Recently, several of my friends have had their first babies. As I’ve been chatting with them and congratulating them, I’ve also been thinking about what advice I’d share with a new parent after having five kids. We had many friends share their parenting advice with us before Sunshine was born and I’m grateful for the things they mentioned to us. Much of it was solid, practical advice that has helped us in our parenting journey. And so here’s my attempt to pass along that gift to you.
1. Take all advice for new parents with a grain of salt.
My first piece of advice for new parents is going to be a bit ironic. As a new mom or dad, however, you’ll find EVERYONE has some advice for you, from the nurse at the hospital to your family and friends to the lady behind you in the check-out line at the grocery (who will also want to know how much the baby weighed and what her name is).
Your job as a parent is to filter that advice, take the best and leave the rest. And that’s a tough job as a new parent, in the haze of sleeplessness and joy that you’re in. You don’t want to offend any great-aunts or in-laws and you want to do what’s best for your baby. Just remember that what worked for another parent may not work for you; every baby and every family is unique, and YOU (and your husband) need to decide what’s best for YOU and your baby.
2. Find parent friends.
Looking back on my first few months as a new mom with Sunshine, I’ve come to see that I was very lonely during that time. Only I didn’t know it. I had Sunshine in the city I’d grown up in, so my parents and my in-laws lived close to us. I was surrounded by my university and childhood friends. However, I was the first among my friends to get married and have kids.
Recently, one of my dear friends from university had her first baby and confessed to me, “Bonnie, I had no idea what you were going through back then—or what you needed.” (That’s okay, because I didn’t really know what I needed either!)
When we moved to Victoria, we immediately got involved with the student community at our local church. After a few months, however, I realized that we didn’t need other students—we needed other parents. The young singles we were hanging out with faced a completely different reality than we did in taking classes. We switched churches, found some supportive fellow parents, and that made a huge difference in our time there.
As new parents, you need friends who are also parents, who get what it’s like to be up at night with a crying baby and won’t care if you come to visit with spit-up on your shoulder. You need to get advice for new parents from fellow parents, who are in the trenches now (and not someone from your mom’s generation who hasn’t raised a baby in twenty years).
If you’ve recently moved or had kids before the rest of your friends, find new friends. Check out your local community center, church or library for mom’s groups and family groups and reach out to other parents.
3. Ask for and accept help.
I’ve mentioned this is really hard for me to do, but as parents, you really do need the community around you. I was given this advice for new parents with Sunshine and mostly ignored it. Don’t make my mistake! Parenting a newborn is tough; you need help. That might mean asking your husband to wash the dishes or your mother-in-law to wash the laundry, or it might mean asking someone to take the baby so you can rest or bring you meals so you don’t have to cook.
When we had Sunshine, friends of ours dropped off a meal for us one night. My husband and I tried to invite them into eat with us, but they said no, they were just dropping it off for us. We thought it was a bit weird, though we enjoyed the meal. When we had Jade, so many friends brought us food that I didn’t have to cook for a week. It was awesome. They taught me the meaning of community and helping new parents. So if someone says, “Let me know how I can help you,” smile and say, “It would be great if you could drop a meal off for us after the baby is born.”
4. Buy things as you need them.
There are tons of lists of must-have items for new babies and new parents. It can be overwhelming to think about everything you need. The truth is, you really don’t need very much. Babies are simple and have simple needs. I’d suggest getting the basics, like sleepers and diapers and a diaper bag and blankets, and then getting the rest as you decide you need it.
For example, we bought a crib and then a cradle for Sunshine, only to find that she refused to sleep in either. We co-slept with her for the first several months, then slowly transitioned her into the cradle by our bed, and finally into her own crib when she was about six months old. Lily and Jade have done the same things.
I didn’t get a baby monitor until we had Jade (when we had a two-story house so it was harder to hear the baby crying).
We also didn’t have a baby gate until Jade (every other house we lived in was single-story).
If you are short on space, you don’t need a ton of baby furniture. A friend of ours showed us how she had a diaper basket and pad stowed away behind the couch; when the baby needed changing, she pulled out the basket, spread the pad on the floor, and changed the baby. No worries about baby rolling off the table! I adopted a similar system when Jade was born. By then I’d eliminated the change table so I just changed her on the end of our bed and kept the diapers and wipes in a dresser drawer within arms’ reach. Think creatively and you’ll find solutions.
5. Give yourself grace.
Parenting is tough. Being a new parent is a huge learning curve. (Seriously—your first baby is your hardest. It gets easier with the next.) So give yourself some grace as you figure this out. Sleep. Pray. Admire baby toes. Let go of the little things, like laundry and dishes, which will get done someday.
I thought I was fairly prepared to become a mom, because I’d babysat for years, even for fairly small babies. New motherhood was still a huge jolt for me. Breastfeeding was hard. Sunshine wanted to be held all the time. I couldn’t get the laundry or dishes done. As a perfectionist dedicated to my to-do list, that felt horrible. Just sitting around holding a baby all day made me feel unproductive. But that’s what Sunshine needed right then and it didn’t last very long.
You are an awesome parent. Tell yourself that. Tell your spouse that. You’ll get this parenting thing done (probably overnight) and someday you’ll laugh about the sleep deprivation and other things you worried about. For now, take care of yourself and your baby and let go of the rest.
What advice for new parents would you share?
I’m linking up with Ruth Snyder for this post; drop by her blog to read more advice for new parents.
If you or a friend is expecting, check out my FREE printable prayer cards. The package includes prayer cards, greeting cards and a poster with prayers to St. Gerard and St. Anne for a safe pregnancy and birth.
Love this post? It’s one of 38 chapters in Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby: Tips to Help You Through All Four Trimesters, a book about pregnancy, birth, and baby’s first three months. Written with my good friend Anna Eastland (mom of 9 kids!), Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is an honest, practical look at pregnancy and beyond. We share what’s worked for us in growing, birthing and loving thirteen babies.
Beginner’s Guide to Growing Baby is available on Amazon.