Charlie Wilson is a writer, a businesswoman, a wife and, above all, a mum. She is the author of the book Survival Guide for New Parents: Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year, a friendly, realistic, practical book containing heaps of guidance from parents who’ve been there, done that, got the puree-encrusted t-shirt.
Here she shares ten tips to help you navigate the challenges of your first year as a parent:
1. Realise that you don’t need lots of baby paraphernalia
Babies don’t have to come with mountains of kit that send your bank balance plunging into the red. Before you get carried away in a baby store, or feel the need to keep up with what other parents are buying, take a moment to check that you actually need the item. (And if you decide you do, check out second-hand options – you can pick up heaps of baby gear at bargain prices).
2. Give yourself permission to need support
Yes, you can do it all alone. But that’s the far harder path than letting other people in. If Grandpa wants to babysit, let him. If your next-door neighbour offers to pick up some groceries, say, ‘Yes, please.’ And do what you can to get out and about and meet other parents – both newbies, like yourself, and more experienced ones. Nothing beats advice from people who’ve been in your situation and come out the other side intact and smiling.
3. Have life of your own
It’s not selfish, it’s essential! You need some balance in your life, and just a little time to yourself, and with your partner, makes a big difference in how you cope with the demands of parenting. Think of it this way: children learn by example, so you want your child to see that you value yourself enough to allow an identity beyond that of just Mum or Dad.
4. Throw the rule book out of the window when illness strikes
Whether it’s you who’s ill, or your baby, or (disaster!) both of you, let go of trying to be Super Parent. The hoovering can wait, and so can teaching Junior to self-soothe at night. And as for policing a strict routine, forget it. All that matters right now is beating that illness and feeling better. Cuddles and rest are the order of the day. Tomorrow you can get back to following your plan.
5. Resist the urge to compete with other parents
You know that mum you meet who tells you her child slept through the night from birth, sat up at three months, crawled at five months and was speaking Latin by his first birthday? Smile sweetly and congratulate her, then go back to cuddling your baby who’s doing absolutely fine just as he/she is.
6. Chill out about mess.
BB (Before Baby) your house may have been nice and tidy; AB (After Baby) you can’t walk across a room without tripping over a stuffed animal. BB, you ate dinner in a calm, civilised fashion; AB you wear an apron at the dinner table and spend copious amounts of time scraping carrot mush off your once-white walls. You get the picture: babies are messy little creatures. And in fact, as they start weaning and then exploring, the messiness becomes important for development – something to accept, not wrestle with. So by all means keep some vague sense of order at home, but let go of being too fastidious.
7. Grab opportunities to rest
Sleep deprivation is the biggest culprit for low feelings. Though it’s tempting to rush around doing jobs when your baby’s sleeping, if you’re exhausted, give in to the urge to slump on the sofa. A nap is ideal, but even just five minutes of calm time can work wonders for your mood and energy levels.
8. Trust your instincts
When it comes to parenting, you know best – only you know how to be the mother or father of your child. The sooner you start to listen to the little voice inside that guides you, the sooner you can relax into parenting and stand firm in the decisions you make.
9. Identify what good parenting means
Anxiety is a common complaint for parents – we worry that we’re not doing a good enough job. Often, though, we don’t take the time to establish just what exactly a good job is. Your baby needs three key things from you: attention, acceptance and love. If you can supply these alongside basic care-giving, you’re doing just fine.
10. Remember that it gets easier
When you feel that a decent night’s sleep is a thing of the past, when teething is tormenting you, when your baby seems to have become a permanent appendage on your aching hip – don’t despair. Babies change so quickly, and the stage you’re at now will pass soon. In a matter of months you’ll look back and see how much better you’re coping now as a parent. And then, just perhaps, when your partner looks at you with that certain twinkle in the eye, you’ll catch yourself thinking that you may just want to do it all again.
For more information, buy Survival Guide for New Parents: Pregnancy, Birth and the First Year, and read more of Charlie's useful advice.