Have you ever wished that someone could give you a quick one-hour rundown of everything you need to know about practical parenting? Well, as you probably realized by now there is no quick-fix, and actually no one-and-only-way to do things when it comes to kids and how to parent them. So welcome to the wonderful world of trial-and-error and learning-as-you-go-along. It’s largely a matter of finding what works best for you as you wade through the maze of daily demands and challenges. And every now and then you discover the joy of those light bulb moments when you realize ‘this is a great hint – I wish I had known this sooner.’ So here are eight of those helpful little practical hints which could make the difference for you between parenting pain and parenting pleasure.
1. Be careful who you listen to
Have you noticed that as soon as you become a parent, suddenly everyone and anyone has loads of advice for you – even those who are not parents themselves! It can make you quite dizzy trying to listen to all the voices and sift out the helpful truth somewhere between the fluff and hype. So don’t. Let those well meaning friends and family ramble on and on, but then you decide on one or two trusted sources that you will listen to when you have a specific query or question. Don’t take every ‘friendly’ warning or ‘I just wanted you to know what happened to me’ seriously. Just because it happened to them does not mean it will happen to you.
2. Sign up for childcare way ahead of time
Don’t think you will be able to book your little one into a good daycare or preschool the month before you need it. These days there are waiting lists as long as a sleepless night. So give yourself some peace of mind and put your names down at the day care of your choice as soon as you know you are pregnant. And when baby is born you can put his or her name on the waiting list for the preschool you would prefer.
3. Do diapers with dignity
Perhaps you are grappling with the diaper dilemma – should you do cloth or go for disposable? You may save a few dollars if you go the cloth option, but think of all the time and effort you will put into washing and disinfecting them over and over again. Cloth diapers also tend to be bulkier and can result in heat rashes if you live in a humid climate. All in all whoever came up with disposable diapers needs a gold medal for giving us the option of doing diapers with dignity.
4. Keep sane while cleaning up
If you are one of those people who likes your home (or at least your living room) to be neat and tidy at all times, you may find yourself feeling worn out by lunchtime with all the picking up you are doing. Do yourself a favour and decide a time once a day when you will clean up – such as after dinner, or before breakfast. Then once you have done your daily clean up you leave it until the next day, and in the meantime just enjoy being with baby and letting the rest of life happen without worrying all the time about picking up that stray toy or trinket. Remind yourself that this is an interim arrangement and as soon as your kids have grown a bit you will be training them to pick up after themselves and start helping you with the housework too.
5. Do the elbow test
If running baby’s bath water is a stressful thing for you, all you need to do is stick your elbow in it! If the water feels lukewarm on your elbow then it will be just right for baby and you don’t have to worry about burning her sensitive skin or giving him a chill. Apparently someone discovered that the elbow is a reliable thermometer when it comes to measuring bath water temperature.
6. Go for the pocket options
When you have a little one in tow you can never have enough pockets. So next time you are buying a jacket make sure there are lots of nice accessible pockets where you can slip in anything and everything from a dropped pacifier to an extra tube of teething gel. And don’t forget it must have a rain hood too which is much easier than trying to hold an umbrella and push the stroller at the same time.
7. Talk to strangers
There’s something about parents with babies that creates an immediate bond, especially if your kids are about the same age. If you take your kid to the park and meet someone else with their kid, it may not be the time to implement the ‘don’t talk to strangers’ rule. Before you realize it the two of you could be chatting away and comparing notes on a whole range of fascinating baby topics from bowel movements to breastfeeding. Just go with it and enjoy the freedom of conversation with those who know how it feels, right here right now because they are living through the same parenting reality as you are.
8. Don’t sign your child up for everything
By the time your child starts school a whole array of enticing activities are there for the taking (at a price, of course). You may have a burning desire for your child to do piano and violin lessons which you never had the chance to do. And then there’s art and craft club, not forgetting swimming, tennis and baseball. Before long you may find you and your kids spinning around like hamsters on a wheel, caught in an endless cycle of frantic busyness and activity. They may all be great things to do, but you also need some time and energy left over just to relax together as a family and have great conversations as you build and strengthen your relationship with your child. So rather choose one (or at most two) activities at a time and focus on those before moving on to something else.