For Russ & Kathy, and anyone else embarking on this new adventure.
Congratulations, you’re having a baby! Whether you were planning to or not, there it is. You’ve done it. You have begun a journey that will take you places you’ve never been before. Some of those places you wouldn’t even consider visiting.
I’m in the been-there-done-that group. Like everyone else who has had a baby, I consider it my duty to help prepare you for this life-altering event. Welcome to parenthood. Welcome to the end of the world as you knew it.
This is not to imply that having a child is a bad thing; on the contrary. Having a child will be the most wonderful thing that ever happens to you. However, it is nothing like anything you’ve experienced before, and nothing you experience afterward will come close to feeling quite so significant. Your world is about to change dramatically.
If you’re like most parents-to-be, you spend a lot of time reading about pregnancy and childbirth. Maybe you attend childbirth classes. It is, after all, an important event, and you want to be prepared. You learn as much as you can, and when the big day comes, you’re as ready as you can be. You know that every pregnancy is different, and you expect to be a little out of your depth. After all, you’ve never done this before, so you’re a little apprehensive. That’s normal. You know there may be a few surprises in store for you on this day.
But I will tell you the one thing that will surprise you both the most.
It doesn’t matter how prepared you are for the childbearing process. It doesn’t matter how many Lamaze classes you attend or films you see. It doesn’t matter that you can see and feel the baby moving inside the mother’s abdomen. When you are in the delivery room and the attendant places AN ACTUAL BABY in your arms, you will be astonished. I guarantee it.
If you have even the slightest clue, you already know that babies have erratic schedules and you’ve made some tentative plans to cope with this. You’ll get less sleep than you’re used to, and you’ll have less time for yourself. You may not like all of the scheduling, but you’ll manage. You know all this. But here’s another surprise: when, four or five months down the line, you look back on the early weeks of your child’s life, you will be amazed at how well you did manage. Suddenly you will recall that you once changed Baby’s diaper in your sleep, or that you spontaneously composed eleven additional verses for Rock-A-Bye while walking the floor one night. Human survival instinct being what it is, you just do what you have to do when you have to do it. When you do these things, they will not seem at all odd to you. In retrospect, they’re incredible.
You know that babies eventually sit up, creep, crawl, feed themselves, walk. But YOUR baby will be doing all these things for the first time in history. I promise that when your child reaches each milestone, you will be overcome. Your heart will surge with a strength of emotion that will very nearly bring you to your knees. Every time. Every milestone.
Other parents will offer you advice on child rearing. All of it is well-meaning, but in the end, you will have to make those decisions on your own. Listen to what others have to say, and give it all the consideration you feel it is worth. Feel free to discard any (or all) of it. You will make mistakes; we all do. Most of your mistakes will be minor, and I’ll tell you why:
You will never again look at a situation without considering its impact on your child. NEVER. Whether it’s something as small as a trip to the grocery store or as big as having another baby, you will stop and think about how it will affect this child. You will re-examine every deeply-held belief and judge it against what you learn as a parent. You will know this new person like no one else ever could, and you will put that child’s welfare ahead of all other concerns. Don’t be scared. You’re going to be wonderful.
My wishes for you are simple ones. I wish safety and good health for you and your baby. I wish you joy and happiness in your family. And mostly, I wish for you to have an open and accepting heart always. And one last word of advice: take lots of pictures – the firsts will only happen once.
Welcome to the beginning.
IF YOU LIKED THIS COLUMN...
10.7.02 @ 12:40a
So here's my question: How do you become a parent without completely losing any life of your own?
A lot of friends in the past couple of years have had children. And all of a sudden, they care about nothing else. They don't call, or e-mail, or go out to dinner, and when I do see them, all they talk about is their kid or diapers or car seats or a good place for a daycare.
Here's my advice for parents-to-be: Realize that no one (except relatives) is as interested in hearing about your kid as you are. While it may not feel like it, there's more to the world than your children.
10.7.02 @ 12:55a
I'll make a note of that.
10.7.02 @ 7:45a
Matt, that was stated exactly like a man with no children. I'd say "wait until you have them", but what would be the point? You can't understand until you've been there and once you're there, you'll forget that you once felt like you do now.
10.7.02 @ 8:38a
Don't worry, we'll remind him.
10.7.02 @ 10:05a
Often, and loudly.
10.7.02 @ 10:06a
Don't worry, Russ. Despite what Matt says, we all want to be first to see the baby pictures.
10.7.02 @ 2:16p
Katherine, it's not just a kid thing. Do you know anyone fun and interesting who only talks about one thing all the time?
All I'm saying is, I see that happen all the time. Of course parents are going to be super into whatever it is their kids are doing. But that doesn't mean everyone is.
I while back I had a friend spend 30 minutes telling me about car seat shopping, and I'm thinking, "Why does he think I even care about this?"
10.7.02 @ 2:33p
For the same reason that he cares about the thing that you rant on about for 30 minutes.
10.7.02 @ 2:36p
It's not just 30 minutes though. It's every time, all the time.
Think about how boring it'd be if all you could talk about was computers. Nothing except computers. To other IT guys, it may be interesting, but to someone who doesn't even own a computer, it'd get old, fast.
All I'm asking is that parents remember there are other things in the world besides their kids.
10.7.02 @ 3:18p
And this is different from listening to single people go on and on about the travesties they face in the dating game how? I'm just sayin'...
10.7.02 @ 3:32p
Yeah, but at least married people can relate to that because they have been through it at some point in their lives. Most single people have no idea what it's like to rise a baby, and can't relate at all.
And like I said before, it doesn't matter the topic, if you literally talk about one thing all the time, it gets old for the listener, even more so if they can't relate.
10.7.02 @ 3:38p
OK, here's the perfect example I just thought of. A few weeks back, eight of us went out to dinner to celebrate a friend graduating from med school - three couples (all with kids), the doctor, and me.
There was one congratulatory toast and then the entire rest of the evening was spent talking about sleeping patterns, cribs, breast pumps, teething, crawling, Baby Gap, etc.
And because I was sitting on the complete other side of the table from the doctor, half of dinner we'd just look at each other and shrug while the couples went on and on about their kids. They never once noticed that we were excluded from the conversation, nor did they ever try and change the topic to something non-kid related.
10.7.02 @ 3:54p
I think what irritates me sometimes about the parent/child thing is when some of my mother-girlfriends call me, pleading to get out and have "adult conversation", have a few drinks and so on...
...and then spend all night talking about their kids.
They want me to recognize that they have many facets to themselves, but fail to execute that. I'm actually the type of person that tries to remember anecdotes about my friends' kids, what they are doing and so on, but I miss the woman I'm friends with, too.
Not all my friends do this, but a couple really have Baby Gap blinders on.
What's funny is when the other mothers look at me and roll their eyes.
10.7.02 @ 5:58p
As a single girl I hear where Matt is coming from. But it could be worse - a LOT worse. My roommate spends a good part of every day talking about her favorite television shows. At least children are worth something.
10.7.02 @ 6:24p
The thing that sets parents "doting" on their kids is this: in the child's eyes, the parent is God. We're not all-consumed with our child(ren) because we want to bore you to tears at the one happy hour in the past six months that we've been able to attend. We're all-consumed with our child(ren) because we have no alternative.
Yeah, I know, I'm talking out my butt because right now I'm still only 7/9ths of the way toward parenthood, but the pressure is there already. I will feed the kid, clothe him, shelter him, clean him. I will be his butler, his EMT, his Secret Service agent, his pony, his teacher, his pastor, his every little thing, until he's old enough to be self-aware and making decisions on his own.
And unlike an office job, parenting knows no timeclock or vacation. Parenthood is 11:45 with a 12 noon deadline. You can't turn it off. Because if you do, you're the one frantically running thru the grocery store aisles trying to find him. You're the one rushing to the 24 hour drugstore for medicine. And worst case, you're the one staring at your son's face on a milk carton. Or a photo pinned to a memorial. Or videotape from a parking lot security camera because you STOPPED PARENTING and forgot that this helpless person relies on you for everything.
If we're obsessed, it's because we have to be.
10.7.02 @ 6:38p
Completely understandable. Just remember when you're talking with someone else (especially someone without kids) the other half of the conversation isn't obsessed.
10.7.02 @ 6:44p
Next time we get together I'll just keep buying you drinks 'til you don't care what I'm talking about.
10.7.02 @ 6:47p
Next time? That'd be the first time. But OK, I'm game. Just don't take it the wrong way when you show me a family photo from your wallet and I vomit on your shoes.
10.8.02 @ 12:04a
Matt, first of all I can only echo what the other parents (and soon to be ones) have already said. The child becomes your life, not just out of complete and unfathomable love, but because you don't really have time for any other lifestyle. Secondly, with your friends that continue to go on (and on, and on ad nauseum) about their kids, can't you politely and diplomatically point out that car seats and diaper changes, fasinating subjects that they are, are not really what your interested in discussing?
10.8.02 @ 10:02p
And you're all missing one rather obvious issue - when you are a new parent, you are immediately "quarantined" by the baby. For the first few weeks at least, he needs 24 hour care - literally. You had no baby, now you have one ALL THE TIME. When you finally get a night out, you realize your only human contact has been the baby and those who have something to do with the baby. It takes awhile to get back into the swing of socializing. People who have babies have an instant connection to other people who have babies, so they have something in common to talk about. And since we're all learning as we go, it helps to compare notes. Be patient, Matt; this too shall pass.