Messages to expecting and new parents

Most men and women wanted to share with others what they had learned from becoming parents. Some offered general advice while others made recommendations based on their own situation and experience. Many questioned whether it was possible for someone who was not yet a parent to really understand what parenthood was like. A few thought people contemplating having a child should make the decision carefully because, as Sara L, a mother of two, said: ‘Once you have it, you can’t put it back, your life is forever changed’.

Many parents said they tended to ignore or ‘not really listen’ to advice offered to them before they became parents. Some men and women felt that more experienced parents were reluctant to share their reality of parenthood, wanting to ‘protect’ new or expecting parents. Others thought this was because their memories of early parenthood had faded. Frustrated by the lack of advice they received from other parents, some mothers and fathers were eager to share their experiences with new parents.

Joanne said she would tell expecting and new parents ‘the truth’ about her experiences of birth and early parenthood.

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General advice mothers and fathers had for new and expecting parents included the importance of asking for help when needed and maintaining social networks, looking after yourself as a parent, maintaining a sense of self beyond parenthood (especially for women), and being prepared for early parenthood to be challenging.

A number of parents, especially parents of twins or those lacking family support, talked about the importance of asking for and receiving help, whether from family members, friends, or paid help. A few women who said they struggled to ask for support, because they did not want to be seen as ‘not coping’ advised other parents not to ‘be ashamed and ask for help’. Several mothers mentioned practical assistance with cooking or housework as very helpful.

Kirsty described how trying to be independent and self-reliant in early parenthood worked against her.

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Jane, a mother of twins, said accepting help was as important for her children as it was for herself.

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Many parents strongly recommended new parents keep in touch with their social networks and not isolate themselves, referring to the saying, ‘It takes a village to raise a child’. Some parents felt the ‘village’ had been lost and described various strategies for recreating this. Andrew, a stay-at-home father, said joining playgroup and kindergarten committees connected him and his children to the local community. Parenthood was easier for Beth after her second child because they moved from a rural property into a town where she could walk to shops and the library. This kept her ‘sane’.

Tony said a large support network was important when his wife became very ill and he had to juggle work with looking after his baby and stepson.

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A newcomer in her town, Maree described her efforts to build a network of local mothers who could support each other.

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Some women emphasised the importance of not ‘losing’ yourself in motherhood. As Sara L explained: ‘I am a person, a scientist, as well as a mother. My children are a part of my life but being a mother doesn’t define who I am’. Other women said it was important to look after yourself. Tina advised trying to exercise and ‘do something nice for yourself’ and Sarah M talked about realising that she needed to feel ‘valuable in other ways’ than being a mother after she had her third child.

Rumer talked about her concerns about ‘disappearing’ into motherhood.

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Other mothers and fathers cautioned new parents to expect challenges in parenthood and stressed the need to be flexible. Luke advised other young fathers to take things ‘one step at a time’ and said ‘trial and error works wonders’. Kirsty reflected that if she had her time again she would have told herself to ‘just accept the way that parenthood is, because that’s easier than trying to resist it’.

Parents had differing views about expert advice in books, on the internet or from health professionals. Joanne, a mother of one, said getting ‘caught up’ in information on the internet or in books could lead people to think what they were doing was ‘wrong’, while Jane was grateful for the extensive resources she found online about parenting twins. Others such as Nellie who practiced attachment parenting with her two children said it was important to ‘find an authentic way of parenting which resonates with your personality and your values’.

Kate advised new parents to trust their instincts and not to be too hard on themselves.

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Both men and women shared their own unique experiences of becoming parents. This included suggestions about when to start trying for a baby, returning to work, and coping with early parenthood as a migrant. Some parents who had experienced fertility problems advised not delaying having children too long, including French who had ended up adopting, and Simon who had only been able to have one child.

Simon advised men that waiting until they were ready to have children was ‘foolish’.

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The impact of early parenthood on a woman’s career was discussed by several mothers, in terms of their adjustment to both parenthood and career. Nellie described warning pregnant colleagues that babies were often less ‘portable’ than people realised, while Rumer said accepting some casual work when her baby was four months was a mistake because her ‘brain just wasn’t really up to it’.

Georgia talked about advising ‘career-orientated’ pregnant women to understand that parenthood was very different from paid work.

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Several migrants from diverse language and cultural backgrounds offered advice on becoming parents in Australia. Tolai from Afghanistan advised parents to ‘be strong’ because it is hard to be separated from family back home, and Mishi from Pakistan said in situations of family violence, it was more important for mothers to look after their own wellbeing and that of their children than ‘save’ their marriage.

Ajay said moving to a new country was a big decision and presented many challenges but there were many sources of support.

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Mishi advised other women in violent relationships to leave with their children.

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