The thought that has come to mind in the past couple of months when I have a quiet moment to reflect on my personal parenting journey including the challenges it has presented is “why couldn’t I have known this earlier?” If only we knew then what do know, we could have worried less about things that shouldn’t matter and focus on things that do. Easier said than done right? I am sure as mothers and fathers we have all thought that to ourselves at some point. In moments of reflection and self examination, we ponder how much growth we have experienced and how much we have learnt since we first became parents in those early weeks. I know I am one to ask myself “would things have been easier if I had known all this in the beginning?” Of course this is unrealistic as we all start somewhere. We go from being alone with our spouse, living selfishly by comparison – to welcoming a newborn into the world and having to accept and adjust ourselves in almost everyway in the weeks that follow. Time cannot be undone and we cannot go back and miraculously know what we do now. But we can make mental notes and reassurances for the next baby, or alternatively give sensible advice when asked by close mum/dad friends we may have that are transitioning into parenthood for the first time.
With parenting many of us start out thinking we know things in”theory” to finding that putting into practice is another matter entirely. Certain things we thought we knew go out the window. We are overwhelmed in the first few months, trying to find our bearings and come to terms with this new role – this new life of parenthood. We sift through advice given by others and mix that with our inner maternal instinctual natures to find a level of equilibrium we can be content with. This takes various amounts of time for all of us. Along the way our lives turn into a beautiful chaos, where we sacrifice ourselves daily, persevere through exhaustion, challenges and self doubt to experience such elation and enumerable blessings.
In a way, giving advice to your “new mum” self is a bit of a make believe fantasy, but I have wanted to write from this angle as it gives me (and the other parents I have asked to feature in this blog) a non judgemental, personal and self confronting way to put into words our own honest and earnest advice. This in turn potentially triggers new revelation and encourages thoughtful reflection on their own parenting – how far they have come on their own personal journey.
I have asked 8 mothers and 1 father (not including myself) to write 3 pieces of advice they would give THEMSELVES on the subject of parenthood and I hope that in part it may offer new mothers and the like some gentle direction and hopefully some insightful and unique perspective from those who have some experience. It may even enlighten you to read advice that a mother would give to her new mum self and bring you to a point of realisation that none of us are perfect, none of us breeze through parenthood and we all have learned vital and life changing lessons from it. After reading what my fellow parents have written I have been deeply touched and moved by their personal advice and can say that I have taken from it and will apply small parts of it in future. Even though I am a parent to an 18 month old son I still have much to learn. I am sure parents of more than 1 child continue to learn as each subsequent child is born. Does the learning ever stop? I hope all parents or parents to be that read this blog entry derive only positivity, encouragement and support from it, and a hope for any parenting hurdles they may encounter in the future.
Each individual who was asked to be a part of this blog has their own opinions and advice to give, and I asked only that these parents give advice that was true and relevant to them – no matter how brief and to the point it may be. Some chose to elaborate, other parents kept their 3 points short and sweet. Either way I did notice that many of them had similarities or common denominators. Which confirmed with me that we all face similar challenges, encounter similar doubts and/or anxieties and also make similar mistakes or error in judgement (without sounding condemnatory).
I will start off with my own 3 points of advice I would give my new mum self – now just over 18 months ago when I gave birth to my son Jonah:
1. Don’t wish away the time in a day – savour each moment. Even though Jonah has rarely ever been a difficult child, it is me that has struggled to adjust and be patient with my new role in life. This has meant I have sometimes wanted time to speed up, and have looked forward to nap times or each night I get to put Jonah down to bed. There was a short period of weeks there that I was wishing time away, wanting it to accelerate and pass by. If I could go back I would caution myself from doing this and would encourage my new mum self to savour each day, each new moment – and always look for the positive in it no matter how I was feeling that day. Tough days or hours will pass quickly enough without me looking forward all the more. My children will never be this age again, doing the things they do now. Just be content in each moment and cherish it.
2. Never cease to pray. Asking for the Lords help in those early days of parenting was something I did habitually. I drew comfort and reassurance as a Christian from my daily prayer life, and found that the Lord guided me through those early weeks and stopped me from despairing. I really struggled to accept my role as a mother (God is still working on me in this regard) but I recall that first night in hospital after I gave birth, the great weight of responsibility and reality of the fact I was a mother hit home with me. I felt myself start to sink into despair – which can be a dangerous place to be. If I would not have cried out to God to pull me from that, to console me, to help steer me onto the path He had for me – than I don’t know what would have happened in the weeks that followed. I knew in those early weeks how much a new mum needs the Holy Spirit in her everyday life. Along the way though I stopped praying as I used to. I got side tracked, flustered, caught up in the sometimes monotonous whirlwind of everyday life and schedule that I started to neglect my prayer life. I believe I have suffered for it slightly – I have drifted, I haven’t had the peace I once did, that clarity, that contentment I had been drawing from the Holy Spirit. I would urge my new mum self to never cease from praying and relying on the Lord for strength, guidance, comfort and encouragement. Seeking it from the world will never satisfy and will leave you empty and lacking over time. I believe 100% prayer and a close relationship with Christ brings out a better parent in me.
3. Don’t forget to prioritise one on one alone time with your husband. Phil and I have not done this enough admittedly. It is somewhat difficult for us as we have no family assistance when it comes to offers to watch Jonah, and have only had the occasional offer of a friend (that has no children) for a couple of hours. If I could go back I would just make it happen. Somehow. Although it’s much harder for us than many parents I encounter, I would invest in hiring someone that we could trust to watch our son whilst we went on a few dates together and invested time back into each other. Hanging out as friends and taking a little time out needs to be a frequent occurrence. Weeks can pass before new parents take a real breather together. Although Phil and I have always been good at talking and communicating together, we mainly found that it was simply doing something fun and lighthearted that we missed and have not done in SO long. Getting away from the house for a few hours together on a monthly basis is a healthy goal to have as a couple. I will be sure we do this next time around!
Sarah Richards – @raising_the_richards_three
Oscar due in September
Looking back to the woman I was 5 years ago, pre kids; I hardly recognise her! She was a tad selfish, was in the midst of her money making years and working in marketing and sales management. She had different goals and definitely different values. I’ve learnt so many brilliant life lessons since then, all of which I feel the universe sent my children to teach me. If I could take Sarah from 5 years ago out for coffee and have a chat with her I would tell her these three things about Motherhood.
1. Do whatever works for you and don’t sweat the small stuff.
I must credit Sarah from 5 years ago for following her instinct more than I imagined I would. But I want to reiterate to her that it doesn’t matter what other people think about your parenting methods; Because you’re not everyone’s mum and not everyone raises babies the same way.
When I first had Ava I was surprised and sometimes offended at some of the advice people were giving me (now I don’t think this advice was wrong; just not for me) people were telling me because Ava breastfed so much that she must be hungry and that I wasn’t making enough milk (funnily enough Ava was off the growth charts as a baby) People also said “ohhh she will be sleeping in your bed until she’s 8!” When they found out we decided to co sleep with Ava. (She got a big girl bed at 2 and has been happily sleeping in it through the night ever since, she’s nearly 5) I’m so glad I stuck to my guns and followed Ava’s lead on everything when everyone was telling me it was “wrong”
I would definitely tell myself that people really are trying to help, they aren’t trying to annoy you or upset you – they genuinely give their opinions in the hope of making your life easier. However; always do whatever works for you. I’ll never judge another mama for the way she chooses to raise her child, if it works for her and bub then who am I to question it?
2. Every baby isn’t the same! Act accordingly.
After having Ava and successfully breastfeeding her for almost 17 months I thought I was a pro. So when I had Jude my son and he struggled to feed I was in disbelief. I was under the assumption once you’ve breastfed a baby, every subsequent baby you have will latch on and feed like a natural and you’ll both just get it. I remember Adam going home the night of Jude’s birth and me and Jude being left alone overnight at the hospital. I found myself in tears to my midwife, begging for help because we just couldn’t get it right. It was so different to Ava, Jude had a lazy latch and wouldn’t drain me properly. He would guzzle milk for 2 mins and then fall asleep. Luckily we both learnt and adapted together and I managed to successfully feed Jude till almost 17 months also, but a valuable lesson was learnt from those early months. Don’t compare your babies and don’t expect them to be the same or need the same parenting from you. They are have different needs because they are different people.
3. These moments are fleeting and the hard times do pass.
I’m currently 4 weeks out from giving birth to our third child and I honestly feel like I gave birth to my firstborn only a few years ago. The saying the days are long but the years are short rings so true for me. Sometimes when you’re borderline panic attack because your kids haven’t stopped arguing all day, the house is a bomb site, you haven’t managed a shower because the tiny dictators have given you far too much to do for personal hygiene, (how selfish of you Mum!) it’s hard to remember how fast it all goes. But when they are needy and want to be held or played with I always try and give them what they need from me, they won’t always be this little they won’t always need me or want me around.
The teething passes, the tiredness passes and before you know it you’re ready to do it all over again. I truly try to cherish these moments today because tomorrow I’ll wake up and have 3 moody, hormonal teenagers and a brand new list of reasons to be borderline mental breakdown. 😉
Jaimie Orchard – @jaimieorchard
Mother to Hunter James (3 in August) and Vaida Jean (15 months)
- Follow the mantra, “This Too Shall Pass”. It is very comforting know any obstacle of sleepless nights are developmental milestones which will not last forever. It’s a great mantra to tell yourself while you’re up at 3am feeding/resettling multiple times a night! I also found comfort in knowing I’m not the only person up at that time; those long nights can be lonely!
- Baby wear, especially in the afternoon/evening “witching hour”. Baby wearing keeps baby content during those unsettled hours of the evening and enables you to cook dinner/clean the house/relax while your baby is comforted and safe on your chest. It’s great for colic and teething too as your baby is upright and able to pass gas easily. Watch your baby, not the clock.
- You don’t have to follow the “Baby Book” l. Find your own groove as you learn what kind of mother you are/want to be. Bedshare/co sleep if that’s what works for your family. Don’t feel like you have to sleep train because your baby isn’t sleeping through etc. As long as your baby is healthy, happy and thriving, you’re doing a good job mama! Listen to your mothering instincts and let your baby take the lead. Every baby is different and no baby book takes that into account.
Nadine Muller – @nadinemuller__
Keearla Johnson – @keearla__
Mum to Stella, aged 19 months
The three important pieces I would give to my new mum self would definitely be:
- Relax. Confidence comes in time – within a few weeks you will be killing this mum gig, most new mothers get this overwhelming feeling at first too. You are not the only one, ask for help.
- Cherish the time with your new born. It is so cliche but it’s one of the truest statements I have heard. They develop every single day; I really wish I embraced those newborn days so much more.
- Talk to more mothers’ about the stages I am going through and the tough days, I do it now but in the beginning I didn’t! Without a doubt someone has dealt with the same experience and can reassure you it’s completely normal.
Super generic but these are what ring true to me!
Krista Dennis – @fithappymummy
Jesse Manners – @fatherlikesons
Father to Riley 4, and Boston aged 19 months
- Just because it looks funny it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. I stupidly taught Riley to say a bunch of albeit hilarious things to say, they have been the platform for some seriously cheeky/naughty one-liners used at the worst of times.
- Reverse psychology can be a real jerk. The whole, ” no please don’t eat your veggies, I really want to eat them.” Has led to a fair bit of confusion for Riley because now when I say “Riley don’t you even think about grabbing that piece of chocolate from your mother’s stash.” He automatically gets that same cheeky grin and goes right for it.
- The internet and technology is not a free baby sitter … keep in mind that while I am recommending this I actually don’t practise this at all. What’s the definition of a hypocrite again? Haha.
Tammy Hembrow – @tammyhembrow
Mum to Wolf 2, and Saskia aged 1
– I don’t need to worry so much about finding a routine, that I will get there eventually
– Remember to also take time for myself and my relationship with my partner when I can
– Not to compare my experiences with other previous experiences too closely, kids will be kids and each one is an individual
Susie Stafford – @miss_susieq_fitmum
Mum to Cooper, aged 14 months
– Trust your instincts!
Dr Google doesn’t give accurate medical advice. And friends/family/ mothers groups can only help a certain amount. Always trust your instincts with your baby. You know your baby best!
– Post natal depression/perinatal depression isn’t anything to be ashamed of!
Having suffered mental illness since a teenager, I knew all the signs of PND. Yet for some reason I was more ashamed of knowing I was suffering whilst pregnant and post natal. There is always a stigma behind any form of mental illness, and to feel that I wasn’t ‘thankful’ to be pregnant or to have a healthy new baby made it worse. Seek help from those who care and know you best, because suffering in silence doesn’t help you or your baby or your relationships.
– Only take advice that resonates to you!
You will be given countless amounts of unsolicited advice from other mums/family members/friends. A lot of this advice will be conflicting, and some won’t suit your lifestyle, situation, beliefs. Only take on board what you want. No baby is the same as another, and every little life requires different help.
The last person to write on my blog (but certainly not least) is my friend Bron, who I met at a new church my husband and I started attending about 3 months before we left on our holiday overseas. I wanted to make a special note here about what she has written. As a fellow Christian mother we have extremely similar parenting points of view and reading Bron’s words affected me in a deep way. I can’t exactly explain how much it resounded with me on more than one level, but if I could have written a fourth or fifth point, Bron’s words below capture my own thoughts and opinions as a Christian parent better than I may have even be able to write. What she has written here drew me into a reflective place of meditation on the link between Christ and motherhood.
Bron Pirrotta – @mytiny.tribe
Mum to Malia Sage – 3, and Macey Rain – 9 months
Three pieces of advice I wish I’d known as a new mum:
Coming into motherhood initially I had fairly relaxed views. My first birth was so natural and ‘easy’… as far as pushing a human out of you can be, and the first few months were challenging but fairly regular so far as life goes with a newborn. The first time I felt the ‘mum worry’ overcome me (often brought about due to the opinions of others/society or self doubt) was at my daughters 4 month check up. “How’s she sleeping?” the young, fresh-out-of-uni doctor asked, “she’s… not, really…” (well it felt like that at least) “OH WHAT?! She’s not sleeping through?” Doc asked in shock horror (I now know how ridiculous it is to expect a fully breastfed 4 month old to sleep through! but then? I TRUSTED her. She was the ‘professional’ after all.) “Go out and by the book save our sleep, like, today!” she suggested. I did. And I let my precious 4 month old little girl cry herself to sleep alone instead of being held by her mama’s soft warm chest like she longed for. Oh how I regret these days and weeks of listening, desperately waiting for the crying to stop (only in hopes that I could relieve the desire to go in to her). Yes, my daughter eventually started sleeping through (and don’t get me wrong, I do think there is a place for sleep training, but NOT at 4 months old, and NEVER totally alone). I was so desperate with my first to be in control, to have her sleep through so I could regain some semblance of a normal life and fully functioning brain back… little did I realise that once you have kids your brain never functions the same again! Babe number two has been blessed with, so far 8 months of co-sleeping (or breast -sleeping really) that my first baby girl unfortunately was not. The lesson I have learnt through this is, embrace sleeplessness, every morning I have to make a good decision for myself and my kids: enjoy today, no matter how tired you are, be present, have a coffee, and be humble/vulnerable enough to call someone and ask for help, tell your partner when you need a break to take a nap or shower alone, they aren’t mind readers. And lesson B from this experience, learn to forgive yourself (and the doctor!) and show a graciousness to that 21 year old mum who lacked confidence in her authority and leadership as a mama.
As a Christian, motherhood has taught me immensely about God and His feelings toward us/me as his child. Most times these lessons come from me trying to teach my daughter something eg. “you need to be obedient even if you don’t want to because I am wiser and know/want what’s best for you”. (Go figure; it took me becoming a parent to really get the gist of that lesson from God!)
The main thing I have learnt throughout my almost 4 years as a mum is to constantly bring my parenting back under the lens of how God treats us (**side note – I also bring parenting back to how I’d feel if it were me. eg. what would help me in a situation where I’m feeling emotional like my 3 year old often is? Certainly not someone yelling in my face telling me to stop crying which unfortunately, I’ve been known to do at times.**)
So… as long as I’m putting my parenting under the lens that God looks at me through eg. desiring obedience, loving me unconditionally, disciplining me with graciousness gentleness and calm and most vitally viewing me with joy and adoration of his creation.
Underneath this idea of placing God ahead of everything in parenting comes the idea of putting my husband before my kids and keeping as an absolute team with him. We have had our ups and down, certainly in the first two years of my eldest daughters life. Yet as we have embraced each other, the parenting journey may not be ‘easier’ but we certainly feel more supported and comforted throughout it. Though we still have our differences and disagreements about parenting styles we know that no matter what the day has brought we can sit down together in the evenings and debrief without judgement and recognise our flaws and triumphs. This always helps ground me in embracing what the new morning (or night!) may bring.
So, advice: Put God first in all aspects of life; this is absolutely vital in staying grounded in who you are and as a parent. When i spend deliberate time with God nourishing my soul, the ‘mama’ part in me is filled to keep me focused on who I am in Christ and what my calling is as his child. Keep your eyes focused on your spouse and aim to never identify more as a mother than a wife. The love that flourishes and stems from your marriage falls directly onto the heads of your children – they are covered by it and sense it within the family bond created through the foundation of your marriage.
Let go. Let go of those expectations of perfectionism; expectations from society, from your partner, family, but most of all SELF. I am my own worst critic, particularly when it comes to mothering. I waste precious moments (and energy) in my mind beating myself up for not being damn well perfect as a mum. Hold on to the moments you trust yourself fully and learn to embrace the challenges that you think you can’t face (even such as listening to a whinging 3 year old for one more minute!)
This is absolutely my greatest challenge as a mother; being to harsh on myself.
The main exercises I practice in order to cope with this and change my thinking / beliefs about myself, are debriefing and mindfulness. In order to debrief, find some one trusted (for me its my counsellor, and my husband) and ask them to help you recognise what is objectively true about the situation. Embrace that, whether you like it or not, and if you didn’t like it, find a goal to work toward.
Mindfulness and attentiveness exercises also play a big part in helping me think positive, be present and enjoy my mothering journey. Letting go of what I can’t control, surrendering it all to Jesus and embracing my brokenness, even as a mama.
I love the saying “the days are long but the years are short” in my journey thus far I can absolutely identify with this. I reach the evenings, my back aches from carrying a baby all day, my mind is blurry from answering non-stop questions about everything from the 3 year old, my eyes are weary from waking 5 times the night before, but I look at my eldest daughter and see her suddenly becoming an independent little child and my crawling baby is no longer a sleepy newborn. Summer, when my belly was swollen about to birth, felt like just yesterday and it’s almost the end of winter. Breathe Mama, the journey is brief. You are only learning, and you will keep on learning the whole journey through.
I appreciate each and every mother (and father) for featuring on this blog entry and for taking the time to write from the heart. I am so grateful each of these parents gave insight into their own private parenting journey to some degree – as any of their pointers given would be a direct reflection on what they have personally experienced or been through. I really hope that each parent draws only positivity from what has been written and find it encouraging and useful in more ways than one.