When I was pregnant with my first son, I had a fairly long list of things I thought I needed as a parent. A crib and changing table were obvious necessities. A diaper pail was a must. And a really comfy (i.e., way too expensive) rocking chair was also important.
After the baby was born, the list of requirements expanded to include books — lots and lots of books. And I’m not talking about baby books or board books, but self-help and parenting books. With a baby who wouldn’t stop crying and barely slept through the night, I was desperate for information and guidance. I need advice and I needed it stat!
Over time the list of things I needed grew to include a fancy stroller, a large baby activity contraption, expensive bottles that looked like laboratory beakers, information on when to introduce solids, advice on how to get a baby to sleep through the night, another changing table, and more books filled with advice guaranteed to fix alltheproblems.
Turns out, I needed none of it. Not one damn thing.
Instead of the advice, research studies, conflicting information, and expensive products, here’s what parents really need:
1. We need patience and compassion, and we need someone to hold the fucking door for us.
When we shuffle through with a diaper bag the size of a suitcase and a stroller the size of a small car while we’re holding a squirmy toddler’s hand and have a baby strapped to our chest, we just need someone to hold the fucking door open. We don’t need to get the side-eye because our stroller is so damn big and the toddler is screaming “I don’t wanna!” at the top of his lungs while he tries to run into moving traffic. We don’t need people rushing past us with their heavy sighs of impatience. We just need someone to hold the fucking door.
2. We need pep talks and offers to help.
When we admit that we haven’t slept in three straight days, we don’t need people to tell us about the latest study supporting the cry it out method or the family bed or the Ferber method or the rub-some-lavender-oil-on-everyone method. We don’t need people to tell us that whatever sleep strategy we’re trying is ineffective, damaging our sweet baby’s fragile psyche, and guaranteeing our child will sleep with a pacifier until he goes to college. And we certainly don’t need people to say, “What you need to do is…” because you can bet your ass that whatever we supposedly “need to do” has already been tried. What we need is someone to listen, some empathy, and for someone to say, “It’s really fucking hard. Let me take the baby for a few hours.”
3. We need forgiveness and compassion.
When we mess up, when we yell at our kids or turn away for a minute, we don’t need the judgment and criticism. We don’t need people to tell us how they wouldn’t have let that happen or their kid never would have done that. And we certainly don’t need the shame. Differences of opinion are one thing; questioning a parents’ motives or love for their child is something else entirely.
4. We need a tribe.
Friends who also have kids are great, but they aren’t necessarily the same thing as a tribe. Mom friends will tell you which kindergarten teacher is her favorite and where to buy used baseball cleats. Mom friends will invite you and your kids over for a playdate, and might even make you lasagna after you have your second child. Mom friends are nice, but a tribe is even more than that. A tribe will organize a meal schedule so that you don’t have cook for a month after coming home from the hospital. A tribe won’t just invite you over for playdates; a tribe will watch your kids for an entire afternoon so that you can sleep. And a tribe won’t give advice — unless you ask.
5. And we need mountains and mountains of grace — for others and ourselves.
No one is perfect. I repeat: No one is perfect. So let’s all stop this pretending and just be real. I will be the first to admit that I fuck up on a daily basis. I yell at my kids. I give in to their whiny requests for another popsicle, more screen time, or a later bedtime. I pretend to be listening to their loooonnng stories about who-knows-what while sneaking peeks at my phone. I let them eat too much junk food, and I don’t read with them as much as I should. Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of ways I’m winning at this parenting thing too. But I fuck up all the time, and nearly every night, I remind myself that what’s done is done and I (try to) forgive myself for whatever mistakes I made during the day.
I wish I had known all those years ago what I would really need as a parent. I might have spent less time reading books that doled out advice and more time listening to my gut instincts. I would have spent less money on devices and contraptions I thought would make parenting easier — and more money on a babysitter every once in a while. And I would have spent a lot less energy caring about what other people thought, what the latest research supported, and what the “parenting experts” recommended. Instead, I would have been kinder to myself, gentler, and more forgiving. Because what I have realized lately is that what parents really need is a good support system, a selective memory, and an IDGAF attitude.
The expensive gear, unsolicited advice, conflicting research, and list of shoulds? Fuck that shit. Ain’t nobody got time for that.