parent opinion

"Do yourself a favour": I'm a mum of 4, and I can tell you what smug parenting advice to ignore.

Sleep when the baby sleeps! Don’t spoil the baby…you’re making a rod for your own back carrying that baby around all the time! He’s not sleeping because your breast milk isn’t good – it’s drying up! Don’t formula feed, it’s evil! His teeth are sore? Put rum on his gums – that’s the only thing that really works… Leave the housework and just be with your baby in the moment; but also remember – tidy house, tidy mind! Lower your standards – just embrace the chaos (but don’t lower your standards so low that people think you’re not coping). Enjoy every minute! If the baby bites, bite it back. Only talk to your baby in lullaby tones or they will be angry babies. Clean when the baby…oh wait, that isn’t one.

Watch: Things Mums never hear. Post continues below.

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Anyway, you get the picture.

Just like birthing babies and weeing in your pants a little every time you laugh, advice and motherhood seem to go hand-in-hand. As soon as you’re pregnant everyone you’ve ever met is suddenly overcome with the desire to tell you everything you must do to survive.

So, what is the best mothering advice? What are the gems of wisdom that will save your sanity, especially in the early days of mothering, and what is the rubbish you can immediately toss aside?

When I was pregnant with my first child, I remember being bombarded with tips on how to handle all the changes ahead of me. There was unsolicited advice everywhere.

The bigger my belly swelled, the more people seemed to make a beeline for me in crowded places, honing in on me to touch my belly and tell me the must-buy items, the ways I should birth, how I should feed my baby when it was born and even how I should nourish myself in pregnancy (“how about I make you decaf instead of the regular coffee you just ordered…you know, for your baby’s health?”)

People just seemed to know how I should mother my child. There was advice from his first breath (haha, just kidding, there was advice from pre-egg fertilisation – I didn’t escape those experts) and the advice went all the way through to what I should do when my unborn son married and left me for his future wife (endear yourself to the wife, no matter how awful she is.)

Anyway, because I wasn’t a mum, I didn’t know which advice to store up and commit to memory and which to dismiss.

Looking back, I realise I took on a lot of the stupid stuff (like thinking it was my milk, me, the way I was mothering instead of just a baby development phase when things were tricky) and I dismissed some really good wisdom.

I dismissed advice about buying lots of little cute things because my baby would grow out of them quickly…even though he did.

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I dismissed advice about buying an expensive pram because I didn’t believe those negative nancy’s that children ruin everything…and now I push around an expensive contraption frequently stalked by pigeons because of the crumbs encrusted upon it. Rather than it looking like it’s from a swanky baby store it actually looks like I salvaged it from a bonfire at the tip.

When pregnant I justified the purchase to my husband promising that I would sell the pram at the end of our baby days and probably make money on it. But now I quietly concede I’ll probably have to pay someone to take it away.

But I didn’t know. I was overwhelmed! I wanted everything to be perfect!

Now, there is one piece of advice that I didn’t take while pregnant and I still hate myself for it all these years later – mainly because of the way I tossed it aside.

At about 37 weeks pregnant I went to this funky little second-hand baby market, and as I perused each item and stroked my belly, a raccoon-eyed mum saw my bump and threw herself at me with the tenacity of a used car salesman.

She wanted me to buy her all-dancing, vibrating, singing bells and whistles baby swing. She rasped at my glowing self, “believe me, you will never survive the newborn days without this swing. I’ll give you a discount!”

I remember looking at her and saying the words, “ohhh no thanks, I’ve already decided I’m not going to aid my baby to sleep, I’m going to teach him to self-settle…”

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On a nightly basis, as I aid my now fourth child (who is nearly two) to sleep with my boob, I still think about that woman’s advice and wish I could go back in time and slap myself in the face.

I have honestly thought about trying to track her down to apologise but the effort seems really taxing and I am already very tired these days because my boobs are performing the task of that long ago dismissed magic swing.

Anyway, I’ve come a long way since being the cocky crow who rejected a miracle swing. I now have four children, and here is the GENUINE scoop (I think) on the only mothering advice you need to survive.

You know your baby better than anyone.

If you don’t believe me ask smug Mary whose baby sleeps through the night to come over at 3am and get your baby to settle – bet she can’t!

If it doesn’t feel right, don’t do it.

Motherhood can seem like a peer pressure cooker sometimes. Just try and say, “hmmm I’ll give some thought to what you’ve said,” instead of saying yes. (I’m still practicing this one – it takes discipline.)

People will want to be right, for their sake – not yours.

Sometimes people try to ram advice down your throat not because they think you don’t know what you’re doing, but because they are trying to validate what they are doing or did.

Be kind.

Your kid doing something awesome is not an opportunity to shit on other mums. The worst kind of mum is the kind that makes others feel like crap!

If it feels like it’s all getting too much…

Go outside, to the park if you can. We all parent better in public (and anyone who says they don’t is lying.)

Get some alone time when you can.

You’re still you…deep down…somewhere.

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And finally, if you’ve got this far and you’ve had no sleep and you already can’t remember any of the things you’re supposed to remember, then don’t even try. It’s ok if you forget every single thing I’ve written except this – because THIS is the only piece of advice that will carry you through all the stages:

Celebrate the small wins.

All of them. Every day.

Motherhood can seem like a thankless task in the day-to-day. It sometimes makes you wonder if what you’re doing is enough – if who you are is enough. So you have to make sure you celebrate every tiny little thing that makes your mind shout “YES!” Even if you are the only one that cares.

Mothering is hard! Celebrating the small wins will not only make you feel good, it will make you laugh out loud when you instinctively find yourself patting yourself on the back for something that was just a ‘given’ before. It takes practice. Just try and celebrate a few small things every day until it becomes ingrained.

In the last few weeks, I have caught myself celebrating (out loud) the monumental feat of nobody spilling their cup of water at dinner…for the first time in eight years!

I was ecstatic – I whooped for joy and jigged around the table. Another afternoon I noticed that for the first time in forever I did a wee that WASN’T bright yellow! It was clear urine!

Again, I whooped, because this clear wee means that for once in my life, I finally drank enough water! Drinking enough water means I’m probably practicing some of that self-care stuff! An absolute reason to celebrate!

I raced into school pick up that fine “clear wee” afternoon and sung my own hydration praises during chat time to fellow mums…and my fellow mums cheered!

And clear wee isn’t the pinnacle of my self congratulation. Just the other day I agreed to quick parent sex with my husband before work and school!

Whaaat?! Yes! I’m not going to lie, there were lots of successes to celebrate that day, because before school drop off, I had already nourished my marriage, pleased my husband AND hit my weekly heart rate high on my Fitbit.

My heart rate high made my Fitbit vibrate its congratulations on my wrist- and to me it was like a real party, celebrating me (and my commitment to relationships, fitness, and self-care.)

On all those days I felt like I was nailing life simply because I celebrated. I’m sure I burnt dinners, forgot reading homework, didn’t sleep, and all those other things we mums do every day, but what I actually remember is laughing at how funny my own pats on the back were.

Even if you commit all the mothering advice you ever hear to memory, you will still never get it all right – so do yourself a favour and just celebrate your small victories. And when the big wins come around you’ll feel like you’ve conquered the world.

Tell us, what’s the best small win have you celebrated lately?

Renee McBryde is a writer, social worker, and mother of four living in Alice Springs. Renee loves to write about the highs, lows, and laughs in life, both in blog and book format. She’s currently working on her second book, while she wrangles her crazy, beautiful tribe through the chaos that is living a life entwined with motherhood.

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