Becoming a parent is life-changing. Pippa Henderson takes a look at some of the changes you’ll face, and demonstrates that a new baby doesn’t mean the end of your story so far, just a twist in the plot.
You’ll love like you never thought possible
Even if you’ve never been starry-eyed in love with your partner, there’s hope for your starry-eyed moment yet. Even the least gushy amongst us find that their hearts turn to goo when they hold their very own baby in their arms. For most the floodgates open instantaneously, while for others the feelings can take a while to develop. Either way the strength in the parent-baby bond is profound. Some expecting parents wonder how they’re going to find room to love a new being when their hearts are already full, but it’s incredible how your capacity just grows, and your love drives you to make all sorts of sacrifices for the baby's tiny comforts. I’ve heard parents suggest it’s as if their heart is now external, ie., personified by their new little being. This description goes a long way towards explaining the vulnerability of new parents, and why they find it so hard to hand over their babies for cuddles with others. It’s risky to love so hard, but it’s worth it.
Home is where the heart is
For some couples their pre-baby home functions mostly as a pit stop between work and social engagements, a place where they only linger on weekends. For others their house is their castle, their opportunity for DIY and self-expression. With the arrival of a newborn, time on home turf naturally increases tenfold, and functionality is suddenly elevated over form. The transparency of the curtains becomes far more important than the colour, and the capacity of the washing machine (and coffee machine) takes priority over considerations like the layout of your lounge or your street-front appeal. But any house-neglect is temporary, and you can be squirreling away ideas of adaptions and renovations of how your home can better serve your family in the future. The great thing is that despite the disruption to aesthetics and the onslaught of housework, most parents find they have a new appreciation for their home. Sure they may suffer from cabin fever from time to time, but generally the convenience and familiarity of home means most new parents develop a new fondness for staying put.
You’ll revisit your values and priorities
Many people judge their values by assessing how they spend their money, but it can be more telling to study how you spend your time. With a new baby you’re time-poor, and out of necessity you’ll find yourself quickly cutting back on extra-curricular activities in your life to focus on your family’s needs. As various recreations and commitments drop out of your calendar you quickly realise which pastimes are really obligations and what ones you’re really passionate about. So whether or not you’ve actually articulated your values before or not, a baby will help it becomes more apparent what it is that really matters to you. As you get to know your new baby, you get to know yourself.
You may be surprised. Pre-babies I’d always valued spontaneity, and I’d never been much of planner or a list maker. When I had my first baby I quickly discovered the satisfaction and freedom that comes with having schedule and routine. Sticking to baby’s nap time became one of my highest priorities, because peace and order seemed to flow from that centrepoint. My husband found it entertaining to watch me transform.
New people, new community
I was amazed how quickly I developed new friendships as a first time mother. It’s so easy to form connections when you’re journeying through the same joys and challenges. My weekly coffee group with local mothers made me realise you don’t need a war to have comrades, or an office to have colleagues. It was great to suddenly add so many locals to my circles, and I loved the tight sense of community that developed around it. The mothers in our group ranged in age from 19 to 46, and came from all walks or life. I was amazed how the commonality of a newborn made many of our differences irrelevant. Most of us are still in touch nine years later, and if it wasn’t for our babies I doubt we would have even met.
Your true support network will become apparent
It really does take a village to raise a child, and this need for support kicks in from the very beginning. These days distance, age and full schedules often rule grandparents and other extended family members out of taking on a significant or regular role in childcare, so sometimes new parents find their support comes from unexpected places. Many new parents find that friends suddenly become like family, or find part of their ‘village’ is actually online, as they source invalable advice and encouragement from websites, forums and social media. As disappointing as it can be to discover some of the support you anticipated wasn’t as concrete as you’d envisaged, try and celebrate your unexpected blessings. When I found myself in a new suburb with baby number two, I got to know a neighbour in a similar stage of life and the spontaneous laughs and childcare we provided each other were absolutely priceless.
Pippa Henderson is sub-editor at OHbaby! and a mother of three. She tries to make a habit of finding happiness amongst chaos.