There’s an expectation for women that we have to have nurturing experience under our belts before we ever become parents. But maybe giving ourselves permission to be inexperienced prior to an experience is a good thing.
So! You’re going to have a baby. Maybe people have told you it’s easy. Maybe others have told you it’s the hardest thing you’ll ever do. Maybe people have told you to get a puppy as practice, or to simply rely on all those skills you picked up from babysitting.
You did babysit when you were younger, right?
Well, first things first: do not get a puppy as a practice baby. Sure, it’s good practice for being responsible for eternal often poop-centric minutiae involved in keeping something alive and happy, but inviting that kind of new chaotic peeing-on-everything change into your life right now is too late. It would have been a good idea if it were, like, five years ago and now your puppy were a dog that could control its pee, but I promise you, adopting a puppy now will be inviting a lot more stress, nighttime crying, and pee into your life.
But the babysitting practice–that sounds practical, right?
Honestly, I don’t think so.
I babysat a lot when I was a tween. The slogan printed on my business cards read, “Your kids won’t just watch TV!”–and it was true! We played games and we took walks on my watch. One kid decided I was his best friend,1 and I manhandled a kitchen knife out of another’s hands once when he insisted he was going to stab his annoying little brother. Typical babysitter stuff. But I never babysat infants more than once or twice, unless volunteering in the church nursery with a more-competent adult counts. I changed zero diapers, I put babies down for zero naps, I got to pass off super-sad babies to the competent adult. My baby-minding experience was the equivalent of taking someone’s puppy for a walk around the block.
Babysitting can teach you some basic things:
- How to change a diaper if you don’t already know how
- How fast babies can crawl towards things
- How to support a tiny little baby neck
The thing is though, at least in my experience, when I suddenly had a baby of my own, changing the diapers and holding her little floppy head2 just so became the bottom-tier concern. Those things barely registered on my concern radar.
Babysitting would not have prepared me for early parenthood. Babysitting wouldn’t have prepared me for the utter exhaustion I felt that first night as this little tiny creature–MY itty bitty baby–slept and I checked to make sure she was breathing every few minutes. Babysitting would not have prepared me for the physical pain that lingered on and on postpartum, clouding my parenting with pain. Babysitting would not have prepared me for the love that grew like a tiny bloom, delicate and spindly, then suddenly this huge sunflower of happiness, a “Hills Are Alive” twirling sort of ecstatic love. Babysitting wouldn’t prepare me for the endless sleepless nights. It wouldn’t have prepared me for how to lug a baby in a heavy carrier, a diaper bag, a laptop bag, and a purse all in one trip to the car for the morning commute, because CPS will take your baby away if you leave them on the stoop, or leave them in the car while you run back to the stoop. When I babysat, I couldn’t drive my charges anywhere. I wouldn’t have needed to, even if I’d been old enough to have a license, or knew how to buckle a car seat into a car.3 I definitely didn’t have to agonize over breastfeeding and then formula feeding.
There is no agony in babysitting. But there is no ecstasy, either.
Of course, it’s natural to feel unsure if you’re up to the behemoth task of parenthood before you have a baby. Are you unsure how cloth diapering works? Don’t fret–ask a friend for a tutorial if the Internet is a black hole of “dipe toots”, 4 but don’t worry that your lack of years of changing other baby’s butts is a sign of your unfitness to parent. If you want to take one of those Baby 101 classes, go for it, but think about this: how many dads out there have extensive babysitting experience and didn’t learn how to change a diaper until they had their own sad, soggy baby? There’s an expectation for women that we have to have nurturing experience under our belts before we ever become parents. Maybe giving ourselves permission to be inexperienced prior to an experience is a good thing. Maybe if we could all be allowed the lax expectations new fathers get, we’d be happier and a bit less fretful about all the stuff we don’t know.5 And we wouldn’t end up becoming the Default Parent either.
So you’re having a baby and you haven’t been left alone with one before. I’m here to tell you that you’re gonna be great. Her little head will feel so small and fragile, like the tiniest baby bird, and you’re going to cradle her perfectly, and you’re going to change those diapers and figure out the carseat and the best way to get your baby to sleep, and what kind of feeding works for you. You’re probably going to have moments of blind panic and fear and love that overwhelm your whole body.6 Maybe not right away, or maybe all at once in a furious cacophony. If your baby-minding resume feels lacking, it’s okay. You’re going to have to learn on the job for this one. Soak up advice from people you trust,7 and trust that you will learn and be OK.
In fact, you’ll be more than OK. You will be exactly the parent your baby needs. You will be enough.
Photo by: rumpleteaser
- Until I moved away and I got reports from that the new sitter was his best friend–my heart! ↩
- Design flaw. ↩
- The Car Seat Lady = very helpful, by the way ↩
- That’s short for “diaper tutorials.” I know, I know ↩
- And all the stuff we don’t even know we don’t know yet! ↩
- But you also might not! And that is OK and VALID. ↩
- I.e. avoid Internet forums that make you feel guilty or less than enough. ↩