I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how Jayden is still so young, almost 14 months, but it seems like he has been here for so long. And I think that is because of the crazy amount of knowledge a mother (or father) gains in such a short amount of time when her baby enters her life. It starts long before the baby is born, even. When you find out, you no longer think about yourself; you put another human being in front of you. And for a young person like me, that is an accomplishment in and of itself!
Not to say that parents of all ages don’t learn or struggle just as much as each other, but I think there is something to be said about young parents. I was 19 when Jayden was born; I turned 20 when he was only a little over a month old. I never really considered myself to be a teen mom but statistically, I was. I would be lying if I wasn’t worried about what people were going to think and say about me. But now, I have learned to embrace it for so many reasons. So, keeping this in mind, here are a few things I have learned over the past 14 months. I’m certain that I will continue to learn a lot more.
1. Be flexible.
For anyone who truly knows me, you know that I hate changing plans and things of that nature. This is something that I have learned to let go of a little since having Jayden. Plans are constantly changing with him. Babies get sick, or they are cranky, or you’re cranky, or you’re sick, or you realized just before bed time that you’re out of formula, or the baby pooped all over you as you’re walking out the door. When babies are in the family, there is constant change. And although I would love for things to be placed neatly in my day, it just doesn’t happen that way. So learn to be flexible. If I can do it, anyone can.
2. Breastfeeding is not for everyone.
From the get-go, I struggled to breastfeed Jayden. He wasn’t latching correctly in the hospital and after struggling with it, they gave me a nipple shield. I thought he would learn how to latch and then wouldn’t need the shield anymore but he actually became dependent on it. This made for four more months of struggling to breastfeed, especially in public because I had to use that darn thing that would fall off onto the repulsive restaurant floor. Then what? You stick it back on?! EW! So if you are having a hard time breastfeeding, just know that some people are meant to do it and others aren’t. Once I finally got him off the shield, he didn’t feed for as long without it, so my milk supply dried up pretty quickly. There have been times when I regret not trying to continue it longer. But any breastfeeding is better than no breastfeeding. And Jayden amazes me every day with how smart and funny he is. So I know he is getting the proper nutrition he needs, whether it was from breastmilk or formula.
3. Sometimes babies just need to cry it out.
It’s heartbreaking, I know. But with Jayden, it came to a point where, even with the comfort of being with me in my bed, he was still restless and cranky. After a few unsuccessful tries of the Ferber method (because of my own guilt) and the fall semester of college approaching, I said once and for all that Jayden would have to cry it out if he wanted to get back to sleep. Many people think this is cruel, but there is a method to the madness. No, you don’t start day one by letting them scream for hours. It is a process. And within a week, he was sleeping through the night for 11 to 12 hours. I call that a success, my friends! Now crying it out has switched gears to his temper tantrums. Trust me, they’ll survive a couple minutes of crying after which they’ll get distracted by the next thing that catches their eye.
4. I am incredibly lucky.
This is something that I think about every day. I was able to take a semester off from school which, with the way it worked out, allowed me to be home with Jayden for 8 months. I am able to continue my education with the support of my family. And I am able to support Jayden, without having to worry too much. I feel so blessed to have this beautiful little boy in my life and to be able to make a better life for him and myself at the same time. It is something that a lot of people aren’t able to do, and the fact that I can makes me so grateful. I’m determined to make a future for the both of us.
5. Gifts are so much more fun when they’re not for you.
Call me crazy, but I have so much more fun opening Jayden’s presents with him than I do my own. I recently celebrated my 21st birthday, and when I was at the mall with my friend, she said “I need to get you a present. We’re gonna pick something out!” In my head, I was like, “Presents? For me? What are those?” So much attention gets focused on gifts for the baby even before they are born. And it’s AWESOME! The little clothes are to die for. And the shoes? Forget about it. I love seeing the new things Jayden will get to wear next or the new toys he’ll tear around the house playing with, whether they are hand-me-downs or brand new. I never thought there would come a day when I wasn’t asking for presents anymore. But that day has come, compadres.
6. The expensive toys are unnecessary.
I cannot tell you how much money I have spent trying to hook Jayden up with the latest gadgets. And now where are they? In the attic! Babies go through toys and equipment so fast, it’s insane! And I am not trying to downgrade any expensive gifts I got from anyone, because if they felt they wanted Jay to have those items, that was up to them and we really appreciate them. But now I am kicking myself for buying so many LARGE pieces of equipment that he used for maybe a month or two. He was just as happy in his high chair, which he has used ever since he was big enough for it, as he was in his Exersaucer bouncy thingamajig, which he used for maybe a month and a half. He’ll gladly play with plastic cups from our kitchen! So if you can get these items used from a friend or figure out a cheaper alternative, I highly recommend it.
7. Parenting is hard work.
First time parents are learning everything for the FIRST time. I know it’s cliche, but there really is no guidebook to parenting, no matter how many books you read. Every kid is different and every parent is different. So having to figure something new out every single day gets very exhausting and sometimes discouraging. I know I am not the only one out there that has cried at the end of the day after Jayden has finally gone to bed. And being a young single mother doesn’t make it any easier. But us first time parents are all in this together! (Yes, that was an HSM reference). The hardships make the accomplishments even more rewarding. I feel so proud to be raising such a charismatic, (mostly) well-behaved little boy. So, if you’re a parent, give advice when you can and take advice when you can. Sometimes you don’t want to hear it, but a lot of the advice I’ve gotten, even when I thought it was wacky, has stuck with me.
8. Take time for yourself.
Today, so many people focus on hovering over their kids so much. There is this immense pressure to absorb every fiber of your being into your children. I have nothing against the parents that do, but I think that every parent deserves something to call their own. A hobby or a favorite pastime, something that relaxes you. Go get your nails done without feeling bad about it. Take advantage of the times when school or work ends early and you can keep the baby in daycare for the rest of the day. Take a nap when the baby naps! Don’t feel the need to get everything done in those precious hours when you, too, could be getting a little shut-eye. I found myself going crazy at one point and I realized it was because I wasn’t doing anything for myself. So find something within reason that is for you and only you. The baby will be just fine for those couple of hours away from you during YOU time.
9. Live in the moment.
Does anyone else with small children cry, like, every day when your new Time Hop is ready?! I know I do. Seeing the pictures of Jayden from one year ago or my pregnancy pictures from two years ago seriously make me bawl like I’m watching The Notebook. So I can’t stress enough to live in the moment as best you can. I used to say “I can’t wait until Jayden can crawl, walk, talk, etc.” Now I wish I had told myself to shut up and enjoy the two month old fast asleep in my arms even more than I already was! I feel so corny right now but seriously cherish the quiet moments, the ones that are most likely to slip by. They are the ones you are going to want to get back the most. Just wait until you have to box up all the clothes that are too small. #Waterworks
10. To the young mothers: Keep going.
Whatever you do, don’t give up. Cry when you want to cry, go to your friends when you need them, don’t be afraid to feel like you’re getting it wrong. Your life is different from other people your age. There’s nothing easy about that. You have responsibilities that some people in their 40s or 50s can’t imagine. But you have something that your peers don’t: someone who loves you more than you or your friends can imagine. You are someone’s everything. And I’m sure seeing that little person that you created smile every day is more rewarding to you than the things your friends may be doing. So keep going.
I know you all may have heard some of these before or they may sound corny, but they have really resonated with me since becoming a mother. Being a parent is a challenge. But hey, that’s life, right? It’s only up from here.