I'm serious. Do it. It's necessary. Even when you're overtired and your feelings are ugly. DO. IT. It'll make you a strong team and you will have an easier time dealing with the feelings you have.
These three secrets are not things I'm good at.
I fail often.
I fail without grace or dignity on a daily basis.
But when I dust off and get back up, I have this feeling of a lesson learned the way I used to when my piano teacher would correct me - botched that one, but I know exactly how to approach it if it happens again, and I'm glad I did my best even though it didn't work out this time.
I have to forgive myself a lot. And my husband. And he has to forgive me. And we both have to work at this new life we've made. That's normal. That's acceptable. Don't let anyone tell you otherwise, young parents. You're doing fine. Go with the flow. I'm right there with you.