Beware of Parenthood “Fortune Tellers”

I can’t write too much about the first year of either of my children’s lives. Neither one of them slept more than three hours at a stretch for the entirety of that time, and as a result, my memory formation was impaired. Thank goodness for camera phones! Flipping through my iCloud storage helps me piece together the long, yet fleeting and snuggly sleepwalk bit by bit.

Of the two journeys, my daughter’s sleepless year was undoubtedly the hardest — my body was in shock and my mind was both depleted and fearful that the phase would never end.

Even as a newborn, she barely napped. She was born with her eyes wide open and she stayed that way. When the newborn photographer arrived to snap pictures of her impossibly tiny pea nose and toes, our baby was wide awake.

“No worries, I have lots of tricks to help her sleep,” the photog said.

She turned off the air conditioning and soon the apartment was 80-some degrees.

“The warm air makes them nod off,” she said confidently.

Our baby stared wide-eyed back at her.

The photographer, now sweating probably both from confusion and the intense temperature, tried playing lullabies (as I laughed inside). She tried stroking her hair. Our daughter just peered back, fussing a bit, not posing and certainly not sleeping.

The photographer took a bunch of shots of us holding her, and got a few good ones of her beautiful, temporarily blue, wide-open saucers. At one point, she did doze off for less than a minute. That was it.

“I’ve never seen anything like her,” the photographer sputtered.

I was proud that our little one was so engaged with the world, but I was also deeply tired. Exhausted, I described to a friend how baffling it was that this tiny newborn who is supposed to require 16 hours of sleep a day could seem to function so well on so very little, while I on the other hand felt like an empty and ragged cardboard box.

“That’s just how she is. And that’s how she’ll always be,” the friend, who is also a mother, imparted in a sage, “fortune teller” tone.

My already low spirit sunk through the floorboards. What?! I envisioned myself as a desiccated 44-year-old with an 89-year-old’s insides, waking up at 4 a.m. with my 11-year-old daughter, wringing my hands in the air. It was a cruel reality, but it must be real, I reasoned, because this experienced parent was so sure of it.

“We just got a bad sleeper,” I sadly accepted. The end of our slumber tunnel seemed lightless indeed.

Fast forward three and a half years, and our daughter sleeps through the night every night. She has since she was 13 months old. Not only that, she requires a very normal 11-12 hours of sleep in any 24-hour period, and she likes to take naps.

In other words, my friend was just so very wrong. When I’m kind of feeling lost as a parent, wondering what’s coming next with one of my children, I think about this experience and I remember that no one has a crystal ball about my child, whether that parent has reared one or ten kids of their own. And that probably most undesirable behaviors will pass.

My son’s sleep issue did, too. He took a little longer, but he saws logs all night too now, without our having had to go to any specialists, cut him off the boob, or do any serious sleep training. Eventually, he just did it.

Here are some other myths well-meaning (?) people and entities have told me about parenting:

“If she doesn’t get at least 28 ounces of milk or formula a day, her bones won’t form properly.” My former pediatrician when I consulted him, anxiety-ridden, on my 8-month-old daughter’s strong preference for solid food over breast milk (in other words, we had to sneak every ounce into her mouth by mixing it with purees since she outright refused both bottle and breast). Guess what? She is perfectly healthy. Her height is off the charts. She runs like the wind. Her brain is amazing. And I don’t own an X-ray, but I would bet her bones are too. After this demoralizing appointment, I switched to a new doctor, who explained that the well researched calcium- and protein-rich diet I was feeding my daughter would do her just fine.

“The baby will turn. Just lie upside-down on an ironing board for two hours a day/do handstands in the pool/spend $1000 on acupuncture/walk the entire neighborhood daily/think happy thoughts … and it will definitely happen.” The internet when I consulted it on what to do about a breech baby during pregnancy. Guess what? None of it worked, and instead of spending my final weeks of pregnancy relaxing and pampering myself, I spent most of it upside-down on an ironing board. The moral of the story? Kids — even the ones still sharing your lunch through an umbilical cord — are their own people. If my second child had been breech as well, I would have patted my belly, said “Good for you, sweetie,” and put my swollen feet up on the coffee table.

“Boys are slower than girls at everything.” Just about everyone. Based on this advice, I found myself thinking before the birth of our son, “Well, we already have a precocious child. We’ll love this little laggard just the same.” But once again, in direct contradiction to the parenthood fortune tellers’ prophecy, our boy was talking by eight months, walking a month before his sister had and hitting all the other milestones in good time. Would I have cared if he was slower? No. But this experience underscores for me that each child is an individual. Rather than have rigid expectations for them, I’m learning to be open and let them show us who they’re going to be, rather than taking these baseless premonitions of their futures seriously.

My 22-month-old son in a PJ Masks’ Romeo mask

Have you heard disheartening predictions about your child or children? The one piece of advice I will give is not to take them too seriously. Your child may have very different plans, and they’ll be revealed soon enough.

Please share your story below!

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