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I had no experience at all with babies — and not much more familiarity with toddlers and preschoolers — before I became a mother. I was pretty terrified of screwing it up, and I read every parenting book, article and website to get a handle on what parenting was really like.
Of course, nothing could truly prepare me for the unique experience of caring for a baby. It’s overwhelming, it’s exciting, it’s exhausting, it’s every emotion experienced on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. How can any book prepare you for that? But in time, I found what worked for me — and then life got even more interesting and intense when my second son came along when my older son was just twenty-one months old.
I look back now and marvel at how I was able to manage two little ones. In hindsight, it wasn’t easy, but it wasn’t nearly as hard I had anticipated. Really! And what made it manageable for me was the parenting philosophy I adopted from the time my first son was born.
As an expectant and new mom, I soaked up the wisdom from the well-thumbed parenting books that started collecting on my bedside table. Over time, I came to my philosophy from the soothing wisdom imparted by Karen Maezen Miller in “Momma Zen“ and the practical advice of Tracy Hogg in “Secrets of the Baby Whisperer.”
It’s not a full-fledged philosophy, but one simple saying became my go-to parenting mantra for almost every situation: “Start as you mean to continue.” Those six little words changed how I have handled nearly every parenting challenge. It basically means that I start something, from the very beginning, in the way that I plan to (or hope to) do it forever. And yes, it’s hard to start something that I’ve never done before and know how I want it to go on long term, especially when it comes to parenting. But this is where all of those parenting books and parenting role models (or cautionary tales) come in handy.
“Start as you mean to continue” isn’t exclusively a parenting saying — I’ve seen variations of it in business articles, exercise programs and healthy eating cookbooks. It’s the type of saying that applies to so many areas of life, which is why it appealed to me. Here was a saying, a philosophy, a way of life, that I could apply as a fledgling mother, gaining confidence as I saw that it truly worked.
For instance, I was pretty sure I didn’t want to co-sleep with my children because I’m an insomniac and a very light sleeper. I knew I would get even less sleep with a baby or toddler in my bed, and that wouldn’t be a good thing for any of us. Coming up with a sleep schedule and making sure my babies slept in their cribs was no easy task as any new parent knows. I also saw how easy it was to let a fussy baby sleep in my bed “just this once” or “just this week.”
But using the philosophy “Start as you meant to continue” helped me keep a consistent routine even on the nights when I literally got up every two hours to feed, rock and put baby back to bed in his crib. Sure, I was tired and got less sleep for a little while than I would have liked. But the long term result was that both of my babies slept through the night in their cribs while I got more sleep in my own bed. By practicing consistency from the beginning, it didn’t take very long to get there.
“Start as you mean to continue” has worked for me on everything from sharing parenting responsibilities with my husband to making sure we all eat meals together (the same meal, not different meals for adults and kids) to consistent bedtime routines when my kids started preschool to instilling good manners and empathy. I admit, it’s tempting to take a more convenient route and do things the “easy” way in the moment. But I know that in the long run, it will make even more work for my husband and me when we have to undo the bad habits we’ve fallen into in order to get to where we want to be. So I use “Start as you meant to continue” whenever we’re hit with a new parenting challenge or kid stage.
By visualizing the ideal, I’m able to come up with a plan on how to get there. It’s a bit like the difference between meandering in the direction I want to go and hoping I end up there and using GPS to plot my coordinates and get there in the fastest, easiest way possible. Sure, the scenic route has its perks, but when it comes to parenting, I’d rather get to where I want to go and enjoy the destination rather than risk ending up in a ditch along the way!
It can be challenging to follow a parenting philosophy that requires so much investment up front — especially when I’m tired, at the end of my patience and there’s a quicker in-the-moment way to do something — but it has made my parenting experience a little easier and a lot less frustrating in the long term. “Start as you mean to continue” can also seem like incredibly rigid advice if you are used to going with the flow. But I’ve learned that routine and consistency make for a more peaceful household and “Start as you mean to continue” gets us there every time.