Raising a Newborn in the Pandemic Taught Me I Don't Always Have to Go the Extra Mile to Be a Great Mom

My baby's first year was nothing like I ever could have imagined, but I learned so much from the experience.

The author and her baby.
The author and her baby. Photo: Courtesy of Julie Pennell

I remember my second child's entrance into the world—right before everything closed because of COVID-19—like it was yesterday. In a weird way, I still feel stuck in March 2020, like we haven't moved on. But this tiny human who has grown and developed into a spunky toddler has kept me somewhat grounded in time when the days simultaneously went by so slowly and yet so incredibly fast.

He was a couple of weeks early—right when the news about the virus started getting scary and I got the message from my 2-year-old's daycare that they were closing for at least two weeks.

I had planned meticulously for this birth, actually feeling confident and knowing what I was doing (moms don't get to feel this feeling a lot, so it was glorious), but we all know you can never prepare for everything when it comes to babies.

The year of his birth was hard. So, so hard. But in retrospect, I think it taught me a lot about parenting. Here are five things I found to be true while raising a newborn during a pandemic that can apply to anytime when life feels a little less-than-normal.

1. It Does Take a Village, But Your Village Can Be Remote

My mother-in-law, who had flown from out-of-state, stayed for five days after the baby was born—and then the lockdowns started. Would she be able to get back? Would the airports be closing soon? Heck, would there even be enough toilet paper for another adult in our house because of the shortage? With tears streaming down my face, we dropped her off at the airport. I didn't want her to leave, but I knew it was the right thing to do.

My mom was set to come in that week from the other side of the country, but we decided it was too risky, so she canceled her flight. I half-jokingly said to her the baby would be walking by the time she finally met him. (My prediction came true. Thirteen months later, he toddled right up to her for their first meeting.)

With no family in town where we live, we were completely on our own. And many nights, starting at one-week postpartum, I was completely on my own as my husband worked overnights as a frontline worker.

All I have to say is thank goodness for technology. I texted and video chatted my mom and my village all day and night, with so many questions you'd think I'd never have met another baby in my life. "Why is he crying?" "Why is he not sleeping?" "Why won't he eat?" "What am I supposed to do with him again?"

While social distancing is anything but natural, it reminded me that even if someone can't be physically there, they can still be incredibly helpful. I vow to be more of a helper the next time one of my friends has a baby, even if I'm not there in person. Just a simple, "How's it going?" text can make someone feel less alone.

2. Kids Don't Need to Be Busy All the Time

With my firstborn, I packed his schedule with visits to indoor playgrounds, music classes, and storytime at the library. Obviously, none of those things happened with baby number two. For this first year we basically just stared at each other day in and day out. OK, we also played with toys, danced to CoComelon songs, and read books. And you know what? He's just as happy and developed as my first son.

I often felt guilty if I didn't take my first one out to do something, but I've learned babies will find entertainment and enjoyment in pretty much anything—even a piece of fuzz on the floor.

3. The Little Things Should Be Enjoyed

If I'm being honest, I used to kind of dread going to those baby music classes and indoor playgrounds (let's be real, they're not as much fun for adults as they are for kids). But during the pandemic, I would have given anything to be able to go back to them just to have interaction again.

I found that I missed mommy-and-me coffee dates where the other neighborhood parents and I would commiserate over breastfeeding struggles and middle-of-the-night wakings. I missed taking my kid to a restaurant and seeing the look on his face when they brought him his own kid cup and swirly straw. I missed going to the grocery store as a family and playing our own version of Supermarket Sweep—aka a fun shopping race. And I'm so sad my pandemic baby wasn't able to experience these things in the early days.

I'll try to never take these little seemingly mundane things for granted again.

4. Kids Are Resilient

There have been so many times I've wondered if I was doing it all right. Talking to my friends, I know I'm not alone. Parenting is so hard already, but throw in the challenges of a pandemic, and you've got self-doubt creeping in with every decision you make.

But as uncertain and worried as I had been about my parenting that first year, my baby emits pure joy when he smiles, and looking at him, I know it's all OK. We may not have taken him on a family vacation yet, and his first birthday party was on Zoom, but he's happy. And that's all that matters to me.

5. Parents Are Resilient, Too

When my baby celebrated his first birthday, I secretly celebrated my own achievement: getting through that year as a mom.

Parents, in my totally humble opinion, we deserve a huge celebration to honor ourselves for making it through the pandemic years. (Don't even get me started on the parents who homeschooled while working full-time; you all are the true heroes.)

One of the things that got me through was looking forward to and envisioning what life would be like when the pandemic was finally over. And here's what I now see for myself: a confident mom who will be able to get through anything.

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