Eight things every first-time parent needs to know

You may not always the right thing to do, but just as your children grow, you will too.
You may not always the right thing to do, but just as your children grow, you will too. Photo: Getty Images

I remember being a first-time mum who felt insecure about her parenting abilities, who found it difficult to look past every mistake they made that affected her child.

Now, as a mum of three, I've found my confidence as a parent. I know now that I'm not perfect and that I'm always learning.

But I will never forget the early days, months, years of parenting – the times that were actually harder because I was still making sense of my role as a mum.

Here are eight things I believe every first-time parent needs to know.

1. It's okay not to know everything

Before I became a mother for the first time, I struggled with asking questions. But since having children, I've realised that being inquisitive and thinking critically is a good thing. Parenting is a learning curve: sometimes you need to ask in order to fully understand, sometimes you need to practice changing nappies for three months before you truly get the hang of it. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes along the way. And sometimes you might need to seek the advice of others and there's absolutely no shame in that.

2. Follow your instincts

Before my eldest reached her first birthday, I suspected there was a problem with her language development. She'd been babbling incessantly, then suddenly stopped making any sounds. Despite my loved ones reassuring me that she would be okay, I followed my instincts. I took her to the child health nurse and my suspicions were confirmed. For the next three years she attended speech therapy, and thankfully, due to early intervention, has finally reached age-appropriate level. In the end, her younger sisters were diagnosed with the same impairment.

I've learnt that not everyone will agree with your parenting decisions, but if you ever feel unsure about anything, it's better to address those fears and put your own mind at ease.

3. Every child is different

My eldest has always been petite. She was born premature and spent the first five years of her life seeing a paediatrician and dietician. The specialists were initially concerned that being born early had attributed to her being underweight, but after years of blood tests, they concluded that it's simply due to genetics. Now, her weight is often the first topic of discussion when people meet her for the first time.

She may be small for her age, but my daughter's size is not all there is to her. She's an avid reader, talented writer, and empathetic girl. She may not have the athletic ability that my middle daughter has, or the social nature that my youngest has, but that's what makes her unique. Although differences can sometimes be a cause for concern, I've discovered this is not always the case; sometimes we just need to embrace our child's individuality.

4. Surround yourself with supportive people

My husband and I didn't always have a strong support network, but we've realised now that having supportive people in your life can have a wonderful impact on your family. That there are people who want to help, people who might be going through the same things as you. These people who can make you feel less alone.

5. Your needs are important too

When my first child was born, I was simply going through the motions: feeding her, changing her nappies, eating, then going back to sleep. I always had enough rest but my time spent awake wasn't adding to my happiness.

As the years went on, I started to do more for myself. I joined a parenting website and made friends, made adjustments to my eating habits and lost 20kg, started regularly going on date nights with my husband. I became a happier mother, wife and person, overall. I understand now how important it is to look out for my own needs.

6. It's okay not to be okay

There were times after having my first daughter where I was finding it hard to cope. Personal circumstances at the time, compounded with sleep deprivation and a baby who depended on me, left me feeling overwhelmed. Yet I was so determined to soldier on … and eventually, it made me miserable. I realise now that admitting you're not okay takes a lot of strength and courage.

7. Cherish the moment

Some of my earliest memories of being a first-time mum involve the hugs and kisses I gave my daughter, the time I spent playing with her on the floor, the laughs we shared. In the midst of all the nappy changes and feeds, I remember holding my girl in my arms and not taking my eyes off of her. My firstborn may be almost eight years old, but I remember those days like they were yesterday.

As busy as my life is now with three kids, I know that those simple moments of hugging, kissing and laughter are so important. They are the moments that make parenting so worthwhile.

8. The love you have for your child is what matters most

It doesn't matter if you make mistakes along the way. It doesn't matter if you feed your child differently to another parent. It doesn't matter if another family follows a different routine. All that matters is the love you feel for your child. It's your willingness and determination to do what's best for them, your instinctive need to nurture and protect them, that matters.

You may not always know the right thing to do, but just as your children grow, you will too.

Follow Thuy on Twitter or Facebook, or read her personal development blog at Inside a Mother's Mind.

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