Looking back on my parenting adventure, I would say there are definitely things that I wished I had known prior to becoming a parent. For example, how it’s possible for a 2 year old to single-handedly destroy a play room in 30 seconds flat?! Whether you’re pregnant or just gave birth to your little bundle of joy, you will find that people are always willing to give advice or share their own personal experiences. While it is great to hear from other seasoned parents, the amount of information when becoming a new parent can be overwhelming. Following is a list of my top time tested tips to help you navigate the first year and beyond.
1. Sleep/rest whenever possible: Whomever said sleep is overrated, clearly never had kids. Parenting is one of the most tiresome (and most rewarding) jobs you will ever have. Between ear infections, 2am feedings, nightmares, and a variety of other issues that will keep your little ones awake, there will be times when it feels as if you haven’t slept for days. Some of the best advice I ever received was to rest when my child was resting. Yes, I know there are dishes to be washed, and laundry to fold, and don’t forget those cupcakes that have to be baked for the next play date. However an hour or two of rest will go a long way to refreshing the mind and body so that you can tackle the rest of the day efficiently.
2. Do what works best for your family: The moment you find out you are pregnant, people will come out of the wood works with a tremendous amount of (mostly) good intentioned advice. You will most likely hear opinions on everything from breastfeeding to sleep training to marital advice. Remember no one knows your children like you do. And no one knows your life circumstances. What works in one family doesn’t necessarily work in another. Listen to advice from multiple trusted sources, test it out, and discard theories based on your own experiences.
3. Learn to Relax: Learn to use controlled breathing exercises such as meditation when life becomes overwhelming. Not only will you help relax yourself but think about the message that you’re giving to your child. Children tend to feed off of the emotions of the adults whose care they are in. If they see you are anxious, they will become anxious too. Taking a few minutes to center your thoughts and emotions will help to set a good example of self control to your children.
4. Don’t bother with guilt (too much): This is one for all parents but for mothers in particular. Working parents feel bad about working and not spending enough time with their children. And stay-at-home parents feel bad about not working and collecting a paycheck to contribute to the home. As a parent you will most likely experience guilt regarding just about everything involving your child. No one has it perfect. Research suggests that self-compassion is a very important life skill, helping people stay resilient in the face of challenges. Parents can use self-compassion when coping with difficulties in child-rearing. In doing so, they can set an example for their kids.
5. Have realistic expectations: Endeavour to provide age-appropriate parenting. Don’t expect a toddler to sit quietly for long periods of time and likewise don’t expect your teenager to never do something stupid or dangerous. The fact is kids will test their boundaries and will need you, as the parent, to set realistic limits for their behavior.
6. Appreciate each stage and milestone: While it’s wonderful to daydream about the future, don’t forget to live in the present. The one thing that spending time with children teaches you more than anything is that all we have is this moment. Children, especially the little ones, live exclusively in the moment. These heartwarming milestones will pass all too quickly as children tend to “grow up” right before our eyes.
7. Lighten Up: When parents joke and pretend, it gives young kids the tools to think creatively, make friends and manage stress. Not to mention that it gives parents the opportunity to feel like a kid again. So put your smartphone or iPad down and feel free to play your favorite board game. These are the times your kid will most likely remember through childhood and will thank you later.
8. Tend to Your Own Mental/Physical Health: If you suspect you might be suffering from any physical or mental health issue, get help! This is both for your own sake and your child’s. If you can’t take care of yourself, it will be twice as difficult to take care of a child. You will be a much more effective parent when you are happy and healthy and will also teach your children that maintaining their health is important.
9. Nobody’s perfect: Don’t torture yourself with an impossibly high standard for parenting success. Make an effort to ignore the pressure, and you may find yourself a more relaxed parent.
10. Be involved in your child’s life: Being an involved parent takes time and is hard work, and it often means rethinking your priorities. It frequently means sacrificing what you want to do for what your child needs to do. Be there mentally and physically. Take time to be with your children and you will never regret it!