I ran into one of Rob’s friends the other day.
He and his wife are expecting their first baby, so inevitably the infamous ‘So, what is it like?’ crept into conversation.
I find that one tricky.
On one hand, I want to convey the joy and fun of spending time with your child, of watching them grow and discover new things, interacting with their environment and developing their own personality.
On the other, I think it’s grossly unfair to gloss over the tiredness, frustration and mind-numbing routine that is an inevitable part of parenting.
It’s not that I welcome the outlet to moan about how bad it all is. It’s just that if you only focus on the fun, and ditch all the drudgery, I feel you are setting new parents up to fail. And there are already enough parents feeling like they are ‘not enough’ because they can’t live up to their desired parenting ideals 100% of the time.
On top of these considerations, there’s the danger of imparting too much information to someone who quite frankly has no frame of reference for being a full-time parent, the ever-present conundrum being that you don’t get a trial run in having kids.
A few months ago, I wrote about my experience of giving too much unsolicited parenting advice. A friend suggested afterwards that maybe the best advice I could have given instead is for expecting parents is to just enjoy themselves.
So here are my ‘5 Top Tips For Expecting Parents’:
1. Enjoy yourself!
Just enjoy your pregnancy, and cherish your time as an individual as well as a couple.
Even though a certain amount of ‘nesting’ is part of the deal, there’s no need to spend the majority of your maternity leave cleaning every crevice, or batch cooking until your freezer is bursting.
Sleep late, go for walks, people watch in your favourite coffee shop, visit a museum. Do whatever makes your heart sing. Go out for dinners and do things as a couple. See your friends.
Becoming a parent of course does not permanently prevent you from doing any of this, but it will require more organization, and often more cost. The last time Rob and I had a dinner & movie date, we spent £120. Half of that was for the babysitter, and the emergency taxi home.
2. Listen to parenting advice with one ear only
When you’re pushing a bump around (or a pram in due time!), everybody will be keen on giving you advice, including non-parents.
Listen politely, but be selective on retention. Take any advice with a grain of salt, especially when coming from people who do not even have children.
Noone can give you an accurate point of reference for understanding an experience you have not yet had, so inevitably you will listen and think
‘Yeah… but that won’t be me!’
3. Trust yourself
This is your experience. You’re a novice, but you can trust your intuition.
Parenting is confusing, but it’s also instinctual, even though we live in a world where trusting your instincts isn’t widely encouraged.
For everything you do, there’ll be someone, or some book or some website, telling you to do it differently. Do what feels right.
When you don’t know what to do, be ok with that, too.
4. Accept help
It has taken my fierce ‘ I can cope’ mentality a while to come around to this one.
As a matter of fact, my mantra for 2013 is
‘Every time help is offered, I am saying yes’
You might not feel like you really need the help that is being offered right in this moment. You may worry about being a burden by accepting the help, or you may think you should be able to manage on your own.
Doesn’t matter. Take it anyway.
Give yourself a break, and let someone support you. Accepting help does not mean you have failed.
There’s no prize for doing it all alone. Parenting is not a job you do in isolation. Above all, you need to take care of yourself – for your benefit, and that of your family.
So let yourself be supported.
5. Ask for help
If no help seems immediately available or forthcoming, ask for it.
Again, asking for help is not a sign of weakness. It takes courage and self-awareness to know when you need support outside of yourself.
If you have to pay for it, do that too. It’s worth it.
Something else I’m working on…
But above all, refer back to tip #2 and don’t listen to me!
And please, do enjoy yourself, now and as a new parent!