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Welcome to the most incredible adventure of your life… parenting. I’d love to offer you a roadmap to being a successful parent, but I’m still looking for that one. I can provide you with what I’ve learned from almost 10 years of mistakes and countless conversations with fellow parents.

So, buckle up and get ready for the wildest ride on earth – PARENTHOOD. 

Here are 14 tips for first-time parents.

1. Parenting is hard.

Especially at the beginning. No way to get around that truth. It’s the hardest thing I’ve ever done. There are loads of worry, anxiety, stress, and sleeplessness. Some things will get easier as your child grows, especially sleep. Every stage is a beautiful mess in its own way.

2. Everything is about to change (if it hasn’t already).

It’s all about to get rocked, from your social life to your work life. That can be scary. But I think you’ll enjoy it and won’t be able to imagine life any other way. 

3. The days are long, but the years are short.

As a parent of a 9 and 6-year-old, time flies. Try to enjoy every stage of childhood. Live in the moment.

4. Don’t stress yourself.

Things won’t always go the way you want. Your house will never be as clean as you want it to be. You won’t always get the perfect picture. Your child may not meet all your expectations. You might miss out on some events or milestones.

5. Take care of yourself.

You can’t give what you don’t have. Taking care of yourself has to be a priority. It’s not easy. But do your best to spend a little time focusing on yourself. Take a walk, grab a coffee with friends, get in a quick workout, do a puzzle – whatever fills your soul.

6. There are a lot of opinions out there, but you know your child better than anyone else.

You spend more time with your child than anyone. You may sense that they aren’t feeling well or something isn’t right. Trust your instincts. Social media and the internet are full of people who think they know best, but they really don’t.

7. Hold your baby a lot.

Don’t worry; you can’t spoil a newborn baby by holding them too much. (And research supports that it’s okay). They need your touch and attention. You’re providing a foundation for them to grow and feel safe emotionally, physically, and mentally.

8. Your baby will get sick.

That’s normal, and not because of anything you did wrong. It’s so hard to watch your baby get sick. It can be anything from minor infections to food allergies to significant illness. Be there for them and reach out to doctors as often as you feel is necessary. Don’t feel like you’re calling your pediatrician too much. They are there to help you. You are your child’s greatest advocate.

9. You’ll make mistakes.

There is no handbook for parenting, and every child is different. You’re gonna make mistakes. It’s okay. Don’t beat yourself up. 

10. When you do make a mistake, own it and apologize.

Your baby isn’t going to remember this, so this is for you. Create the habit now of apologizing when you mess up. As your child grows, they will learn this from you.

11. You are your child’s first teacher.

Learning doesn’t start in daycare or school; it begins with you. You are their first teacher. You have the privilege and responsibility of introducing your child to the world. Start early and use every opportunity to teach them as they grow. 

12. Do what works for you, your child, and your family.

Every child and every family is different. Figure out what works best for your situation.

13. Surround yourself with people who will help you.

You’ve heard it said, “It takes a village to raise a child.” It’s true! But it’s not just for the child, you need a village, too. Surround yourself with friends, family, and parents in the same stage. 

14. If you’re married, keep your marriage first.

Make sure and keep your relationship first and your parenting second. The best thing for your child is for your relationship with your spouse to be healthy and strong. 

Parenting is a journey. Take it one step at a time, and don’t get ahead of yourself. And have fun! You’ve got this. I’m rooting for you.

Other blogs:

Seven Things Every Child Needs to Thrive

10 Questions Couples Should Ask Each Other Before Having a Baby

How To Make Sure Your Child Knows You Love Them – First Things First

Sources:

Can You Spoil a Baby by Holding Them Too Much?

Bilgin, A., & Wolke, D. (2020). Parental use of “cry it out” in infants: no adverse effects on attachment and behavioural development at 18 months. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, and Allied Disciplines, 61(11), 1184–1193.

Ribar, D. C. (2015). Why marriage matters for child wellbeing. The Future of Children, 25(2), 11–27.

How to Feel Confident as a New Mom

It may take some time, but you will find your way.

JUMP TO:

• Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?
• How to Shift Your Mindset And Become What You Believe
• It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information
• How to Stop Comparing Everything
• Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial
• The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence
• Other helpful resources

Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?

“I can’t believe it…. We have a baby!” I half laughed-half cried in the moments right after giving birth to my daughter. I was exhausted and barely able to register how my life had just been forever changed in that instant. The next 24 hours were a blur of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (ugh), and constant check-ups. And even though the hospital room was cold, the bed was uncomfortable, and we really just wanted to be at home with our new little love, a slight wave of panic washed over both my husband and me when they announced that we could be discharged. We caught each other’s eyes, wide and questioning, silently asking, “Wait, what do we do now?”

Fast forward 5 years and 2 more daughters, and life is still a whirlwind of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (“Mom, your belly is so squishy!”), and constant check-ups. (Those boo-boo’s ain’t gonna kiss themselves!) Although I suppose having three kids makes me a veteran when it comes to motherhood, I still vividly remember how it felt to be a first-time mom. The uncertainty, the sleep deprivation (still struggling with that one, unfortunately), the unsolicited advice from everyone (thanks random stranger in the grocery store), the fear of failure, the mom guilt, and most of all, the lack of confidence in myself.

I’d like to give you some free unsolicited advice. (No, I’m not going to say “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” although if you can, go for it!) But let me first preface these insights with a pill that might be hard to swallow: You won’t feel confident as a new mom. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but hear me out. You CAN absolutely fake it ’til you make it. It’s gonna take time… but you WILL make it. You WILL find your confidence. Here’s how.

How to Shift Your Mindset and Become What You Believe

Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. When you hit a major transition in life, like creating a tiny human, your mind is doing some pretty heavy lifting trying to navigate all the newness. You’re in the trenches, as I like to call it. It’s do-or-die survival mode. And that puts tremendous stress on your brain. It’s easy for negative, intrusive thoughts to slide into your mental DMs. Especially when the learning curve is so high, you are so tired, and the baby is soooo fussy. It’s easy to feel like you have no clue what you’re doing, which, as we know, is pretty much a confidence-killer.

But there’s this really cool little thing called experience-dependent neuroplasticity, which is just a fancy way to say we can change our brain through our experiences. Our brains are designed to be malleable and constantly rewire themselves. Basically, everything you experience WILL alter the physical nature of your brain. 

So, take those pesky negative thoughts: If you constantly focus on your worry, mom guilt, fear, self-criticism… your brain will reshape itself to make you more vulnerable to worry, anxiety, and depression. You’ll find yourself only seeing the negatives of a situation and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, if you focus your thoughts on giving yourself grace, believing you are a good mom, and knowing it will get easier in time, your brain strengthens those neural connections. You’ll become more resilient, optimistic and have higher self-esteem in the long run. In the wise words of Oprah, “You don’t become what you want; you become what you believe.”

Try this right now: 

  1. Think about something you did well as a mom today. But don’t just notice it; really feel it too. 
  2. Take that thought and dwell on all the goodness in it for at least 20 seconds. (No fleeting thoughts here! And absolutely NO BUTS, unless, of course, your happy thought is that you cleaned a poopy butt really well…) This gives your brain time to fire those neurons and hardwire that belief into your brain. 
  3. Let the confidence boost commence.

It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information

Have you ever googled some seemingly harmless symptoms (albeit worrisome enough to google) and ended up convinced you were dying of cancer? With all the conflicting parenting advice/opinions/facts/hullabaloo out there, it’s no wonder we parents think we are ruining our children for life if we don’t do the RIGHT thing at ALL TIMES. Confidence goes out the window when your best friend says one thing, your mother says another, the internet, best-selling authors, pediatricians, or statistics all say yet another. And then, there’s your gut feeling. It’s so easy to second guess what we feel deeply in our gut because a trusted friend or family member disagrees. So my advice to cultivate confidence as a new mama? Dig into the latest research AND trust your mama instincts at the same time. 

When my oldest daughter was going into her terrible terrific twos, I had no idea how to handle her meltdowns. I didn’t feel comfortable punishing her for having big emotions. Yet, I watched others around me telling their kids to “stop crying” or sending them to timeout when they acted out or wouldn’t calm down quickly enough. I wondered if I was being too permissive by not following suit. I frantically searched the internet for information on whether I was screwing up my child by lack of discipline. Did I need to toughen up? Implement consequences? Or maybe, just maybe… was my gut telling me something that other parents weren’t aware of? 

Enter: Positive Parenting, a parenting style I had never heard of that I immediately embraced wholeheartedly. It presented exactly what I felt on a deeper level, and it had the research and neuroscience of child development to back it up! It taught me things I hadn’t even considered, and I’ve been a better parent for it. 

Try this right now:

  1. Think of an aspect of parenting that you’re second-guessing yourself in.
  2. Take some time to really look into what research says.
  3. Take into account what works for YOUR unique situation. It may not feel right or align with your values, or it could add more stress to your family dynamic. That’s why considering what your intuition says is crucial. 
  4. Find a balance between the two and choose the best solution for YOU. (Not your mom, or friend, or pediatrician, or… you get my point.) 

** Not sure where to start? I highly recommend reading Parenting Right From the Start by Dr. Vanessa LaPointe or Cribsheet by Emily Oster. 

How to Stop Comparing Everything

The more we worry, the less we get to enjoy motherhood. Falling into the comparison trap is hands-down the easiest way to lose confidence in yourself. Her baby is already crawling! Why isn’t mine? She pureés her own organic baby food. She must be a better parent than I am. Her Instagram photos are picture-perfect. My life feels like a hot mess right now. Why can’t I lose the baby weight like she did? You get it. Listen, we’ve all been there. 

So my advice? Figure out the things that trigger feelings of comparison, a “compare-snare,” if you will. (Social media, anyone?) Once you’re aware of what’s happening and how it makes you feel, try to minimize your exposure to it. And if that’s not possible because you’re addicted to the dopamine hit of a new like, when you do get triggered, remember that everybody has insecurities. (Even Beyoncé! Or Kate Middleton! Or Michelle Obama!) No one is perfect. Even the “perfect mom” has bad days. So stop believing the highlight reel of people’s lives. (Psst… Their highlight reel is not real life.) It’s only 1% (…maybe 2%) of their life. It’s not fair to compare the worst of yourself to the best of another. Even if it’s really easy to do.

Try this right now: 

  1. Create a mama-mantra that will help you overcome those moments when you’re being held captive by comparison. Something like, “I am enough,” or “A bad day does not make me a bad mom,” or “I’m still learning, and that’s okay.” Something short and easy to remember on the fly. 
  2. Write it down on a Post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror for a daily reminder to repeat it often, in good and bad times. 
  3. In moments of stress, simply repeat your mama-mantra and you’ll feel your heart rate slowing, your breathing becoming steady, and your confidence building up.

Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial

Chances are, the people you already surround yourself with probably look similar to you, have a similar upbringing or lifestyle, and have a similar belief system. That’s because we tend to like being around people who are similar to us. However, there may be people in your life who only diminish your self-confidence by questioning your decisions or flat-out disagreeing with them. When it’s a stranger, it’s easier to brush it off. When it’s your own family member, it’s a wee bit harder. 

So, for my last but certainly not least piece of advice, I highly suggest that you confide in another supportive and like-minded mama who shares your attitude toward motherhood and all the decisions surrounding it. This is what psych-nerds call consensual validation, and it will absolutely boost your confidence in your own attitude and the decisions you’re making! 

Having just any ol’ mama friend/sister or literally your own mother is sometimes not enough. Even though they get motherhood because they are indeed mothers, they’re contributing to your lack of confidence in a big way if they’re opposing rather than supporting your decisions. 

Find the mama who has been there and also totally listens to you, encourages you, supports you, builds you up, and pushes you to be the best version of yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree on everything, but it does mean that she won’t hurt your confidence in the process if she doesn’t agree. Plus, you’ll likely agree on way more than you disagree on anyway (remember that consensual validation)!

Try this right now:

  1. Think about a mama who just gets you and accepts you for who you are.
  2. Go ahead and send her a quick text thanking her for being so supportive. If she doesn’t already know, tell her how you’ve been struggling with a lack of self-confidence in this season of life.
  3. Ask if she has any tried and true suggestions for your specific situation.
  4. Lean on her.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If she’s a true friend, she’ll be honored to guide you through the trenches.  

The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence

It is completely normal to have a lack of confidence in something you’ve never done before. Even if you’ve babysat or worked with kids, motherhood is a whole new ballgame. It’s the difference between sitting in the stands, maybe catching a fly ball every once in a while, and being up to bat in a sport you barely know the rules to. 

So, give yourself permission to:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Ask for help or support.
  • Know that you’re the best mama for the job.

Confidence will come when your decisions yield positive outcomes. You won’t always choose the right thing. Remember, there’s a big learning curve. When you feel like you’re failing, acknowledge and validate your own feelings. Repeat that mama-mantra until you believe it, and confide in your supportive mama friend for a little extra encouragement. You got this.

Other helpful resources:

3 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently After Having a Baby

Help! We Just Had a Baby and Now We Can’t Stop Fighting

5 Reasons Why Marriage Can Be Harder After Having A Baby

Dear Wife, This is What You Should Know About Your Husband After Having a Baby

OH, Baby! Online

It’s your first child. Naturally, you’re going to be highly motivated to pull out all the stops, learn all the tricks and be the “perfect” parent. Since your child doesn’t come with an owner’s manual, you’ll more than likely rely on friends, family, the internet and your own ideas about what’s appropriate and what to expect from your child.

Dr. Kevin Leman, author of First-Time Mom, says many first-timers who are trying to be great parents push their firstborn a little too hard. There’s a tendency to approach parenting from the perspective of raising the perfect child. Unfortunately, the child often gets buried underneath those high expectations and can feel as if they never measure up.

“Your firstborn child is already going to be highly motivated,” says Leman. “Instead of using conditional love and asking them to continually jump through new hoops, choose to be a nurturing, encouraging presence.”

Leman identifies 10 traps first-time parents often fall into:

A critical eye.

Be aware of your standard of behavior. When is the last time you had a perfect day? Children are the same way. Training takes time and the standard is not perfection. Accept your child as he is and recognize that he is not going to excel at everything.

Overcommitment.

Children want to be a part of a family and they want to identify with their home. When you choose to live an overcommitted life, you are training your child to identify her heart with what is outside the home.

Not enough Vitamin N. 

First-time parents often fall into the trap of thinking that they can make their child happier and better adjusted by what they give to their child and the experiences they provide for their child. Vitamin N stands for No! Too often, giving our child things becomes a substitute for being their parents.

Lack of Vitamin E.

One of the biggest myths today is the concern over self-esteem. Instead of telling your child how wonderful she is just for being a child, you want to teach your child to think in a constructive, positive manner. Esteem comes from accomplishing something and from giving something back. If a child learns how to do something and her parents comment about what a great job she did, she recognizes that the most significant people in my life – my mom and dad – notice what I’ve done and what I’ve accomplished and recognize that I have a role to play.

Playing the competition game.

Human development is not a race. Early development does not guarantee that a child will be above average her entire life. Instead of comparing your child, enjoy him.

Overexcitement.

As a first-time parent, you will go through many trials and anxieties for the first time. Babies do best with calm, confident parents. It gives them a sense of security, serenity and peace. Your baby will take his cues from you. Don’t treat minor instances like they are life and death occurrences.

Over-discipline. 

As a first-time parent you may not be as familiar with age-appropriate behavior. As a result, you’re more likely to over-discipline your child. Your goal is not to control your child, but to be in authority in a healthy way. One mother told how her 9-month-old walked up to the couch and grabbed some decorative pillows. The mom said she told her daughter not to throw them on the floor. The child looked her straight in the eyes and threw them on the floor. Instead of recognizing this as age-appropriate behavior, the mother viewed it as intentionally defiant behavior on the part of her child.

Under-discipline.

The flip side of over-discipline is letting your child do whatever they want without any consequences. With firstborns in particular, you need to lay out exactly what the age-appropriate rules are and follow up. Since firstborns don’t have an older sibling to model behavior, you must be specific about what you want them to do.

Letting other people raise your child.

It is too easy to give into your parents’ or in-laws’ advice. As a first time parent, it may take you awhile to assume your role as a full-fledged adult. You are the parent. No one knows your child better than you. Be responsible for the decisions you make in raising your child.

Allowing your child to be the center of the universe.

Up until age two a child’s favorite word is “mine,” which is totally appropriate. Past this age, teach children how to share and interact with a variety of other children. Teach your child to be aware of other people and not just selfishly barge ahead.

Looking for more? Check out this episode of JulieB TV on this topic!

Jake and Lou Anne used to live in a loft and have people over all the time. But once they decided to have a family, they moved to a house in a quiet neighborhood. And, their friends came over significantly less often.

“It was definitely a dramatic change for us,” said Lou Anne. “It was hard to give up our two-seater convertible, but we knew it wasn’t a family car. We had hoped we could keep it and add a family car, but since we couldn’t predict our expenses after Cara’s birth, we traded it in.”

Their daughter arrived in October of 2005. Even though she was an “easy” baby and had a great temperament, she still rocked her parents’ world.

“We were pretty on-the-go kind of people before Cara arrived on the scene,” said Jake. “That has come to a screeching halt. Lou Anne and I really enjoy each other’s company and spending time with our friends. It has been an adjustment just trying to figure out how to have time together, much less work in our friends,” Jake said.

While Jake says the changes in their life have truly have been just that – changes, not sacrifices – many couples know that bringing home that new bundle of joy can cause everything from joy to total frustration. Even when you know that life is going to be different, going from spontaneous and carefree to a schedule and being responsible for someone else can throw a good marriage into a tailspin.

In her book, Childproofing Your Marriage, Dr. Debbie Cherry says there are two major threats to the marital bond when couples have their first child: lack of time and lack of energy.

Intimacy can be greatly affected by:

  • feelings of grief at losing couple time,
  • sensing disconnectedness from your spouse,
  • feelings of jealousy about the amount of time and attention the baby receives, and
  • the loss of energy from caring for the baby.

If a couple does not recognize these threats and deal with them openly, they may begin to feel even more alone and isolated from each other.

“You really can’t measure the love and joy that comes with having a baby,” Jake said. “At the same time, I think it is really important for Lou Anne and me to have time together. We consider personal time, couple time and family time equally important.”

The couple spent the first year trying to get in the groove of how to do all three.

Time is a precious commodity, especially for new parents. Things that you used to take for granted—like afternoon naps on the weekend, taking your time in the bathroom, sex, watching your favorite sitcom, or grabbing a bite to eat—become things that practically have to be scheduled into your day.

If you’re a new parent, Cherry’s suggestions can help you stay close after bringing your baby home:

  • Develop a couple-centered, not a child-centered relationship. For the first time in the relationship, couples have to choose who really comes first. Starting here and now, determine that the couple comes before the children. If children are number one, their never-ending need for attention will eat up everything you have to give, and the rest of your life will suffer because of it. Love your children, provide for them and meet their needs. But remember that one of their most important needs is to have parents who really love each other.
  • Become co-parents, not compulsive parents. Moms and dads alike can fall into the trap of believing they are the only ones who can adequately care for their baby. Somehow they forget that many parents have come and gone before them and have learned to capably care for these helpless little creatures. Becoming a compulsive parent creates isolation and will eventually lead to parenting burnout. Breaks and daily support from each other are a must for parents.
  • Talk to each other every day. Check in with each other regularly. Talk about changing expectations and needs, and division of labor. Discuss your disappointments and fears about parenting. Communication involves both talking and listening. Be the best listener you can be if you want your spouse to continue to share his or her deepest thoughts, feelings, fears and needs.

“I think one of the most important things we keep in mind is that we are on the same team,” Lou Anne said. “I really depend on Jake. We try hard to be respectful of each other and to mind our manners. When you start stepping on each other’s toes, then it becomes a matter of ‘that’s not fair,’ and things go downhill quickly. Cara has been a blessing. Our goal is to keep our marriage strong so we can be a blessing to her through the years.”

For more insight on parenting and how to stay close after bringing baby home, download our E-book “4 ways to stay connected after Baby” Download Here