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Just because you have a baby doesn't mean you feel like a mom right away

It took me nine months to become a mother, and years to take on the label.

mother rocking baby

As I continue to grow into myself as a mother, I'm learning that everyone's going to have opinions. It sometimes feels like toting a kid around is like wearing a sign that says, "Criticize me," because people know you're vulnerable.

Maybe they've made their own parenting mistakes and have regrets. Maybe they're full of shame for the way they raised their own children. Maybe they're just having a bad day and your kid just knocked them over.

It took me nine months to become a mother, and years to take on the label. Unlike other things in life where you could study or do an apprenticeship beforehand, there's nothing that can give you the experience of someone handing you a crying bundle, knowing that now this child is your responsibility forever.

Early in the game, I learned the differences between expectations society has for a mother versus expectations society has for a father. Like the many times he has been praised for changing our son's diapers. I, on the other hand, have gotten strange looks, eye rolls and lots of unsolicited "advice" on how I should raise my children. (And, for the record, no diaper changing praise.)

It has taken years to be able to hear the words of advice thrown at me without letting them pull me down into the abyss of "I'm a bad mother" thoughts. Because, you never know if the decisions you're making on a daily basis—even the benign ones—are going to screw your kids up one day. How can you listen to other mothers whose children are now adults and not let it affect your choices when you're new at parenthood and everything from choosing a bottle to a bib can be overwhelming?

No mother wants to live with the guilt of a bad decision. And every mother will have a story about the night they let their baby cry it out or how they lost their temper. But no one has the magic ball that will reveal the "right" answer and even when we know what to do, there is plenty of outer and inner pressures to reconcile with. That's why everyone has an opinion—because they don't want you to have to go through the guilt of what they're still living with.

I used to be the mother who couldn't sleep out of fear that I was making the wrong decision. The one who stayed up reading every new parenting book and magazine article I could find. The one who would stare at my kids wondering which one I screwed up the most.

But I've had time (and sleep!) to think things over.

And here's what I want to say to myself back then.

Your voice is what matters.

You're doing the best you can.

You love your kids.

You're going to make mistakes. That's okay.

You can forgive yourself.

You can try again tomorrow.

It might not sound like much, but it took years of learning to choose compassion and forgiveness for myself when I knew I messed up.

My sons have been out of the breastfeeding and cloth-diapering phase for a long while now. They're both in school. There are still lots of big decisions to make for them like public or private schools, how much screentime they should get and other issues with gray areas, but I like to think I survived most of the peer pressure and was able to wait until I knew what was right.

Because eventually all the voices got real soft, and all I could hear was my own.

You did it. They're okay. And you're okay, too.

After 4 kids, this is still the best baby gear item I’ve ever purchased

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work.

I have four kids 8 and under, so you might expect that my house is teeming with baby gear and kid toys.

But it turns out that for me, the more kids I have, the more I simplify our stuff. At this point, I'm down to the absolute essentials, the gear that I can't live without and the toys my kids actually play with. And so when a mama-to-be asks me what things are worth registering for, there are only a few must-haves on my list.

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer seat is on the top of my list—totally worth it and an absolute must-have for any new mama.

In fact, since I first splurged on my first BABYBJÖRN bouncer eight years ago (it definitely felt like a splurge at the time, but the five star reviews were really compelling), the bouncer seat has become the most-used product in our house for baby's first year.

We've actually invested in a second one so that we didn't have to keep moving ours from the bedroom to the living room when we change locations.

BABYBJÖRN bouncer bliss

baby bjorn bouncer

The utility of the seat might seem counterintuitive—it has no mechanical parts, so your baby is instead gently bounced by her own movements. In a world where many baby products are touted for their ability to mechanically rock baby to sleep, I get that many moms might not find the "no-motion" bouncer that compelling. But it turns out that the seat is quite reactive to baby's little kicks, and it has helped my kids to learn how to self-soothe.

$200

Lightweight + compact:

The BABYBJÖRN bouncer is super lightweight, and it also folds flat in a second. Because of those features, we've frequently stored it under the couch, in a suitcase or in the back of the car. It folds completely flat, which I love.

Entertainment zone:

Is the toy bar worth it? The toy bar is totally worth it. Not only is the toy bar adorable, but it's one of the first toys that my babies actually play with once they discover the world beyond my boobs. The toys spin and are close to eye level so they have frequently kept my baby entertained while I cook or take a quick shower.

Great style:

This is not a small detail to me–the BABYBJÖRN bouncer is seriously stylish. I am done with baby gear and toys that make my house look like a theme park. The elegant European design honestly just looks good in my living room and I appreciate that parents can enjoy it as much as baby.

It's adjustable:

With three height settings that let you prop baby up to be entertained, or lay back to rest, we get years of use. And the bouncer can actually be adjusted for bigger kids and used from newborn to toddler age. It's that good.

It just works:

I wouldn't be swooning over the BABYBJÖRN bouncer after eight years and four kids if it didn't work. But I have used the seat as a safe space to put baby while I've worked (I once rocked my baby in it with my foot while I reported on a breaking news story for the Washington Post), and as a cozy spot for my second child to lay while his big brother played nearby. It's held up for almost a decade with almost-constant use.

So for me, looking back on what I thought was a splurge eight years ago, was actually one of the best investments in baby gear I ever made.

We independently select and share the products we love—and may receive a commission if you choose to buy. You've got this.

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This is my one trick to get baby to sleep (and it always works!)

There's a reason why every mom tells you to buy a sound machine.

So in my defense, I grew up in Florida. As a child of the sunshine state, I knew I had to check for gators before sitting on the toilet, that cockroaches didn't just scurry, they actually flew, and at that point, the most popular and only sound machine I had ever heard of was the Miami Sound Machine.

I was raised on the notion that the rhythm was going to get me, not lull me into a peaceful slumber. Who knew?!

Well evidently science and, probably, Gloria Estefan knew, but I digress.

When my son was born, I just assumed the kid would know how to sleep. When I'm tired that's what I do, so why wouldn't this smaller more easily exhausted version of me not work the same way? Well, the simple and cinematic answer is, he is not in Kansas anymore.

Being in utero is like being in a warm, soothing and squishy spa. It's cozy, it's secure, it comes with its own soundtrack. Then one day the spa is gone. The space is bigger, brighter and the constant stream of music has come to an abrupt end. Your baby just needs a little time to acclimate and a little assist from continuous sound support.

My son, like most babies, was a restless and active sleeper. It didn't take much to jolt him from a sound sleep to crying like a banshee. I once microwaved a piece of pizza, and you would have thought I let 50 Rockettes into his room to perform a kick line.

I was literally walking on eggshells, tiptoeing around the house, watching the television with the closed caption on.

Like adults, babies have an internal clock. Unlike adults, babies haven't harnessed the ability to hit the snooze button on that internal clock. Lucky for babies they have a great Mama to hit the snooze button for them.

Enter the beloved by all—sound machines.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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