For the people on my friends' list who have just had or are about to have a baby: you'll get lots of advice. As L approaches his second birthday, there are a few things I've learned. Take from this whatever appeals to you, or at least consider it. I won't be offended at all if you don't take this advice, but I thought you might find something here that improves things for you.
- BUY USED AND IN BULK: I was lucky enough to find a garage sale a year or so before L was born. I picked up a swing, a bouncy seat, and pounds and pounds of clothing, from newborn size through 18 months. This ended up being _great_. I got things (a) cheaply and (b) all at once. There were things I'd have forgotten that magically were in our drawers when I needed them. I was able to find out what L didn't like (the bouncy seat), without paying for it first. Obviously it's even better if you can get hand-me-downs, but garage sales or CL will work in a pinch. I'd never have gotten through by doing it piece by piece. Lots of parents purge in one fell swoop. Find some.
(Also, don't get much in newborn size. You MIGHT need it, but you probably won't. Clothes that are slightly big will work fine. Obviously this isn't true if your kid is born prematurely, but statistically, that's unlikely.)
- STROLLERS ARE UNNECESSARY: I used our stroller a fair amount and was happy with it. Since L reached about a year, I've relied on it less and less and on our soft structured carrier more and more. I like strollers as much as the next person (SO CUTE!), but realistically, it wasn't necessary. If I had to choose between a carrier (such as an Ergo) or a stroller, I'd choose the carrier. To a new mother, I'd say, get a pouch or a sling (whichever suits you) for the first six months, and then switch to a gender-neutral carrier (so that your partner can carry too). If you start early, your muscles will develop along with your kid's weight. And, you'll be able to have a life, do housework, whatever, while also having a natural colic-and-crying-calming device. And be able to travel. And get plenty of closeness with your kid. Again, buy used. If you're in the states, thebabywearer.com is a great resource.
(For the record, I had a Rockin' Baby Pouch and an Ergo with infant insert for the first 9 months, and then ended up getting a very old Beco, a very old Angelpack and a slightly less-old Olives and Applesauce. They each have advantages, depending on what you're looking for. Ask me if you want any opinions.)
- MOST STROLLERS ARE TERRIBLE: OK, chances are, if you have a kid, you get a stroller. DO YOUR RESEARCH. If you buy in a big-box store, you will hate yourself for it afterward. Honestly, it's way better to get a good, expensive stroller used, than to get a bad, cheap stroller new. If a stroller doesn't do anythign fancy (such as jog or reverse seat), then I recommend getting something under 20 pounds, preferably that folds easily. My top three picks, especially for my city friends, are: the Micralite Fastfold (or the Toro if you can afford it); the Baby Jogger City Mini; or the Bugaboo Bee. I have the Micralite FF, which, 1.5 years in, still amazes me with what it can do, and how well it does it, and how rugged it is, especially at 15 pounds even. Apparently the 2010 models have cleared up most of its few drawbacks. Basically, it's small, thin, and has air-filled big back tires. The Mini is 16 pounds and also pretty rugged, but with better sun coverage and bigger basket, but without the big back tires. Finally, the Bee is a little bigger (I want to say 18 or 20 pounds) and less rugged (and more expensive), but the seat reverses, which I loved from my Stokke. I believe the first generation of the Bee had some folding issues, so be aware of that, especially if you live in a city.
Alternatively, if you don't live in a city (or have cobblestones or other ruggedness requirements), there are many travel strollers that would be fine. There's much info out there about travel strollers, so I won't bother you about it.
If you buy big-box, your stroller will: (a) be heavy (24 lbs or bigger); (b) not drive very well, which doesn't seem like a big deal until you actually try it; (c) not do anyting special like reverse-seat (though this is beginning to change); (d) be bulky and have problems like not fitting in your trunk. The only reason people used to buy these (I think) is that you could put a car seat in them. The big news is twofold: most modern good strollers allow for car seats too and studies show that kids shouldn't spend that much time in a car seat. I had a car seat adapter for my Stokke but I rarely used it. I certainly wouldn't give up the things a good stroller does well in exchange for it.
Addendum: Why not a Bugaboo Cam or Frog or Gecko? Default, this is what the city ladies with money want, though I don't know why. They are a bit pretty, but because they're so common, it's like you don't even see them anymore. These are heavy, bulky, and fold in TWO PIECES, which gets to be a real drag. So what they do is drive around the neighborhood and not much else. I do like the reverse seat and the air tires, so if you have enough $ for a Bugaboo as well as a functional stroller, go and God bless. Though, personally, I shy from something so common. If I were going to go that direction, I'd get a Stokke (which I did), or a Teutonia or even a Vista, which allows for a toddler seat if you end up with two. Or any number of other fancy, fun, big bulky strollers. But, buy used. We got our Stokke complete with bassinet and car seat adapter for $650 dollars, which sounds spendy, until you figure that, new, it would have cost $1400. Two years later, the going rate on craigslist for this exact stroller is around $600. So we will have spent $50 on it. Big box strollers cost about $200 to $250 new, and run about $10 at garage sales or $50 on CL. So, my used Stokke will have cost less than a new Graco.
Finally, there are a number of other strollers that can be had more cheaply because they are less well-known. If you want a fancy stroller for practically nothing, be on the look-out for used prams, such as Emmeljunga or Bertini. For about $100, you'll get all the cool things of a Bugaboo without the expense. For more city-friendly strollers, consider anything made by Joovy, the Valco Buggster or Ion, the Mutsy Spider, etc. If you're broke, a lot of research can yield a great stroller at a low price.
BASSINET YAY, CRIB NAY: We got a bassinet with our stroller, and I attribute at least some of our success with sleeping independently to it. It created a nice enclosed cozy space for our son, and when we were transitioning to a bed, we simply put the bassinet on top of the bed for a month or two. That way, L got accustomed to being in the bed while still in a cozier situation.
Alternatively, we did not use a crib. Frankly, chances are that you won't use a crib anyway. Some ridiculous percentage of kids end up just sleeping with their parents. It's the dirty secret for most parents. We went the Montessori route, which encourages having your kid sleep on the floor. There are nice wood beds for the floor, but I saw no reason to buy something so expensive that wouldn't last long, that didn't really add anything. We fully child-proofed L's room, laid down foam matting to cushion any falls and put the bed next to the foam matting, to lessen the distance between top of bed and floor. The bassinet prevented any falling for the first important few months, and then there was a short period when he'd roll over and fall, though it didn't hurt him, and then.... wait for it...
He figured out how to get out of bed and then started getting up before us and playing with his toys and books by himself for a good half hour or so before indicating he was hungry. It was a blessing to have that extra little time.
The thing I'd have done differently: I wouldn't have bothered getting a crib-sized mattress. Because he's on the floor, it makes absolutely no difference, and it would have been fine to go right to a twin-size.
BUY FEW NICE TOYS: The kids I've seen who are most focused and best behaved are those that don't have a million toys. They usually have a few out, and they get changed up every so often, with most toys being given away or permanently stored after a few cycles of coming in and out of storage. This both limits the amount spent on toys, and also seems to encourage focus.
I'm pretty happy that we decided to go the mostly natural toy route. L has a couple of plastic toys, but the majority are simple and nice. I don't know if this will contribute to anything, but it has made the play areas attractive and relatively free of ugly sounds.
Also, L didn't like toys, per se, until relatively late in the game. For the first year, he liked books, and adult things, e.g., measuring cups, keys, anything he could easily grasp. He also like pictures with big simple designs in deep colors.
CLOTH DIAPERS: Great idea, especially if you don't have a lot of money. If you try it and have troubles getting through the night, consider using disposables overnight.
YOU WILL NOT BE PERFECT: This is the most common advice given to new parents. If you think you're going to show up your awful parents, you will be in for a sore disappointment. And that first year will be very hard, basically until you figure out that you will do as well as you can do, but you will not be perfect. The mantra for us was, do what you can, don't make yourself crazy.
SLEEPING: See the Stuff section. It was important to me to sleep by myself. You start letting your kid in bed, even if only intending to do so for a short time? Good luck breaking that habit.
EATING: Don't die by the rules, and don't give the kid sugar. As to the first point: L doesn't like baby food. He never did. So he didn't eat real food until much later than most kids. We were of course worried about that, until he started eating regular food with no trouble. While I was trying to force baby food, I wish I had had the presence of mind to not sweat it. See also: YOU WILL NOT BE PERFECT.
Also, sugar. Kids don't know from sugar until someone gives it to them. It shocks me how many parents give their kids sugar. THere's absolutely no reason to. L still doesn't really eat sugar. He doesn't ask for it, because he doesn't know it. It seems really quite simple to me. And the cliche is what it is for a reason. Sugar really does change your kid entirely. L becomes completely insane, unfocused, tornado-like, really.
Finally, if you don't have one, get a slow cooker. These days, I'm very much all about throwing five ingredients in the slow cooker, turning it on, and coming home to a healthy, tasty meal with only one pot to clean ... and leftovers to freeze so that there's always something for lunch or dinner. Before your kid eats food, this will guarantee that you have time to eat, which is massively important. After your kid starts eating, this will guarantee fewer boxes of mac'n'cheese, and more likely eating of vegetables.
Addendum: consider going at least partly organic. Read some articles on what the most critical things are. Turns out milk is a major issue.
BE THE PERSON YOU WANT YOUR KID TO BE: This is the hardest to follow but maybe the most important. We now watch TV primarily after L goes to sleep. I'm trying and mostly failing to start practicing music. I read more now, because we occasionally read together. I'm trying and mostly failing to keep the house in order. Again, keeping in mind that YOU WILL NOT BE PERFECT, it's worth trying to do this.
TV: Just keep it off, unless you have an extenuating circumstance. Like sleeping, it's a slippery slope. A little bit of TV every day can easily lead to a lot all the time. Read that article in the Times this week about how much media kids consume these days (and the negative impact). Keep in mind that Baby Einstein's parent company is Disney; they have a vested interest in keeping your kid hooked on media; and they are offering refunds to people who bought their product, because there has been NO EVIDENCE that they actually have educational value. As with sugar, your kid won't know he's missing anything.
DISCIPLINE: Personally, our first year, there was no discipline per se. OK, there was probably a little. But not much. Emphatic speech is enough to freak your kid out, so that's really all that's required. Obviously we did things that he didn't like, if he needed it. But there's a limit. Babies just don't have a sense of consequence. If you're dealing with colic, consider getting a pouch or sling. This helps a lot of babies.
Since then, I've probably been a more disciplining parent than most. A lot of my friends are from the attachment parenting school, which, in my opinion, has serious drawbacks, though some of the ideas are sound. You do what works for you, is my feeling, keeping in mind that habits are hard to break.
Now, I definitely rely on crying it out a bit these days. I've come to believe that there are times that people and also kids erally just need to express their emotions. Consoling is actually counter-productive, because it's the expression, or crying, that is required. When we're out at a restaurant or shopping or whatever, if L gets in this mood, we go outside or away from the action, and I just let him do what he needs to do. It really helped to envision it as expressing himself. It seemed less personal that way. By being unresponsive to it, he gets the message that crying or whining is not the way to get my attention. I am quite behaviorist about this; if you respond to every whine, your kid will whine whine whine. It's logical.
(On the few occasions where he's cried longer than 20 minutes, I usually check on him every 20 minutes. I don't want him to feel abandoned, I just want him to get the message that crying does not make people want to be around him.)
I also give L a choice. When doing an activity during which there are many possible ways to act out (such as walking down the street), I tell him that he can either walk down the street or we can go home. That is, he can have independence, or he can give up independence.
WHAT ABOUT ATTACHMENT PARENTING?: Works for some. As with all things, I took what I liked, dispensed with other things, and modified some things. I'm not super touchy-feely, so the idea of sleeping with L, or not letting him cry, just didn't work for me. But carriers have been insanely useful. Natural childbirth made a lot of sense to me, as did nursing, but in each case, I did what made sense rather than sticking to the party line. (I couldn't get a midwife, so I just had a natural childbirth with an OB. I nursed for seven months, and when it got to be too much, I stopped.) If you follow the party line, expect to have a hard time breaking the habits. Kids don't really develop strong habits in their first year, but they do after that. So if you nurse past the first year, it will be harder to break the habit. If your kid starts sleeping with you, he will insist on it.
That said, one thing that's difficult for many but worth sticking to, at least for six months, is nursing. I know it seems obvious, but most American women give up after not that long. It doesn't help that electric nursing pumps are really not as easy to use as you would hope. I had a terrible time with it. It took me hours to pump enough for L. But now he has the immune system of a .. well, i was going to say rockstar, but that's not what I mean. He never gets sick. He's super strong and healthy.
Education and Development
DON'T FREAK OUT: Kids learn at different speeds. It's a marathon, not a sprint.
GET A NANNY WHO SPEAKS A DIFFERENT LANGUAGE: If you're going to get a nanny, might as well have that person do double duty. Your kid will learn English more slowly, but will have two languages easily, and will always have an increased ability to pick up language. We actually found a nanny who was much less expensive than the going rate, by advertising in the local Chinese newspaper. There are nannies out there who don't have the kind of accreditation of fancy nannies, but who have plenty of experience. We went with our gut about that, and we ended up being very lucky. As with strollers, going outside normal channels can yield excellent results at reduced prices. (If you don't have the $ for a nanny, I've heard that getting music recorded in other languages and playing it while your kid is going to sleep can increase your kid's ability to hear and pronounce sounds from other languages.)
TOYS: See the STUFF section.
LANGUAGE AND MUSIC: Talk. All the time. Sing. Almost as much. Even if you cannot carry a tune. My husband has a tin ear, but L loves it when he sings. It's been great for both of them. If you feel awkward singing, consider taking a Music Together class. But mostly, talk talk talk. It feels strange at first, that whole one-sided conversation thing. It will get easier, the more you do it. This was the big reason I got a reversible seat stroller. If your kid doesn't spend a lot of time in the stroller, it won't make a difference, but if she does (like, if you live in a city), it may. Depends on your lifestyle. (A carrier allows the same thing.)
BOOKS: Peter Linnenthal and Tanya Hoban have a series of black and white books that L loved. Highly recommended. L's favorites, starting at like four weeks. I don't know if that's the reason, but to this day, L's favorite toys are actually books.
PHYSICAL DEVELOPMENT: We found a pediatrician who was wonderful by asking for the oldest doc at the practice. He's much calmer about things that younger people we tried were. That said, if you want to engage ever neurotic emotion you have, younger is better. :)
This helped us immensely, because L is small. Instead of getting a neurotic doctor who'd make us jump through hoops, our doc just told us that, so long as he's getting a varied diet and doesn't seem uncomfortable, that he's probably fine.
To generalize: don't worry about your kid's weight or height unless your doctor does. Same with development.
And, DON'T FREAK OUT.
DISCUSS EXPECTATIONS: If you haven't already, discuss your expectations now, while you're still modestly rational. Make a plan for the first two months especially. From what I've observed, most of the problems between husbands and wives, after kids, come down to two things: tiredness and:
He compares his contribution to those of his father and male friends. She compares his contribution to what she does.
Ask yourself: what do you expect from your partner and yourself? Is this reasonable? Will each of you have (a) time to shower and eat; (b) sleep; and (c) clean clothes now and then? How, exactly?
SEX: Don't expect it for a while. Some small set of people restart with no problem after the 6 week moratorium, but childbirth and the subsequent requirements really mess up hormones and prevent desire. Good luck on this one. This is TOUGH.
ORGANIZE: Start out from a place of organization. It'll make it easier on both of you. This is one thing I wish we'd done.
YOU'RE BOTH EXHAUSTED: repeat this to yourself. And again. You'll say terrible things. You'll hurt each other. Try to stay compassionate by knowing that your partner is going through a tough time (that goes for both of you). It's a rewarding journey, but it is NOT EASY.
LET HIM BE A PARENT: Unbelievably, I know a lot of mothers who will not let their husbands be fathers. Any two given people will have different ideas about how to go about being a parent. Nevertheless, the two of you do not need to do everything the same. I know mothers who did not allow their husbands to be alone with their kids for more than four hours at a time. Insane, right? You won't be that way? Trust me, more people fall into that trap than you'd think. Just as you will not be perfect, he will not be perfect either. Choose a few rules that really matter to you and get your partner to agree. Beyond that, allow your partner to be a parent.
YOUR MARRIAGE WILL BE STRONGER AFTER THIS: The big blessing here is that, though you will almost certainly go through a very difficult period with your partner, it's also incredibly rewarding and bonding, at least for some people. Nearly every day, I thank God for the gift of my husband. Before this experience, I felt lucky; now I feel like we're really bound together.
So, I think that's about it. Quite enough, wouldn't you say? I'm glad this period is over, frankly. It's a big crazy ride, and I'm really enjoying him so much more, the older he gets. I feel pretty good about most of our choices, which is a relief. For all of you out there, I wish you the best of luck, complete ease, and happiness. Enjoy it as much as you can, but keep your chin up. The first two years slowly improve, at first imperceptibly, and then quite quickly. It's amazing and overwhelming and impossible and insane. Good luck!