One of the best pieces of advice I was given when I talked to people about becoming a parent came from my good friend Heather, who said, “When you get your daughter, give yourself six weeks to settle in.”
She told me, and when she had her first child, someone told her, that when you have a new baby, the first six weeks are the adjustment period. The first six weeks will be rough, and exhausting, and when you are really challenged. The first six weeks are when you and your child are getting to know one another, and getting to know one another’s quirks and behaviours. The first six weeks are when you’ll cry the most.
So, we went into this whole parenting adventure knowing that we should not put any pressure on ourselves for that first six weeks to do anything other than adjust and learn. We knew that the first six weeks would be our big challenge, and we should just roll with things, and that we should cut ourselves some slack.
And she was right.
The first six weeks together were when we were truly sleep deprived. It was a time when we adjusted to life as parents, and our daughter adjusted to life with us as parents. It was when we learned a lot of her cries and cues and habits. It was when our daughter was sick for the first time. It was, because she is such an easygoing kid, not a bad six weeks compared to most new parents’ experience, but still there were a lot of trying times.
So it was excellent advice. But I would add to it, if I were going to pass it on.
I would say that after that first six weeks, there is another six-week period of adjustment. That second six weeks is when you begin to get your life back, in a sense.
The second six weeks, after you have adjusted to the whole “OMG-there’s-a-KID-in-our-house!” thing, is when you begin to feel a bit more like a normal functioning human. The second six weeks are when you start to establish (or TRY to establish) some “normal” again in your life. You begin to figure out how you can shower when you are on your own with a child. You begin to figure out how to stay on top of the laundry. You begin to venture outside your house on your own with your child to do things like buy groceries and run errands. You get into a daily rhythm with your child. It can be frustrating and challenging at times, and there will be some rough patches as you try to figure things out. But it is a little bit different from the challenges and adjustments of that initial six week period.
You begin to feel — REALLY feel — like somebody’s parent.
Because honestly? A lot of that first six weeks, it doesn’t REALLY feel like you are a parent. Oh sure, you KNOW you are, but it does not really FEEL that way. A lot of the time you are just muddling through, trying to figure out this new life that you have chosen for yourself and this small person who is lying there staring up at you. A lot of the time, you feel like you are babysitting. For that first six weeks, you are essentially strangers.
But in the second six weeks, along with the figuring out of routines and getting some normal back in your life, you begin to get to know your child. You begin to find you have special ways of making them smile or laugh, or they begin to show their likes or dislikes, or you begin to see they come to you for comfort or when they are tired. Some people would call it bonding, I guess.
But those are the times it will hit you that you are starting to feel like somebody’s parent. And that this little stranger is becoming less and less of a stranger, and more and more your child.
So, yes, if I were to pass on Heather’s excellent advice, I would say you should give yourselves six weeks when you first are home with your child to adjust. The first six weeks are the roughest. But I would add that there is a second six weeks of adjustment to prepare for. And that the second six weeks are when the magic begins to happen.