I see this style of blog posts pop into my news feed over and over again. Ensure you have a great stroller, a baby carrier, a breast pump, a good cot. There is advice a plenty nearly everywhere you look in cyber-land. You can always find someone ready to tell you the essential must have items to prepare you for the birth of your baby.
Filling up your house with items designed to make life with a new baby easy is one aspect of preparing for parenthood, and truth be told, perhaps one of the more exciting aspects. Sometimes these essential items end up in the back of your cupboard, and some of them, you genuinely won't be able to live without. But there are a few items that I wish I had prior to the birth of my first child that no one talked to me about. A few essentials, which I wish I had been encouraged to consider. I tend to think that the truly essential things that parents need to have before their baby arrives are rarely discussed. Here are some of the things that I believe all parents need. They cost almost nothing, you won’t be confused by the options, and they require little more than self-exploration
1. Trust: As a new parent, the choices you make are put out there for public discussion and opinion like no other time. Trusting yourself, your baby and your instincts can help you navigate this confusing and sometimes upsetting parade and critique of your choices. Developing trust in yourself as the parent of this child will allow you to see the advice being given to you for what it is. It can provide you with a level of immunization against the hurt and sadness that you might sometimes feel having your thoughts and opinions openly questioned. Trust the people around you, and trust that they only have your best interests at heart, but trust that when it comes down to it, you are the one and only expert that exists on the topic of your baby. Trust your baby to help show you the way. Trust your unique connection.
2. Patience: Being a parent requires an innate ability to be able to wait. It starts in those final weeks leading up to the birth of your baby, when the weeks can sometimes feel like a lifetime. It continues through as you wait for your baby to reach milestones, you wait for that elusive full night sleep, or those tiny little baby teeth to finally come through. Wait and be present with your child in these moments. Patience requires you to stay completely in the moment, because its only when we begin to fantasize about what the emergence of the new phase might bring, that we begin to lose patience with what is happening in the here and now. Usually when we become frustrated, restless or annoyed at a situation, it is because we are not truly living the moment as it is presented to us. We are living in a moment that we have created in our own mind, and when we are bought back into the reality of life, we feel restless, sad or upset. Another important skill to develop is patience with our own self. Having a new baby is like developing a new skill. Sometimes we will get it right, and sometimes we will get it wrong. And that is OK. Be patient and gentle with yourself, you deserve it, and so does your baby.
3. Humor: A good laugh can sometimes get you through difficult or challenging situations. Often when we are caught up in the frustration of a certain moment, we forget that what is actually happening is quite funny. Often I tell stories of things that have happened to me during my parenting journey, and the suffix to that story is “now that I look back, it really is funny, but it didn’t seem like it at the time”. I wish I could transport myself back to these moments, and have the ability to see the humor. I recall taking my second child out when he was barely five weeks old, and while we were out, he 'tsumani-pooed' right up to the crook of his neck. I did not have a change of clothes in my bag, and felt at the time like an absolute failure of a mum. Especially when the friend that I was with offered the back-up clothes to her extra set that she had. I really wish I had been able see the humor in that moment, especially when I emerged from the changing room with my beautiful handsome son dressed in purple butterfly leggings and a lovely pink ruffle top. At the time, all I felt was embarrassment, but really it was hilarious. I was however able to see the funny side of parenting when I opened the door to a tradesman with my breastfeeding singlet completely open (I was airing my nipples after feeding my third Son) and no baby to be seen, it really did help make light of what may have been a terribly uncomfortable situation.
4. Be OK With Help: Right throughout your parenting journey, the opportunities to ask for or accept help will present themselves. Sometimes you will take people up on the other, and other times you will turn them down. Remember this: Human beings like helping one another. Accepting help is a great way to help build your village, and guess what, it makes the people offering to help feel good. It is a wonderful feeling walking away from another person knowing that their day is slightly better because of you. Don’t deny people this amazing feeling. Accept help when offered if you need it. You also need to be OK with asking for help. Sometimes you will lose trust, faith or confidence in your abilities. Sometimes you wont be able to see the humor in situations, and you might feel that the world is closing in on you. Asking for help is never a failure, and sometimes the most courageous step that a parent can make. Whether it’s asking for help feeding, settling, with your own thoughts and feelings, discipline, or general family concerns, there are always people out there ready to help when you need it. Pregnancy is a great time to start getting together a list of resources, people who you will call if you need help with any of these issues. A lactation consultant, a health nurse or postnatal midwife/doula will help you with all aspects of having a newborn. A women’s heath professional to help if you are having trouble with your mental health, and trusted friend or relative to help with household chores. If you already know where to go for help, the difficult step of seeking it out becomes just a little bit easier.
5. Flexibility: Understanding the fluid and ever-changing nature of parenting can be one of the greatest skills that you develop when preparing for parenthood. The only constant in life is change. Something that may have worked for you in the past may all of a sudden stop being effective. Something that you strongly believed in before having children, may suddenly stop being so important to you. The key here is to be flexible. If things are not working, try something new. Your entire world will never be the same again the moment your little one takes their first breath. This human being in all its uniqueness will enter the world and present you with joys unparalleled and great challenges of both heart and mind. These little people will change your life, there is nothing more certain than that. Sometimes we can be stuck holding steadfastly to that which we always knew because it is predictable, safe and familiar to us. Being flexible means that we embrace the fact that sometimes we need to let go and perhaps change direction in order to successfully solve the various puzzles of parenting.
6. Reflection Skills: One of the greatest enemies that we encounter in our parenting quest is guilt. Guilt is that awful feeling that we sometimes get when we think that we have somehow committed a wrong, or failed in an obligation. It can be devastating and formidable adversary for any parent. I believe the key to reducing or eliminating guilt is the ability to reflect intelligently with the commitment to do things differently (if necessary). Guilt is an emotion like any other, and unlike some of the other emotions that we may feel, it is a bad motivator. Being able to look back on events without the burden of guilt is a great way to find areas to work and improve on, and commit to doing things differently. Developing the ability to reflect on events that occur within our parenting journey can help us to meet challenges head on, develop solutions to these challenges and all without the tyranny of guilt. Some experts believe that the emotional growth of a parent is key to a child’s development. Using the tools of reflection a parent begins to see their child as a unique being with emotions, needs, thoughts and feelings separate to theirs. Reflection also allows a parent to monitor their own emotional triggers, understand the effect of the way they themselves were parented, and use this information to affect change and grow where necessary. Reflecting is thinking about the events that occurred, the feeling that we, and others felt, why we thought or felt the way that we did and what we can do differently next time or what we have learnt from the experience. Of course there are many different theories and models that you can use while reflecting, you just need to find one that works for you, and helps free yourself from unhelpful thoughts and emotions.
So there is my list. Yes it looks a little different to most other must-have lists, and I will concede, not quite as exciting. Nonetheless, these are the things that I wish I had ensured that I had before the birth of my first child. So go forth and shop for the good stuff, after all that’s one of the great events of pregnancy. But find a quiet moment to tick these things off your list too. I promise these are things that will not be left in the back of your cupboard gathering dust.