When you have a baby, you will hear a lot of parenting clichés in the form of advice. Whether it’s to “live in the moment”, “enjoy every second” or “take it one day at a time”. But what the hell do those things even mean? This vapid collection of empty words doesn’t feel helpful at all!
Just exactly how does someone take it one day at a time? I mean, how else are you supposed to take days? Four at a time? Let’s deconstruct this particular example, because although it sounds like nonsense, in its essence, it is actually a hugely beneficial way to tackle parenting.
How to take things one day at a time
When you bring your newborn home from hospital, particularly if it’s your first, you will suddenly realise that you have no benchmark, no way of knowing what normal baby behaviour is. So, as soon as the smallest thing happens that isn’t written in your baby book, you will quickly become overwhelmed, anxious, and full of self-doubt.
I thought my baby was broken at least twice a day for the first few weeks. The slightest weird noise or rapid breath got my mind racing. When he slept poorly for a couple of nights in a row, I managed to convince myself that the rest of his babyhood would now be a lesson in sleep-deprived torture.
I decided to experiment a bit and after trying lots of different things, I realised that it was the swaddling that he didn’t like. As soon as I stopped swaddling him, he slept almost right through. But then a few weeks later, he was up all night again – and there I was again, Googling and reading and stressing and going on mum forums, convinced it was the sign of an impending poor sleeper or an incompetent mother.
Turns out, he’d just changed his mind. He had decided that actually he did want to be swaddled and as soon as I wrapped him up again, he slept like a little log. And this happened for a while: wanting to sleep holding a muslin for a month, then it was a toy cow, then it was nothing, then it was noise in the background, then it was silence, and on it went until he finally found his happy place.
If you added them all together, he had about 8 really bad nights over the course of three months. That’s heaven! That’s wonderful! That’s something parents dream of! And yet I had allowed these little sleep adjustments to stress me out for the entire three months.
As my baby grew and all the false alarms came and went with nothing detrimental ever really occurring, I started to relax a bit. My son is now two years old, and I look back on the first year as a blur of anxiety – 90% of which was unnecessary.
As a parent, taking things “one day at a time” means not projecting small challenges weeks and months into the future, not seeing normal adjustments as permanent features. It means allowing your newborn to figure out what he likes and doesn’t like at his own pace, and being patient if he wants to change his mind for the third time.
I had no idea how fickle babies were. If I had just contained each challenge within its own day, I would have been able to cope much better and would have allowed myself to enjoy the good days much more.
Saying that, there are issues that you can’t ignore of course, and early parenthood didn’t go completely smoothly for me. At 8 weeks old, I found blood in my son’s nappy which really panicked me. I took him straight to the hospital where they diagnosed a cow’s milk protein allergy, something that we had to treat for the best part of a year.
Obviously I had known instantly that this needed medical attention, there was no going on forums or self-doubt, I didn’t even debate it for a second. And so, over time, I learned that rather than being an incompetent mother, actually my instinct was strong and almost always correct. I just didn’t believe in myself in the beginning, and I was really, really scared.
So, I know it’s easier said than done, but try to give yourself some peace. Rest your mind and only use your energy for what’s needed that day. Chances are that the thing that is completely consuming you now will be a distant memory in a week’s time.
By taking things one day at a time you’ll be efficient with your anxiety, only allowing it into your conscious when it’s really needed. This makes for a calmer, happier space for your new family, which in turn reduces any unpredictable, stress-inducing behaviour in babies. Learn to trust yourself, because no one can do a better job for your baby than you, and you’re doing just fine, we promise!