TRUST your instincts, nobody gets it right all the time, and you’re doing a great job — these are all crucial parenting tenets, yet most new parents either don’t know or won’t believe them.
Instead, many new mums and dads feel unsure of themselves in the early days of parenthood, and worry that they’re not the ‘perfect parent’. Indeed, new research has found more than half (62%) of parents believe they’re failing within the first year.
And the UK study, by WaterWipes , which has launched the #ThisIsParenthood project offering a candid look at real parenting moments, also revealed that exactly half of parents put on a brave face rather than being honest about their reality.
Midwife Vicki Scott says: “When it comes to parenthood, there’s no one size fits all — the ‘perfect parent’ doesn’t exist.
“Many of the new parents I work with often feel they should know everything as soon as their child is born, and if they don’t, they are in some way failing.
“This just isn’t the case. You are, in fact, the very best parent for your baby. It’s all about that precious connection and loving bond, even on those tricky days.”
And the fact that most new parents are probably doing really well, despite their own doubts, is something many more experienced mums and dads say they wish they’d known before they had their first baby, and would now tell others.
Here, Scott reveals the top 10 things parents of older children would tell their less experienced counterparts:
New parents aren’t expected to know everything about parenting, particularly with their first child, says Scott. “I always try to reassure them of this and help guide them on their journey, learning as they go,” she says.
“With so much pressure to feel you need to be perfect, particularly with social media nowadays, it’s important to remember you won’t always get it right and you aren’t expected to know everything.”
Mother knows best, and so do fathers, stresses Scott. “There’s nothing like a parent’s instinct —they know their child better than anyone and it’s important to listen to this. The overall feeling of failing comes from a number of sources, including social media, but my advice would be to switch off from this, and listen to your own thoughts and feelings.”
“Parenthood can be a real challenge at any stage, with those early days being particularly testing at times, and so all you can do is try your best,” says Scott, who stresses that celebrating the realities of parenting will build confidence and create an open and honest conversation about it.
Babies crying is, of course, completely normal, and a vital part of how an infant communicates its needs. “Sometimes they may be tired, or hungry, or just want a cuddle,” says Scott. “Again it goes back to trusting your instincts.”
She advises new parents to pause, take a breath, don’t panic, and do all they can to soothe baby until he or she settles down. “The most important thing is that you’re there supporting your baby until its need is met,” she explains.
Parents can often feel alone and unable to share their struggles with friends and family — the WaterWipes research found 41% of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgement.
However, many support networks such as friends and family, antenatal classes and mum and baby groups are available, and over half of parents (53%) would urge new parents to accept the help around them.
While in the early days of new parenthood your focus is on your baby, it’s important parents don’t forget about themselves, stresses Scott. Indeed, almost half (47%) of parents wish they’d known the importance of self-love in those early days, and would now advise new parents to bear it in mind.
“While you’re trying to do your best, you must also remember you’re only human and you need time to relax and reflect too,” says Scott. “Think of it as taking care of your baby’s most precious possession — its parents.”
Scott says many new mums struggle to manage their emotions in the early days, as their hormones are “all over the place”. But although mums are likely to have more extreme reactions than usual around the time of the birth, dads will also often feel all sorts of emotions on the parenting journey.
“It’s important not to be too hard on yourself and understand feelings can be difficult to interpret and manage at this time,” says Scott. “Just go with it, be sure to talk about it and things will settle with experience and time.”
Supporting your baby to develop healthy sleep patterns doesn’t always happen quickly or easily, and Scott says: “Parents need to be made aware that it will often take time to master — and just when you think you’ve mastered nap-time, along comes a new developmental stage and sleeping patterns can change again.”
Becoming a mum or dad for the first time won’t necessarily feel natural straight away, and over a third (34%) of parents want to make sure other parents know this. “Being a new parent can be incredibly difficult and many can find it hard to adjust to their new way of life,” says Scott.
“You can never have enough nappies and wipes, and never underestimate the mess that comes with a small child,” stresses Scott.