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The Thing No One Tells You About Your First Child

Photograph by Twenty20

We’ve all been there: Out in public at a busy store, trying to tune out the curious looks from other shoppers as your kid is wailing their head off in the middle of the aisle, sprawled on the floor because you said it was time to go. You gather your stuff, quietly abandon your cart and pick up a shrieking octopus, trying to make your way out of the store with as much grace as possible.

Your tiny toddler, the one who just a few moments ago was hugging you sweetly, has now become a hot mess of snot and tears, and as you struggle to buckle them into your car seat, you think to yourself, “How can I possibly be failing more?”

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I was emailing back and forth with a mom of two about advice on handling tantrums and she shared something with me that struck a chord. “Honestly,” she wrote, “the first kid is kind of a learning curve.”

I’ve always heard that parenting gets easier in a sense with the more kids you have, because you’ve already been there. You’ve already experienced teething, tantrums, fevers and sleep regressions. You know a bit more of what to expect in normal child development.

How much more could we enjoy life with our first baby if we simply thought of them as practice?

You remember what your mistakes were with the first and try to do better with the next. You know when to pick your battles and how that grocery store cart is really OK for them to suck on in the grand scheme of things.

With the firstborn, there's so much pressure to be that perfect parent. To worry about why they aren’t walking yet, or if they're saying the right amount of words. We carefully craft homemade baby food—organic, of course—and read up on the best ways to sleep train. I’m 100% guilty of it.

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I wonder though, if more parents went into raising their first child with the expectations of a learning curve, how much less stressed out would we be? How much more could we enjoy life with our first baby if we simply thought of them as practice? The very definition of practice is repeated performance for the purpose of acquiring skill.

The truth is, we don’t have to get it right all the time. In fact, thinking about my daughter as a learning curve may take the pressure off in those times I feel like I’m completely failing. Parenting knowledge is learned over time, regardless of what we think we know when our first baby arrives.

Maybe it’s time we listened.

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