If there’s a any time in your life where people feel compelled to generously give out unsolicited but well-meaning advice, it’s in early parenthood. And often, first-time parents – overwhelmed, a little frightened, heads already swimming with advice from parenting books and websites – lap it all up.
It takes a while before your parenting advice filters get switched on.
When this happens, you learn that there is value in having some things go in one ear and go out the other. You will stress less. In those early days, the last thing you need is extra worry about whether you’ve got the only child in the world who doesn’t sleep in their cots, or whether your baby has enough milk in their tummies.
Here are some of the best pieces of advice I heard as a new parent – feel free to share yours in the comments below.
“The days are long but the years are short.”
In the early weeks, everything feels like a bit of a blur. You’re used to regular adult interaction, and are suddenly home alone. It’s easy to feel caught in what seems like an endless cycle of feed-play-sleep (or clean-wash-try to stay awake, if you’re the mum). I felt all sorts of things (thanks, post-partum hormones) – dread, boredom, anxiety, and the fear of missing out.
The best thing I heard – or read, in Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project – was that the days are long, but the years are short. Looking back at photos of my now almost three-year-old, this mantra rings true over and over again. I can’t believe how quickly he’s grown up, and the drudgery of the early days feels so far away.
“Do what works best for your family.”
Parents are under a lot of pressure these days to have it and do it all, all at once. To own a house, a steady job, exercise regularly, have family holidays overseas, and much more.
It’s all well and good to have aspirations of a fabulous family life. The reality is that not every family has the time, resources or energy to do all these things at once. Sacrifices are made and dreams are put on hold for the sake of the family – and that’s okay.
For some families, it could mean that mum has to return to work earlier than expected. Perhaps dad has to take a job overseas and shuttle home every few weeks. Feeling guilty isn’t helpful – do what works best for your family and don’t feel the need to compare yourself to others. You don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes for them.
“Parenting doesn’t get easier, you get better at it.”
A thought occurred to me, one day, as I was entertaining a friend for dinner while my toddler was potty-training. (And there’s nothing quite like “Aaah! Mummy! I need to poo!” to make you drop your fork and whip out the potty!)
I was doing a not-terrible job of parenting and adulting, simultaneously.
“You make it look easy.” My astounded (pregnant) friend looked on as I swept my child to the potty, cleaned him up, whipped out the mop to clean up a spill and slid back to the dinner I had made from scratch. Like it was nothing.
But a comment from a friend sprung to mind – it doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it.
So if you feel like you have no clue what you’re doing as a new parent, or that your child will grow up disadvantaged in some way because they won’t sleep through the night – deep breaths, mama – you’ve got this. As long as you love your babies (and we know you do) and do everything you can to raise kind, healthy, happy kids, you’re okay.
By Faye Song
Faye Song is a city girl finding her feet in regional Victoria, Australia. A former journalist, she works in marketing and communication. These days, she finds her most demanding and fascinating client to be her little boy.