I recently attended a baby shower for a dear friend, one of many showers I’ve had the privilege of being a part of. Call me strange – I’ve always really enjoyed them. I like being part of the process of the birth of a parent.
The invite led to an online registry neatly marked with needed items- bibs, car seats, food prep, towels, blankets, clothing, baby books, pacifiers, bottles, diapers, changing stations, did I miss anything? Literally all the things a baby will need. By the end of the shower, my amazing friends were going to have everything necessary to bring this new sweet baby into the world. Right?
In my work with thousands of parents over the last 18 years, I’ve helped them in what I call “getting real” with themselves. Getting real means getting to the bottom of what is there for you. It means being unshakeable and authentic about what you feel, need and desire. This has been especially important for parents because, by default, parents are the one demographic that expresses not having time to focus on their own needs.
Furthermore, if you have a child that experiences “special needs” (something I would say we all have), you’re even more likely to put yourself on the back burner. Kids’ needs take up so much real estate in your head…where is there room for you? So, when parents reach out to me for support, I help them to graduate from taking up a sock drawer in their own minds to claiming their minds, bodies and hearts fully and completely while being present and available for everything that comes with raising developing humans.
As the awaited cake was being served, my friend opened one of her last few gifts. A large box that seemed to excite everyone. One mom expertly shouted, “Remember to practice adjusting the seat before you go to the hospital… we had such a hard time with that – even the nurses didn’t know how to do it!” Across the room, another mom echoed, “We have the same one. You’re welcome to come over and practice anytime!”
We tend to think about preparing for parenthood as gathering all the stuff, creating physical space for it all, and learning key strategies for breathing through the challenging physical experiences that come with childbirth. And-to parent’s credit-there is something to it. For the first few months of a baby’s life, parents are initially in survival mode to keep this new member of the family alive. Feed the baby, clothe the baby, change the baby, repeat! But after a few months have passed and the novelty has simmered, what’s next? Is there more to it than just more clothes, more food, more stuff?
I tend to hear from parents after they’ve driven down the parenthood road for a little while. There are very few bumps and forked crossroads that I have not met in my experience. What I wish all parents knew is this: Your mindset and intentions for your parenthood journey are numero uno on the list of things that you need. Said another way – no amount of diapers, toys, or baby books will prepare you fully for the beautiful (and long) journey of parenthood. Why? Because these things become obsolete as kids graduate to new developmental stages and you hit your own milestones in your role as “parent.” The only thing that’s here to stay is the setting you tune to as you drive down Parenthood Road.
Parents often share, “I wish I knew then what I know now… why didn’t anyone tell me?” So, here they are. The three gifts that don’t make it on the list of stuff to get. And if you’re a parent of an older kid, teen, or young adult, there is no expiration date on the wisdom to follow.
Gift #1: Be like a parachute. Stay open.
Having a baby is an exciting and nerve-wrecking time. A dear friend once shared with me that she was angry with her parents for not telling her sooner what it was really like to have kids. To which they replied, “Had we told you…you would have never had them!” There is truth to this statement. Your parents, friends and family members probably want to share insights, tips and wisdom with you, but they need to know that you’re willing to listen. It’s important to set boundaries with overbearing loved ones, but when it comes to preparing for the journey ahead, staying open to the support and platform to share is just as vital. Keep your mind open to the possibility that you may not know everything, and that there is everything to be discovered.
Gift #2: Get your head out of the sand
Speak to your partner about the changes ahead. If you don’t have a partner on this parenthood journey, seek out others to connect with about the ways in which your life will change as a result of having a child. If you’re about to have a baby, set time aside to do so. If you have a second on the way, set time aside to do so. If you have a middle schooler going into their next life phase… set time aside to do so. There is no “graduation day” from parenthood. As your kids grow, so do you. At every stage. It’s imperative that you address how you wish the journey to look, what you expect and what your hopes, dreams, worries and fears are about being a parent, how it will change your routine/life/goals, and what your ideas are about how this new role of “parent” will impact your current life as you know it.
Parents-to-be, new parents and seasoned ones don’t talk about the true feelings and thoughts that come up as easily as they discuss the excitement and joy. But, it’s important to note that stress and joy can coexist, and often do. Just because you have worries about being a parent does not mean you won’t enjoy every moment of it too. And just because you’re enjoying it now does not mean you won’t be struck by challenge later. Allow yourself to feel and express the whole range of emotions. Set the standard of this kind of sharing early on.
Gift #3: Learn to tune the radio before hitting the road.
When a couple gets married, they pour over their wedding playlist for months (I know I did). When an artist puts together a music album, they meticulously compile a list in the order they intend to tell their story through song. When a top chef puts together a five course balanced meal, they consider the ingredients prior to any cooking. So, why in the world would we not consider taking on parenthood without setting an intention for our mindset?
In Carol Dweck’s book Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success, she talks about the growth mindset and the fixed mindset. Both are important to consider. The fixed mindset speaks to being attached to something going a certain way or an all-or-nothing approach. The growth mindset focuses on flexibility and openness to new ways of thinking and new perspectives. Choosing the mind-set is much like tuning your radio to the station you’re searching for. Consider that your mindset has a ton to do with how you experience this rollercoaster of a ride. Without being clear about the mindset you’re committing to, you mind as well be playing russian roulette with your radio station on a long cross country trip. And I don’t know about you but…I’m pretty picky about my stations.
As always, take what speaks to you, leave the rest. And if you change your mind, it’ll always be here for you when you’re ready.
With love, Dr. V