Babies don’t come with a parenting manual but, even if they did, we’d still get things wrong and make mistakes along the way.
From that first moment when you hold your tiny newborn baby in your arms, your life changes forever. However many baby books you read or antenatal classes you attend, getting to grips with parenting is a steep learning curve.
You try out different tricks and techniques. You fail and you try again. You learn and and slowly find out what works best for your baby and for you. Above all, we all just do our best.
If I had my time again and could go back to the very beginning of my parenting journey, with the wisdom of all I have learned, here’s what I’d do differently…
I would chuck my birth plans out of the window
I would recognise that birth is an unpredictable experience and no two births are the same.
It might not go the way I planned. And that’s OK.
The best thing about a natural birth is…that your baby is delivered safely.
The best thing about a Caesarian birth is…that your baby is delivered safely.
As long as you and baby are healthy and well that is all that matters.
I would cut back on visitors after birth
I was utterly knackered and rocking a giant adult nappy with leaky boobs.
While I appreciated the fact that family and friends wanted to come in for a cuddle, I just wanted to sleep. And cry. And sleep.
If I could go back, I would ban or at least limit visitors until I was in a fit state to meet them.
I would be kinder to myself for not being able to breastfeed.
I tried. I really, really tried.
I was knackered and sore and hormonal and my baby needed to be fed.
I wish I hadn’t put so much pressure on myself and felt so much guilt that breastfeeding didn’t work out. I carried that guilt and shame around for months.
I wish I could have been kinder to myself for not being able to do it. My beautiful teenagers are intelligent and smart and funny and kind. I don’t think you can tell that they were bottle fed. Or that it held them back.
I wish I could have breastfed but I also wish I could have let go of the guilt when I found I couldn’t.
I wouldn’t beat myself up for giving up my job.
Before having my first baby I was a primary teacher and I truly loved my job. But when my maternity leave ended I just found that I didn’t want to leave her and go back.
I beat myself up for so long making that decision. Looking back I know, now, that choosing to stay at home was the right decision for me. And while I have made salary sacrifices, I found new avenues to find work that fitted round my family. And it has all worked out. So I wish I could have spared myself the anguish.
I would stop stressing about milestones.
All the baby books told me my babies should crawl at 9 months, walk at 12 months, start speaking at 12-18 months…I got so worried when each of my children hit a certain age and hadn’t met their milestones.
Would my children be walking down the aisle in nappies? Would they always stammer? Would they never ditch the dummy? It turns out they both developed at their own pace and it was all OK.
I would trust my instincts
No matter what the baby books and parenting forums said, no matter what my mum friends were doing, I would trust my instincts.
I wish I could have believed more in myself and my own convictions. I wish I would have strode ahead, believed in my instincts and followed what they told me.
I would stop putting pressure on myself to ‘ping back’ to my pre-pregnancy body.
After all it took nine months for it to grow and change so why did I expect it to get back into shape after nine weeks?
Sure I had a mum tum, saggy boobs and stretch marks but I wish I could have stopped feeling so bad about the way my body had changed and relaxed about its new look.
I would stop worrying about my messy house.
And invite friends over anyway.
The real friends would never have minded that the carpet hadn’t been hoovered and that there were baby grows hanging to dry over the radiators.
I would book that babysitter.
I worried that nobody could see to my baby’s needs like I could but I ended up feeling tired and trapped.
I wish I had booked a babysitter and taken a little more time off just to be me.
I would not take things so seriously.
I wanted so much to get things right that I constantly agonised over whether I’d made the right decisions or done the right thing.
Being so anxious made it harder to just enjoy the wonderful, everyday magic and the silly moments of parenting.
We can never turn back time.
We can never rewind and do it all a bit better, armed with all that we know now. But, we should take it easy on ourselves as well. There’s no such thing as a perfect parent.
No matter what filtered photos you flick through on Instagram. No matter what stage you’re at in your parenting journey – know that you are doing your best. And that’s doing great.