When I was pregnant with my first child, I spent hours pouring over furniture, clothes, toys and birth plans.
I now refer to that time as blissful ignorance, because I had no idea how my life would change a few months later.
If I could go back in time to my pre-baby self, these are the top three things I would warn myself about motherhood.
1. You’ll know everything, yet you’ll know nothing.
Parenting has a steep learning curve. At first, everything seems new and overwhelming, until one glorious day, when you’ll think “I’ve got the hang of this”.
You’ll have figured out the whole feed, nap, change, and play routine. You’ll be able to change a nappy with your eyes closed (not recommended, though). And you’ll be decoding every whimper and squawk before it turns into a full blown cry.
The feeling lasts for maybe 20 minutes. Because the moment you start feeling like a competent parent, something happens to shatter the illusion.
Maybe it’s a growth spurt, or a developmental leap, or teething, or daylight savings. It could be anything and it could be nothing. Babies are mysterious. They change faster than you can figure them out.
There will be days when your baby will nap perfectly and giggle and coo like the babies on TV. And then there will be days when he or she acts like a turbo-charged Energiser bunny on speed. And you’ll have no idea why.
And even though YOU are the one who knows your baby best, you will doubt yourself. Sometimes you will feel like you don’t know anything at all.
The sooner you accept this, the happier you’ll be. Don’t expend too much mental energy trying to analyse what’s happening. When you have a good day, just say thanks and enjoy it while it lasts. And when you have a bad day, put the chocolate (or wine!) on standby and remember that “this too, shall pass”.
2. Listen to advice, but follow your heart
Everyone’s an expert when it comes to parenting.
There are many, many ways to be a great parent – and no matter what choice you make, there will be someone ready to criticise it.
As the saying goes: if you try to please everyone, you’ll end up pleasing no one. Don’t do something just because your mum, or your best friend, or great-aunt Beulah recommended it.
We have instincts for a reason. If it feels wrong, it probably is. Everyone has a unique perspective, and NO ONE has all the answers. Yes, including specialists – so don’t be afraid to get a second opinion if something really doesn’t sit well with you.
Ultimately, what matters is that your baby is healthy and happy. If something isn’t a problem for you (or the household) and everyone is healthy and happy, then don’t let anyone convince you otherwise.
It’s perfectly ok if your ten week old isn’t sleeping 12 hours straight. It’s fine if your eight month old doesn’t seem interested in solids. By all means, listen to advice from others and remember to trust your instincts too.
3. Feel the roller coaster
Becoming a parent brings excitement, aggression, sadness, elation, despondency, euphoria, and pride – often all in one day.
Even if you’re usually more stable than Ayers Rock, motherhood can change things. The hormones, the sleep deprivation, the demands of giving EVERYTHING to your baby – they do wacky things.
Don’t be surprised if you cry at the smallest things, like running out of nappy bags. Or at toilet paper commercials. It’s normal and completely appropriate.
You might struggle to cope with negative emotions and need a bit of help from doctors or psychologists – and that’s normal too.
The point is, accept the emotional rollercoaster and don’t try to hide it. Connect with other mums, whether it’s a mother’s group, playgroup, or an online community. Enlist help from a trusted friend or family member and give yourself a break, if you want it.
And if you think you need professional help, then you probably do. And go get that help. Because it’s courageous to acknowledge and accept your feelings. There’s nothing brave about martyrdom, bottling up your emotions, and refusing help when you need it.
We can only give what we already have. When we take care of ourselves, we’re in a better position to care for others. And that’s one of the most valuable lessons I would share with my pre-baby self and with all mothers across the world.
Do you have any tips to add to this list?