Wednesday, April 17, 2024

The One Thing I Learned About Motherhood From Instagram That Was Actually Helpful

When it comes to looking to Instagram for useful motherhood advice, it can be a minefield. But there was one tip that Emma Clifton came across just before she gave birth that changed her experience as a first-time parent.

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Between the algorithms, and the cutesy videos, my personal opinion is that Instagram is where a lot of good sense goes to die (especially when you’re a sleep-deprived parent). But in amongst my late-night scrollings, I found a concept that truly changed my experience as a first-time parent:

‘Raise your first as your third.’

I learned it from Caroline Chambers, a chef who runs one of Substack’s most popular food newsletters, What To Cook When You Don’t Feel Like Cooking, and who has become something of an unintentional ‘momfluencer’ due to the fact that she had three kids in four years and has perfected the loving, lean-in-to-the-chaos vibe.

The week before my son was born, Caroline did an Instagram carousel of tips from herself and her friends, who have also had multiple kids in a short number of years, based on the concept of ‘Raise your first as your third.’

In short, the concept is that first-time mothers get so caught up in the rules, schedules, must-haves, anxiety spirals and milestone panics that come with being a parent for the first time, they can often lose the joy, spontaneity and sweetness that comes with having a baby, because they are too stressed to relax into it. But ‘raise your first as your third’ aims to take the ‘eh, whatever works’ attitude that parents of multiple children are (forced to be) good at and, in my opinion, it is quietly revolutionary.

With her first child, Caroline has said, she did all of the first-parent things: ran him to a feeding timetable that the internet told her to do, was meticulous about following a sleep schedule, and drove herself crazy by trying to follow the rules. By baby number two, she had a realisation:

“None of it matters. They’re going to sleep eventually. None of it is actually a pattern. You can’t actually diagnose it. You can’t actually Google your way into better sleep. It just takes time.”

‘None of it matters’ can actually apply to many of the thousands of small, seemingly crucial decisions you have to make when you have a baby that actually make zero difference in the long run. But it particularly applies to the biggies: the rules around feeding, and sleep.

Let me give you an actual, real-life example of when I put this into practice. A few weeks ago, my husband and I went to Nelson to visit some close friends and on the morning of our first big day out, our infant son simply refused to go down for his morning nap. I started to go into a panic spiral: ‘this was the only good nap of the day! If he was tired, it would ruin everything and he would cry! Why did I ever try to do anything out of the ordinary? Why was everything so hard?’

It was only when my husband suggested we stay in the AirBnb the entire day with the curtains drawn – absolutely kill me – that I snapped to my senses. “We are first-childing this,” I said. “We need to be third-childing this.” So we took the very awake baby on the road, where he proceeded to sail straight through a nap, have a great time chortling through the scenic countryside and eating whatever he could get his hands on, and eventually passed out in the car seat, four hours after he was supposed to be asleep.

Or I could have stayed in the AirBnb, attempted to follow a nap schedule, and lost my goddamn mind in the process.

As much as I think that ‘enjoy every minute’ can actually be the final straw for new parents in terms of advice (some minutes are VERY BAD and can only be survived), now that I have an almost-one year old, I get it. The first bit is so hard, as you are thrown into the deep end with no training, a temporarily devastated body, a new 24/7 job and no sleep. But boy, it goes fast; and once the newborn bubble is burst, you don’t get that time back.

If only we could all absorb the wisdom of second- or third-time parents, who know all of this – who know that the contact naps will eventually end, the baby will eventually sleep, the milestones will happen when they happen, and that actually, as Caroline says, ‘none of it matters.’

By following the advice of ‘raise your first as your third’, it just.. takes the pressure off. And it stops you from being as susceptible to the 9,000 people that will try and sell you sleep schedules, soothing toys, or imply that wake windows are actually a thing. May we all be blessed with the ‘whatever works’ attitude of a third-time parent, without having to go through quite so many first-time parent meltdowns along the way.  

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