A few days ago, my son turned three years old. It's so surreal, to watch a child form before your eyes! If I've learned anything, I hope it can help other parents survive these early years of parenthood.
It’s A Rollercoaster
I cannot emphasize enough how tumultuous the toddler years can feel. Everyone is experiencing growing pains and trying to learn their new roles in the family structure. Consider that pregnancy introduces extreme hormonal shifts from the very beginning - these hormones go even more haywire after birth. Even if both parents have excellent mental health, postpartum sleep deprivation can quickly undermine their stability.
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Your baby might seem happy and content on Monday and cantankerous and grumpy the rest of the week. Or vice versa. There’s honestly no predicting any part of parenting a baby or a toddler! From the moment you learn you’re expecting a baby, control goes out the window. Unexpected things happen so often during pregnancy, labor, delivery, and after birth that we really ought to just...expect them. I don’t say this scare you! Instead, I hope you’ll be more prepared to accept the lack of control and embrace the rollercoaster ride of early parenthood.
Growth Happens In Spurts
Watching a human grow from birth to their third birthday is humbling and awe-inspiring. Babies are born totally helpless; they rely on their parents for everything from basic survival to emotional stability. My favorite experience as a parent has been watching my child discover the world for the very first time! A baby’s perspective is so innocent and open. It’s easy to see how something as simple as a dandelion could inspire absolute awe and wonder when you see it through a toddler’s eyes. And that growth, those lightbulb moments, comes in fits and starts. One day, your baby goes to bed unable to crawl - and the next morning they wake up able to crawl.
Just to remind you, no two babies develop at the same rate. Development is not a race and there is no deadline! My son was a bit late to begin speaking but mastered complex sentences before his third birthday. At the same time, he had incredibly precise fine motor skills while some of his peers were a bit more ham-fisted. Try not to stress about these differences! Easier said than done, I know - but you’ll save yourself so much frustration if you resist the urge to compare. Remember: we all grow up and learn how to sleep through the night somehow!
Everyone Feels Lonely
Early parenthood is lonely and isolating. No matter if you breastfeed, formula feed, cosleep, baby-led wean, or feed a vegan diet; you will inevitably feel the lonesome grind. Here’s the truth: parenting is done in the trenches in these early years. It’s literal years of crappy sleep, hormonal disruption, physical discomfort, smelly diapers, and questionable diet choices (hello chicken nuggets). The hard parts are the roads you have to walk alone - and we all have to walk them alone, even though we may be walking the same path. No one else sits up with you at 3 am for another cluster feeding nursing session. No one else hears the doctor spell out a difficult diagnosis over their baby’s cries. No one else can birth the baby inside of a person but they, themselves, alone.
And even though it feels lonely, early parenthood is mostly a series of shared experiences and rites of passages. The beauty of these first few years is that everyone is going through much of the same; sleepless nights, gross diapers, spit-up, potty training, the first big owie. Sometimes I think the trick to being happy and content with this part of parenthood is refusing to believe that you’re alone. Even when your brain tries to tell you that it’s all on you by yourself, resist. Call a fellow parent. Text your mom. FaceTime your mom friends. We can pull each other out of this early parenthood loneliness.