I’m having my first baby in a foreign country where my husband and I don’t know very many people. When I got pregnant, we realized that living far from family and friends meant we’d be on our own for the most part, with lots of supportive Skype calls and care packages from the United States. And, of course, it meant no baby shower.
So I was deeply touched when my mother’s friends – all of them moms themselves – insisted on throwing a shower for me. Southern women are big on tradition, and they didn’t see why I shouldn’t have a baby shower just because I was an ocean away. If I could come home for the shower, then great. If not, they’d throw the party at my mom’s house while I participated via Skype.
Then luckily a business trip brought me back to the States for two weeks and on a Saturday I was in my parents’ living room wearing a sash that read “Mommy To Be” and surrounded by the women I grew up with – my Sunday school teachers, my middle and high school teachers, the moms of the neighborhood kids.
I was pleased so many of them attended, but I was also a little nervous. My history with baby showers is iffy. Almost every one I’ve been to involved stupid and sometimes gross games (ex: Microwave a chocolate bar in a diaper. Pass it around and make the guests guess what kind of bar it was before it looked like a gnarly baby poo.). Or, worse than that, it was filled with moms either one-upping each other with their horrible birth tales – “I was in labor for 37 hours and then had a C-section!” – or telling the expectant mom and her childless friends to, “enjoy it now because once you have a kid, life as you know it is over.” It was a lot to bear without so much as a mimosa for moral support. After each of these showers, I would go home, thank the Lord for birth control pills and pour myself a glass of wine.
If my shower went south, wine sadly wasn’t an option. I smiled and prepared myself for the worst.
After everyone had a plate of food and a mimosa (a good sign!), we sat in a circle and I waited for the games to begin. Instead, everyone chatted about normal things – work, grown children, vacations – and asked normal baby questions. How was I feeling? Were we picking out names? Would the baby have dual citizenship because of her overseas birth?
Then the ladies in charge called for order. Instead of stupid games or horrifying stories, they asked all the moms to share their best parenting advice.
Over the next 45 minutes, I decided that all baby showers should be thrown by mothers with grown children. Their advice didn’t focus on breast milk vs. formula or whether or not to Ferberize. They didn’t talk about finding the right daycare, preschool, summer camp, piano instructor, baseball team. No one brought up picky eaters or the pros and cons of co-sleeping.
No, the years had stripped away all the nonsense, all the things that didn’t count, and left behind the essence of what they believed made for a great parent. These women didn’t remember the small things they probably worried about as young parents. Instead, they recalled the things that truly mattered. These were either the things that, with time and perspective, they knew had made a real difference in their children’s lives — or the things they felt they had gotten sadly, regretfully wrong.
As I listened, I started to cry. Normally I would blame hormones, but it was more than that. Being at the center of all that maternal wisdom, all that distilled love and experience, overwhelmed me. The things they shared with me rang true – either because my own mother had done them and I had felt their impact or because the regret they expressed was so genuine I could feel it like my own.
When it ended, I felt both elated to be joining this club and an incredible responsibility to do the job well. It was the best baby shower gift I could have received.
I’ve related this story a couple times since and all of my younger mom friends have asked, “What advice did they give?” It seems many of us have had our fill of parenting blogs and books with advice about the day-to-day. We are drowning in tactical details and decisions. We want big themes, advice with perspective.
So I’ll share my baby shower gift with you. Here’s a selection of the advice I got from that fabulous group of Southern mommas:
- Let the child march to his own drum.
- Read to them all the time, even when they’re old enough to read to themselves. It’s good for their development and soothes all kinds of woes. And it doesn’t have to be Amelia Bedelia. Read them whatever you’re reading. (This woman listened to her mom read The Grapes of Wrath aloud when she was in elementary school.)
- Let the baby get used to your schedule. She will. Trust me.
- Teach her to value money by giving her a lump sum at the beginning of the school year to cover all expenses. Don’t bail her out if she runs dry in February.
- Don’t worry about keeping your house clean. Houses keep, children don’t.
- Listen. Never be too busy to listen.
- Don’t overschedule them. Kids do best when they have free time to explore. And they will learn to amuse themselves.
- Touch, hugs and “I love you” matter, at every age. Don’t be stingy with any of them. Ever.
- Don’t push them in a specific direction in terms of school or a career. Raise them to be independent and then step back and let them be.
- “Because I said so,” is OK sometimes. Seriously. Parenthood isn’t a democracy.
- Listen to the teacher but don’t always automatically take his side. Make sure you ask your child for her side before you make a ruling.
- You don’t need to be your child’s friend. Be her parent. If you do a good job at that, you’ll raise someone you like as well as love, and the friendship will come later.
- Don’t break her spirit.
- Don’t compare her to others – friends, siblings, cousins, child actors, whoever. Appreciate her for who she is.
- Encourage their gifts, even if you don’t always understand them.