Hindsight is both a wonderful and frustrating thing.
Especially when it comes to the parenting regrets we all tend to have.
I'm sure you can think of plenty of examples of things you believe you should have done, instead of what you actually did.
That is until you slap yourself, and truly realise you made the best decision you could have at the time, with what support and information you had available to you.
We don’t always have the wisdom or resources available to us when we need it.
Parenting is mostly learned on the job and is supported by reading great books and observing others as we grew up.
My 6 Biggest Parenting Regrets
While I am now at peace with my journey, here are the 6 most significant things I would do differently, knowing what I do now.
I write this in the hope that others parents can ponder how they feel about those things themselves – and be proud of what they achieved.
Regret #1: Worrying About What Everyone Else Is Thinking
We all do it: we spend more time worrying about what other people are thinking about our choices and decisions. But in reality, if we knew how little other people thought about us, we’d kick ourselves.
With so many parenting styles, choices and options available to us as parents, not to mention the unique set of life circumstances we have, there will always be plenty of parents doing things differently to how you do it – and that's perfectly okay. You have to live with your choices every single day – not them. So do what makes you feel best as a mother or father. If your choices and decisions fill you up with love and joy, your whole family stands to benefit, along with your self esteem and confidence.
But if you’re worrying about what other people are thinking, you’re carrying around a backpack of concrete as the ‘others’ carry on thinking about what they’re having for dinner that night, how they can get out of that expensive parking fine they got at lunch, and how they can patch up that tiff they had with their partner earlier that day – just for starters. There are so many distractions in life, constantly competing for our attention.
People will always have an opinion about what you do and say, but just like the last snazzy sports car you drove past, it may have caught your attention, but it was a fleeting, passing moment which has gone and likely been forgotten. What people think of your choices really is insignificant in the big scheme of things. If you’re being judged or criticised, be sure to read my article here.
Regret #2: Not Trusting My Instincts
I am a huge believer that our bodies give us signals that we shouldn’t ignore.
If you have a baby, you might have noticed that when your baby cries, your body responds. Your heart races. You feel anxious. You feel almost desperate to console your baby. Heck, you may even start to leak breastmilk. Your body is preparing you for comforting your baby, even before you do. Mother nature has us perfectly wired so our baby’s cry will enable him to get his needs met, and our bodies will feel primed and determined to give him what he needs. Its pretty clever when you think about it.
So, where is the sense in believing that we should override this survival system in an attempt to have socially acceptable babies? Babies don’t thrive when they are forced into schedules and timeframes based on a fully grown and developed adult. They are babies with a different set of needs and no wristwatch. If we could just let go of our societal programming to need schedules, deadlines, explanations and specific timeframes that our own, unique baby should be doing things, we’d be so much more relaxed.
Why does your alert system go off even when you’re not responding to your baby’s cries? Why does it make you cry and feel awful? Because you are fighting something that is not meant to be fought. Let go. This is what you were born to do mamma. Your brain might think otherwise, but your body will show you the way.
Regret #3: Going To Sleep School With My 4-5 Month Old
So, regret #1 and #2 led to regret #3.
I was a mess, and I decided the next step would be to go to a sleep school, just like other mothers in my shoes did.
If you're not familiar with what a sleep school is, they are usually overnight or several night stays at a hospital, in a ward run by nurses who help mothers resolve baby sleep issues. However, often a form of controlled crying is taught and cosleeping is not allowed or recommended.
This is probably one of the worst memories I have as a mother. I ended up at the sleep school for a week, when the program was designed for a three day stay. My daughter didn’t want a bar of controlled crying (controlled comforting or whatever crappy label you want to put on it) and it was like even she became depressed, just like me.
It was customary for every mama to cry on the first night of sleep school, because they couldn’t stand their babies crying. What a sad sight it was, seeing mamas standing at the door with the nurse, sobbing while their babies cried. Gosh, it makes me teary thinking about it now. How awful it feels as a mama, let alone the babies feeling frightened, alone and in the dark, wondering what the heck is going on and if someone is going to come and help them.
One night, I went into her room to check on her, and found her face covered in vomit. I was so sleep deprived and distressed with the whole ordeal that it triggered a panic attack. My daughter never drooled, let alone vomited. Yet she was covered all over her face and as well as down her body. By the end of the stay, she'd lost weight and the maternal health nurse pushed the formula envelope. Luckily she refused a bottle.
I wrote about my stay at the sleep school, after discovering a letter I wrote to my daughter while I was there. You can have a look here. It would have been awesome if someone had told me about the 4 month monsters phase, which every parent of a four month old tends to go through.
Regret #4: Not Being Kinder On Myself
Two things we fail to remember as mothers:
1. We're not Super Mama (and, no she doesn’t exist).
2. We're not designed to raise babies on our own, while simultaneously keeping a display home.
There's no such thing as a perfect parent. But there are plenty of ways we can be a great one.
For the vast majority of mothers, we have indeed lost the village. We have no wise elders or communal/community living (how our ancestors learnt and gained confidence with parenting before they became parents themselves) and we often live far away from our family. Many of our partners are working longer hours than ever and there is so much more stress, strain and pressure on families – its ridiculous to think that you can do it all.
There are many ways to tackle this, depending on finances, resources and who you have around you. But if you have no family or friends around, you can hire a post-natal doula who is specially trained to help you at home after you’ve had a baby. You could hire a cleaner once a week or fortnight, and for less than $100, your house will be sparkling from top to toe. Call in for whatever reinforcements you can, but remember you will cope better with more sleep (discuss with your partner how you can achieve this), more support and a strong relationship with your partner.
Here is an article on 8 ways you can help prevent post-natal depression, which has lots of good tips on helping yourself feel better.
Regret #5: Getting Too Caught Up In Sleep Issues
Baby sleep is the bane of every mother and father’s existence. It can be so easy to get caught up in the lack of sleep your baby is getting. Thankfully, all things are temporary. Its important to remember that babies need to wake often for their survival. Their tummies are tiny and empty quickly. They may wake up if they can’t smell their mothers familiar smell or comforting touch. They just want to make sure they are safe.
You can read more about that in the hugely popular article, Why Does My Baby Wake Up When I Try To Put Him Down?.
As a result of getting stressed about how my baby should be sleeping, I ended up with all the issues above: #1, #2, #3 and #4.
If you haven’t yet read it, check out my article on What A Cabinet Maker Taught Me About Babies And Sleep as well as the other great articles in our baby sleep section.
Also, follow along in our Baby Week By Week series, which supports you every week with ideas and advice from BellyBelly's amazing parenting editor. I truly wish this was available to me back then!
Regret #6: Underestimating The Importance Of Finding A Supportive Group Of Mamas
As I sit in a quiet cafe writing this article, a group of three mothers with adorable little babies are sitting together enjoying their lunch. Because there aren’t many people in the cafe, it’s easy to overhear them speaking, being incredibly kind and supportive of one another, as their babies take turns at having a grizzle.
As much as I love to see this beautiful sisterhood, I can’t help but feel my heart sink a little.
When I had my firstborn over 14 years ago now, my ex-husband and I had just bought our first home in a new area. However, I didn’t hit it off very well with my mothers group. Most of them were fixated on getting back to work, into the gym, baking and gardening – and since I had the ultimate velcro baby, all I cared about was getting a shower without a screaming baby some day.
My baby responded well to baby-led breastfeeding, co-sleeping and babywearing, which I felt was frowned upon and never discussed at mothers group – and even in society in general. When I explained that I hadn’t been joining the group for few weeks in a row because I had been getting help with PND, they looked at me as if I had a third eye. I think that was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and what led me to creating BellyBelly. I wanted to support mothers and talk openly about the realities, with gentle solutions.
Having PND was no surprise. Not only was I getting hardly any sleep and absolutely no ‘me time’, but I didn’t have many friends or family around me. I felt alone, lost, confused and just wanting to be around women who understood and supported me. I just didn’t know where to find them.
Thankfully, the online world offers mothers SO many opportunities to get involved with communities both online and in real life. If you don’t get along with your mothers group (not everyone does!) then think about where you can find women who appeal to your interests and passions. For example, the Australian Breastfeeding Association offers regular support groups as well as drop-in sessions. There are more than 230 local Australian Breastfeeding Association (ABA) groups throughout Australia, which have the aim of helping other mothers through ‘mother-to-mother’ support.
Birth education classes sometimes offer post class catch-ups, especially if they are independent (private) birth education classes.
As a doula, and I have found so much love, wisdom and support from the doula community when I reach out for it. Think about what you’re passionate about and get involved and connected
That is something that you wont regret.