The First Year of Parenting: What I Wish I’d Known — Episode #185 with Vanessa Van Edwards
Vanessa Van Edwards learned the hard way that being an expert in behavioral science does not translate into innate parenting know-how.
As an author, speaker and lead investigator with the Science of People, Vanessa is used to being the authority in the room, teaching companies how to use behavioral science to train their employees. But after the birth of her daughter Sienna, now two and a half, she realized just how much she had to learn about being responsible for another person. Together we lamented how little we knew about the first year of parenting and what we wish other people had told us.
If you’ve ever wished for two parents to tell you the hard truths about what to expect with the first year of parenting—the highs, the lows, and what was a total surprise, then join us. We’ll tell you about what it was like and how we would approach the first year differently.
On this episode, she opens up about the reality of the first year, explaining that while some phases do indeed “go by so fast,” others can feel like a slog. She also talks about how becoming a mom changed her friendships, and trying to hold on to certain parts of her pre-mom life, even when it worked against her.
“Telling parents that it goes so fast when they’re in the tired slog of the first year is not helpful.“
Vanessa Van Edwards talks openly about miscarriage, the first year of parenting, and what the books don’t tell you. Photograph of Vanessa from Science of People.
There’s so much we don’t tell parents about the first year
Vanessa first appeared on Episode #96 of Startup Parent, where she told us all about her business, her journey, and her candid story about the epic failure in writing a first book and why it was such a mess. Then she returned for Episode #104, where we talked in detail about the first few weeks of parenting in those early, blurry days with a newborn.
Instead of glossing over “oh, those first few weeks are hard,” we talk about the details of sleep deprivation, birth recovery, and all the blood, pain, sweat and tears that early parenting can have. Now she’s back to continue to bust some myths about early parenthood: namely, the first year of parenting.
Tune in to this episode to hear Vanessa’s take on what the first year of parenting was like for her, how it affected her perspective on work and friendships, and how the pandemic can give us all a fresh start. Vanessa also speaks about having a miscarriage at eight weeks, and what she wishes she’d know about the physical side of the experience of miscarriage, as well as the emotional journey, and what she wishes she knew there, too.
The First Year of Parenting: What I Wish I’d Known — with Vanessa Van Edwards
The Startup Parent Podcast — Episode #185
Excerpts from a transcript of the conversation
🔸 “It goes so fast” is a totally unhelpful comment
“For the first year, all I would hear from parents — whether they had a one-year-and-one-month-year-old or 30-year-old — they would all say, ‘Ah, it goes so fast, just savor every minute.’ I cannot tell you how many people told me that. And that is actually extremely unhelpful and pressure-filled advice. I always felt a little bit like, but it doesn’t feel fast. And then immediately I felt like I was wrong. I will tell you, the first year of my daughter’s life was the longest year of my life.”
🔸 The 9-12 month stage was so much harder than 4-6 months!
“I found that 10 months — right before they walk — was shockingly hard for me. I was not prepared for the fact that before they walk, they toddle, and if you are a neurotic person like me, everything is a deathtrap … You’re on the floor all the time. They are eating everything, which also as a neurotic person, you’re like, What did she just put in her mouth? So I found that like eight, nine, 10, 11 months — because she walked at a year — were surprisingly stressful, at the times that didn’t used to be so. In the first half of the first year, I loved our tummy time. I could relax with her, I could lie on the floor with her, we could look into each other’s eyes. Well, at eight months that switched, and tummy time was stressful time for me, because she was pulling up, she was trying to hold. Which was exciting, but a time I actually used to find relaxing flipped, and then feeding time became more relaxing.”
🔸 There is no way to know everything — like bottle nipples, for example
“It was really hard to find a bottle that she would take. And this was a shock to me, because I had been given all these free bottles, and none of them worked. I was like, there are different kinds of bottles? There are different kinds of nipples? And of course, how would I know that? But I was angry at myself that I didn’t know that. Which is ridiculous, because you can’t have an intuition about bottle nipples. I thought I should just know.”
🔸 Business savvy ≠ parent savvy
“I would say that one thing that I kind of wish I had known is that my business savvy doesn’t translate [to motherhood savvy], and that’s fine. That’s absolutely fine. In fact — like researching and using my business learning — I wish I had dug into that more, that … I wasn’t supposed to wait on my intuition. I wish I had asked people: would you please go through your Amazon [account] and tell me which products were game changers — and when?”
🔸 Recalibrate your time calculator: how long things will take is wildly different than your pre-parenting life (and it’s discouraging)
“When approaching my business as a parent, it took me a long time to calibrate my time calculator. When you’re thinking about projects coming up, in your head, you use a time calculator: Here’s my workload right now, and I think I’ll probably have about a couple weeks to do that, I think this project is going to take me about three months. That’s a time calculator we’ve used throughout our entire lives to figure out our schedule.”
“Recalibrating your time calculator to parenthood is really hard … I came out of maternity leave, and I began to take on projects, yet I had not calibrated my time calculator. So someone says, ‘Hey, we’d love for you to write this article for this magazine.’ I can turn that around for you in two weeks, no problem. Well, pre-Sienna that would have been no problem. But post-Sienna, it’s a huge problem. And so I actually feel like it took me the entire first year — and maybe even more — to recalibrate how long it takes me to get shit done.”
🔸 Miscarriage can be a horrible experience, and we don’t need to pretend it’s not. It’s physical, emotional, and can be very intense.
“I had heard — I have some friends who have talked about the miscarriage — I am now openly talking about miscarriage because I want people to not feel alone… to just understand what it means if it happens to them. … I had always heard people say, yeah, I had a miscarriage, it was horrible. But I never understood what that actually physically means. … it was so awful to go through this loss and then to have this horrible long drawn out… You know, I still don’t feel recovered. You know, it’s four months later.”
Vanessa Van Edwards talks about how different parenting is from running a business, and how it changed her entire “time calculator” in Episode #185.
Takeaways from this episode
📌 Not every part of the first year goes fast.
Being told to savor your kid’s first year because “it goes so fast” isn’t helpful when you’re so overwhelmed with how much you have to do that it feels like time has slowed down. Vanessa says that it’s more accurate to say that parts of it go very quickly, but other parts feel never-ending. In particular, she hit a wall at 10 months, when her daughter started to move around and needed constant supervision. “Every phase has pros and cons: appreciate the pros when you’re in it and know that it might change soon,” she says.
📌 You reevaluate your friendships after becoming a parent.
Being a parent will change the way you see your friendships. For example, Vanessa says, some friends are completely fine having your baby around, others are happy to talk about them but don’t want them at your hangouts, and others have no interest at all. Which means figuring out new dynamics. “Trying to figure out how to be social and be a friend around being a mother was a completely new skill,” Vanessa says. “I didn’t realize I’d have to be figuring that out along with actually being a mother.”
📌 Take the pandemic as an opportunity for a fresh start.
Being forced out of our usual socializing patterns was tough at the start of the pandemic. But as time went on, it also showed us which relationships really mattered in our lives. Everyone has different types of friends, from casual to close. And if you’ve gone over a year without even talking to someone, it’s a good time to think about whether you actually need them as a friend. “We have this beautiful opportunity coming up that we can prepare for, which is who do I want to have in my life?” Vanessa says.
“Instead of telling parents ‘It goes so fast,‘ say something like this instead: ‘Every phase has pros and cons: appreciate the pros when you’re in it and know that it might change soon.”
Vanessa Van Edwards talks about how much she didn’t know about the first year of parenting, and what she wished people had told her in Episode #185. Photograph from Science of People.
QUOTES FROM THE EPISODE
🎙 [13:07] Vanessa: “I had a lot of help in the first few weeks from friends and family. People were dropping off casseroles: We had so much food being dropped off because of our kind community that we couldn’t even possibly eat it all — we had freezer stuff forever. And then when I really needed it, at like four months, it was gone. By then people were like, ‘You’ve figured it out, right?’”
🎙 [15:58] Vanessa: “I was not prepared that being a mother would change other parts of my life, like being a friend. All of a sudden, I had to figure out, do I have the kind of friendships that will accommodate naps?”
🎙 [22:03] Vanessa: “You have to figure out who is willing to talk about what with you. So it wasn’t just about being friends as a mother with my motherhood schedule. I had this matrix in my head, which was very complicated, which was: ‘This friend doesn’t mind if I bring Sienna. This friend I can talk about Sienna, but I can’t bring her. This friend doesn’t really like to hear about Sienna at all.’”
🎙 [23:21] Vanessa: “If you feel like ‘I’m relearning how to be a friend,’ I did feel that way. And I actually still feel that way.”
🎙 [41:06] Vanessa: “I was really not prepared for the horrifying process of going through the physical aspect of the miscarriage … I am now openly talking about miscarriage, because I want people to not feel alone, to just understand what it means if it happens to them … I had heard people say, ‘I had a miscarriage.’ But I never understood what that actually physically means.”
🎙 [52:42] Vanessa: “One thing I love about two-year-olds is that they are really honest. If they are mad at you, they tell you they are mad. As a recovering awkward person, that is the greatest gift. I always know how she feels about me. I get a tickle of joy when she’s like, ‘Mom, I’m mad at you,’ because at least someone told me. I know her emotions at all times because she tells me them.”
“I was not prepared that being a mother would change other parts of my life, like being a friend. All of a sudden I had to figure out, do I have the kind of friendships that will accommodate naps?“
FEATURED STARTUP PARENT
Vanessa Van Edwards, Author, Speaker, Behavioral Scientist & Founder of Science of People
👩 Name: Vanessa Van Edwards
💡 What she does: Vanessa (she/her/hers) is the mother of a two-and-a-half-year-old, an author, speaker, behavioral scientist, and lead investigator at Science of People, an organization bringing the latest research into human behavior and relationships to public attention.
The First Year of Parenting: What I Wish I’d Known — with Vanessa Van Edwards
The Startup Parent Podcast — Episode #185
ABOUT THE STARTUP PARENT PODCAST
If you're growing a business, leading a team, or figuring out entrepreneurship and you have kids, this podcast is for you. We go in-depth with founders and entrepreneurial parents about what it really takes to have babies, grow businesses, and get a little bit of sleep. Sign up for the newsletter to get new episodes in your inbox. And leave us a review on iTunes.
Sarah K Peck
Founder, Startup Parent
Sarah Peck is a writer, startup advisor, and yoga teacher based in New York City. She’s the founder and executive director of Startup Parent, a media company documenting the stories of women’s leadership across work and family. She hosts the weekly Startup Parent Podcast and Let's Talk, her second podcast. Previously, she worked at Y Combinator backed One Month, Inc, a company that teaches people to code in 30 days, and before that she was a writing and communications consultant.
She’s a 20-time All-American swimmer who successfully swam the Escape from Alcatraz nine separate times, once wearing only a swim cap and goggles to raise $33k for charity: water. She’s written for more than 75 different web publications and and has delivered speeches and workshops at Penn, UVA, Berkeley, Harvard, Craft & Commerce, WDS, and more.