My sister is getting married next year and I am already getting excited about the idea of having a niece or a nephew in the future. After spending the afternoon with her recently I thought about the one piece of advice that I would pass on to her in the early days of becoming a new mum. I think for me it would be to look after yourself. A happy mum is a happy baby and it’s important to make sure that you are making time for the things that make you happy (other than being a mum but let’s face it, it’s pretty overwhelming and stressful at times so a long soak and a trashy magazine just might be the respite you need to keep your energy levels and sanity topped up!)
In the name of research, I turned to my Facebook friends and asked what the best piece of advice they were ever given before becoming a parent was.
Of the fifty responses, the most common advice was to ‘trust yourself’. My friends passed on the words of wisdom that following your gut instinct will guide you better than any instruction manual ever could, which is just as well really as babies don’t come with one!
In at number two was the one that had me rolling my eyes as a new mum to twins ‘sleep when they sleep’. Mine took it in turns to sleep and as one dozed off I swear they sent a subliminal message to the other that it was time to wake up / feed / cry or crap. They were my tiny tag team of torment! But as rare as it was, on the occasions when they did sleep at the same time there were a hundred and one things that I was frantically doing in the moments that I could walk around with two free hands. Now, I agree that the time would have been better spent resting too. If I’d have known that Harry still wouldn’t be sleeping through the night well into his young adulthood (he’s 12 now and as an autistic sleep acrobat thinks that rest at night is overrated) I would have definitely snoozed more. If you are a new parent reading this and you, like me, are rolling your eyes at the idea of sleeping when your baby does then please stop and know that on hindsight loads of the parents who shared their ‘best advice’ would have done just that. Rested. That little bundle of khaki green poo, I mean joy, is with you forever. Parenting is a marathon, not a sprint so don’t burn yourself out on the first leg.
Right behind ensuring you get enough sleep, ‘enjoying the journey’ was the next most popular advice. I think one of the things you don’t realise until you look back is that the baby and toddler months literally pass in the blink of an eye. It’s a concept that’s impossible to understand at the time but I am not alone in imploring that new parents treasure every good, bad and downright stinky day because in no time at all you’re waving your baby off to high school wondering where the last eleven years went. It’s scary!
More practical advice was offered in the form of ‘don’t bother with bottle warmers but do buy a nappy bin’ ‘get into a routine and try to stick to it’ and ‘put panty liners on your shopping list and brace yourself when you sneeze’ (that one made me laugh!) A friend’s mother said ‘you don’t have to keep breastfeeding them when your tits are cracked and bleeding. Get ‘em on the bottle!’ If you were on the fence about breast feeding, that one might have you dashing to the bottle aisle of Mothercare.
One friend extended her time off work after being told ‘Take all of your maternity leave because he’ll be 1 before you know it then you’ll blink and he’ll be 30 years old and holding his own child’. My favourite one liner which made me smile was ‘maternity leave is for cake not slimming world’ – how refreshing to think that in a day and age where we see celebrities slipping into their size zero skinny jeans 90 minutes after giving birth, we should be encouraged to enjoy the wonder of becoming a parent and focus on becoming a super mum and not a super model!
Then there were the one-off bits of advice that made me think and smile.
‘Choose your battles’ this goes for the inevitable arguments with your children and those who will be involved in your lives together – parents, in-laws, schools, peers and their parents. Its an endless list and as much as there will be too many good times to count, there will also be challenges. Choose the ones you fight carefully.
‘Don’t sweat the small stuff’ I remember crying hysterically when I nipped the end of Harrys finger as I cut his nails, convinced that the health visitor would think I was an unfit mother. Turns out, that’s a bit irrational. Don’t panic about the little things that go wrong because they will. Just learn and laugh where you can. And know that by the time you have your third child you won’t be sweating any stuff at all, let alone the small stuff!
‘It’s only as hard or easy as you make it. It works’ That’s true too. As long as you are meeting your baby’s basic needs, loving them and modelling how to live with manners and good morals your work is done. You will parent through example so be the person you needed when you were growing up.
More profound advice was also given.
‘It’s not about you anymore’ is so true. Everything for the next 18 years revolves around the new bundle of noise, sweet smelling skin and giggles (obviously they won’t always be like that – my teenage boys don’t smell very sweet most of the time!) While it’s important to make time for yourself, the wellbeing of the little person you decided to bring into the world is now all that matters. Its exhilarating and exhausting but we wouldn’t change it for the world.
‘Don’t try to live your life through your child’. I see this one a lot (often in the mirror!) I am aware now that I unconsciously heaped the expectations and hopes of two babies onto Oliver’s shoulders when it was confirmed that Harry wouldn’t have the life I expected for him. That was unfair but I was only able to stop it by recognising it. I see parents who settled down early encouraging their children to travel, parents who went straight into the work place selling the benefits of a university lifestyle they missed out on. I am as guilty as any but at the end of the day I think we have to know that all we can do is show the options and allow our children the freedom to choose their own way in the world (Oooo that sounds scary. Am considering replacing it with – enrol them on a uni course and book them on a world cruise but I’m fighting the urge!)
As well as the beautiful ‘tomorrow is another day’ ‘it gets easier’ ‘one day at a time’ and ‘just keep smiling, keep trying’ I am leaving you with one bit of advice which I think is the most powerful.
Helens son Harry is 4. He’s got the cheekiest smile and the most loving parents. He’s also in remission from a really aggressive cancer which assaulted his little body and left his family feeling grateful for every single moment they have together, even the bad ones. Helen says “live every day with your child like it’s your last. Love harder, laugh longer, hug tighter, kiss more often…enjoy the small things and savour those moments because you really never know what’s around the corner”. Kind of puts it all into perspective a bit doesn’t it.
So, in summary, sleep when you can, forget the housework for a while, eat the cake, know that you ARE enough and enjoy the journey. Thanks to everyone who shared their advice with me. I’m off to follow it all to the letter now (except I’m having cheese not cake) – what?? They might be twelve but they’re still my babies! The rules still apply.