So, the great news is, baby Atkinson number 2’s arrival is imminent and we are a very excited troop of Atkinsons! But before this baby arrives I have been pondering on some of the key things that helped Rich and I as new parents, when we were doing it all the first time around. I hope the following will serve to encourage any new parents. Second time around, well, how on earth it all works with two children I’ve no idea, but perhaps another blog post will follow on that one in a while!
Thought 1 – Do your homework!
One thing Rich and I found incredibly helpful before baby arrived was to think through and discuss what kind of parents we imagined ourselves to be. We read up on various styles of parenting, be it baby-led, parent-led or a mixture of the two. We found a fun questionnaire which indicated to us what kind of parenting style we would naturally lean towards, which was heavily influenced by our character and personalities.
I asked several mums for recommendations on baby books and read several before baby arrived. I quite easily found one book in particular that I identified with and then went on to use. Importantly, Rich read the books too and we both agreed on the kind of parenting style and direction we were going to try.
Partly, I don’t think it matters what you choose to do, be it structured routines or spontaneous go-with-the-flow parenting, but being aware of our own style, natural inclinations and values was really key for us.
Thought 2 – Work as a team
For Rich and I one of the most significant and most helpful decisions we made early on was to work as a team. This meant we shared responsibilities as much as possible and made decisions, big and small, together. For example, we had a helpful ‘rule’ which a friend kindly suggested to us – if baby was crying and struggling to settle we always swopped after 20 mins. 20 mins was definitely our max for being with a screaming baby! It was a simple thing but it helped us stay sane and stick together.
We always made (and continue to make) decisions together wherever possible. With a newborn baby inevitably a lot of decisions fall with the primary carer, often the mummy, especially when daddy goes back to work. But I found it so helpful to always chat through decisions with Rich and for us to agree together on what to move forward with, even if I had a pretty certain idea it was what would work. That way when Rich was around we always did the same thing in pretty much the same way and we were both on the same page. It helped us, anyway!
Thought 3 – Make your decisions and stick with them
Whatever you do, be confident in your decisions and stick with them! You may have decided to do something entirely different to your friend over the road but if you’ve done your homework and think it’s the right thing for your baby, then be confident and stick with it. I often found I was making different decisions to some of my friends, be it to do with routines, settling, weening etc – it sometimes wobbled me but I’d always go back and remind myself why I felt I was doing what I was doing and I confidently persevered.
It’s very easy to flit between lots of different techniques, ideas and trains of thought. Obviously it’s good to get advice from friends and chat through dilemmas together but generally I’ve found sticking to one book or idea most helpful. As soon as I began looking up more on the Internet or listening to several different opinions from several different friends it got overwhelming. Stick to what you’ve decided and be confident you’re doing a good job. And trust in your God-given gut instinct!
Thought 4 – Persevere
Perseverance and patience are two things you’ll be forced to learn in abundance with a newborn. And all I’d say is KEEP GOING! You can do it! You’re doing a great job!
One of my lowest moments was when Beatrice was very tiny and I was persevering with helping her to go to sleep on her own. I’d had a day where it felt I’d ‘shushed’ non-stop!!! By the end, Rich walked in from work to find me shushing…I then started laughing..I then started crying..then Rich quietly told me to ‘step away from the moses basket’!! At which point Beatrice fell asleep! I can look back and laugh now at what seemed like a ridiculous day and I’m sure we’ve all been there!
Thought 5 – Avoid comparison and celebrate each other’s differences
Every mum or dad will parent slightly differently. One of the things I was struck by as a new mum was just how differently everyone did things. I may have chosen to go down a particular parenting route but some parents were doing pretty much everything the complete opposite to me! It surprised me and at times it caused me to compare myself to other mums. Excessive comparison is never good – it leads us to judge others, feel bad about ourselves and others, and generally isn’t good for us. Wherever possible, avoid comparison and actively choose to celebrate the differences. If someone is choosing to wean their baby differently to you, encourage them. If someone is using a method to settle their baby that you’d never choose to do, encourage and uplift them. Choose to speak well of each other and encourage each other to keep going. I’ll be honest, this has at times been a challenge for me, but it’s definitely the most life giving way.
Thought 6 – Find a friend a bit ahead on the journey
I was so blessed to have a wonderful group of first time mums to share tips, laugh, encourage each other and cry together, when Beatrice was born. What I also found invaluable was sharing my journey with mums just a tiny bit ahead of me. I have one particular friend, just one year ahead of me on the mum journey, who supports and loves me so well and I was able to watch her and know she’d made it through! It continues to encourage me greatly. We happen to have very similar parenting values and style so she’s a mum on the same wavelength – what a blessing!
Thought 7 – Know it gets easier!
A friend with a newborn baby recently text me to ask my honest opinion – was it normal that the first few weeks felt really hard?! My answer was YES!! It is incredibly tough – you are shattered, sleep deprived, emotional, recovering from labour, learning how to breastfeed (and many other things) and your husband then returns to work leaving you alone with the baby! You suddenly have this tiny being who is totally dependent on you and both you and the baby are both entirely new to it! So, it’s tough and it’s wonderful all at the same time – but it’s tough! The good news is – it gets easier! Those initial weeks turn into months and as time goes on you heal up, begin to get into rhythms, get to know your baby, get to know yourself even more, and the initial overwhelming newness does come to an end.
I always had to remind myself that whatever emotion I was feeling or thought I was thinking, there was definitely another mum somewhere who had felt the same at some point in life. You are not alone and you’re doing a great job!
And…for those who, like me, wonder how on earth you’re supposed to connect with God in the midst of newborn madness, I was given a wonderful book called ‘Soul food for mums’ by Anna France-Williams and Lucinda van der Hart – a weekly devotional book which helped me connect with Jesus, despite the tiredness, newness and roller coaster ride. It is accessible and easy to read – I’d highly recommend it.