As an expectant parent, one thing is certain: Relatives, acquaintances and even strangers will assail you with endless stories and advice about child rearing. Trouble is, it's a challenge to know what to believe since no two pregnancies, births or babies are alike. Still, it's all too easy for new parents to fall victim to parenting myths or misconceptions somewhere along the line.
Fortunately, children and parents learn together, and your parenting can change and develop as your child changes and develops. Consider these common parenting myths that'll help put you and your spouse at ease during those early days with baby.
Myth #1: Parenting comes naturally. Your baby arrives home so helpless and dependent—and suddenly, you're not sure if you're up for the job. Then reality sets in. The baby cries when you want him to sleep, and sleeps when you want to show him off. In the meantime, you're exhausted, irritable with your spouse and wondering what it'll take to make your baby happy.
Be encouraged! Adjusting to this whole new way of life can be a challenge for everyone. Keep your expectations in check and remember that your relationship with your baby will deepen. It just takes time and a whole lot of patience.
Myth #2: Your newborn shouldn't cry much after settling in at home. The average newborn cries more than any parent anticipates. Try the old standbys of feeding, diaper changing and swaddling. If your baby continues to fuss, remember that this is not an indication that you're a poor parent!
Even though most infants sleep between 15 and 17 hours a day, it usually happens in fits and starts. The majority of babies sleep for 15-minute to 2-hour stretches before waking up for a feeding. So when you're not accomplishing much on the home front, and you're more drained than you've ever been, remember—this is normal!
Myth #3: Babies should sleep through the night when they're two to three months old. When asked if their infant sleeps through the night, most bleary-eyed parents have the same effusive response: "No!" Babies differ dramatically in terms of when they can sleep all night, and some find this easier than others. Most little ones cry out for comfort or companionship, and don't yet have the ability to fall back asleep on their own.
In the meantime, follow the age-old advice of napping when your baby naps. Resist the urge to use this precious time to catch up on chores. The whole family benefits when Mom and Dad are well rested. While there are differing opinions on how to deal with sleep issues as children grow, one thing is certain: Sleepless nights are a rite of passage most parents experience.
Myth #4: Like it or not, you'll end up parenting like your parents. Simply put, all parents fail. As an adult, we can easily recall a time when our parents let us down, uttered an unkind word or reacted inappropriately. And now that a baby is on the way, along comes the realization that most parenting techniques trickle down from our own moms and dads.
Here's where the work begins, because it does take a conscious effort to break negative childrearing patterns. Are you aware of areas you'd like to be different from your parents? Have you forgiven your parents for ways they fell short while raising you? Do you know any adult mentors you could recruit to be a role model?
As a parent, there will be times when you're not sure what you're doing. But time, practice and experience will help you become the mom or dad you want to be.
Myth #5: Children should come first. Once children enter the picture, spouses are often sidelined. Marriages can take a serious hit when feelings of sadness, anger and jealousy are at the forefront. However, studies show that happy marriages result in happy kids.
Moms and Dads: Invest in each other and don't allow your marriage to flounder. Take the advice of Dr. James Dobson:
"To keep a marriage vibrant and healthy, you simply have to give it some attention. Water the plant, place it in the sunlight, and it will grow. If you put it in a cold dark corner, however, it is likely to die. With a little effort and creativity, you can keep the fireworks in your marriage."James Dobson, Ph.D., Complete Marriage and Family Home Reference Guide, Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, 2000, p. 305-334.
Parenthood definitely changes a marriage—but those changes can be for the better.