This weekend, a friend who’s expecting her first child in a month came over to help me unload a mountain of baby gear. As we filled the trunk of her car with clothes, equipment and supplies, I wondered if I might feel a little sentimental about saying an official farewell to the baby season of parenting. My youngest is two-and-a-half years old and newly potty trained, and for the first time in almost eight years, we have no one in diapers in our home.
The overwhelming feeling I’m experiencing as this chapter comes to a close is relief and delight. My love for my babies is well documented on my social media, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge what a challenge it is to be having and raising babies. The physical, mental and emotional drain of the baby season is as great as the joy of this delightful tiny person in your life.
As the years go on for parents, it seems like the challenge of it fades away and we primarily remember the sweetness of that time, and I’m sure that I’ll do the same in time. But at this very moment, it’s all clear in my mind, the roses and the thorns of that season I’ve just barely finished, and there are a few important lessons I’m taking away from that time.
The first lesson is that everything is a phase. A good friend of mine shared that wisdom with me early on in parenting, and it’s a universal truth. Nothing lasts forever, the good or the bad. It’s easy to forget that truth in the moment, when you’re right up against a challenge. Whether you’re wrestling with a challenging phase in your baby’s behavior, a season of tantrums or a sleep regression, remembering that phases always come to an end is a comfort and a perspective shifter.
The same is true for the adorable and sweet things your child is doing. Yesterday, my four-year-old was doing her version of an evil laugh, a simply hilarious interpretation that involves her closing off her throat and laughing through her nose. My husband commented on how that’s his favorite thing right now, and I chuckled too. It took me a minute, but I remembered that I should capture a video, because this little quirky thing she’s doing will quickly end and we’ll quickly forget, in the same way open mouthed baby kisses ended and calling “yellow,” “yeh-yoh” has passed us by. When you’re drowning in cuteness, it’s easy to take it for granted.
Another lesson I’ve learned is that bonding with your child is not always instantaneous, but it always deepens in time. Postpartum anxiety and depression robbed me of some of the typical instant emotional bonding with my babies. I wondered when I’d feel that rush of emotional attachment to them, worried I never would. For me, those feelings took time, but reliably increased each day. No one told me that it might take a while to feel that intensity of emotion towards your little ones, but even if it doesn’t happen at first, it all comes in time.
The third big takeaway I have from the season of babies is that each child is a unique individual. While there might be certain things that work for all of your children, expecting pregnancy, childbirth or parenting to look the same for each isn’t a fair expectation. Each little person you bring into your home has their own needs, preferences, quirks, personalities and gifts. When you already have children and you add a baby to the mix, they’re joining a different family than the child before them, and they’re changing the family as they enter it.
My biggest frustrations in parenting have been expecting my old tricks to work on new children. Sometimes, sure, pre-existing techniques work, but more often than not I need to stay creative and inventive and approach my child as the individual she is. Moreover, if I release the expectation that she’ll pattern the way her siblings did, I am free to enjoy the delight she uniquely is in her one and only infancy and childhood.
Having and raising babies is a beautiful, wild and exhausting season of life. I’m so grateful I’ve had the opportunity to live through it, and I’m also relieved to be on the other side of that season, free to delight in my small, potty-trained and articulate children who mostly sleep all night long. If you’re in the baby season, hang in there: it’s the ride of a lifetime, and even though it might last a while, it’s not forever.