Solved Challenge: 5 Lessons Learned to help You deal with the Chaos that comes with a Baby

Marcella's Challenge

We are a couple who are both quite ambitious and in control of their lives and work. We have been quite career-oriented and both working long hours. But now we are expecting a baby and I am a bit concerned with how to transition smoothly into this new phase in life. 

I can see that I have already started transitioning to the new role and I am slowly preparing myself for the maternity (and a longer maternity leave).

I have quite a perfect vision of how it will be when the baby joins us, but I am aware that not always everything goes exactly as we wish when it comes to kids. 

I am aware that it’s quite natural for men to transition to their role as a father a bit delayed compared to women, as they don’t experience the pregnancy as realistically as we do. But since my husband is still working so much, I’d like to ensure that he can also have a smooth transformation.

I am concerned that he’s simply going to be too tired to be there for me and the baby. So I guess my question is how to prepare for the chaos that comes with a baby? How two busy, career-oriented people get ready to receive a new family member?

 

Dear Marcella,

Thank you for sharing your challenge with us! And Happy Halloween! We must say that it is a very funny coincidence to release your challenge on “the scariest day of the year” because for some people there’s nothing scarier than becoming a parent.

So… are you ready to face your fears?

 

The chaos that comes with a Baby

I love this question; how do we prepare for the chaos that comes with the baby?

Well, you definitely can prepare to some degree. If you have both been quite career-oriented, you can probably relate to the analogy that having a baby is like managing a big project with a high risk. If all goes smoothly and none of the risks become reality (baby is healthy, happy, sleeps a lot and cries little), it’s a great experience, if you encounter a lot of issues and the majority of risks become a real-life experience (baby gets ill, grumpy, cries a lot, and sleeps very little), well then you have much more to manage, and you have to make way more effort.

 

Choose your management style

But that’s not something you’ll know before the baby is actually there, so, like any project manager, you can choose your management style. Are you the type that prefers to have as little as possible to do with structured project management processes and simply take it as it comes? Or are you the type that will look for the best practice and use the world-class project management tools?

When managing such a big project it’s always a good idea to look into lessons learned, you certainly don’t have your own lessons learned yet in that specific area, but as a good project manager you can always lean on your other experiences, you can reach out to more experienced project managers, as well as do further research in the new field (i.e. books and courses).

As we are both mothers and we have plenty of friends who are parents, we have collected a list of lessons learned, which we have split into 5 groups. Please read about 5 Lessons Learned and listen to our discussion in Ep08 of our podcast

 

Ready for Your 5 Lessons Learned?

Lesson Learned 1: When others compare & give unsolicited advice; just smile & wave. 
Lesson Learned 2: You’re going to make mistakes. Forgive & Forget.
Lesson Learned 3: Don’t fall into “the parent trap.” Remember about Me & Us.
Lesson Learned 4: It is most likely not going to be what you expected it to be. Be flexible and adapt. 
Lesson Learned 5: Follow your instinct and have fun!

 

Lesson Learned 1: When others compare & give unsolicited advice; just smile & wave. 

This is one of the most common, innocently looking traps.

“What?! He’s already 5 months and he doesn’t crawl yet? My uncle’s sister’s kid was already crawling at 3 months”. “Are you talking to your kid in several different languages?! My friend did the same, the kid didn’t speak until he was 5 years old”. “Your baby doesn’t smile yet? In the book, it said she is supposed to start smiling at about 1 month”.

Don’t let yourself go there. You’ll add yourself a lot of unnecessary stress and worry (ergo: add to chaos). Each and every kid is unique and books are all about statistics. It’s madness sometimes. Big chances are that your kid is not going to go through each and every development phase exactly at the age it’s prescribed in the book. Certain things may even happen way earlier; beware, there are people who will tell you that too early is too bad for your kid too ;-), it will “certainly damage” his legs or back.


Dodge the Unsolicited Advice

Same goes for advice. Depending which country you come from and live in, you’ll have to face more or less unsolicited advice.

We live in Denmark (relatively few unsolicited advice), but come from Poland. Well girl, in Poland even the lady that works at the supermarket, and the grandpa that sits at the back of the bus feel entitled to offer suggestions, tips & tricks. And often it really is truly unwanted (meaning: bullshit)information.

It could be your friends and family, and here it’s trickier to deal with unwanted advice. Both our research and personal experience show that it really isn’t worth it to get into a discussion when it comes to parenting advice. People take it way too personal and get emotional when it comes to kids. It’s astonishing when you think about it, but many people will get offended if you don’t want to use their tips & tricks, it’s as if they were accused of being a bad parent, just because you decide to go another way.

That is why what works best is to say thank you, smile and wave.

Just say “Thank you. I appreciate your advice and I will think about it,” and quickly change the topic. This way, you’ll make it clear that you do appreciate their willingness to help, but you also don’t want any further discussion about it.

Surely, there will be great advice every now & again, then you truly thank and take it in. Else just smile and wave.

                    

Lesson Learned 2: You’re going to make mistakes. Forgive & Forget

forgive and forget

One thing is certain, you are going to make mistakes. Most likely plenty of them. That’s perfectly normal, I’d say it’s even necessary. How else will you learn if you don’t make any mistakes? We’re not born experts in parenting, and there’s loads of contradictory information out there.

What works for one family, can result in a total disaster for yours. You’re also going to do stuff in good faith, thinking that you are doing the best thing for your child, and then you’ll discover that it was a huge mistake, that can have a long-lasting negative effect. Still, forgive and forget. Just try to do your best. You are going to screw your kid up in some way anyhow unless you are going to be the unicorn parents, the first ones that never made a parenting mistake.

 

…so please accept it

It’s a true skill that will have a great impact on you as a parent. If you accept that making mistakes is a part of that journey and you’ll learn to forgive yourself quickly and move on, parenting will be a much greater experience. Those of us who dwell on mistakes don’t do ourselves absolutely any favors. Why? Because what’s done is done, you cannot fix the past. Better use that energy to invest in fixing your mistake here and now.

 

Lesson Learned 3: Don’t fall into “the parent trap.” Remember about Me & Us

 

avoid falling into "the parent trap"

When we become parents, we often fall into the trap of being mum & dad… only. This new human being suddenly starts to consume so much of our energy, time and attention that we forget that we are also ourselves. That we had our dreams and desires, some of us go as far as ceasing to respect our biological needs, i.e. the need for proper rest.

Of course, a certain degree of sleeplessness should be expected, but at some point, we’ll do ourselves (and actually our kids) a favor if we concentrate more on our own well-being. It’s like being on an airplane; in case of an emergency, you are asked to put a mask on yourself before you attend to the little ones. This is a big & really easy trap to fall into, those small beings are so lovable on one hand and needy on the other… that many of us simply put ourselves and our romantic relationship on hold.

 

The Blame Game

But in the long run, it’s no good for anyone, if we concentrate on them too much. There’s too much potential of running into a blame game: “I did so much for you, I quit my job, my dreams, for you and you…”  (here comes a list of more or less (un)spoken disappointments).

You really don’t want to go there. Imagine your mum telling you that she quit her dreams to be your mum, does it make you feel happy? If not, apply it to your own life. There’s so much pressure in the society when it comes to being a mother, that we are very prone to be impacted. But really truly and deeply sacrificing for your child, in the long run, is no good. For anyone.

If YOU want to be a stay at home mum or dad, GREAT! But make sure that it really is something that YOU truly WANT. And if you think that it is something for you, but then you change your mind, be true to yourself and get out of that trap as soon as possible.

 

The “Me” time

It’s also extremely important to plan for the ME time. You need to be able to find a way to recharge your batteries, because my dear, your kiddos will be running directly on your charge. Not to mention that they also have plenty of their own.

Why is it SO important to take care of yourself? Well, it really is like on that airplane, if you don’t take care of yourself, sooner or later, you will hit the wall and you won’t be able to attend the kiddos. And the reality is that they need A LOT.

 

Remember, you are STILL a couple

Another thing many of us tend to forget is that we are not only parents but also a couple. We used to do all that romantic stuff and suddenly, it all stops overnight. Sometimes we’re both to blame, but some couples really struggle with the fact that it’s only one of the team that truly dis-attaches, the other is still on the romantic boat. None of the scenarios is good, you really need to prepare your team for the big change.

 

The stronger team you are, the better it will go

Many studies point to the fact that the marital satisfaction plummets after the first baby. It’s quite understandable, getting a baby on board is a true revolution and you basically have to start your life from scratch. There is a very tricky belief that many of us fall into, that having a child will make our relationship stronger. That’s often a damaging myth, because having a kid may actually do the opposite.

It will bring all your imperfections to the surface. If you have had any unresolved issues as a couple, they will certainly come out. If you have any differences in your values, in your picture of a family life, man and woman’s role, approach to raising children… it will all hit you hard.

It’s one of the greatest tests for how good a relationship really is. And you will disagree, each and every single human being is different and comes with a different set of likes and dislikes, so it is impossible to agree on everything. When there’s only two of you, you can have some common ground and space for your separate worlds, so if you are not on the same page, each of you can go to their own “corner.” The thing with a baby is, that you are both emotionally attached and when you disagree, it’s very difficult to find a compromise.

 

A huge topic here is expectations

If your expectations differ a lot, you are going to struggle (see the 4th Lesson Learned). It’s very important to talk things through and still be very open to adapt as you go. Your communication skills will be challenged largely. If you communicate well, respect each other and find space to pamper your relationship, you’re going to be just fine. But it really is of utmost importance that you manage your expectations and find space for being a couple. If one of you expects that you’ll be having sex every day and the other doesn’t feel like having sex even once a month, you may run into trouble. So make sure that you are both open to make it all work TOGETHER.

 

Lesson Learned 4: It is most likely not going to be what you expected it to be. Be flexible and adapt

not what you expected

That’s one thing you can actually prepare for (I think :-)). Many of those, “When I’m a mum, I will never”, or “I will always…” will go down the drain. I don’t know why that is, but each and every parent I have ever talked to says that it happened to them. And in many cases it’s actually a good thing when we find out that something doesn’t work in real life, it’s a good idea to find a better way :-).

But it can be really frustrating at times. For me, the topic of expectations is still really big. If I do something especially for the kids, like a special trip, putting a lot of effort into it, I expect them to enjoy it. If they are not over the moon, or particularly if they are showing off a lot of negative emotions, that definitely triggers my difficult emotions ;-).

 

Your Imaginary Child

Even more damaging group of expectations are those that touch upon who & how your kid will be.

Expectations-wise that’s the worst group, this is where you can potentially bring a lot of disappointment into the relationship with your kiddo. If you have certain assumptions regarding what the kid is going to be like, (e.g. really smart), or what he’s going to do (e.g. play piano just like mommy), and he’s not, it’s a tough call.

You need to ask yourself a question, do you want your kid to live your dream or their own?

How likely is it for the child to be happy if they are always trying to please you and meet your expectations?

 

So what to do?

“Just” let go of expectations! I know, it’s easier said than done. But If you manage this one, you’ll actually enhance your overall happiness as a human being, and certainly your life as a couple. If you are interested in managing your expectations, here’s a great Podcast by Brooke Castillo.

From my observations, flexible people, who adapt easily to new situations, don’t struggle so much with bringing a baby on board. But if you’re not in that group, and you are quite routed in your patterns and expectations, it may be tough to adjust. The reality is, if you have any aspirations of being a good (enough) parent, you will need to adapt to the kiddo.

If you give up your expectations (or at least some of them) and open up to the whole experience and you try to embrace it as it is, you are going to make your own, your partner’s and your baby’s lives so much easier. Don’t make assumptions, don’t get your hopes up (or down for that matter), just take it all as it is (simple enough, huh ;-)?).

For a concept of good enough parent, you can have a look at our article: My 5 steps to realizing that I will never be a good mum


Lesson Learned 5: Follow your instinct and have fun!

have fun

People will offer you loads of advice. You’ll find a lot of contradictory information, you may even encounter doctors and midwives that will suggest you do stuff that simply doesn’t click in your mindset. This is why following your instinct, or gut feeling, is an extremely important thing. The happiest mums that I know are the ones who are good at listening to their inner voice and following through.

Surely, learning is a good thing. I definitely believe that reading parenting books, articles, and blogs, is a beneficial exercise. But it will only work in your favor if you are able to select what really works for you.

It’s also important to remember that you may select something that’s totally aligned with your inner system of values, but your kiddo has a totally different opinion and it simply doesn’t work with him or with her. I’ve seen that a lot :-).

 

Your inner voice is your best compass

The topic I really wanted to open up here is related to your inner voice. Some of us are quite good at listening to and following our instinct, while others have lost that connection to some degree. The good news is that it is certainly there and having a child is a great opportunity to reactivate your “gut feelings.”

There is a certain knowledge that you’ve never received in a form of a direct learning or experience, which is within you. If you manage to open up to it, you’ll be surprised that you know so much. It’s some kind of wisdom, that is passed on in genes (I guess), that lets you care for the baby, feel when the baby is ill or in danger. If that concept is not close to your heart, or you simply don’t know (yet) how to reach for that inner wisdom, having objective information or some sort of a mentor may be something that will make you feel more secure.

 

Lean on your mum & grandma

Having a parenting mentor may be a great thing (especially if they are designated as mentors by you, not by themselves). For some of us, it may be our mum or grandma, for others, it’s a friend or even a public figure. It’s really good to have someone to discuss your questions and doubts with. Just be prepared that things may work completely different for your small family and it’s completely fine to change your mentor over time. My mum & grandma were absolutely great the first couple of years, and having them around was so helpful. However, as the kids were growing up (and in number), I needed to dig into other sources.

 

And don’t forget to have fun!

So, follow your instinct and have fun! Have fun with your baby, literally and figuratively. One of the biggest and most valuable discoveries for me was that children learn and bond through playing. And one of the most impactful books I’ve read was “Playful parenting.” Having fun with your child will let you and them survive the most difficult and frustrating moments. You can use play to work through negative emotions and teach them how to deal with challenging situations. It’s also what will give you all your memorable moments.

 

Bringing a baby to your small family is a BIG thing

What you have to bear in mind is that the emotional load is high when it comes to your own kids. It’s also not something you can easily take a free weekend or vacation from (at least not at the beginning). And there are many factors, which you can’t control, that will impact the whole experience directly.

For example, if the baby sleeps a lot, it’s going to be way easier than if the baby wakes up 20 times each night. If giving birth is a good experience and you feel physically well it’s going to be way easier than if there were complications and you are unable to sit up a few weeks after.

 

The good news is that still it mostly depends on your attitude

The exact same thing that is seen with “different eyes” may feel completely unlike. If you see the whole chaos as a struggle, it will most likely feel this way.

If you approach it with curiosity and open mind, you’ll get an amazing opportunity to learn and grow. That’s at least what I repeat to myself every single time I am completely frustrated; no other experience in my life has given me a greater opportunity to learn and grow. It’s a decision you take hundreds of times every single day as a parent: will I let it make me worse or better as a person.

It’s a lifelong journey, it’s the toughest (yet most satisfying) course at school. But it’s totally worth it (for most of us)! Otherwise, people wouldn’t have kids.

All the best wishes for you, your partner and your baby. Have fun!