Parenting is a really hard gig. There is so much to learn and so many different opinions that it's difficult to figure out what is right and wrong, what's important, and what's not.
Magazines and baby books often imply you absolutely have to do this or your baby will be neglected if you don't buy that, and sometimes it's kind of true -- there are some definite rules with babies (no honey, for example) but there are areas that people put tons of effort into that they really could afford to chill out.
All of us stressed moms can stop fretting about the following ....
1. Your baby does not need a full outfit every single time you leave the house.
I promise, it's okay if your baby is in a onesie and shorts with some socks. What is important is that your baby's clothing is clean, that it's weather-appropriate, and baby is comfortable. Skip the headbands and fancy shoes -- a lot of headbands can leave dents in the baby's head (meaning it's too tight!) and baby doesn't need shoes until they're walking ... but if you have to put shoes on your baby, at least make them soft-soled shoes, since stiff soles don't allow for proper foot development, even in pre-walkers. Anyone who would shun you for not having your baby look like they're getting their picture taken every time you leave the house either doesn't have kids or is even more stressed than you are with pointless concerns.
2. Your baby will not suffer if you don't take them to all the Mommy and Me music and play classes.
People these days feel their kids need to have all their time scheduled in formal activities. Guess what? They don't. In fact, unstructured free play with peers is the most important social interaction a baby can have, aside from play with their parents. If you need to get out and meet more moms and make friends for your baby, try some less-structured (and free) play date, stroller-walking, La Leche League, or other mom groups. There's nothing wrong with the structured, for-pay groups if you like them, but if your schedule, stress level, or wallet is wincing, you can skip it, guilt-free.
3. Not all toys need to be educational.
Wooden puzzles are great, and I love the ones that make animal sounds (though until you figure out they're light-activated, they can act like they're possessed). Crinkly toys, toys with all sorts of different textures, black and white contrasting patterns abound ... moms are inundated with a million different types of toys you must have or your baby will be brain-damaged. Er, okay, not quite, but sometimes ads and books can make it feel as if something a simple doll with only one kind of fabric is worthless to your baby, and that's just not true.
The only really worthless toys are the ones that try to do so much for your child that you can't even really play with them, like the creepy Pizza Elmo (worst impulse buy EVER). My grandma heard about the toy kitchen I got Rowan for his birthday one year, and when she heard that the stove lit up and made sizzling or boiling sounds, she said, "It's a shame kids don't have to use their imagination anymore." While my grandma obviously was way overreacting, the important thing about toys is that they're safe for your baby, and that they allow your baby to work on developing skills. You don't need the newest or greatest toy for your child to learn just fine.
4. Germs aren't all bad.
Unless your child has a medical reason that they need extra protection from germs, ditch all the antiseptic wipes, bleach, Lysol, and hand sanitizer -- you're wasting your time and doing more harm than good. Not only are you coating your house and baby's toys in toxins, but you're actually weakening your baby's developing immune system -- and your own. Clean up the dangerous things, like juices from raw meat, but you don't need to freak out and spray the baby's toys with disinfectant every night -- the toys that she puts in her mouth. In fact, it's better to ditch the harsh cleaners altogether and go for things like white vinegar and baking soda that often do a better job, are cheaper, and won't hurt anyone. Hand sanitizer just dries out your hands, but still is nothing compared to just soap and water. I still use a cart cover at the store (raw meat juices, for one), but baby wipes generally suffice for cleaning most things.
5. You don't have to play with your baby all day.
In fact, it's a bad idea to do so. While one-on-one time is totally invaluable and something you definitely need to dedicate time to, your baby also needs time to explore and play by herself, without you bothering her. In order to build independence, kiddos need to know that you're there when they want you, but that you'll let them explore by themselves if they want to as well. Constant correction on how to play isn't just irritating, but it can mess with baby's confidence. If she runs around a corner without you, as long as the area is safe, let her go, and wait to see if she coos for you, or give her a minute or two and then follow behind, just to check on her.
6. Toys can wait until the night to be cleaned up.
Feel like you're always picking up toys? You might be! Just keep a fun laundry basket in the living room and toss toys in it while baby's napping ... or after they go to bed. You can put them away (if you actually have another spot) either at night or on weekends. It's okay, they don't attract flies. No one expects a house with a child to be toy-free.
What things have you relaxed about when you realized they weren't that important?
Image via Elizabeth/TableforFive/Flickr