LOVE, TRUST AND SPACE: HOW KIDS TEACH THEIR PARENTS HOW TO DEAL
Few people have a harder time finding their balance than new parents. One brave mama shares her story of the stuff she never expected – and what her baby boy has taught her.
Thanks Nikki for opening up to us. We talk to all kinds of people about finding their balance, and anyone who’s a parent tells us that kids challenge this more than anything. Hearing candidly about a new mom’s experience can not only help our readers feel a little less alone in their struggles, but it puts this crazy time in perspective, too.
Can you share a little about your path to motherhood?
I’m currently a Stay at Home Mom with an almost 2 year old boy, which was always “the plan.”
I received my Master’s Degree in Human Factors and Applied Psychology, which is basically the application of cognitive sciences to product design. Who knew you could actually have a career telling people how to make a product or system better? It was right up my alley.
After working for a consulting firm for five years, my husband Scott and I decided it to grow a human.
We both felt passionately about me being the primary caregiver, at least until pre-school. The crazy cost of childcare makes it seem practical. I still feel comfortable with this decision, which I think goes to show I never felt defined by my work. I was good at what I did, and it felt gratifying to nurture my professional relationships, but I’m not missing it.
I am missing something, but can’t quite put my finger on it just yet.
So, having a kid was a conscious decision for you guys?
We’ve been together for ten years (married for five), and we’d entertained the idea of starting a family ever since we started dating. We were always on the same page when it came to the kind of parents we’d want to be, but we both swam in the same neurotic, existential turmoil when it came to answering why we wanted to be parents: why do people like us—privileged, employed, social, youngish, lazy—need to procreate? Was it because that’s just what couples do? Was it because our primate egos wanted to see our genes passed on? Because we want company and security in our old age? Because we wanted to raise a brand new person from scratch who could save the fucking planet—is that fair?
In the end, yes, we wanted a baby. We wanted to leave the world a better place than we found it. When we focused on the endgame, the equation was simple: parties get less fulfilling; children get more fulfilling.
Then you had everything planned out… no surprises?
So much of our forethought and planning, we’d soon learn, would amount to precisely Jack Shit.
The moment we decided to ditch birth control, it was a whirlwind: I was pregnant within two weeks, had a ten-hour, drug-free labor (another decision I seemed to make on autopilot), and my little boy started walking at 9 months old. I’ve had no “transition time” for any of this shit and to be honest, I feel traumatized.
All the things I thought I knew about being a mom based on research made me a judgmental bitch about everyone else’s parenting. I was confident that any and all behavioral traits in children could be explained by nurture. It only took a few weeks of mommy-hood to realize I didn’t know what the fuck I was talking about. Not discrediting environment, but it’s not everything.
What’s a conversation that we should be having with new moms?
I rarely meet another mom who admits she didn’t fall deeply, magically, cinematically in love with her baby the minute she first held them in her arms.
I didn’t. I felt overwhelmed by the scale and immediacy of my responsibilities in this world. Within two hours of giving birth, my husband and I had to strap this tiny, bony stranger into a car seat. Scott turned to me and said, “How is this even legal? How is it that we never had to pass some kind of test for this? How does anyone trust us to get this right?”
It was terrifying, not enchanting. And I wish it wasn’t such a taboo to say that, because I do love my baby; I just got there a different way. I love him because I fell in love with him. I love Ford because he’s Ford, not just because he’s mine. And it feels good to see my relationship with my son that way, but it’s hard to talk about without fearing the attending stigma. (Nobody’s gonna read this, right?)
What’s harder than you thought it would be?
I thought that if I was attached to the hip with my baby, that he would be perfectly chill and happy. Yet my son was attached to my breast 24/7, he co-slept with me (which he never seemed to enjoy) and I didn’t leave him for more than 20 minutes at a time to shower. So why was he still fussy and not content? I have learned it’s because he’s just a little baby and new to this world, and because of his genes/biology he just had a harder time adjusting than other babies I knew. I have a universe of empathy for every mom now.
Also, living in LA can be a bit isolating as a new mother because it’s such a car culture. It’s difficult to be out and about with your baby and be able to talk to other moms, get advice and check in with each other. Every one of us who ever read a best-selling parenting book is trying to jam a square peg into a round hole. This shit is hard.
What’s the silver lining you’d give to new parents?
Some of the hardest things have gotten easier. Like waking up in the morning. I feel like Bill Murray in Groundhog’s Day, except it’s not the world on repeat; it’s my mind. Before my eyes even open, I have to start the same pep-talk, convincing myself all I need is to get through until his nap. Then a new pep-talk: just get through to bedtime. I’m very lucky because Ford began playing upon waking and it changed the game. He doesn’t cry when he wakes up anymore, he slowly wakes up and reads a book, plays with a car, has some water (all which I leave in crib the night before). He is teaching me to regulate my mind and have a slower wake up too. Mornings have historically always been hard for me, so he’s teaching me to not be so scared of the sun rising.
Leaving the house seems so hard to me because of packing all the baby stuff and planning out his food. But when I actually leave the house with Ford and do something active, or different, or scary, I have fun. And I learn a lot about him. I love seeing him in new environments and watching him take it all in. He really rises to the occasion and I feel like I love him more with each new experience. I know for a fact that I’m happier when we get out of the house, and yet for some reason it’s so hard to do. Who’s the real baby, him or me?
What advice do you wish someone had given you?
If I had a time machine, here’s one thing I’d want to tell my pre-mommy self: Give my baby space, both mentally and physically. I think I did Ford an injustice by projecting on to him that he needed me constantly narrating his experience and never letting him lay on the floor alone and have some private time when he was an infant. Once I started doing both of those things, he seemed happier and was able to begin playing alone his crib.
Another thing I’ve discovered is that a lot of SAHMs feel like they aren’t entitled to some sort of break—or if they are, it gets deducted from their contribution to the family. (Not bringing in money to the household is a deceptively complicated dynamic!) I realized way too recently that I am deserving of a scheduled break, courtesy of my mom, a friend, a nanny, pre-school, etc. on a weekly basis. (I’m not talking about dads here; sometimes Scott is who I want to take my break with.) I think my brain is ready for a routine where I always know there is a day in the week where I schedule my appointments, have lunch with friends, or binge-watch TV with my cats in my comfy bed with the door closed (husband optional). Because sneaking all the self-care in without regular help just isn’t working. I’ll let you know how that goes.
What advice would you give to new moms out there?
If I had to give two tips to moms:
- Nap when baby naps, even when they’re a toddler (and don’t feel guilty!). I’ve learned how to embrace the ‘two days without a shower look’ because my nap usually trumps the shower, and I can go a looooooong time without washing my hair thanks to the modern day miracle which is dry shampoo.
- Take advantage of every opportunity for your child to practice self-play. It frees up so much time in my day to get important shit done, like instagramming videos of Ford being cute and petting my three cats.
How have you changed, personally?
Sometimes I wonder, does anyone still party? I like to drink alcohol and use cannabis sometimes, but it’s hard to talk like my old self with my new mommy friends and feel comfortable. I always casually throw it into the conversation and hope they don’t judge me.
I’m constantly checking in with my ‘old’ self while creating this new framework where I check in with my ‘new’ mom role. I guess I’m saying I miss my old identity and I’m trying to make new friends with my new one.
Also, I haven’t done one thing professionally since quitting my last job last year. But now, I am about to embark on a new business venture with my BFF from high school, and can’t wait to share that when the time is right.
Thanks so much for being so open with us, Nikki. We wish you and Scott and Ford all the best.