If someone tells you how hard a task will be, does that make it feel easier?
That’s something I’ve been thinking a lot about this week. See, I’ve been wanting to create a list of bullshit-free tips for first-time parents. Because, to be honest, a lot of the advice I got before my kids were born just got me down. It was negative and unhelpful.
Exhibit A: “Say goodbye to sleep for a few years!”
Really? I was expecting to sleep in till 10:00am with newborn kids!
Advice like that may be true, but it doesn’t offer any practical or actionable steps forward. You might as well just be saying, “I know something you don’t know, and it sucks”. We’re not in high school—that doesn’t fly anymore.
So while it may be true that I know something you don’t know, I also recognize that it may not be useful for me to tell you how hard parenting is unless I also suggest what to do about it.
Here it goes! The tips I wish I’d received that are bullshit-free and, hopefully, useful.
#1: Ask for help, even if you don’t think you need it.
The first few months are going to be pure torture, but you know that already. Parenting is a beautiful experience, but it’s monotonous as all hell. While any one moment may not feel too horrible, collectively they will wear you down.
A lot of people will tell you to “say goodbye to sleep”. What they should be saying is, “I was sleep deprived the first few months and it was scary. I behaved strangely, cried at random things, yelled at my partner and fell asleep standing up. So you should really ask people for help”.
You wouldn’t drive a forklift when you were sleep-deprived. (Hi, forklift-driver blog readers!) Why would you try to keep a human alive in that state? You wouldn’t. You shouldn’t.
Everyone you ask will agree to help in some way, because EVERY SINGLE PARENT has been there at some point during those first few years. So raise your hand and say that you need a nap. Take shifts with your partner. Set a time for your parents to come over each week to give you a few hours off. Hire a babysitter. Hire a nanny. Hire a bloody sleep nurse, for God’s sake. Do anything in your power to not be sleep deprived. Your sanity will thank you.
#2: Practice pretending to smile.
You need to be prepared to become a local celebrity. Whether you like it or not, total strangers are going to come up to you on a daily basis and say exactly the same things: “Oh my goodness. Look how precious they are! How old are they? You’re so lucky! What’s her name? That’s absolutely perfect! I love it! Aren’t you just perfect little whatever-your-name-is!”
It’s nice to hear. And it’s probably true, unless you picked a horrible name for your kid. But it can get exhausting, especially when you’re having a really difficult time.
It won’t be the first time you’ve faked your way through an annoying conversation, but get mentally prepared for it to come at you on steroids. I kept a note in my wallet that read, “Not everyone is running on 2 hours of sleep”.
#3: If you aren’t already, start working out now.
Kids grow up so much faster than you anticipate. Before you know it, they are four times the size you last remember and jumping into your arms expecting that you’ll throw them in the air over and over and over again.
But muscles aren’t just physically useful. Exercise, as you know, has mental benefits. I joke to new parents about “doing pushups” before their babies are born because I know what exercise can do for our mental state during challenging times.
You’re not going to find time to exercise with newborn babies, so work out before the birth. It’ll make you feel good and it takes your mind off things. Then, resume it as soon as you can manage it. Children benefit from having happy, stress-free, healthy parents.
#4: Buy half of what you think you’ll need.
Every first-time parent goes crazy buying things for their babies, myself included. A few months later, they look in their closet and realize that 75% of the stuff never got worn, and the rest was in such heavy rotation it might as well never have been taken off.
Other than a few (dozen) outfits for that perfect holiday Instagram post, most of the time your babies will just sleep in your arms in whatever is easiest to take off. That, and the fact that most babies grow so damn fast that they barely get a chance to wear something more than three times before they grow out of it completely, should inspire you to buy less.
Here’s all you need: 4 infant gowns, 6 bodysuits or onesies, 6 undershirts, 8 one-piece pajamas, 2 sleepers, 2 sweaters, 1 jacket, 4 rompers or dress-up outfits, 5 pairs of socks, 2 pairs of booties, 4 hats, and 2 pairs of mittens.
Pro Tip: If you have multiples, be strategic about purchasing gender-neutral clothes that they both can wear. Sharing clothes saves you money and no one will notice!
#5: Take your friendships into your own hands.
It’s your job to maintain your friendships, not theirs. There’s a universal understanding that parenting tiny babies is difficult, so most of your real friends – whether they have children or not – will take a step back once your children are born to try and give you some space. This means they may check in less frequently than you’re used to, which can result in your wondering: “Did having kids ruin all my friendships?” The answer is: Yes. Well, no. Or yes, but not forever.
My advice is to schedule dates in advance (a monthly meetup that’s in your calendar before the birth should suffice). If it’s locked in, it will force you to shower and get out of the house that day.
I believe the key to successful parenting is remembering that you were a person before you had kids, and giving yourself moments each week to be that single-self again. Friends and family will help you do that, especially if you can get a sitter and leave the nuggets at home.
#6: Not everyone is going to be as obsessed with babies as you are.
When you spend every waking moment of your life focused on keeping your children alive, it can become difficult to talk about anything else. So if you have friends who don’t have young children, you’ll want to push yourself to find other things to talk about. Do research before you go out. Catch up on what they’ve been doing. Remember: there are actually other things to talk about. And you’ll benefit from the baby break, too. I promise.
#7: You’re going to have to fight gender stereotypes every day.
Your daughter will always be “beautiful” and your son will always be “strong”.
She will get flowery dresses and he will get a football.
It’s so ingrained in our culture that people unknowingly thrust those stereotypes onto your infants. If that really matters to you, like it did for me, just have those conversations with the people in your life before the babies are born.
You’ll still get the items, of course. But you’ll help everyone out by making your distaste for clichéd gender stereotypes clear in your registry notes or on social media.
#8: Parenting will feel a lot like free therapy.
If anything is going to push you to question your entire existence and challenge you to become a better version of yourself, it’s becoming a parent. Having the responsibility of keeping tiny humans alive pushes you to question your purpose and your daily actions. It will make you prioritise people and things, analyse your decisions, appreciate your parents, and grasp an understanding of the weird “circle of life” thing that old people talk about. And, you’ll master patience.
I’m not saying that having kids gave me all the answers. But it did force me to think less about myself and more about others. That, on its own, is worth millions of dollars in therapy bills.
That’s it. That’s the only advice you’ll ever need. You’re welcome. HAHA!
What do you think? Did I miss anything? I’d love you to comment with specific, helpful advice. Advice that will actually prepare people for the reality of becoming a parent. It’s time, I believe, to #MakeParentingAdviceUsefulAgain.
In the meantime, don’t forget to stay crafty.