M.A. Psychology, Oxford. McKinsey Alum. Founder & Editor at TAoL.
Looking for some time-tested advice for new parents? You’re in the right place!
My favourite part of The Art of Living is YOU – the wonderful readers and subscribers who I get to hear from and share ideas with every day.
Which is why, when Erin and I discovered we were 12-weeks pregnant, I immediately emailed to ask: “What’s the number one piece of advice you’d go back and give yourself when you found out you were expecting for the first time?”
Your replies were as heart-warming and welcoming as they were practical, witty and wise; so I thought I’d share back your tips in an article for the rest of the world.
My key takeaways? That we never face our challenges alone. That parenthood is one of life’s greatest and most rewarding adventures. And that I’ve massively underestimated the awesomeness of all the world’s moms and dads.
So as someone who’s not joined your ranks yet, let me thank you for making us, thank you for doing your best and thank you (most of all) for all those long sleepless (and thankless) nights at the start.
If I manage to follow even a tenth of the wisdom you’ve shared with me in between feeds, nappy changes and power naps – I’ll count baby-one as a win.
Best Advice For New Parents: Your 16 Top Tips
Here’s a top-level breakdown of your best advice for new moms and dads:
I. Get ready for a big change…
II. The first year or two…
- Get good at sleep;
- Breastfeed (if you can);
- Keep your kids close at night;
- Stockpile essentials;
- Don’t waste money on the rest;
- Survive the first months/years;
III. As they get older…
IV. And whatever you do…
- Tackle it as a team;
- Ask lots of questions;
- Don’t worry;
- Enjoy every moment;
- And do it again (and again)!
Click any of the links above to jump to the relevant section or read on below…
I. Get Ready for a big change…
1. EXPECT IT…
There’s no denying it. Having kids means big changes.
“You’ll look back on your time pre-children and wonder what on earth you did with all your free time and money,” says Keith.
And there’s no way to prepare fully, even if you know change is coming.
“Children change you in ways that you never thought was possible,” says Isaac.
The most important thing to remember? “You won’t really miss it that much (at least most days!)” (Keith again) and whatever happens, “your life is changing for the better in ways you can’t see right now,” chips in Gary.
The short version? Don’t fight the tide, surf the wave and…
2. MAKE KIDS THE CENTRE OF YOUR LIFE…
“Always say YES! When your kid needs or gives you their attention, always give it back to them, stop what you are doing (nearly) no matter what, and give them the attention they deserve,” says Torgrim.
“My number one piece of advice for myself, if I was expecting our first again, would be family first, work second ALWAYS,” says Tom.
I saw this advice role modelled poorly at McKinsey. It was tragic to see partners trade their kids’ childhoods for long hours on the road or in the office.
So, “in for a penny, in for a pound,” as we say in the UK.
“Make your family and your kids the absolute pivot point of your life,” says Virginia.
Do first things first, put your family and kids at the centre of your life and get ready for…
II. The first year or two…
3. GET GOOD AT SLEEP…
Preparing for and handling sleep deprivation was everyone’s second favourite piece of advice for new parents (for the top piece of advice, check out point 14)…
“Sleep as much as you can NOW because once the kids are born you will NEVER sleep soundly again,” says Veronica.
“Lack of sleep is the #1 day-to-day challenge,” says Brad.
The good news? Sleep DOESN’T have to be a disaster.
“Research and practice the 5 Ss (swaddling, side/stomach position, shushing, swinging and sucking) religiously,”, says Brad.
“We discovered he just needed to be fed at EXACTLY the SAME TIME every time!”, says Julien.
Want more? You’ll find plenty of tips on this reading list of best baby books for new parents.
Worst case scenario? “Learn to sleep when they sleep,” suggest Cristy and Randy.
And tackle sleep deprivation as a team. “Take turns getting up at night” and “find ways to support her during the day so she can catch up,” suggest Randy and Brad.
Another popular topic?
4. BREASTFEED (IF YOU CAN)…
If you ever want a good example of how free-market capitalism can fail us, take a long hard look at healthcare in the US.
Among its sins, you’ll discover that many hospitals, doctors and nurses are financially incentivised to push formula milk onto new parents despite it being far less healthy and nutritious than breastmilk.
“At the beginning of your son’s/daughter’s life, I would want to emphasize the importance of breast-feeding. If you guys have any issues, I recommend getting an appointment with a specialist doctor or nurse, to have detailed instructions about how to do that properly. The benefits for the kid’s health are countless,” says José.
Most sources recommend at least 6-months of exclusive breastfeeding and up to 12-months of mixed feeding.
But there’s no reason to stop there…
“We have 3 of the best, well-adjusted children, they’re honest with us and we can trust them and they can trust us. My wife nursed them for a while, like one until he was 2.5 and the last one until 3,” says Koga.
“When my second son was breastfed till 4 years, it was remarkable how confident and loved this boy became,” says Sam.
If that seems as strange to you (as it does to me) it might be worth asking yourself, “Why?”. Is how long we think it’s “normal” to breastfeed a child something we’ve decided for ourselves? Or is it an unhelpful social norm?
I don’t have an answer and we’ll work it out when we get there. But it’s an interesting question to ponder.
Whatever you choose, you’ll find both sleeping and breastfeeding get easier when you…
5. KEEP YOUR KIDS CLOSE AT NIGHT…
Another question that seemed to go hand-in-hand with arbitrary stigmas and antiquated medical advice is that of how long to let kids share your bed with you.
The general consensus? Co-sleeping is healthy and normal. It’s much more convenient for nursing. It creates stronger bonds. And whether your kids share your bed for 6 months, 16 months or 6 years is totally up to you.
Whatever your thoughts on co-sleeping, one thing’s for certain, you might want to…
6. STOCKPILE ESSENTIALS…
“Buy as many diapers you can afford, there are never enough,” says Veronica.
“Stock up on diapers of ALL sizes [so] you’ll have something to change her/him into,” says Cristy.
“Start stocking up on diapers now of all sizes and formula if you are going that route. It spreads out the expense a bit,” says Randy.
It probably makes financial and logistical sense to stock up on essential consumables early.
7. DON’T WASTE MONEY ON THE REST…
New moms and dads are a cash-cow demographic for marketers. They’re changing their habits. They’re scared of not doing the right thing. They only want the best for their kids.
And 99% of what they buy makes zero difference beyond filling their house up with crap.
“Kids are never less expensive than before five years of age,” says Cere. “It may not seem like that with diapers and all, but the costs grow exponentially! Also, children really do not remember those early years much – think of your own memories. They are of impressions made by regular people and places. Leave amusements and things you think “build experience” for later. My children never even remembered any of the awesome things we did with them before about age 8!”
“Don’t buy too much stuff. Generous people will give you tons of hand-me-downs, and you’ll throw out or give away 90% of everything you buy, having only used it once or twice,” says Keith.
“I’d recommend not to spend much money on items that your child can’t grow with as they grow,” says Cristy.
The short version?
Having kids isn’t cheap. But it can be FAR more expensive than it needs to be.
Inherit what’s important. Buy what you can’t inherit. Don’t lose any sleep over the rest.
And you’ll find it much easier to…
8. SURVIVE THE FIRST MONTHS/YEARS…
The theme of the first few years for new moms and dads is “survival“.
“The first few months can be pretty gruelling. They really don’t do much at that age and it’s all give give give with very little reward,” warns Keith.
You’ll have new things to learn, new mistakes to make and new expectations to negotiate for yourself and your partner and your little one.
But there’s light at the end of the tunnel…
Because it’s about to get, “exponentially more fun“.
III. As they get older…
9. MAKE TIME FOR PLAY…
One of the best things about kids is that they help us reconnect with the joy, innocence and wonder of our own inner child.
The best way to encourage that (and bond with your kids)? “Play a lot, even from an early age,” recommends TJ. “Play creates a lot of connection with the little one when a father can feel helpless and disconnected.”
Want another great suggestion for connecting with and inspiring your kids?
10. READ FOR THEM EVERY NIGHT…
Erin and I love to read fiction and we can’t wait to re-read some of our childhood favourites. Which is one reason why I love Torgrim’s recommendation to “Read for them – every night!”
But there are more benefits to reading for your kids than just kindling their imagination and love of story-telling…
“Our nightly routine was a bit on and off, but I just decided that this hour was our hour, talking about the day and reading a little from a chosen book. (Ok, it’s more like half an hour, but you get the idea, set off time for this). Our youngest daughter is a bit dyslexic, and I think this has paid off for her in so many ways. Starting with “What letter is that?“, “Can you read that word?“, “What does that sentence say?“, to today when we read our pages all three of us, and discuss some words or concepts when needed.”
Isn’t that awesome? Which reminds me, I’m reading Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl at the moment and if there’s one piece of advice for new parents that I think she’d most agree with it’s to…
11. GIVE THEM RESPONSIBILITY AND RESPECT…
Here are some thoughts on the importance and benefits of making the effort to see things from your kids’ point of view…
“2-5 years old is an evolving game too, but your job is to “get into their world” – to really attune to them,” says Brad. “It’s SOOOOOO common to switch back into the parenting style we were raised with and specifically what we remember ie how our parents treated us in our teens, and much of that style is VERY ineffective with wee ones. I know you’ll do your research, but this Kahil Gibran poem says it all for me.”
“From the time they were born, I treated them as if they were adults,” says Lynn, “I respected them. I observed them with curiosity. I asked their opinions and listened to them when they wanted to talk. And above all, I modelled the behaviours I wanted them to follow (honesty, tidiness, etc.). There was no conflict between us during the teen years because I had always treated them like adults. I have very close positive relationships with both children today.”
And when it comes to helping out around the house…
“Start giving them household responsibilities early (maybe age 4 or so),” recommends Duncan. “In my experience, it’s a lot harder to get kids to do things on their own (e.g., take their clothes to the laundry room, put dishes in the dishwasher) if it hasn’t always been a routine.”
Conclusion? It’s easy to forget that kids are real people too and helping them grow means taking the time to (a) really see things from their perspective and (b) give them the respect (and responsibilities) they deserve.
Simple, but not easy, which is why it always helps to…
IV. And whatever you do…
12. TACKLE IT AS A TEAM…
Raising kids is a team sport and everyone benefits when that team’s working well.
“Recognise the stresses child-rearing can have on your relationship with your partner. If you both recognise this, you can discount a number of domestic quarrels and also be more understanding to your other half!” advises Michael.
“Keep tabs,” and ask these 5 questions every day, suggests Brad. “Keeping the conversation moving in a positive sense and batching out negative feedback been the best thing for our marriage.”
“Make time for each other as a couple, even when the walls are covered in kids spaghetti,” suggests Andrew.
“Leave them at one of your parent’s house once a fortnight, to go on a date and keep up the love,” seconds Sara.
But most of all, says Isaac, don’t forget to “Laugh, laugh a lot, at every fart, poop, puke (and there will be puke) with your wife.”
And if and when both of you get stuck? The secret is to…
13. ASK LOTS OF QUESTIONS…
Whatever new parent obstacle your facing, whatever question you’re stuck on, however tricky, or bizarre or embarrassing, the truth is that
someone has millions have been there before you.
The best part? It’s never been easier to avoid reinventing the wheel; to ask questions and get help and advice.
“Find an excellent child psychologist who is specially trained in caring for newborns and in parenting infants,” recommends Philip.
“Talk with other parents you know who you feel do a good job of raising their kids. They will be a good support system and sounding boarding,” says Lisa.
“My wife seems to always have a good handle on what to expect next through her mommy Facebook groups,” so seek out online peer and support groups, suggests Brian.
“Ask your email list of awesome subscribers“, says me 😅 and if you’d rather go straight to the experts without paying a fortune, you can always read up on pregnancy, babies and parenting in an excellent book.
But if there’s only one bit of advice for new parents you take away from this list, it should be this…
14. DON’T WORRY…
“You will screw up and that is okay,” says Randy
“You’re going to screw up now and then and your kid will still turn out okay,” says Lia.
“You will make mistakes… as long as you are trying to do your best, then things will be okay,” says Lisa.
Whether you’ve been created in God’s image or honed by billions of years of evolution, the truth is that you’re a natural-born parenting machine.
And often, the best way to unleash that is simply to get out of your own way.
So what’s the best way to stop worrying?
Fist, “ignore ALL advice from everyone on parenting,” says Keith. “Most people have only done it a couple of times but think they are the world’s experts. Find your own path and don’t feel obliged to follow everyone else’s advice.”
Next, realise that, “babies are pretty robust,” says Virginia. “They will cry. That is mostly all they can do to get your attention, let off steam and all of the frustrations that come from having to deal with gravity and a body they are just learning how to use.”
And even as they get older, “[kids aren’t] as fragile as you think. You can’t protect them from everything. The accidents, mistakes, failures and traumas they will go through will give them the personality they have when they’re older – be it defence mechanisms, humour, drive, determination, ambition or what have you.”
And the thing is, “no child is ’normal’,” Keith goes on, “Looking around my kids’ schools, I can’t think of a child that doesn’t have some kind of odd quirk, irritating personality trait, illness/allergy, or something else that isn’t ’normal’. There is no normal – it’s just that as adults we learn to hide the oddities so we can fit in with the herd. Accept them as they are.”
So, “while you stay focused on not repeating any mistakes your parents made in raising you,” Ken says, “Be forgiving of yourself for the whole new set of mistakes you will make that your parents managed to avoid.”
And remember to “Believe in yourself!” (Phyliss), have faith that “the whole process from delivery to adulthood is instinctual” (Veronica) and realise that “[kids] don’t come with a manual. You’ll more or less make it up as you go. And that’s ok!” (Chris)
“You will know what to do,” (Phyliss) so “don’t worry so much! It all works out in the end.” (Keith)
And use your new-found peace of mind to…
15. ENJOY EVERY MOMENT…
“Be sure to make as much time as you can with them because they grow up too fast,” says Koga.
And “savour every day. With my first, I was always looking forward to when he was a little bit older. Enjoy the moments – once they’re gone they’re gone,” says Chris.
“Take lots of pictures, save them redundantly. Take snapshots in time of what you were thinking and feeling and find a way to gift it back to them later in life to reinforce how much they’ve always meant to you,” says Isaac.
“Use the damn baby book… and maybe make a scrapbook too. Take a few pictures, print them out, put them in the book and write a long piece on what everyone was doing – including pets!” recommends Darryl.
But most of all, “enjoy every moment of it!!!” (Rashmi) because “they are only little for a short while.” (Krystal)
And when you discover how much you love parenting…
16. AND DO IT AGAIN (AND AGAIN)!
“Get another one as fast as you can! Our two girls are the best of friends, even though they are very different, and they learn so much from each other,” says Torgrim.
“Have another baby straight after your first, siblings are generally there for each other come hell or high water and the closer they are in age more so, they play together when they’re little (and fight) and this gives you a little space too,” suggests Lyndsy.
And remember, despite the worry and mistakes, despite the farts, fights and puke, despite it being one of the greatest and most challengine journies you’ll ever have the dubious, thankless and messy honour of embarking on…
The whole thing is worth it.
“My children are the best contribution that I have made to the world,” says Lynn.
“I have 2 daughters and they are, without a doubt, one of the most important and wonderful and challenging things that I’ve done in my entire life!” says Phyliss.
And “you are sharing God´s task of creation. It is the moment you are most similar to a supreme being,” says Jose.
So, “enjoy every second,” because being a new parent ” just keeps getting better.”
And check back here for more thoughts, wisdom and advice for new parents very soon.
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