Abby Perrins lives in Brighton with her husband and two children, and is a previous Mummyshock group member. Here she shares her reflections on her own journey of becoming a mum...
"I am early on in my parenting journey, with only a three month old and two and a half year old. I hear parents say to other parents-to-be that their one piece of advice is to ignore everyone's advice. I totally get this as you are bombarded with lots of (often conflicting!) advice which can sometimes be helpful, but often replaces your own instincts, which are your best guide.
There has been a boom of babies amongst my friends recently and it got me thinking that rather than advice on 'how' to parent, when people share their experiences on being a parent this is what I find most helpful. So these are things I have discovered help me to be a happy and healthy parent (and I am sure it will change as they grow up and I grow older).
These top tips from my journey are not things I do, but things I fumble and fail at often, but that I find myself doing when I am at my best, and not doing when I am struggling most. So here I go, these are my top tips...
1.Be Kind to yourself.
Do something nice for yourself each day. My go-tos are making a nice coffee or something yummy to eat, getting into nature or doing something creative...
2.Remember that everything is a phase.
This I find helpful especially in the early days of sleep deprivation and unexplained crying. But helpful with toddlers (and teenagers I imagine) too! You won't have an 18 year old that still melts down over putting on their shoes to go out (I hope).
3.Choose to have fun and play.
I think my best days parenting are the ones when I learn to be more like a child myself. I had a really sleep deprived week last week, and it helped when my son every morning asked to put on Michael Jackson...dancing to Billy Jean together lifted my mood and actually knocked the edge off my tiredness.
Create time with your partner away from the kids. Get a babysitter in and go out..
5.Create space for each other.
My husband and I always feel happier and healthier if we have given each other a couple of hours off at the weekend to do our own thing. Whether it is playing football, going to a cafe to write or for a walk in the woods. Be religious at doing this. I find the time I abandon this and want to be at home all the time is when I am most struggling- my husband has to practically force me out the door, and 99 times out of 100 I feel much better on return, and am a happier mum/wife/human being as a result.
6.Put your feet up and have a beer!
Try to have times where you switch off. The washing will always be there and it can be hard to let go (especially if you are perfectionist like me)...I find this one really hard, but feel better when I learn to rest in the mess. On this note getting out the house can be helpful, some of my mum friends and I get together every couple of weeks or so to drink wine on a Friday afternoon. This is a good way to hooray in the weekend (don't get smashed of course!) but play dates are good with wine in hand.
7.Keep being you.
It can be hard when your identity or sense of self before your child feels like it is fading. I found it especially hard with my first child not doing work I was passionate about. But know that you are still you, with all your passions and values in life, even if for a season you are not as involved in those parts of yourself. Be intentional about keeping your passions alive. I like to be creative and feel like I am helping others. At the moment this may be five minutes of doodling with my son, or sending an encouraging text to a friend, but these small things help me feel like I am still living the life I desire. And as your child grows, cultivate space for your passions- they will learn more from seeing you following your passions in life, than from you simply encouraging them in theirs.
Being a parent of young children can be monotonous at times...feed, dress, park, sleep...and repeat! Doing new things can actually give you energy. Find something you both enjoy like trying some new foods, building a den, doing a book swap with a friend so you are not reading the same books again and again, make some musical instruments and some noise...
9.Ask your community for help.
If you are struggling ask people for support. It is a sign of strength (not weakness) to be able to do this. Our culture can be individualistic or idealise the bubble of the nuclear family...when actually it takes a village to raise a child, and we are a better, healthier society when we realise this...
10.Find your own path.
You will get lots of different philosophies or advice on how to parent, which can be helpful, but also can also leave you feeling anxious, overwhelmed, confused or, worse, judged. Trust your instinct and find what works for you and your child. Every parent and child is different, so be flexible and journey with what works for you, your partner and your little ones.
11.Know that you can't be perfect.
And actually your children seeing the way you respond to your weaknesses is far more valuable than them seeing you strive and put pressure on yourself to reach an unattainable perfection. If they see you fail at something, apologise, move on and forgive yourself, this teaches them valuable life lessons. This runs into my next tip...
12. All that matters is love.
You will do some things well and other things badly. Winnicott came up with the term the 'good enough parent' (to counter the idea that you can be a perfect parent). The good enough parent has weaknesses (as we all do) but creates a stable, secure base for their child by providing love. This is all a child needs to move into adult life with a secure attachment.
13.Look after yourself.
My new year's resolution this year is to do self-nurture well, so that I can nurture my little ones well. You are giving out so much as a parent you need to be nurtured yourself. Otherwise you are like a jug of water that is being poured out without being filled up again, and you will run dry and empty. For me one way of looking after myself this year has been a weekly yoga class- which has been good for my emotional, spiritual and physical health.
14.Learn new things.
Find ways to stretch your mind and stay stimulated. Listen to a podcast when hanging the washing, watch a documentary in the evening, have an interesting magazine you read on the loo. My husband is really good at this, he is at this very moment learning Italian whilst cleaning the kitchen...
15. List the things you are thankful for.
I went through a spell of being low in mood recently and this really helped me. Each morning listing what I was thankful for moved my focus off of difficult aspects of my life and onto the positives. I do this with my son sometimes which hopefully helps him to stay grateful too.
These are just some thoughts that I wanted to share. I hope it was helpful for some of you, and I'd love to hear some of your ideas and reflections along the way too."