- Get ready to be selfless.
Life without children is incredibly selfish. We are generally used to being the ones making the decisions which affect us moment to moment, day by day. Losing this can be the biggest shock for mums, once the novelty of having baby has worn off. It is unbelievably hard to become a happy, utterly selfless person over night. However, if you give yourself time to prepare for this before you have your baby, this mental preparation will set you in great stead for when he arrives.
Ironically, when you allow things to ‘just happen’ and then ‘go with the flow’, it can actually empower you by making you feel in control, because you are happy to ‘just be’ letting external forces flow. It’s one thing putting somebody else first for a week, but this is long term.
When baby first arrives, it’s important not to feel like you need to make anything happen. Don’t have any other responsibilities which you need to take care of, until you are ready to. Think about what needs to be looked after when baby arrives and make provision for it, so you don’t have to do anything for at least a month. Spend time just ‘being’ with yourself. Don’t feel guilty if you don’t ‘achieve’ every day. Remove all expectations of anything else going on in your life. People might read this and think I’m talking about clearing your desk before going on maternity leave or cancelling other regular activities they usually do, but it’s all the little things as well. Then the irony is, you don’t want anything going on, because it’s too stressful when baby arrives to have to think about anything else, and yet within a few weeks many women need some additional stimulus. When you’re cooped up in the house, day after day, just you and baby, if you don’t prepare for this isolation and lack of external stimulation, you might find it hard. It’s weird, because you have no time for anything else because of baby, and yet after several weeks you can feel lonely and frustrated. Good preparation before hand, however, can really help because it isn’t easy and a lot of women find it hard to get the right balance, especially those who stay at home as baby gets to 6 months and older.
The way I dealt with this was by writing and researching (much of which is within these blogs!). It instantly worked for me because it gave me something else to think about and be interested in. I could do it whenever I wanted to and there was no pressure, or stress attached. It can be difficult to think of something to occupy and excite you while being at home with baby, on an on-going basis, which is why so many women look forward to going back to work, at least part-time. This way they get a bit of their old lives back, and they seem to be restoring the balance. For those of us who choose to stay at home full-time, it can be more of a challenge to find that fulfilling ‘occupation’ to delve into for a few hours here and there while baby is sleeping or at nursery. This is your challenge. If you can afford not to go back to work and you really want to stay at home with your baby, but are feeling a little unfulfilled and frustrated, I urge you to spend a lot of time trying to find something you can do from home. It may be a real departure for you, but that can be the most exciting part! Look at me, I was a film producer, and now I’m a writer.
- Listen to your baby.
While you and baby are getting used to each other, you need to put a lot of time into just hanging out and enjoying the fact that at last, after about nine months, you’re meeting your child, and it’s time to get to know him. If you were to meet your child for the first time as a teenager, you wouldn’t expect to click with him over night. It’s the same with your baby. Remember: BABIES ARE REALLY GOOD COMMUNICATORS. As adults we associate crying with pain. For babies, however, it is how they communicate with us – and it works! If you listen to your baby, I mean really LISTEN to him, he will tell you all you need to know. It’s like learning a new language: on day one you don’t understand a word, but little by little you become fluent. Like learning any language, the more time and effort you put in, the more you’ll get out. The key is to think about crying as a language, rather than an alarm call, so that it does not stress you out. Each time baby cries it will be a process of elimination as to what he wants, until you can identify his different cries. When a baby is in pain, he sounds very different from when a baby is tired or hungry. Most of the time he’ll just want you, some of the time he’ll be tired and a lot of the time he’ll be hungry. Some babies cry when they have a dirty nappy, a lot don’t, so you may have to keep an eye on that! If none of these seem to be the answer, seek medical or professional advice, and certainly do not leave hospital or wherever you give birth, until baby is calm and you feel relaxed.
Babies are rather particular! For example, they like to eat and sleep when they like to eat and sleep! You have to decide whether you are going to tell them when you want them to do this or allow them to tell you. Me and my babies have always got on better when I let them lead the way! Whether you are a routine person or not, babies like a rhythm to their day. I never set a routine for my babies, but before I knew it, together we worked out when they liked to feed, and how often, or when they liked to sleep and how often. It might change weekly or monthly, as it usually does, but if you keep listening to baby, together you’ll just work it out so that both of you are happy.
Remember, that as baby gets older and his intellectual capabilities increase, his awareness and ability to like or dislike certain things will change his behaviour. Nothing stays the same for very long with children because they grow up so fast! Knowledge and preparation, to anticipate how they will grow and at what age they will mentally be capable of what, is unbelievably valuable. If you only read one book, I highly recommend ‘What Every Parent Needs to Know’ by Margot Sunderland.
- Prepare by reading about the development of the human brain and body.
If you understand when different parts of your baby’s brain develop, so you know what they are mentally capable of, at what stage, it helps you to communicate in a way that they can understand. It reduces a lot of frustration on both sides! For example, you allow your 6 month old baby to play with a noisy toy, but then decide it is too loud and take it away. Until your child is about 3 years old, he won’t be able to understand this. When they are tiny, their thought processes are black and white. Set strong, unwavering rules and boundaries, and your baby will understand what he can and can not do. Try and tell him he can do something one minute, but not the next, and he will cry in frustration. Obviously this behaviour is for an older baby, but there is a lot of fascinating material in Margot Sunderland’s book which will allow you to understand your child’s behaviour much more easily from day one.
- Know yourself to know what will work for you.
I have many friends who have successfully raised children, controlling when their babies sleep and eat. If you have read a few of my blogs, you will have gathered by now that I always let my babies lead me, so I cannot advise on what I do not know. I am very aware, however, that my methods may not suit you. The important thing is to think about what kind of a person you are, how you and your partner live your lives and how much you want to change that. One of the reasons why I liked feeding on demand and carrying baby in a sling, was it meant for the first few months, baby came around with us almost as if he were still in the womb! He just slept and ate, discretely, wherever we were. There were no prams to worry about, only a nappy changing bag. Often people didn’t even realise I was carrying a baby! Does this sound like it may suit you? If so give it a shot. If not, what do you think would suit you better?
It’s amazing how often we take ourselves for granted before we have children. Ask yourself some questions like 1) What are you biggest likes? 2) What are your biggest dislikes? 3) Do you like being in control? 4) How do you react when you are out of control and stressed? 5) How can you calm yourself down? If you’ve never thought about it, it may be a while before you can answer truthfully. Before baby arrives, first of all think about how you imagine being with your baby. 1) Do you think you’ll carry him in a sling or use a pram? 2) Do you think you’ll feed on demand or control the times of his feeding? 3) Do you think he’ll sleep in your bed or in a cot? Then ask yourself certain questions about your personality. 1) Do you like to feel close intimacy with others for long periods of time? 2) Do you mind feeling slightly exposed in public? 3) Do you think you’ll want anyone else to help you with your baby? 4) Do you like having anyone close to you when you sleep? Of course, the answer to these questions may change once baby arrives, because having a child changes so much about you. You won’t really know how you are going to feel and what is going to make you feel most comfortable until baby arrives. However, just the process of asking these questions and being aware of them, will put you in the right frame of mind. You will make certain judgement calls and decide to make a few plans, but if they don’t feel right once baby is born, just change them. Nothing is permanent and it’s all a work in progress. As long as you feel calm and content, the rest will fall into place.
My husband and I were determined that as much as possible, the kids were going to just fit in with our lives, rather than the other way round. As the babies have got older, naturally things have become a bit less spontaneous and slowly but surely they dominate more of your lives! However, for us at least, it was a natural change which happened a) to make our lives easier and b) because we really like hanging out with our kids. Everyone evolves differently with the introduction of children. It’s the way you do it, which can either feel very natural or a real shock!
- Does his timing suit you?
As baby grows, if he is used to hanging out with you, and eating with you, they’re more likely to go to bed a little later, but his means they’ll also get up later as well. You can’t have it both ways and late starts in the morning suits us better! If he is naturally an early riser (like our second) by the time he’s a toddler, moving his sleeping and eating patterns so that they work better for your lifestyle, becomes much easier. As I said in my previous blog, treat it like jetlag. For several months baby no.2 was in bed about 7pm. Admittedly it was nice having quiet time in the evening with my husband, but I couldn’t handle the 6/6.30am wake up call, because I wanted to still have a life in the evenings! (Some may call me over optimistic, but hey!) Over the past week I have shifted his schedule so he’s more in tune with the rest of us, by having a mid-afternoon nap and then going to bed around 8.30pm. Now we’re waking around 7.30am, which is much more like it – long may it last!! I’m one of these people who really needs my sleep, so that extra hour means I can go to bed at 11pm and still function the next day. Without it, a part of my life doesn’t feel in balance, because we’ve always enjoyed socialising or watching movies in the evening. It is very hard to maintain a balance so that you feel like each part of your life is being satisfied, but the more you work at it, like anything in life, the more is achievable.
 Published by Dorling Kindersley Ltd., 2006.