Home Community Blog The Ideals of Parenthood

By Casey O’Malley, Academic Dean

I was asked to speak at this Parents’ Visiting Day… I’ll tell you my first reaction was “me? But I don’t know anything about being a parent! I’ve only been fumbling along at this for five months! Everyone in the audience will have been at this for fourteen or fifteen years! They’re experts! They know exactly what they’re doing all the time!” which I’m sure is how I’ll feel in fourteen years… 

I had my first baby in August. It sort of feels like a time-warp situation because August really wasn’t that long ago, and in some ways the time has gone by in the blink of an eye, but also, my life before having my daughter in it seems incredibly distant. I know right now, my life feels very full and busy (even though I rarely leave the house after 5 pm). I also know that BEFORE my daughter was born, I was a classic “busy person”… and I can’t for the life of me remember what in the world I did on weekends or evenings that made me feel so busy. 

I’ve read that the neurological changes that your brain undergoes as you become a parent are some of the largest in your life — akin to the changes that happen in adolescence. As I’ve undergone this transition, I can’t help but be stricken with the irony that so much of the advice and guidance I’ve needed is nearly identical to that that I dole out to my students. In a perfect flip, I have become the student that I so often worry about and get exasperated by. 

When students are overwhelmed and staring down a looming deadline, the advice I so often give is: Talk to your teachers. Check in with your dean. Avoid the siren song of Google and advice of an online website that you don’t know or trust. There are SO MANY ADULTS who care about you on this campus. 

And, what does my midnight Google history reveal? Evidence of my complete and total rejection of my own advice. My late night wakeups are documented with truly, truly absurd questions I have thrown out into the void of the internet, hoping that maybe some stranger can give me an answer. “How much spit up before its a problem.” “is it normal for an 8 week old to not poop for a week.” “how many viruses does the average baby get in daycare in a year.” “is teething a nightmare for everyone.” 

Now, saying these things out loud makes me feel patently ridiculous. And, part of me knows that my midnight googling isn’t really looking for an answer, per se. Intellectually, I know that a random blog post from a source of questionable credentials I find on the internet is not actually helpful — even if (perhaps especially if) it gives me the answer I want. But when I’m on minute forty-five of rocking in a glider at 4 am in the perfect rhythm and at the perfect incline to soothe a sick baby back to sleep, I am beyond any sort of intellectual reasoning. I just want to know that someone else has had the same question, has had the same struggle, and that me and my baby are not totally outliers. I want to know that someone else has traveled this path. 

What I just said reminds me of what I see in students. Gosh, of what I see in people in general. Isn’t that what we all want — a way to be reassured that yes, you are doing ok, yes, you are figuring it out, yes, this too shall pass, and no, you are not the first person in the world to have this struggle, and yes, someone can help. 

I’ve tried to start applying the advice I give to students to my own journey of learning to become a parent. I’m trying to limit my googling — midnight or otherwise. I’ve started instead sending text messages to other parents, regardless of the hour and regardless of how long it’s been since I last connected with them. It’s led to some beautiful moments of reconnection with old grad school, college, and even high school friends who I know have recently had children.  A 3am text that said “please tell me your secrets about how to get your baby to take a bottle” led me to a phone call with someone who had been a dear friend from high school I haven’t spoken to in about eight years. Yes, we may fall out of touch for another long spell, but this brief moment of connection was beautiful.  

A good friend of mine has almost the same advice for nearly any query that I send her way: “Remember that everything changes in two weeks.”  It’s become something of a mantra of mine. It’s gotten me through the 4 month sleep regression, the changes in our routine when I came back to Waterford, any especially temperamental phase that my daughter goes through. It is a good reminder that all the toughest times will pass. 

There are two other facets to this piece of advice as well, though. One is bittersweet — the beautiful, fun phases are also fleeting. The really cute way she smiles about ten seconds after falling asleep. The little humming sounds she makes when she is sleepy, content, and full. Her current phase of mobility — an adorably inefficient scootch that while technically effective, is not fast at all. I know that at some moment, perhaps soon!, she will do all of those things for the last time and move on to a totally new way of being a human.  While the core of who my daughter is starting to become apparent — she’s got an undeniable independent streak, is very social, and already has a developed sense of humor — I know that the way this manifests is going to shift and evolve and near constant rate of change throughout the rest of her baby-hood, childhood, and into her adolescence. I already feel a sense of nostalgia for the phases that she has outgrown, and I feel a sense of preemptive sentimentality for the phases that she has not yet gone through but that I know will also be temporary. 

The other side to this piece of advice that “everything changes in two weeks” that I keep in mind is that it means I will always be learning something. Just as soon as I feel like I’ve figured out a routine or a response, I know there will be a new phase and a new adjustment required. There are times when this can feel daunting and exhausting (for example — this weekend, when I was on a tail-end of yet another daycare virus, minimal sleep, and trying to generate some eloquent thoughts for this talk on the ideals of parenthood!). But in my best moments, I can look on this with excitement for the continuous learning journey that is in front of me. I have always thought of myself as a lifelong learner, but somehow, I didn’t realize until I had my daughter that parenthood seems to be the ultimate incarnation of that identity. I can think of no other role, even that of a teacher, that requires so much reflection, constant reevaluation, and commitment. 

And how much does that sound like being an upper school student? A constant expectation that you are learning and growing. The quick pace of change. Whether it’s the unit in pre calc that you are studying, some challenges with a friend, or whatever’s trending on TikTok (are y’all still on tiktok? sorry, I’m getting old! I’m even a parent now!), — everything will be different in two weeks. 

And while I don’t know (yet), I am guessing that as I continue to grow as a parent, change will be the one constant that I can rely upon. I’m sure that everything will continue to change faster than I expect in both welcome and unwelcome ways. Everything will be different in two weeks — that’s my message to myself (and perhaps subtly to you, students) that we can both endure anything and should cherish everything.  

Waterford News

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