The best advice for moms
Sara Shaw is a local vegan mama who loves candy corn, quoting Anchorman, traveling whenever she can and talking to dogs. She teaches writing at an area college, is a member of The Oxymorons improv comedy troupe and likes to consider herself much more adept at yoga than she actually is. She lives in Northeastern School District with her 11-month-old son Elliott, superhusband Andy, and two cockapoos Duncan and Bea.
When I was pregnant, I devoured information. I mean, no kidding, I consumed pregnancy, baby and parenting information like it was vegan chocolate chip chai cake with chocolate mousse filling and almond icing (my wedding cake. I still fantasize about it). Honestly, I’m still an info junkie. During a recent run, instead of rocking out to “Dynamite” by Taio Cruz–which, by the way, is Elliott’s and my jam–I was listening to a podcast, The Economist’s Guide to Parenting.
While I was pregnant, though, I spent hours every day reading parenting blogs and articles on pregnancy; I had three different pregnancy apps on my phone that told me everything about the progression of my little boy–how big he was that week, what fruit he looked like and what developments he was making. I was addicted.
So you can imagine my excitement when one of the games my mom and good friend Kate planned for my baby shower was called “Fishin’ for Advice.” Because I had an “Under the Sea” theme, they created little fish cut-outs, on which guests would write their best mommy advice for me. Throughout the party, I’d reach into the bucket, pull out one and read it aloud. It was great. I learned many things:
“Never go cheap on diapers.” (I learned the same thing in college about toilet paper.)
“Never let Baby Shaw cry. When a child’s needs are met, he will know he’s loved.”
“Take a picture with Baby Shaw sitting in the same chair on the 1st of each month…you’ll see how much he grows!” (I am really jealous of moms who have it together enough to do this.)
“My grandma always said to pat the baby on the butt to get them to stop crying.” (This actually kind of works.)
Eventually, I got to a fish that was very obviously in the handwriting of my best friend, Paula. Now, to understand Paula, you’d have to meet her, or else I’d have to write an entirely separate article. But in short, she’s a sharp-witted, equally sharp-tongued biologist with an MBA, who pours over data and scientific research and refuses to sugar coat anything. Ever. But ever since having Cora, her now 2-year-old daughter, she’s really mellowed out. She still turns to research for answers, but somehow motherhood has opened her up to relying on instincts and her gut, and has transformed her science-minded brain into a little bit of a crunchy-hippie brain.
This was what her fish said:
“Get to know your baby. You will know what’s best for him.”
Now, at the time, I knew I was getting good advice. Paula has been giving me good advice since I was in sixth grade. But I was so overwhelmed, so scared and so determined to be a wonderful mom that I just kept on inhaling any information I could get. I needed to be ready for anything that might happen, and I was taking my new job seriously. As any mommy-to-be will tell you, the internet has made getting parenting advice a rabbit hole. Everyone has an opinion on the best thing you need to do for your baby.
Breastfeed. Or don’t–it’s too draining. Don’t vaccinate your children. Or do, because otherwise your kid is going to get malaria. Don’t let your baby cry it out, and also make sure you teach him to be independent. Co-sleep, because it’s better for your baby, but also never ever fall asleep with the baby on the same sleeping surface as you. Eat oatmeal, it increases your milk supply. Don’t let your baby anywhere near the television. Do the 5 S’s. Use cloth diapers or you probably hate the planet. Make crafts, learn how to DIY, do a monthly photoshoot, make sure you have tummy time. And for God’s sake, sleep when the baby sleeps. Because, yeah, it’s just that easy.
Suddenly, everyone you know who has ever had a baby has advice for you, and that’s not to mention the strangers who have written books on it.
Elliott is almost a year old now. I’ve been doing this mom thing for almost 12 months, and here’s the thing: You can stop reading what experts say, you can stop drowning in parenting articles and clinging to advice…because there’s really only one parenting tip that really, truly matters.
Stop reading. Get to know your baby. Know your baby.
Spend time with her. Snuggle with her. Listen to her. All of your friends, who I know have wonderful intentions, never gave birth to your baby. Your baby is an individual with unique needs, her own personality, and just waiting to develop a connection and communicate with you. Your baby will start communicating with you the moment she’s born. Put down the books and listen.
The truth is, you can read every book about parenting that’s ever been published, but nothing is going to prepare you for everything. Absolutely nothing can prepare you for every possibility this brand new human is going to bring to the planet. Planning for a baby isn’t like planning a wedding. There aren’t charts you can make and rehearsals you can do. What you can do is put all of your energy into getting to know your baby.
Over the past year, I’ve found that attachment parenting works best for Elliott, my husband and me. I’ve learned that he feels his emotions really hard. I’ve never seen a baby get as stunningly happy as he gets, and I also know the tiniest perceived infraction can start a cascade of tears–and those two things can happen within about 60 seconds.
But you know what? I don’t know your baby. I’ve never met him, and I’m not his mom. You are. Trust yourself. You know what’s best for him.
Listen to your baby. Listen to yourself. You’ve got this.