Better Than Real Life Advice: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaaaaanges

Dear BIRL,

Just between you and me (and you internet strangers, hi!) my husband and I are trying for a kid.  It feels like the right time, and I am happy and getting excited!!

Here’s the thing; as a childless person, every time I offer an opinion on raising a child (i.e. crying it out, cobedding, wanting to go back to work, time outs, etc) I get the verbal equivalent of a pat on the head and told “Oh, you’ll change your mind when it’s your child.”

I’ve ignored it for years but now that a baby is an actual possibility I am beginning to become more and more afraid that this will in fact happen.  The problem is, I don’t WANT to change my mind. I am afraid I will lose what I believe in the second I meet the grasshopper.  I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m prepared for things changing and I’m not pretending to know the love or bond that is created, but the things I’m hearing like “I found the true meaning of my life” and “this is what I was put on Earth for,” while perfectly true for some, are really freaking me out.

Is this truly an unavoidable thing that happens upon childbirth? Is it possible to have a baby but still be me? Will I still want to be?

(Ready But Still) Terrifically Terrified

 

Dear Terrifically Terrified,

It actually sounds like you have two questions wrapped into one.

  • I have some parenting beliefs and I want to have a plan before having a kid and I don’t want my thoughts on parenting techniques to go flying out the window the second a child shoots out of me even though that’s what everyone keeps saying will happen.

and

  • Overall I do not want to change into some “version” of myself post baby. That is scary, will this happen?

First, it seems you have fallen victim to the evil clutches of “You’ll see.” 

“You’ll see” is a terrible tick that many older people like to say to younger people and many moms like to say to non-moms. It’s shitty, but most of the time it’s word vomit and comes out of a special mix of condescension and well-meaning we all store deep down inside of us.

Both Kamel and I received tons and tons and TONS of this while I was pregnant (oh, and yes, unfortunately being pregnant is like holding up a sandwich board asking for free advice, so if you think it is bad now – brace-yo-self).

99% of the time I listened, smiled and nodded. Other people may tell you to be more aggressive and tell the poor sap who has the “You’ll see” tick to shove off. I prefer a kinder, less in-your-face method of ignoring everyone and silently giving them the finger.

Now, when it comes to sticking to your parenting guns – I’m not going to lie to you and say everything you imagine  right now as being THE WAY won’t change. Some things will change. I’m not going to pat you on the head about it, but I will be honest with you based on my experiences.

I, personally, had in my head a specific way I wanted to parent pre-Gabe. Most of that stuff still rings true. I was adament that we would maintain our ability to travel, maintain our home in such a way where the child does not TAKE OVER ALL THE PLACES, and I knew that we didn’t want to co-sleep. I also had thoughts on the amount of tech we would involve our kid in, and how we would discipline.

I was shocked to absolutely crave that my newborn be snuggled up right next to me while I slept. I craved it. It totally freaked Kamel out – he thought I would roll on top of him or knock him off the bed or something, so in the end I wasn’t able to sleep with him next to me, which was fine! It was what we had originally discussed and there are 2 parents here, not just 1 and that is all well. But, if Kamel had no insisted I would have absolutely changed my tune and had Gabe co-sleep with me from the get-go. What actually happened was he slept in a crib an arm-reach away and I could eye ball him whenever I needed.

Kamel became an expert at swaddling while I was pregnant. Practiced it all of the time pre-baby. And what happened? Gabe hated it, always escaped, his arms always finding their freedom. So we stopped doing that, got him a sleep sack and he slept great, no more fighting the swaddle.

Bottom line, your kid and how your kid fits into your family will dictate a lot of what you do, but this is also something that you have a lot of control over. You get to choose based on what you think is important and what is best for your kid. And your kid will let you know what works for them and what doesn’t, then you’ll adjust.

For so long we think of babies theoretically. “When I have a kid it will be like this, and I will do this and this and that. When I become a mom I will be this kind of mom, not that kind of mom.” But then, your baby comes and they are not theoretical. They are real. And they are immediately their own being with their own personalities and their own specific needs. Your job as a mom (and dad) is to figure out what those things are and how to fit them into your already established world and family.

Now for the second part of your question: Will you change after having a baby?

The quick answer: Yes and No.

We are always changing, right? That’s sort of the cop out response, but it’s true. I think you want me say you won’t change and you’ll still be you, and that would be super comforting, but it would be a shitty answer.

Did you change while you were in college? Did you change after you met your husband and went through all that was engagement and the wedding? Are you the same person you were 10 years ago? 5 years ago? (Sometimes Yes and sometimes No, right?)

When you are a mom it is harder to make time for the stuff that is just about YOU.

When you are a mom your priorities change. Your kid becomes a floating priority in the 1-3 category. Sometimes #1, sometimes fuck everything, stop the presses, my baby wins all the games. Sometimes #2! Sometimes your marriage and your husband are #1, but your kid is there being a close second. Sometimes in order to make time for the stuff that is JUST YOU, your kid is maybe #3. Maybe keeping them alive is the best you can do today, tomorrow they can be back to #1, but maybe for a day, an afternoon, a week, whatever – you are not the greatest mom in the world and the greatest wife, you are just you – and that’s ok.

When you are a mom you are no longer alive just to be alive and do your thing. You are now responsible for not completely fucking up another person. That is a big responsibility.

When you are a mom the things you have to do often outnumber the things you want to do.

When you are a mom you are absolutely the same person you were before and absolutely not the same.

It is ok to be Terrifically Terrified of this. It’s a big thing! If you didn’t change a little bit by going through all that is pregnancy and making a human and then having them come out of your body and then being allowed to just …. take them home and care for them! If that wasn’t a big deal, then what would be the point?

Another thought on your letter: There are no rules, Terrifically Terrified. If you want to talk about being pregnant before it has been 3 months, then talk about it. My only advice there: tell the people you would naturally go to if you miscarried. Tell the people you want along on the journey regardless of the (totally normal and common) outcome, just to keep yourself as emotionally safe as possible.

And one last thing. The best piece of advice Kamel and I ever got was from Kamel’s old boss: “Remember, everyone is going to tell you how to be a parent because everyone is their own expert, but the truth is the only expert on your child and your family is YOU. So fuck everyone else.”

In the end, Terrifically Terrified… fuck everyone else.

Love,

BIRL

 

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26 thoughts on “Better Than Real Life Advice: Ch-Ch-Ch-Chaaaaanges”

  1. I am an obnoxious you’ll see-er. Sorry. You cannot imagine what having a small, helpless human will be like. You can’t. The end. I co-sleep, I baby led wean, I did not exclusively breastfeed. All of those things are opposite of what I just KNEW I would do. I don’t actually say “you’ll see” to people. My point of view is more that I don’t want to hear child rearing advice from other parents and I most especially don’t want to hear advice from non-parents. The first group doesn’t know what MY experience has been and the second group knows even less.

    Also, I changed into another version of myself that would have disgusted my former self. Oh, well. I don’t really give a shit about it now. Too busy cleaning up another person’s shit to care about the existential questions most days… le sigh. Whether you change or not is not up to you, it will happen however it happens and you’ll still be you but you might find that you cut yourself some slack on all the things you thought were so essential. I had way more time for philosophical navel gazing pre crazy baby. Now, I’m happy to shower before work. And I regret nothing.

  2. I hated the “you’ll see” almost as much as the “just give it time” responses that I got when I didn’t want to have kids. Because here’s the thing – stop assuming you know me better than I do. I have a right to my own opinions, and the right to change that opinion at a moment’s notice without it having to do with anything that’s your business.

    Which is to say – I appreciate how nuanced this response is, because it doesn’t obnoxiously assume. You frame it off of your experience as well, which makes it much more open to acceptance (at least for me). I like hearing other parents’ experiences, because it tells me that there is no normal, no right and wrong. You do what works for you, and that’s that.

    1. Kamel and I actually had a conversation in the car the other day. I mentioned how someone younger than us didn’t want kids and he said “oh, they’ll change their mind they’re still young.” And I said, “I don’t think that’s true. And would you say that about someone exactly her age who said they DID want kids?”

      It’s never my place to assume someone is an idiot about their own life choices, no matter what they are. I mean – we all have private judgey thoughts about LOTS of things, but! If someone tells me, “I want to be a ___________ profession, or “I want to move to alaska and live in the woods” or WHATEVER, I think we should all collectively, take that individuals wants/desires at face value and at the SAME TIME allow people to evolve and change as they choose.

      1. “I think we should all collectively, take that individuals wants/desires at face value and at the SAME TIME allow people to evolve and change as they choose.”

        ::slow clap:: Yes. yes. yes.

        1. It’s not easy. I’m not above it. I think we all want to be like “Jane likes caramels, CHECK!” but then Jane is like, “Caramels are now gross, I think I’m going to snack on peanuts.” And we all maybe feel like “That is so fucked up, I love Caramels! Everyone in the world should LOVE Caramels! And she loved them for so long! I used to buy her caramels at the farmer’s market! And now she is switching… for PEANUTS? She is going to so regret that.”

          But instead of saying those things we should be like, “Oh it’s peanuts now? Ok, excellent. Let me know how that goes.” And then move the fuck on and not take it personally.

          But it’s hard. Personally, I would love it if everyone had babies. I love seeing tiny genetic mashups. But that is so a me thing and has nothing to do with all of the yous. And all of the personal choices we make end up having so so so little affect on everyone else, so why is the knee jerk to be offended? I AM OFFENDED YOU ARE DIFFERENT THAN ME AND/OR DIFFERENT THAN M EXPECTATIONS FOR YOU!

          It is so cave-man I can’t even stand it.

  3. Love this post Lauren, I think you nailed it on the you’ll see word-vomit. That’s totally what it is.

    It’s interesting, I think I’ve been surprised at how much and how little having a baby has changed me, both at the same time. Frankly, none of the stuff people generally talk about when they say “you’ll see” have come true. I have the same views of parenting, I have the same amount of interest in things I did before, I still care about what I look like etc. Outwardly I’m pretty much unchanged. The thing I didn’t expect was the subtle internal changes that don’t come up so much in the “you’ll see” conversations. Like I’m suddenly a million times more aware of my own mortality. Fuuuun.

    And I don’t think most of these things are specific to parenting, which is why I like your comparison to going to college. For me these changes came about as the result of having a baby, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t happen for someone else as the result of starting a business or something. It’s just…life.

    1. “For me these changes came about as the result of having a baby, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t happen for someone else as the result of starting a business or something. It’s just…life.”

      I think this is right on target. I’ve read many articles where a parent says that having a child suddenly made them re-prioritize/mature/face their mortality… and it usually ends with “and that’s why you should have a kid.” And that may be absolutely true *for them*, but I also think other life events and time itself can flip your worldview in a similar way (e.g. for me, a major redefining event was when my dad passed away- impossible to not be aware of my mortality now…beautiful and terrifying).

    2. “For me these changes came about as the result of having a baby, but that’s not to say they wouldn’t happen for someone else as the result of starting a business or something. It’s just…life.”

      Love these points – we’re all changing all the time and if someone decides they want to be a parent and is able to become one… well, of COURSE they’re going to change as a result of those experiences. But that’s ok/expected/how life works.

      If you decide you want to become a [insert occupation] and then became one… well, you wouldn’t expect to be the same as you were before. But I guess maybe the difference is that people might choose an occupation (*ooh field biologist* or *ooh actress*) because they want the lifestyle that occupation allows. Some people might look at motherhood on others (friends, family, TV portrayals) and say “I don’t want to be like that but I do want to procreate so…meep?” And that’s when I draw from the you can still be you just with a shuffled set of priorities and a whackado sleep schedule.

  4. In terms of parenting philosophies I think it is a really great idea to have a lot of conversations with your partner about some of the big picture things. Figure out the broad scope of your parenting beliefs. Talk about hypothetical scenarios and how you’d ideally like to handle them. Being armed with this kind of forethought and knowledge can only be a good thing. It will unite you with your partner (parenting is definitely a team effort) and will help prepare you (as much as anyone can be prepared) for the journey ahead.

    One of the best things anyone told me during my pregnancy is that my baby would be born a complete person. A full little squishy person, with a personality and demeanor that cannot be changed by me or by any of the techniques I employ. There is no magic pill. What works for 100 babies down the block, all in a row, might not work for your baby. What worked this morning might not work this afternoon. What works for your first baby might not work for your second baby. You are not crazy. You are not broken. Your baby is not defective. You are not doing it wrong. Having a newborn means existing in a constant state of flux. At any minute the ground could crumble from beneath you and you have to be willing to jump.

    1. Yes, the baby is full, little squishy person. Mine doesn’t do anything the way I thought he would. Instead, he does everything louder and more obstinately!

  5. I think OffbeatBride’s Ariel wrote a long time ago about the problem of you’ll sees — a lot of it boils down to people experiencing something and wanting to bond over that shared experience. Especially if it was hard. It’s like they want proof that what was hard for them wasn’t special to just them, that everyone struggles, etc. This isn’t to say it isn’t annoying as it definitely is, but it also became more bearable when I looked at it as people saying what was hard for them, in different (annoyingly knowitall) language.

    As far as change goes, yes and no. I feel like my daughter has added to my experience as a human…which has changed me. But I still have the same core me-ness. I still find MAT3K to be the funniest thing ever, I still love my job, I still find value in spending my time helping people. I just have added to the list of priorities. I came home yesterday and thought, hey, I get to come home to my daughter, how great is that!? When before I might have been like, I wonder how the Internet is doing this evening! I still care about Internetting but it’s just another thing and my daughter takes up headspace now too — in a good way. I feel very whole. Not like in a you complete me way. Just like a little hole in my heart got filled in nicely. Like adding a warm quilt to an already comfy bed. You will still be you, just with more worries and cares, but it really is ok. You are you, just shinier (to be all Firefly about it)

    1. I definitely think there are two types of “you’ll see” – there’s the kind that’s usually is delivered when a child-free (or a parent of a younger child) mentions something offhand, and the more experienced person feels the need to correct them. It’s condescending and no benefit is to be gained from this exchange.

      The other kind is more thoughtful, usually delivered with more tact. It can be kind advice to someone wondering how they should plan their lives when they have kids, or just friends sharing life experiences. This can be extremely helpful and bonding.

      Basically I think it can be summed up as one being descriptive (this is MY life) and prescriptive (this is how YOUR life will be too!).

    2. “my daughter takes up headspace now too — in a good way. I feel very whole. Not like in a you complete me way. Just like a little hole in my heart got filled in nicely. Like adding a warm quilt to an already comfy bed. You will still be you, just with more worries and cares, but it really is ok. You are you, just shinier (to be all Firefly about it).”

      Love this concept/phrasing! I know it’s not even on the same level at all but… I felt that way about getting a dog! Makes coming home so much more meaningful to know there’s somebody (even canine) waiting on me to get there and excited to see me and who wants to cuddle up with me and is dependent on me for her various needs that are all things that I can give her (best feeling). I can only imagine a PERSON version of a dog is like 1000x more intense. (Ok, being rather purposefully nonchalant about this – I’m not really comparing my dog to your babies, friendly internet strangers, just the feelings I get from taking care of someone I love on a daily basis might compare to the feelings generated by an actual human child.)

  6. I really loved this when I first read it this morning and didn’t comment because I thought you had just said it perfectly.

    But this general idea of losing yourself by having a kid has been pinging around in my mind lately, and I think I finally decided that as much as we all worry about (I did too), fuck that noise. I think this is just one of those conventional wisdom things that people say so much that we all start to believe that it’s true. I got to thinking of all the moms I know in real life and online, who are varying degrees of hands on or hands off as parents, stay at home or work outside the home, and I don’t think any of them have “lost themselves”. They are all independent people with their own interests and opinions. Their lives are different than they were pre-kid (how could they not be), but as you said so well, all sorts of things change our lives, that doesn’t mean you lose the core of yourself.

    Anyway, well said.

  7. Hear, hear (here, here?). I think everything to do with having a baby needs to be flexible – like that saying about war plans and first contact with the enemy – planning and thinking about what you believe is vital, but don’t set yourself up for disappointment when things don’t happen the way you plan. I didn’t realise that Dear Boy’s personality and likes and dislikes would dictate so much of how I parent. He wasn’t a blank slate or malleable piece of clay – he had his own preferences for how things would happen. I wanted to co-sleep and breastfeed and wear him everywhere – my son had different ideas. So while I have an overarching approach to parenting that still remains true, I had to adjust how it gets implemented so I didn’t feel like I was a failure.

    This is all great advice, Lauren.

  8. I totally you’ll see people about pregnancy. Because I’m sorry, but I thought I could totally win at being pregnant and handle the morning sickness like a champ and exercise the whole way through and ride my bike to the hospital to deliver and only gain 20lbs and eat SO MUCH LEAFY GREENS. Oh, and I was so not gonna be a whiner. HAHAHAHAHAHA

    Yup. I survive mostly on cheese, I have gestational diabetes, I had to stop riding my bike, and I’m lucky if I can walk a mile a day before I need a freakin’ nap. I try to keep my “you’ll sees” to “pregnancy isn’t what I expected” or “a lot depends on how you carry” or “every pregnancy is different and you might not get the experience you want.” I have a friend who is sooooo ready to be pregnant and I get it because I was there and it feels like the part in What to Expect When You’re Expecting where the woman is like, “all I wanted was the glow.” I get that and I sadly “you’ll see” it with some Friends, “That’s sweat! You throw up all morning, you’d glow too.”

    At least I’ve learned not to have strong opinions on how things will go once the baby is born. Right now we don’t intend to cosleep, but that could change.

    1. If that counts as “you’ll see!” then I “you’ll see-ed” all over the place vomit style on this blog. Because same for me. I thought I was going to have CONTROL over how much weight I gained in the first trimester because I was going to WORK OUT HAHAHA and eat EXTRA well! and but AWESOME. But instead I had extreme motion sickness and spent my lunch breaks lying on the floor in the hallway, insanely constipated, and dry heaving on the side of the freeway as the morning commute ZOOMED past. So, yeah, I too share the warning of “BE PREPARED!!!” But I think there is a different, special kind of “mm hmm… well… you’ll see…” that is so incredibly dismissive and can feel like everyone in the world thinks you’re stupid that just makes you want to prove everyone wrong.

      But mostly, I am so sorry you are so sick and uncomfortable. Pregnancy is truly the worst. I mean, not for everyone, but for me – oh my god it is the worst. Good news! Because of how hard my pregnancy was, I felt like the newborn phase was a fucking breeze. Truth. So, tunnel light? Hopefully.

    2. ‘I try to keep my “you’ll sees” to “pregnancy isn’t what I expected” or “a lot depends on how you carry” or “every pregnancy is different and you might not get the experience you want.”’

      This phrasing is so different from “you’ll see” and is so helpful because you get to tell your experience and I get to learn from your story and file it away with all the other information that I’m processing. Very different than “THIS IS THE WAY IT IS FOR ME AND THEREFORE WILL BE FOR YOU TOO.” Good luck with the ongoing pregnant state!

  9. What Lauren and what Kelly said. But mostly, the best advice I got when our daughter was born came from a very close friend, in similar lines: “learn to know your baby, your baby is unique, and adapt to it, to its needs, follow its cues. The “rules” don’t matter.What people say doesn’t matter. Everyone will give you their opinion, everyone will know better. But YOU are the mom, you are the one who knows your kid better, trust yourself even if it feels you are swimming with your closed eyes”.

    As for changing… I was pretty sure my essence would not change by having a baby and I was never afraid of that or really “got” that fear. I still love reading, traveling, animals, walking cities, silly dancing. I am still me. At the same time, motherhood has “stripped” me off the superficial and brought the “relevant” out. Like a snake changing skin? I didn’t change inside, but in ways I feel renewed, shiny new scales taking the place of the old ones. (But I am guessing this happens with growing up, not necessarily uniquely with the arrival of a baby).

    We work to make this things happen like we always imagined they would even when it’s hard, even when learning how to do it makes everyone cry because 4 hours on the road with a 8 month old is not the best idea. Even when she did it before, no problem. But we keep taking the baby on trips, close and far.

    There were things we thought would be a certain way and then we decided to do otherwise: I always imagined myself a kangaroo mom, I think ever since as a girl I had a baby carrier for a cabbage patch doll. Well, our baby hated being “trapped” up until 4-5 months of age. She would cry as soon as you had her close, because she wanted to *break free* (Same for swaddling her, hooray for sleeping bags). Now she loves being carried, but she is at another stage. We had to “train her” to like it by practicing every day, but it was not a natural thing as I imagined it would be. And she might (she will) change again. It is about being ready and prepared to come up with a new plan as soon as things change.

    And I feel the same “wholeness” as Hayley, there is so much joy, so much pure happiness in discovering the world again through the eyes of wonder of your child.

  10. Love this topic and this advice! I have been loving watching my friends become parents and the ways they change and the ways they don’t. It’s a nice reminder that I can define what “Mom” means to me just the way I defined (and continue to redefine) my roles as “Wife” and “Daughter.” Because how I define it for myself at one point might shift at another point – and that’s ok! Thanks for the great topic and advice!

  11. As a currently pregnant lady who is getting tons of advice left and right, this was nice to read. The nice people say, “It’s your life, your kid, do what is right for you.” The not so nice people say things like, “You need to go drink something, that baby needs you to stay hydrated.” I mean really, having no idea what I have had to drink today, my baby being invisible to you at the current time, you think you can tell me what is best for it. Thanks, I’ll go get right on that.

    I’m worried about changing, I’m worried about my relationship with my husband changing, I’m worried about a lot of things, but I’m also excited. I’m excited to see my husband become a father, to grow as a family and to go through the changes life undoubtedly has in store. This is especially surprising to me, because at my root I’ve always thought that I’m a girl that doesn’t like change, so perhaps I’m changing already!

  12. In my life, a lot of the reason I respond with “you’ll see” (or some variation on that) is because it’s often in response to a very superior/snotty sounding “when my baby is born I’ll … ” or “When I’m a parent, I’ll never … ” or some variation of the always/never absolute knowledge of what it’s like to be a parent. The people who say these things tend to have no realization that their baby is going to dictate a lot of what they’ll always/never and there’s nothing you can say to them except “you’ll see”. Because they reject or pooh-pooh any other comment you could make.

    1. This definitely speaks to the other side of things – the judgement from those without kids on how to parent. This is very true and frustrating. I think the difference is in the delivery. A “I think we’re going to do it this way” is much different than a “well when I have kids, I won’t __________” in direct comment to someone else’s parenting choices, which is incredibly shitty and judgy.

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