Becoming a parent
Becoming a parent for the first time is a bit like throwing your life up into the air and then catching extra bits on the way down.
The new bits include joy in the tiniest things – like a newborn smile or the curl of a little finger. And there are some other bits – like less time for you, and less time for your partner, family and friends.
Try not to expect too much from yourself or your relationship in the first 6-8 weeks. The most important things are to enjoy connecting with your child, and to look after yourself.
You’ll have lots of new feelings. There’ll be some amazing highs, and, yes, some lows. You might be on an emotional seesaw during the first months. You’ll probably feel more tired than you’ve ever felt before, and you could be a bit stressed too.
Lots of new parents feel that they’re not coping at some stage or another. Go easy on yourself, and be realistic about what you can do each day. It can help to ask other new parents or friends about their experiences.
After becoming parents, it’s common for couples to:
- communicate less – about 50% of couples find this
- have more relationship stress than usual, and some relationship changes, including with family and friends
- report less time and less energy for sexual closeness
- experience more relationship conflict after the first few months.
Taking care of relationships with friends and family is important. Strong and supportive relationships make a massive difference when things get tough.
The better you feel, the more you’ll enjoy being a parent. Take care of your mental health, physical health, and relationships. These three things will help you have more fun, and give you more energy when you need it.
Being a positive parent
Parenting doesn’t necessarily get any easier as time goes on. But there is good news. The longer you’re a parent, the more experience and perspective you have.
As a more experienced parent, you’ll be able to say, ‘It might be hard today, but tomorrow – or next week or next month – things will be different’. You know that the bad times won’t last forever, and the good times will come again. This can make it easier to stay positive and face any challenges.
Here are some more ideas on being a positive parent in the long term.
Focus on the positives
One of the best ways to keep a positive perspective on parenting is to remind yourself of what your children bring to your life:
- unconditional love and admiration just for being you
- hero worship – your children are probably the only people who think you’re the strongest, wisest and bravest person in the world
- the chance to be a child again through sharing in the magic and wonder of your children’s play and learning
- the chance to experience an amazing range and intensity of emotions, strengths and skills
- the chance to reflect on your own values, attitudes and assumptions about the world
- the chance to take time out from being a grown-up.
One of the greatest gifts you can give yourself is time with your children. Take some time each day to laugh, cry, play, dream, wonder and explore with your child.
Ignore parenting myths
There are lots of myths about parenting. For example:
- I should have the answers.
- Parenting comes naturally.
- I should be able to cope by myself.
The truth is – nobody has all the answers. You learn as you go, and as your family changes. Every parent needs help and support.
There’s no one right way to be a parent. There’s the way that’s right for you and your family.
Look after yourself
Being a good parent over the long term will be easier if you keep looking after your own physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.
Here are some lifestyle tips that can help you stay healthy:
- Get support when you need it. Anyone looking after a child needs practical help, personal support and good information.
- Go with the flow. Lots of people notice that they have less free time and less social time after they have children. Don’t wear yourself out trying to do things the way you used to. You’ll find other ways to keep up with friends and family.
Make time for your partner and your relationship. For example, you could try setting aside one night a week as ‘date night’. Even if you can’t go out, you could get yourself take-away and skip the washing-up for a change.
Enjoy exercise as a family. You’ll feel better, you’ll set a good example for your kids, and you’ll have fun together! It can be as simple as kicking a ball at the local oval.
Eat a nutritious family diet – and try to eat together as a family most nights. Turn the TV off, and use dinner time as a chance to enjoy your food and catch up on everyone’s day. An added bonus is that you’ll model healthy eating habits for your children – which might help with any fussy eating.
Get lots of rest. Try to get 7-8 hours of sleep a night once your children are sleeping independently at night. This will help you keep up with them during the day.
- Quit smoking. Cigarettes might help you cope with stress, but in the long run they make you feel worse. A cigarette-free house is a healthier environment for your children too. You can get tips for quitting smoking from the National Quitline.
Find out what you can do to cope with feelings of stress, anxiety, worry, anger or depression if they occur. If you feel like you’re having more downs than ups, think about speaking to a friend or GP for some support.
Connect with other parents
One of your best sources of help, support and friendship is likely to be other parents.
When you connect with other parents, you discover that other people share your joys, frustrations and concerns about parenting. You also learn that there’s a huge range of normal when it comes to children’s behaviour and development, and also parenting styles.
Start connecting with other parents and their stories through our parent profiles and parenting forums.
Many people think that adolescence is always a difficult time, and that all teenagers experience moods and challenging behaviours.
It might help to know that studies show that only 5-15% of teenagers:
- go through emotional turmoil
- become rebellious
- have major conflicts with their parents.
Social, emotional and physical changes are part of your child’s journey to adulthood. It might feel like your child is moving away from you, but you still have a big role to play in helping your child develop grown-up attitudes, emotions and skills.
In fact, you are the biggest influence on your child’s long-term decisions, such as career choices, values and morals.
As your child moves into the teen years, it’s important to keep working on being a positive parent. The strategies are much the same as when your child was younger:
- Focus on the positives.
- Sort the myths from the facts.
- Look after yourself.
- Connect with other parents.
When you look after yourself and make time for things you enjoy, you model a healthy, positive approach to grown-up wellbeing and relationships.
If you’re worried about your teenager’s behaviour or development – or your ability to cope with it – seek help. Start by talking to a trusted health or other professional. You could try your GP or a school counsellor.
Reflections on parenting today
In this short video, parents reflect on the challenges, achievements, positives and negatives of parenting today. Mums and dads describe the importance of focusing on the positives, keeping up relationships with friends and family, and being good role models for children. Each parenting experience is unique and special. After reflection, these parents really understand the value of their experiences.