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Being a new parent can be both a rewarding and overwhelming experience. It’s a constant learning process where you change and grow with your child.
As a former preschool teacher, I’ve talked to many first-time parents who always had lots of questions and many times just needed to hear that everything they were thinking and experiencing was normal.
I can always tell when my toddler student is a first child because their parents tend to have that wide-eyed, deer-in-the-headlights expression on their faces, especially during the first couple weeks of preschool. They want to make sure they’re doing things right and giving their child the best care possible.
Through my conversations with new parents, they have shared some valuable and unexpected lessons they have learned. Here are five of them.
1. Sleep is Precious
It’s rare for an infant to sleep throughout the night without waking up. According to an article by Stanford Medicine Children’s Health, “Most babies don’t start sleeping through the night (6 to 8 hours) without waking until they are about 3 months old.”
Even though waking up several times in the middle of the night is a normal part of being a new parent, that doesn’t mean you should be sleep-deprived every night. Not enough sleep can negatively impact your mental health and lead to a higher risk of depression, anxiety, and postpartum health disorders.
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You can do several things to ensure you’re getting enough sleep. If you have a partner, you can take turns getting up when the baby cries at night. You can also try sleeping when your baby sleeps, even if you have to go to bed earlier or put off chores to get more rest.
Also, asking a friend or family member to come over for set days during the week to help look after the baby while you get some sleep could help you a lot mentally and physically.
2. It’s OK to Ask for Help
That saying, “It takes a village to raise a child,” isn’t a joke, it’s 100% true. Before the Industrial Revolution, it was common for multi-generational families to live under one roof and take turns caring for the kids.
It was also common for people to know everyone in their community and support each other. When someone had a child, the entire community could look after them.
This is still common in non-Western countries. As an American expat living in Thailand, I’m constantly amazed by how communal Thai culture is and how much people help each other, especially with the kids.
Thai people love babies and are very accommodating to parents with young children. In a typical Thai community, a grandparent or other family member will watch the kids if the parents have to work.
Neighbors will also watch the kids if the parents need to run errands. It’s never a big ask or an imposition. It’s just a part of the culture, and they like doing it since they want children.
Furthermore, it’s helpful and even necessary for parents to have communal support from their family, friends, or neighbors. You can have your support system anywhere you are in the world.
If you don’t have friends or family near you, you can search for playgroups and parent meetups to meet other parents who also need that support system. It’s not just about finding a reliable babysitter when you want a date night with your partner, it’s also about getting emotional support and having friends so that you don’t feel like you have to do everything alone.
3. Listen to Your Intuition
When speaking to new parents, I have noticed that they tend to worry a lot about whether they’re doing things right. It’s normal to worry about whether you’re normal, but you don’t need to worry!
Just like how other species of animals naturally know what to do when they have kids, humans do as well, but we tend to second guess ourselves too much and forget that we have something called intuition which is there to help us and keep us and our loved ones safe.
As a new parent especially, you’re going to hear a lot of advice from people telling you that you have to do things a certain way. You don’t need to listen if some advice doesn’t feel right. Not every parent is a parenting expert, and there isn’t only one way to be a good parent.
Different children have different needs. You can have two kids who have completely different personalities and will need to be parented differently. Quieter kids need a gentler approach. Kids who are constantly bouncing off walls will need you to be more active to keep up with them.
Listen to your intuition and speak up if something doesn’t feel or sound right. There’s a reason why you feel the way you do, so trust yourself.
4. Perfection Doesn’t Exist and Isn’t Necessary
Social media can be entertaining, but it can also be toxic because it leads to people comparing themselves to others and feeling like they’re not enough—parent influencers and influencers in general love to portray a picture-perfect life that just isn’t realistic.
Your house will be messy and your kid might have their shirt on backward sometimes, and that’s fine!
It’s great for new parents to read articles and watch videos about parenting, but don’t worry about following every bit of good advice to a T. Sometimes you just can’t, but you can do what’s best for you, your child, and your family.
As long as you’re making sure that you are taking care of your mental and emotional health and that your child is happy and healthy, that’s all that matters at the end of the day.
5. Don’t Rush Milestones
As a preschool teacher, this was a common issue I found with first-time parents. Sometimes parents can be overly eager and feel like they have to control everything, even biological things that are out of their control like when their child will start potty training.
During the first two years of your child’s life, your child will grow and change rapidly. It’s important to be aware of your child’s developmental milestones so that you can better help them during each of those phases, but don’t stress over it, and don’t rush it because you might miss out on the joys of being in the present milestone with your child.
Not every baby will start mimicking sounds at 6 months or start walking on their first birthday. It will come naturally, so just let it happen. Your child is going to grow up so fast, so enjoy them as they are right now because they won’t stay that way forever.
What lessons did you learn with your first child? Are you a new parent? Is there something about parenting that’s surprised you? Let us know in the comments.