Although she didn't realize it at the time, Caroline Chambers thinks that she had a relatively typical first-time mom experience.
"The first year of my child's life was plagued with so much anxiety and fear," she tells TODAY.com. "Of course I was obsessed with him and had so many amazing moments of just loving it, but there was also just a lot of fear around the unknown."
When she had her second son two years later, this recipe developer (who writes the popular Substack "What to Cook When You Don't Feel Like Cooking") had a sudden realization: "None of it matters. They're going to sleep eventually. None of it is actually a pattern. You can't actually diagnose it. You can't actually Google your way into better sleep. It just takes time."
After letting go of the nap schedules and feeding times she lived by with her first child, Mattis, who is almost 5, Chambers says she had a much "more joyful time" with her second son, Callum, who is now 3 years old. And when she went through the newborn period a third time with Cashel, who just turned 1, she says she now knows that although motherhood is "terrifying the first time because you don't know what to expect," you realize with each successive baby that newborns aren't the "precious little fragile creatures that we think they are."
She detailed her evolution in a recent Instagram post, which prompted many other parents to comment with their own "third child" revelations.
"Raising the third is so much easier because you've done it twice," Chambers says.
Here are her secrets for bringing joyful mom-of-three energy to your experience as a first-time parent.
Leave the baby
Chambers says that the first year of her first baby's life, she and her husband went on "like three dates, and the entire time that we were on said date I was watching the monitor the entire time."
Pointing out that leaving the house without the baby in tow is an important part of her mental health, Chambers urges parents to "leave that baby, pay the babysitter, do whatever you need to do, but get out."
Your partner is not the enemy. The baby is the enemy.
"The first year of having your first baby, there will be moments where you will look at your husband and be like, 'How can you be such an idiot? How do you not know exactly what that baby needs?'" Chambers says with a laugh.
This is all natural due to the gigantic change that has just occurred in your life. So if you need a reminder that you and your partner are on the same team, this is it.
"Stay strong, keep communication flowing and remember that the baby is the one who's keeping you up all night and making you cranky. It's not your husband," she says.
This too shall pass
Chambers thinks that this phrase is "the most important thing in all of parenting."
Children are constantly evolving, and the moment you think you have things figured out, they change.
Chambers cites an example from her own life: "Two weeks ago, Cash was the easiest thing. I could get my work done while he was awake ... I hardly needed a babysitter. And then they change and all of a sudden he wants a ton of attention and he wants to be played with and he wants me to hold his hands so that he can walk around the house." Her work routine is considerably different as a result.
So whether your baby is waking up 10 times a night, having after-school meltdowns or (sorry) being a perfect angel, everything is a phase.
Don’t save the chores for nap time
Many primary caregivers use quiet time or nap time to take care of things like laundry, Chambers points out. Though it may be tempting to tackle tasks while uninterrupted, doing so means that you will have no down time.
Her oldest son has been cooking alongside Chambers since he was 16 months old. Now he's 5, and Chambers says, "He's not actually helpful yet. At all. But I give him a carrot and I give him a kid's knife and I say, 'Hey buddy, I need a carrot chopped.' And he chops the carrot, even if it has nothing to do with what we're eating for dinner that night."
Involving kids in chores cuts down on screen time and teaches that there are certain jobs that need to be done to make the household run smoothly.
The four Bs of bedtime don’t matter
Chambers warns that downgrading the importance of the four Bs (bath, brushing, book, bedtime) is a lesson that it might require having multiple children to learn.
She set up a long, elaborate bedtime routine for her first son. She would give him a bath, feed him, read him a book and give him a baby massage with lotion.
"Half the time — because he was a newborn — he would be screaming," she said. "All he wanted to do was go to bed and I was forcing this bedtime routine on him."
After she had three kids and "things really went off the rails," Chambers said, "You realize that all you need to do is make sure that they're somewhat clean, make sure they're fed and that's literally the only thing that matters."
Laugh it off
For a long time with her first baby, Chambers was "sticking to a schedule that some woman on the internet had told me about, and that gave me no room to enjoy the funny parts of motherhood."
She cites a recent example: 3-year-old Callum hopped in bed with Chambers and her husband and proceeded to wet the bed ... soaking his parents in the process.
"Yes, you're exhausted. It's two in the morning,"she says. "But, like, that is hilarious. That's objectively hilarious that we both got peed on by our 3-year-old kid. So just taking a moment to realize how funny and fun it all is and how none of it has to be as serious as we make it is important."