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The Top 8 Things I Wish I Knew With My Firstborn Child

pregnancy yoga with toddler

Becoming a parent is nuts. Like full-blown invasion of the body-snatchers type of experience. So much in life changes, and it happens at whirlwind speed - you can barely catch your breath the first few months. Finally, things level out, and you realize everything will be okay. Sometimes, you even find a way to fit another little one into your life down the line, and maybe another one after that. The cycle continues, and as you and your family grows, it's something you'll be glad you did, especially decades from now. But there are a few cardinal things I've learned that I really would've benefited from knowing during my initial go at this whole parenting thang. These are the top 8 things I wish I knew with my firstborn child:

#1 - A steady sleep schedule helps everyone

I really did not understand how important keeping a regimented sleep schedule is, for both kids and parents. Oftentimes, my firstborn didn't "seem tired," and I tried to do what I thought was best and follow her cues for when she was ready to take a nap. This was so bad for us all. Ultimately, she ended up falling asleep any and everywhere after getting really cranky (looking back, now I know why), and her schedule was a mess... because there really was none. Now with two, I have the exact same healthy schedule every single day. Not only do they now get the sleep they so desperately need (whether they look like it initially or not), but they wake up happy and refreshed! Plus I know I get those parts of the day to work on things I need to do as well.

#2 - Only offer food you want them to eat

Sounds simple, but in practice, feeding can get wonky fast if you're not thoughtful about it. Only filling my kids' plates with things I actually want them to eat is why mealtimes have not been a problem for us. I take the time to research what's best for them and fill our fridge and pantry exclusively with those things. Every day, plates are filled with foods that are nutritious and (usually) delicious to them. Does that mean my kid doesn't occasionally get to enjoy an animal cracker or ice cream? Of course not! But when 90% of the time they are eating an extremely healthy and balanced diet, those things aren't as worrisome, and helps them get exposed to the different foods they'll experience as they grow up. I also make a habit of rotating and introducing new foods often, always next to foods they already love and are familiar with. I've had a lot of success with this strategy!

#3 - The toddler "illusion of choice" is in providing pre-approved options

In the same vein as the previous point, I like to give options I'm already okay with, but still let my toddler feel empowered in her 2-year-old decision-making abilities. Sometimes, this might look like: "We are leaving the playground in 5 minutes. Would you rather go on the seesaw or down the slide one last time?" Or, "Let's put some fruit in this bowl for a snack! What do you think we should make? Strawberries or blueberries?" It works! Especially in preventing sudden tantrums, because it helps them feel in control of the small choices they know they can help make.

#4 - Downtime in the crib is okay

I have many friends that have expressed struggle with this one in the early years. I, too, didn't really know what to do or how to feel when it came to having my little one in a crib for what was supposed to be a sleep time, but have them not sleeping. I remember the feeling of increasing anxiety for every minute I left my firstborn in there, watching her on the monitor while she rolled around or cried. Now I realized that sometimes, that's just what kids do. It doesn't mean they're not tired, and it doesn't mean the downtime isn't good for them, even if they opt to not sleep during some or all of the window. Honestly, there are days when my girls nap well, and there are some days when they don't. Both are okay. As long as they are safe, downtime in the crib is alright, and usually more needed (for everyone) than you'd imagine.

#5 - Say no to what doesn't serve your healthy routine

When I was first postpartum, I was inundated with requests to come over and meet the baby. I felt serious people-pleasing pressure, and said yes to everyone almost every time. I was exhausted. I was emotional. I was not myself. But I couldn't find the strength or center enough to articulate this and say, "thanks, but now is not a good time." Now, I don't stress about saying no to anything that doesn't serve my family's healthy routine. And people honestly understand and are always cooperative. 99% of the time, they don't even realize that what they're asking is burdensome whatsoever. Everyone is different, and it's important to take control of your schedule and who you give your (often limited) energy to when you have young kids. For us, the late afternoon timeframe after naps is ideal to receive guests or go somewhere. The kids are rested and energized for the second half of their day, and my husband and I have gotten some time to ourselves to do whatever we needed to do also. Anything that falls outside of this "convenience window" is rare and a conscious choice, which makes sense sometimes, but mostly we stick to the schedule that allows us to be high-functioning and at the most peace.

#6 - Give the gift of boredom

Like many first-time parents, I felt an intense pressure to always be "entertaining" my child. I didn't really know what I was supposed to do. She didn't really like playing independently (she was also much too young and I didn't realize that at the time), and I refused to sit her in front of screens to entertain her. So my husband or I would basically alternate sitting on the floor playing with her. We knew this wasn't sustainable, but really had no frame of reference on what was supposed to happen instead. Now, I recognize the importance of allowing your child to get bored. It's a bit of a learning curve (see also: lots of crying early on as they work out what's happening), but ultimately it allows them to explore their environment, discover new things, and develop their interests. My children are so happy when they have the chance to independently play now. Oftentimes, I "set them up" with a few toys or activities to pique their interest, but ultimately I let them decide what they want to do and stop myself from directing them or narrating anything. It's hard at first, but the skills learned during this process are invaluable, especially to me now as they grow.

#7 - Involve kids in your daily responsibilities

I can't encourage this one enough. Whatever it is that you have to do, include your kids as often as possible! Will it inevitably take longer? Yes. Will they learn important life skills that will benefit them (and you) for the rest of their lives? Yes. It is worth it! Some of the responsibilities we do with our kids include things like laundry, clearing the dishwasher, putting dirty dishes in the sink, cleaning, putting toys away, cooking, watering plants, yard work, and tidying up the home. Not only does it help me get more done during their wake windows, but they literally love every second of it. To them, it's not chores, it's fun! Kids want to feel included and helpful, so let them!

#8 - You can do it all, just not at the same time

As an admittedly overly-ambitious individual, I used to beat myself up tremendously over not being able to "do more" in a day. But that didn't mean I wasn't getting a lot done. It simply meant that I was being wildly unrealistic with my goals and expectations; specifically concerning the amount of time and energy it would really take to accomplish the various tasks I wanted to check off by end of day. Instead, I have since taken the time to reflect and determine what things are the most important to do, which are time-sensitive, and which could (or should) be re-evaluated. Then I order those line items along with how much of a commitment each would require, and see where those openings in my schedule exist or could be made. After that, I arrange within my own allocated time or enlist the help of someone else if needed, to come up with a realistic plan to get it all done. Now on any given day, I know I can fit in time to work, exercise, eat, do something for me, take care of a few things around the house, and relax once it's all done. Do I always get all the lesser-prioritized tasks done each day? No. But I make sure to kick those into the next available window and get them done as soon as I can, and it keeps the progress on everything moving along. What this process ends up resulting in is the ability to do all the things I ultimately want to do. Learning that it can be done, just not all at the same time, is what takes... well... time. But I've learned that is also okay.

Parenthood is about learning, growing, and giving yourself grace.

You are discovering things about yourself and life for the first time all the time, and consciously unlearning and working through former behaviors and mindsets you grew up with that are now limiting to your life. Good parents are always trying to give their children the best life they can, and understand that sacrifices will have to be made along the way for the greater good of the family. This looks different for everyone. But the constant desire for growth and betterment for yourself and your children is what makes you special, and will help them grow up to admire you and everything you've become throughout your journey, too.


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