Madeline and Claire (5 weeks)

‘I was a bad mom’? Gimme a break

The process of becoming a parent makes me think of one of those guys in a spy movie who gets an urgent call, within 24 hours is slipped a new passport with his photo but an utterly unfamiliar identity, and walks out the door attempting to seamlessly adopt this new persona. One day you are who you’ve always been. The next day your baby is born and whoa, you’re a parent. Yanked from a comfortable idea of who you are, you scramble to forge a new identity.

Researchers don’t think in such abrupt terms, though. Since the late 1960s, they have talked about “the transition to parenthood.” It’s a period of a year or more in which couples adjust to baby. Studies going back decades have titles like “The effect of expectations on the transition to parenthood” and “Exploring individual differences in marital change across the transition to parenthood.”

I thought of that when New York City’s First Lady, Chirlaine McCray, said out loud that she struggled with her identity as a new parent. She’d been an independent, career-focused woman for so many years. She didn’t want to life to be solely about her new baby. The admission was socially unacceptable enough that one tabloid ran McCray’s picture next to the screaming headline “I WAS A BAD MOM!” That’s not exactly what McCray said.

“It took a long time for me to get into ‘I’m taking care of kids,’ and what that means,” she told New York magazine.

That single line describes pretty much everyone’s transition to parenthood.

It’s not only a process of learning how to keep a baby alive and how to function on too-little sleep. It’s a process of learning to truly work as a team, if you have a partner. It’s a process of learning to give selflessly, over and over, to another person. It’s a process of learning to set aside things that have been so central to being you all these years–your desires, your agendas, your habits, your interests. And then figuring out which pieces of yourself to pick back up. And when. And how, given the new pieces of yourself you’ve gained. That’s what they mean when they say having a baby rearranges your life. These are some of the things Zero to Five can help new parents with.

How long did you think it would take to adjust to life with a baby? A few weeks? A few months?

Let’s give ourselves a year–at least.

Copyright Betty Udesen / Pear Press
Written by

Tracy Cutchlow

Tracy is the author of the international bestseller Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science, a public speaker, and a creator of places to speak and be heard. Sign up for her newsletter here.

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