Steve Wiens wrote a great post earlier this year about how he feels when people come up to him and say, “”You should enjoy every moment now! They grow up so fast!” While it’s true, you absolutely should, it was easy to relate to some of the feelings he had of being too overwhelmed to do so.
Another unsolicited comment you’ll likely hear when you embark upon parenthood is, “It gets better!” Before and just after our daughter Penelope was born, we must have heard this dozens of times from friends and strangers alike. But unlike the comment Steve Wiens wrote about, my wife and I struggled to understand why people kept telling us that it would get better. It didn’t make any sense. We were enjoying one of the most amazing experiences and every day brought something new and incredible.
When someone said, “It gets better”, I was asking myself, “How could it get any better?” Sure, in those early days and months we had some restless nights – that was what I signed up for. At the same time, our baby was discovering us and the world, doing something new every day and rewarding us in so many ways. I’ve tried a lot of things life has to offer and being a dad probably ranks number one.
It wasn’t until we met more parents with infants that I realized, while our daughter wasn’t the easiest ever, she also wasn’t one of the hardest. In that regard, we got lucky. There are some babies that even the best parents (and pediatricians) in the world will have a hard time managing in those early months.
But, we also probably made some of that luck. By no means have we gotten everything right – I’d love to meet a new parent who has! We’ve made our share of mistakes, but I think we’ve done a lot of things well. Penelope responded nicely to the methods recommended by Harvey Karp in “The Happiest Baby on the Block“. We’d both carefully read that before she was born and his five “S’s” definitely saved us in those early days and weeks. My wife also read a lot of other books (some good, some bad) and canvassed friends and family widely for advice and tips, which she shared with me.
Aside from parenting techniques, I think attitude has helped a lot too. Sure, raising a kid is incredibly hard work. However, unlike other hard work I’ve done in the past, I’ve never enjoyed doing something so difficult so much. Sitting in front of an Excel spreadsheet for hours on end is hard too. I’ve done that a lot. But I’ve never wanted to tell everyone about my awesome pivot tables or charts.
I remember after Penelope started sleeping through the night, she would still very occasionally wake up in the early hours of the morning. By this stage, 9 times out of 10 it would take ten minutes or less to get her back to sleep and all she needed was a mommy or daddy to hold her and rock her gently. Knowing that her waking and needing me or her mom would soon be a thing of the past, I would happily jump out of bed to settle her back down. Watching and feeling her melt in my arms as I took her from the crib had always been a precious moment. About a minute before she would fall into a deep slumber, she’d inhale rapidly twice. That was a delightful cue I would anticipate and treasure to confirm my job was nearly done.
For parents like us who are working hard, but thankfully enjoying most every moment, “It gets better!” is an odd, yet too common piece of encouragement to receive. Why not share in our joy, ask about some of the amazing things we’ve experienced and tell us what things we might look forward to next?
And if you think about it, “It gets better!” is equally unhelpful for parents who are having a tough time. How about offering something more tangible than words? The sorts of things they really need are someone to drop off a meal or offer to babysit so mom and dad can get a break.
Let’s drop “It gets better!” Instead we should all enjoy this amazing adventure called parenthood and help each other along the way.