I get asked often as a perinatal therapist how parents are supposed to know “what to do” when they have a baby. My answer is always the same – you don’t have to know. You aren’t supposed to know. This the job of the first days/weeks/even years of parenting – to get to know your child and what they need. I would argue, this might be the whole job of parenting for your child’s whole life!
So, our first goal as a parent is to ease up on ourselves, to allow that we don’t know what to do, and that we are just figuring it out. The first days after baby is born, your whole job is to tune in to them – and to yourself – and see what you are trying to tell each other. Be curious about a cry or whimper. Be curious about your own thoughts and feelings. What do they mean? What are they asking for? Is there something you can do for them? For you?
In early newborn days, this means holding and looking at our child. It means talking with them even though they can’t understand, in a voice that expresses love and acceptance. It means responding to their cries or needs by trying different things – are they hungry? tired? need to be changed? or just want to be cuddled? We can tune out the outer (or inner) pressure to know what we’re doing or to compare ourselves to others, and just be with them.
If we start with this impulse, to tune in, and to allow for the unknown and view it with curiosity rather than judgment, we are well-prepared for everything that comes afterward. When our child can run, can walk, can throw a tantrum, can have an argument with us, we will be able to see it through this lens of wanting to hear what is being shared with us, and wanting to tune in to our responses. What a beautiful place to start.
Jessie Everts, PhD LMFT PMH-C