I remember trying to get the real scoop on parenting, good and bad, before I had a baby. "It's hard," new parents would say, and then quickly paper over that tiny admission. "Of course I wouldn't trade it for anything!"
It sounded suspicious to me. Even so, once I had a baby, I followed suit:
Pregnant friends came to visit our newborn. We were ragged with sleep deprivation, scared because our baby wasn't gaining weight, and uncertain of our every move. Our friends smiled at our beautiful baby. "You must be so thrilled!" they said. Umm ...
We smiled and nodded. Maybe we're the only ones struggling like this, I thought. Better not to rain on their parade.
Another time, asked what my day as a stay-at-home mom is like, I just gave the good stuff. "That sounds nice," my friend said. "It is," I said.
I did not say: "Seeing my baby smile, I feel these surges of joy. That's pretty cool. Yesterday, though, my baby had this huge blowout poop just as we were heading out the door. I mean, all over her clothes, on my shirt. So gross. I'd felt trapped in the house all day and had just finally gotten up the energy to get both of us ready to go for a walk, and here I had to start all over? I just sat down and cried. Has this ever happened to you? "
When we open up first, the other person often feels permission to open up, too. I felt such a sense of relief when another mom told me, "I'm struggling with my toddler hitting other kids. I'm not sure I'm handling it well." That started an honest conversation--and we feel closer to each other for it.
This is an important step in creating the support network I talk about in my book, Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. My book covers everything from sleep to feeding to screen time to discipline, but I honestly believe that creating your village is one of the most important tips in the book.
Researcher Brené Brown can tell you what happens when we pretend everything's fine when it's not (often out of shame that we're not handling everything perfectly or that we're the only ones struggling). We deprive ourselves of true friendship. Friendship happens when we feel accepted for who we truly are. That requires us to be real.
Sounds simple, but for many of us it's scary to be vulnerable. It takes resolve.
I decided to try it. At the grocery store, another new mom saw my baby and asked if I was getting any sleep. I could have downplayed it: "Not much, but I guess that's how it goes." Instead I said: "Yeah, right! This sleep deprivation is crazy. My brain isn't functioning. My husband and I actually argued over whether 'Don't cry over spilled milk' refers to the mother or the child." She laughed. We commiserated. We felt less alone. That's no small thing to a bewildered new parent.
The next time another new parent (someone you like; someone who's interested) asks you how it's going, try going beyond "Good, good."
Say something honest.
Tracy Cutchlow is the author of Zero to Five: 70 Essential Parenting Tips Based on Science. Parents magazine called it "the coolest--and easiest--book for new parents." Tracy was the editor of the bestselling brain-development books Brain Rules for Baby and Brain Rules. You'll find her biking around Seattle with her husband and preschooler. You can sign up for Tracy's weekly parenting tips at www.zerotofive.net.