What would you tell your younger self about having kids?

Photo: Shutterstock
Photo: Shutterstock 

The transition from a child-free life to parenthood is one of the biggest we make.

It helps to know others have been there – and lived to share their hard-won wisdom.

I asked my mum networks to share all that precious and?honest advice they really needed before having kids.

Take the most intrepid and glamorous holidays now

If you want to climb Mount Agung in Bali, party in Mykonos, or devour books on Bora Bora, book now.

Melbourne mum, Fernanda would tell her pre-child self to savour flexibility. "Eat late. Wake up in a new city without a plan. Stay in small, cheap accommodation because it's just a bed in a new destination. Try out new bars. Leave it to the last minute to get to the airport. Hike up hills for great views. Enjoy museums, comedy gigs, music venues, and never ever waterparks or playgrounds."

For Jessica in Wollongong, one of the benefits of having invested in travelling before kids is she can now dine out on the memories. "My husband and I always say how glad we are that we did all our big trips before kids as we really had some of our best times together. I feel this is what gets us through the tough times with our little ones, remembering how good and fun we are together."

Of course, it is possible to travel after kids. Children also open up a new world of travel and can be great cross-cultural conversation starters.

Every phase will pass

Experienced mums know both the tough stuff and the sweet stuff will pass.

This advice helped Kristy, a charity manager, get through the first months with her daughter. "My child screamed for the first six months of her life. Nothing fixed it. The best advice I got was, it won't last forever so do whatever you need to do - pull in all your resources, family and friends - to survive now."

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Similarly, registered nurse Micaela regrets wishing her daughter's newborn days away. "I wish I just enjoyed every minute of my little squishy baby and know that rest and sleep will come in good time!"

At times it's hard to believe, but one day our kids will no longer want us to lie with them at bedtime or listen to their imaginary stories.

In the meantime, it's always useful to get advice from your GP or child health nurse to help with the tough stuff.

Everyone else is making it up as they go along too

With everyone from the mum in the café to the grandpa in the shops having opinions on baby care, it can feel like you're the only parent who doesn't know what they're doing.

The truth is, no one has all the answers, as three Brisbane mums agree. "There's no rule book, nobody to tell you what to do at 3am when your baby is screaming in your arms and you haven't slept for 24 hours.

Nobody has a clue!" says Jill.

Cat sums the struggle up nicely: "Look it's a delicate balancing act between research, gut instinct and bloody winging it. We do our best, we aren't perfect but as long as you are able to keep evaluating if it's working and adjusting accordingly then you'll probably be right...and don't be afraid to tell the inevitably bitchy judgey Mums you'll encounter to take a hike."

Even successfully raising one child through the early years doesn't mean you won't have to guess again.

Wenji in Brisbane needed different strategies for her second. "If it wasn't for my eldest, well-balanced child I would have doubted my parenting abilities based on my second, challenging child."

Be prepared to see your own parents in a new light

There's a lot about parenting that can only be appreciated through lived experience, including your own parents' actions.

Since having her own daughter, Katrina in Brisbane has a new respect for what it takes to be a parent. "If I could go back to my 15-year-old self, I would tell myself to stop fighting with my sister, help out around the house more and to be thankful for the endless opportunities and support they gave me."

Some post-birth realisations about our own parents are more hurtful. Emily says, "For a long time after I had my daughter I couldn't reconcile how much a mother loves a child - how much I loved my daughter - and how my mother could so easily abandon me…having a child made me realise that her actions had another level of "unforgivable" that I previously hadn't understood."

For herself and other mums in the same situation, Emily says the benefit of this pain is they can end the cycle. "We'll be better parents to our children because of it."

It's not sad to enjoy going grocery shopping alone

Many of us can identify with Bendigo mum Manda's Sunday "treat" at the supermarket. "I love my [solo] Sunday arvo food shop where I can plan the week a little and not be rushed or work around kids' routine."

Or perhaps the bathroom is where you get your mini-break. Mum of three, Fallon blisses out by: "Washing my hair and shaving all in the same shower. While listening to my preferred music. And not having my tiny people compliment my breasts. 'Mama I like your milks!'

I've known people without kids to pityingly denounce such forms of "me" time as sad and a bit pathetic.

But to do so is to underestimate the value of the parenting role, and the physical and psychological energy it takes.

We mums don't receive global recognition for our roles like tennis ace Ashleigh Barty or soccer star Sam Kerr, but some days it feels like we work just as hard. And if these Aussie women wanted to stroll the grocery aisles for downtime after a long day, we wouldn't begrudge them, would we?