We all strive to be the best parents we can be. What does “the best parents we can be” really mean, though? It’s easy to want to compare ourselves to friends or family who have been through the early stages of parenthood before, but how many of us take the time to understand where their instincts come from? For many of us, the foundations of our parenthood journey begin much earlier than we might think.
As children, we play amusing games like M.A.S.H., which help present all the possibilities we consider for our futures. You may get lucky and draw the mansion, or you may find yourself in the harsh reality of living in a shack when you grow up. We imagine ourselves in these best- and worst-case scenarios, forming some of our earliest opinions of the type of life we want to lead.
Fast forward to adulthood, where some of us continue to recreate our own version of these games to help plan for the milestones ahead. As we decide to begin growing our families, we jump through hoops trying to conceive. And those of us who are fortunate enough to be able to, endure all that pregnancy has to offer. Then suddenly, ready or not, boom: You’re a parent! As such, you’re suddenly entirely responsible for another human being’s life and well-being — maybe even writing articles for local publications in the middle of your second night exploring the wonders of sleep training, and an immense Cry It Out fit.
Once you become a parent, your perspective changes drastically. And as much as we try to be prepared for our futures, it’s fiercely true what they say: You have no idea what parenthood is like until you experience it. And as soon as you think you have one thing figured out, everything changes.
This may be astonishing to you, but children do not come with an instruction manual. My husband and I worked with an incredible local doula, certified lactation consultant, certified sleep professional, attended nearly every infant care, new parenting, and birthing class imaginable. I belong to several different mommy support groups and did enough research throughout my pregnancy to write a dissertation; yet five months in, we are regularly confronted with new situations that we have not prepared for. I think that’s why babies conveniently cannot form memories until at least 3 months of age: They may not come with an instruction manual, but they do have a built-in grace period to let you get your bearings. It’s vital, especially as new parents, to take in each experience as it comes with an open heart, to always aim to be where your feet are, and to enjoy the moments that are given to us.
We should try to remember that we’re all doing the best we can, and that’s enough. That we’re enough. Every journey to parenthood is unique, just like every child is unique. While we may not all have the same approach, we all have the same goal: to provide the very best life possible for ourselves and our children.
And, lucky for us, a new study has documented that it’s at about age 7 when our earliest memories begin to fade, a phenomenon known as “childhood amnesia.” So, my fellow mamas and papas, we’ve got this. We all make mistakes, but these mistakes are what form the foundation of those “instincts” we see in our friends, family and fellow parents. What is most important is to learn from our mistakes. Share them — celebrate them, even.
As much as I’ve tried to find them, there are no words that can capture the magic in our son’s smile and how it makes me feel. And in the moments when I feel completely overwhelmed, when he has tears streaming down his cheeks or his piercing shrieks are echoing through our home, I take a moment to step back and recognize and remind myself that this season of life grows shorter and shorter each day.
These loud moments are reminders of how alive, how independent, how resilient children are.
And before long, the screaming will stop and the stresses and messes our littles create will be replaced with the memories of their first full-body, gummy smiles, and the art pieces that decorate our walls.
Our numbered days are much more enjoyable when we have an open mind and give one another the patience, support, the benefit of the doubt, and the grace to navigate through this journey.