Advice for new parents

Be flexible and don’t beat yourself up.

I rarely give parenting advice. New parents seem to get more advice than they know what to do with and much of it is contradictory. Experts seem to line up on both sides of every question — and change their minds frequently. There may be no more common pursuit with less agreement on fundamental questions than how to raise a child. However, there is one piece of advice that I consistently give expecting or new parents when they ask: be flexible and don’t beat yourself up.

Before my first son was born, my wife and I had the parenting thing figured out. We had read all of the parenting books (not really, but I swear we gave it a good shot) and had figured out lots of key things about what kind of parents we were going to be — plans for screen time, naps, food, crib training — everything you can imagine.

One of our plans was to immediately crib train our son. We had read that babies sleep better in the crib, that ones a child sleeps in your bed it’s very hard to get them to leave, and that sleeping in the bed can cause some attachment issues. Seemed like an easy choice and we read up on all the different crib training methods.

But, it turns out that the whole parenting thing gets a bit more complicated when there are actual, and not just theoretical, children involved (who knew?). It turned out that my son was not a good sleeper — not by a stretch. He would often wake up crying for one or two hours each night. He often inconsolable and on several occasions I was convinced that someone was going to call Child Protective Services because of all the crying and yelling — and I was ready to hand him over and get some sleep!

Occasionally, we would find that he took very peaceful naps — mostly when one of us fell asleep holding him — a result of sheer exhaustion and lack of sleep. We tried it overnight once and it worked like a charm — he slept the whole night through peacefully and quietly.

We were a bit torn about this — after all we had made a conscious, informed decision not to allow the kids to sleep with us. But as German military strategist Helmuth von Moltke said “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” Your kids may not be the enemy, but they do get a say in the way your family operates.

We ended up really enjoying having our son sleep in our bed — and we had the second one do it as well (he didn’t have to fight his way into the bed, though). And (so far at least) we can’t see any harmful effects of having allowed our kids to sleep in our bed as young babies. Indeed, I have to admit missing having the kids in our bed when they moved to sleeping in their own room.

Parenting is a never-ending series of choices, most of which there is no clearly right answer to and many of which we get wrong on a daily basis. But learning to adapt to the needs and realities of your own children — and not the plan you had in your head for how your children would be — is a critical skill for any parent. And it may even help you get a little bit of sleep!

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