Last week, I met a very upset little baby. Mom was trying everything. That poor little baby just couldn't handle life that afternoon. Nursing didn't work. Bouncing didn't work. Pacifier. Nursing again. Lying down. More bouncing. All the things. Mom needed connection, but she waved off my offer to help a few times, anyway. Finally, though, I walked over and held out my arms. Mom gave in. And I shushed, bounced, walked a little, offered the pacifier, and soon, baby finally surrendered, too.
As a brand new parent, one of the hardest things to learn is that sometimes, your arms are not the answer.
Even this tiny little baby knew that Mom was supposed to be the solution to all the problems. So when Mom couldn't solve the problem, the poor baby just demanded more from Mom. Mom couldn't solve any more than before. Baby didn't know that and kept demanding. And so on.
Enter the interruption. The stranger. That day, me.
The baby recognized me as NOT the parent. Someone this baby had never learned to communicate with before. Being already exhausted and cried out, instead of attempting to start communicating with me from scratch, baby just did what was needed all along and decided to relax into sleep.
But as a brand new parent, this process can make you feel like a failure. Your job is to know your baby best, including how to calm them, quiet them, console them. You may not yet realize that kids of all ages are THE WORST for the people with whom they feel safest. Because they they know that you have to love them no matter what.
They don't know that about me.
Of course, I will love your baby when I spend time with your family. You know that your baby will be safe in my arms. You wouldn't hand your baby to someone you didn't trust. I know this. You know this. But your baby, well... doesn't. So even when they are so little and new, they sense how I'm different from family. So they don't know what to do. What to say. They shift gears. They may still look for you awhile. But then, they settle in to see what happens.
I want you to know that this is because of how AMAZING you are as a parent. NOT because of any failure or flaw.
Look, the baby phase is HARD. Parenting can feel BRUTAL and UNRELENTING sometimes. And people expect a lot of themselves as parents. Because we've been conditioned to feel like we have to have it all together, under control, be in charge and independent and self-reliant in all things. All. The. Time. Especially if we have had a demanding professional life. Especially if "type A" behaviors have traditionally impacted our past behaviors. Especially now that the one main thing this tiny, demanding human requires from us now is surrender, and we are WAY out of practice at surrender. So we read all the books. We scour the Internet. We kick ourselves when we're down. We're overtired and confused and feel like the biggest disappointment in the history of humanity when our babies behave like, well, like brand new human infants.
It's exhausting. It's too much. Too much for one person. Too much even for two incredible parents. Because we've put it all on ourselves alone.
Never is it more clear to me that this is the exact opposite of how we are designed than when I see new parents struggle to release their grip and rest in someone else's sincere offer to help.
You are not failing as a parent if your baby falls asleep in someone else's arms and not your own. You are stepping into a new role that requires community, dependence, vulnerability and yes, surrender. Babies are human, just like you and me. And as a human, none of us have all the answers on our own. But when we can find a way to connect and work together, we can learn, grow and allow ourselves some space to rest in the comfort of genuine community.
As you walk this path of parenthood, you will learn to embrace the worst your children can give. Because they will give it to you. And you alone. The real trick is to balance this embrace of the worst with the very real need to take breaks to breathe and rest. Because no one can be in the worst of the worst 24/7 without serious consequences to their sanity and well-being. So look for the helpers. The ones who mean it when they offer, "anything you need." Ask. Take a deep breath, and just ask. Take them up on their offers. Even if it makes you feel uncomfortable or a little bit like a failure in the moment (you're not) for needing the help, a little bit vulnerable to even just make the request, it's okay. It's perfectly normal to feel that way. Just make sure to do it anyway.
As for the mom who let me hold her baby, because she's a veteran in the trenches, I assume that she's already learned this much. But in case she's still in a place of vulnerability, guilt or uncertainty, still learning to practice surrender, I want her to know how strong she is and how awesome a job she's doing.
I'm always happy to help bring any amount of rest possible. I know how rare it can be.