Parenting Perspective: Help from Friends

October 22, 2009 6:21:36 AM PDT
For my 30th birthday I got a tattoo - a Chinese symbol that means, basically, "to persevere gracefully." Leading up to the big day, I asked a few friends how bad the pain would be. My college pal, June, who went with me to the parlor, described the sting as minimal. The minute the gun hit my skin, I knew she had lied to me. I thought someone was writing on my back in fire. "Tam, I knew you really wanted this," she said apologetically, as I looked up in accusatory shock. "The truth wouldn't have been helpful."

The first weeks of motherhood have reminded me of that conversation. Before now, when I asked people about life with an infant, they would seem to shrug off the difficulty. "It's hard," they'd say, "but soooo worth it. It's the best thing you will ever do."

But, when I came home with my son... well, then I got the real deal. "How ya holding up," folks now ask, eyebrows cocked and tone wry. My favorite was my friend Adam in responding to my email announcing our new arrival. "Mazel tov," he wrote. "Welcome to the asymmetrical warfare of parenthood."

I knew I would be exhausted. I did not anticipate the regular dose of anxiety, fear and confusion. Who knew how many layers to put on a baby could seem as taxing as the answer to world peace? But the biggest surprise has been the feeling of isolation: Days turn into echoes of each other, as you spend yet another afternoon on your couch. You notice just how quiet the neighborhood is midday and vaguely recall stimulating adult conversation.

I've found two things helpful. One is to remind myself just how quickly these days will pass and that I will miss them. To do that I think of friends' kids - it seems they were born just yesterday, but somehow they are already toddlers running around, if not independent little people on their way to school.

The other is I have finally joined a mother's group. Before now, I thought of maternity leave as a solo act - my time to step outside of the world and focus on bonding with my son. But now I know how important it is to have a regular meeting of the moms. It's both a place to air out my worries and questions, as well as a time to laugh and talk about things that have nothing to do with infants.

The picture with this blog is my little guy in his Peanut Shell sling, a contraption that makes it easier for me to take him on a regular evening stroll. I went to a class to learn how to wear it. The instruction and demonstration were helpful. But what stayed with me the most was something the teacher said about motherhood itself: "Don't believe the hype. We're not meant to do this alone." True that...


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