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Photo: Brittany L. Bergman

The first year of parenting is a doozy—a whirlwind of responding to shrill cries, changing dirty diapers, researching baby sleep, swaddling and unswaddling and reswaddling. At times, I swear I could feel myself unraveling, my nerves fraying and snagging with each passing day. I remember so many sweet moments too—the snuggles, the endless kisses, the joy at each new milestone, the first time I felt like I could breathe and knew that I would survive this motherhood thing.

The trial by fire in the first year of parenting is a rite of passage in many ways. There’s no number of parenting books we could read, blogs we could follow, or advice we could hoard that would replace the learning that happens on the job. It’s unavoidable.

I did the best I could in that tender time, and even so, much of the first year of my daughter’s life was marked by conflicting feelings: fear and freedom. As I enter into the second year of her life, my second year of motherhood, I want to lean in to this tension and do what I can to recognize and release the fear, while dialing up the freedom.

To this end, these are six things I’m resolving to toss out with last year’s junk, and six things I’ll be doing instead as I seek freedom, joy, and a little more sanity.

1. I won’t second-guess every decision.

I spent so much of last year doing frantic, panicky research about sleeping, eating, playing, reaching milestones. There is no shortage of voices on the Internet, and I found myself overwhelmed and paralyzed when it came time to actually weigh the options and make a decision. It seemed like every decision was permanent, a matter of life and death, directly impacting my baby’s well-being for the rest of her life. Naturally, I second-guessed everything—mostly out of love for her, but also out of fear that I would make the “wrong” choice and mess her up forever.

What I’ll do instead: Pick a strategy/option/method/sippy-cup that seems like it could work, give it a try for a few days, see how it goes, and then move on to #2.

2. I won’t feel guilty for changing my mind.

I got this idea stuck in my head that once I decided what kind of mother I’d be—breastfeeding or formula feeding, baby-lead weaning or puree-making or pouch-purchasing, cosleeping or sleep training, working or staying at home—I had to stick to it for the rest of time. But as it turns out, these choices don’t define who I am as a mother, and changing my mind doesn’t mean I’ve failed. It means I tried something that didn’t feel right to me or didn’t work for my child.

What I’ll do instead: Exercise the freedom to reassess what’s working and what’s not, and then try something else to see if it works better for us—free of self-shame.

3. I won’t beat myself up over my weaknesses.

I’ve been a mother for just over a year now—doesn’t it make sense that my mothering would be riddled with weak spots as I learn this new role? Doesn’t it also make sense that my mothering should reflect who I already am—who I was before I became Mommy—rather than forcing myself to become what I think mothers should be? I would never berate my one-year-old for not knowing how to spell her name, tie her shoes, balance a budget, or keep a house clean. These are all skills that are not age-appropriate for her. So why should I beat myself up over weaknesses and imperfections when I’m just a one-year-old myself? I need to focus on growth, of course, but I also need to focus on grace and using my strengths, just as I would with any new endeavor.

What I’ll do instead: Play to my strengths (reading books with my daughter, writing down the funny things she does, snapping pictures, snuggling). Take the long view and remind myself that I’m supposed to keep learning as I go.

4. I won’t jump to conclusions.

I can’t even tell you how many times my daughter has taken a bad nap, not eaten quite enough at a meal, or woken up clingy and crabby, and I’ve jumped to the conclusion that it’s all over. She’ll never nap well again, she won’t grow enough by her next doctor’s appointment, she’ll never leave me alone and never let me set her down. (Okay, that last one might be true.) Underneath it all, what I really fear is that the difficult moments will become permanent and that I’ll lose myself forever in the vortex. But I can’t remember a single time that a phase didn’t end, even the phases that lasted for months. Some things got better and some got harder, but just the change of pace and rhythm of a new season was enough to help me keep going.

What I’ll do instead: Remember that everything is a phase, and repeat to myself, “This won’t last forever. It can’t last forever.” Wait a day or a week and see if it resolves before jumping into problem-solving mode.

5. I won’t live for naptime.

I work full time, and I’m embarrassed to admit that on the weekends, I often find myself counting the minutes until nap time, when I can finally do something for myself. My heart drops when I hear my daughter over the baby monitor, stirring awake, cutting off my self-care time. Let me be clear: it’s okay to love nap time. My husband works weekends, and sometimes those precious hours really are my only time off in the week. But I don’t want to miss the moments I do have with my daughter by looking right past them to what I deem “better.” I need to find a way to make my time with her feel restorative, even though it is tiring.

What I’ll do instead: Keep on loving nap time, while also finding things Selah and I can enjoy together while she’s awake. Explore how to model self-care even when she’s awake, becayse she deserves to see her mom doing that.

6. I won’t try to go it alone.

I shamelessly asked for and accepted help while I was on maternity leave, but once I went back to work, I felt like I had to become supermom overnight. I’d used up my share of help, and now it was back to the real world, where it was up to my husband and me to keep the plates spinning in our own little world. But we weren’t made to do this parenting thing in isolation, and though we’re lucky to have very helpful and loving family members nearby, we didn’t ask for what we needed to thrive as parents and as husband and wife.

What I’ll do instead: Ask for help that doesn’t just make things easier in my motherhood, but ask for help that allows me to grow personally and strengthen my marriage. Build local friendships, creating my “village” a little bit at a time.

Every fiber of my perfectionist being wants to do this list of things perfectly, which is so not the point. I know I’ll mess up and forget the promises I made to myself; I’ll get sucked into Google over the weird habit my daughter picked up, just for it to disappear the next day. This parenting thing is a long journey of making mistakes, resolving to do better, making more mistakes, and moving forward. The more I can resolve to find the joy in the journey, the better off my family will be.

And when I can’t find the joy—because in some seasons it really does feel impossible—I’ll rest assured knowing that the most reliable thing about kids is that they’re always changing and growing.

And we can change and grow right along with them.

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