- Becoming a new parent can be an overwhelming experience.
- I spent a week asking parents I knew for their best pieces of parenting advice.
- They told me to make mistakes in front of my child, let them take risks, and not to forget to save some time for just myself.
Parenting is as overwhelming as it is gratifying – and it’s overwhelming long before it’s gratifying, in my opinion.
I remember preparing to be discharged from the hospital one day after my daughter was born. My husband and I looked at each, our faces distorted in confusion, and then we looked at the nurses.
They were letting us go? With the baby? Who would take care of her? How would she survive?
For new parents, gathering wisdom from people in a similar situation can provide some comfort. That’s why for the past week, I asked every parent I knew for their best parenting advice. Their advice ranged from allowing your child to take risks to remembering to take some time for just yourself.
Here are the nine best pieces of advice I got from parents.
Have dinner with your kids
Between work, school and extra-curricular classes, life with kids can feel incredibly busy. Treating a single part of your day as sacred family time is one way to help slow the pace down and prioritise connecting with one another.
For Kekona, a statistician and a father of two, that dedicated time is dinner – without screens, toys or other distractions. He told me he and his family might share the day’s highs and lows around the table. The idea is simply to be present and together.
If dinner doesn’t work in your schedule, pick another time of day. Beatriz, a preschool teacher, said she makes the morning special with her young daughter, even if it’s just 20 minutes. She sings a good-morning lullaby, opens the curtains with her child, looks at a wall of family photos, gets her dressed, and so on.
“Having this focused time together allows for joyful conversation each day and makes our mornings that much smoother,” Beatriz said. “And it really does help lessen my stress each morning.”
Talk about your emotions with them
Research shows that conversing with young children promotes brain growth and verbal aptitude. It’s not the volume of words that matter, rather that the verbal connection involves some authentic back-and-forth between parties.
Jordan, a writer and a father, recommended talking with your child about emotions in particular. Name and be honest about your own emotions, he says. This follows the teachings of author and psychiatrist Dan Siegel, who coined the phrase “name it to tame it.”
The idea is that when children – and adults – can name the feeling they’re dealing with in a given moment, they are more likely to respond in a reasonable way. Parents can model this through their own emotional conversations.
“Children are shockingly intuitive, and nothing will undermine their confidence like a parent trying to save face by saying ‘everything is fine,’ when it is not,” he said.
“Kids understand and appreciate honesty. Putting (your) feelings into words isn’t just setting an example for your child to be comfortable with their own emotions, it’s also good practice to step back and reassess your own self when it’s needed most.”
Make mistakes and keep trying
For Caro, an entrepreneur and dad of two, the business world has informed his parenting philosophy: Make mistakes, and be OK with those mistakes.
When kids see the adults in their lives try and fail, then get up and try again, they are more likely to embody a similar flexibility and sense of resilience.
Find a support network
There’s strength in numbers.
That’s why Ellen, a mother of two, relies on a group of mums to help her navigate the ups and downs of parenthood. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by your child’s tantrum phase and lonely in your struggle, you might find peace in the fact that you’re not the only one tackling such things.
“I never joined a baby group – it wasn’t my thing and I worked full time – but I did have five women I was friendly with, who became my support group,” she said. “It was nice to bounce ideas off each other, from what was happening with our bodies or our relationships to what our kids were going through developmentally.”
Take time for yourself
“A happy mum equals happy kids,” said Esther, an editor and a mother of three. “Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself and doing something you need to feel human again.”
That will surely look different for every parent – a hike on a sunny morning, a good workout, or a solo trip to Target after bedtime, perhaps. But parents who give, give, give and rarely come up for air can run out of steam quickly. Replenishing your own energy and nurturing your soul, even in a simple or small way, can make the parenthood marathon more manageable.
Let your kids take risks
Jenna, a preschool teacher and mother of one, said she was pretty much forced to do this one.
Her son walked at nine months old and could climb like a monkey before his first birthday. Catching his every fall would have been nearly impossible. Instead, Jenna said she embraced who her son was.
“I let him tumble and fall all the time, and therefore learn from his mistakes,” Jenna said. “Now he has great judgement when it comes to taking physical risks and exploring his environment.”
Norwegian professor Ellen Sandseter named six common types of risky play that children lean toward: great heights, rapid speeds, dangerous tools, dangerous elements, rough and tumble play, and disappearing or getting lost. Some research shows that, as frightening as that list feels, this kind of risk-taking in play promotes greater social health, creativity, and resilience.
Figure out what makes your child feel loved, and prioritise that
Anna, a writer and mother, knows that “The 5 Love Languages” is meant to be applied to romantic relationships. Nevertheless, she’s found the oft-cited book helpful in getting to know her toddler.
Even in a young person, some clues emerge as to what your child most values: physical touch, words of affirmation, quality time, special gifts, or acts of service.
“Really thinking about my own daughter’s love languages makes it easier for me to help her feel loved in a way that she deeply appreciates,” Anna said. “It also has the added bonus of letting me conserve my energy as her parent. For example, my daughter’s love languages are quality time and physical touch.
“This means I can spend more of my time watching her play with her dolls or cuddling on the rocking chair to read books, versus trying to surprise her with little gifts or planning elaborate outings for her entertainment.”
Do what feels right for your child
For Amanda, a public relations manager, the adage “go with your gut” has been vital to parenting her young son. She says that often looks like actually shutting out advice from others.
“Our parenting approach is very focused on following our own instincts about what’s right for our child,” Amanda said. “It’s cliche but true – that every person is different, and what works for one kid will not work for another. And we’re doing a decent job of not letting other people’s successes and failures with their children influence how we approach similar situations with our son.”
Rachel, a teacher and mother of one, agrees, especially when it comes to not playing the comparison game.
“You know what’s best for your babe,” Rachel said. “And don’t compare yourself with Instagram or Pinterest mums. What you see isn’t real.”
Salute your ‘ghost ship’
When I asked Susan, a financial manager and mother of one, for her top parenting tips, she pointed me to words from Cheryl Strayed, back when she was an advice columnist for The Rumpus.
“Strayed’s advice is something I always come back to it when I’m faced with a difficult situation, parenting or not,” Susan said.
For parents, common decision crossroads include picking a care provider or school for your child, making a career change that would impact the family, or determining whether or not to have more children.
Strayed’s post ends with these words:
“I’ll never know and neither will you of the life you don’t choose. We’ll only know that whatever that sister life was, it was important and beautiful and not ours. It was the ghost ship that didn’t carry us. There’s nothing to do but salute it from the shore.”
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