With the world-wide hullabaloo over the new yet-to-be-named Prince of Cambridge, I thought it might be appropriate to offer Catherine and William a few tips about first-time parenting, although some of my observations will apply less to a child born into privilege and massive resources.
My aunt gave me the best advice of all about parenting, and I must say that her grown children are incredibly centered and mentally sound. She told me that the key to successful parenting is to accept, even while the child is still growing in the womb, that it will always be your fault. As soon as you realize that whether you neglect your children or have the capability to give them everything they need, your kids will eventually end up on some therapist’s couch, complaining about their mother.
That being said, I present a cheat sheet for new mothers, royal or those of lesser bloodlines, to get through the first few years with relative sanity.
1. The post-birth obsessive worrying is perfectly NORMAL. From the first time that I drove with my infant daughter in the car and until today, some part of my brain has been specifically set aside to play out all the Worst Case Scenarios from which I must defend my child. I would imagine the small stuff, like cuts and bruises, and then move onto the big stuff, like major life threatening accidents. Choosing a school program, from their first nanny to kindergarten and onward, will keep you awake at night, for at least a month; no one rates as high as care takers than Mommy and Daddy.
Especially living in Jerusalem, where the drivers make Bostonians seem timid on the road, and where terror attacks lurk as a potential daily event, I must shut down my imagination. When my daughter turned 3, on the day of her birthday, she almost got hit by a car in front of our house. In fact, the vehicle swerved and crashed into the flower vendor on the corner to avoid hitting the two of us. On her birthday. That Shabbat I said the “HaGomel” blessing, thanking God and the Universe for the prevention of what is every parent’s nightmare.
2. “You will not get sleep for the next 18 years.” Duh! This statement repeated itself over and over during my pregnancy, and look at that, it’s true! Because when the baby is young you wake up every two hours to nurse, and until they sleep through the night, you wake up every time your little boy or girl needs a diaper change or a glass of water or to fix the covers. And once they learn how to sleep well, they decide they like your bed better, and you have much less space than you used to for your legs. Much worse if you also own a cat, who displays typical signs of human sibling jealousy, and decides that if the kid gets the pillow, he gets your legs.
But this statement must be amended…
3. Nothing belongs to you anymore: your material goods, your time or your privacy. Your breasts belong to the baby while they are nursing, and the food you have on your plate must be more tasty than the meal you have given your toddler. Your 24 hour schedule will become perpetually full, and you will not be able to sit on the toilet or take a shower in peace for a long time.
My daughter at the age of 4 plays independently, but my day revolves around her. From the time she wakes up in the morning at the ungodly hour of 5 a.m. until I drop her off in nursery, we are together. From 8:30 to 4:00 I work, and my patients cannot be late, because I must pick her up on time. From the time I pick her up from nursery until she goes to sleep, we fill our evening with meals and play and bath time and the bedtime ritual. Once she falls asleep, we adults try to stay awake, maybe read a book or watch some television or have a grown-up conversation, but many nights I just can’t keep my eyes open.
I don’t remember the concept of my previous life as a single woman with free time; I can’t fathom how I filled the hours. As well, Shabbat is no longer a Day of Rest, but rather a 36 hour period in which my daughter does not have nursery, a day and a half of full time activity and movement, quality time for playing “birthday party” and reading books and riding bikes, but not God forbid napping.
Even your friendships will change, and you will find it most convenient to develop relationships and set up play dates with the mothers of your son’s or daughter’s class. Your social life will shift dramatically, partially because you won’t have the strength to go to a concert that starts at 10 p.m., and partially because it is damn hard to secure consistent babysitting.
4. The best investment you will ever make for yourself as a mother or father is to cultivate a stable of several beloved and local babysitters. And I add to that, go out of the house at least once a week, don’t lose yourself as an adult and as a sane person because this little amazing being demands all your attention. I have a list of about six babysitters I like, two of whom I trust and prefer, and yet here Murphy’s Law thrives i.e. when you truly need someone to watch your child, none of the list will be available. This only stresses the importance of building a social network of friends with children of the same age, because they will happily take another kid into the house if you need it and are stuck. The little ones keep each other busy.
5. Throw away the books that make you feel like an incompetent mother or father because your baby or toddler did not reach a particular milestone when the so-called experts claim it should have already happened. Selectively pay attention to all the well-meaning people who have been around the parenting block, and who will adamantly state that they know better. It is your baby and you know him/her best. Who cares if your neighbor’s son can read at the age of 3? Every child advances on their own schedule, within the normal parameters, and most importantly, they do stuff when they’re ready and not a moment sooner.
Babies emerge from the womb only when they are ready, and the pattern repeats. On Thursday morning I was mistakenly told that I was two weeks overdue, not open at all, and that I would be induced. Labor started that evening and I gave birth at Hadassah Hospital on Friday morning, literally 40 weeks to the day I conceived.
My daughter did commando crawling for quite a while, and we were concerned that she had not initiated walking “on schedule.” Several pediatric orthopedists and physical therapists examined her and told us that she was perfectly capable of walking, she simply didn’t want to. At the age of 20 months she started walking and can run and jump like the rest of her friends. As Israelis say, “It will work itself out before she gets married.”
In anticipation of toilet training I bought all the accessories a little girl could want, as well as stickers and treats for bribery. My child was not interested; diapers represented the known and comfortable option. Then one day she decided to be a “big girl” and it happened, no fuss. I didn’t even talk to her about night time diapers; I let her sleep naked, and within a week she was fully trained, on her own. This strong-willed daughter of mine, I now know her well enough to merely plant the seed of an idea rather than pushing and causing stress around the situation.
As a first time parent, you will learn from experience with love and good intentions getting you most of the way through.
Trust your gut and remember, it’s all your fault.