parent opinion

'Dear new mums in the trenches, these are the 7 things I wish I knew when my kids were little.'

At age 31 and obviously pregnant with my first son, I remember a creeping sensation that this new life stage was very open to public scrutiny. 

Colleagues tried to touch my belly and remarked on my newly rounded appearance, while I read and heard much commentary about what I should and shouldn't be doing. I tried to do all the right things – eat well, rest and exercise – but it always felt like I could do more. 

In the lead-up to the birth in 2010 and then for a couple of years after becoming a mum, there was a lot of joy, but the trenches of my early motherhood experience felt heavy with judgement and guilt.

There was the fact I had a c-section birth and only breastfed for six months; the shop-bought pouches of food, the random nap schedules or the disposable nappies... The list goes on and on. And these small decisions and other people's opinions about them all seemed so important. 

Until one day, they didn't.

My sons are now aged 12 and six, and I can't remember when someone last asked me how they both exited my body.

Both my boys are loved and seem to do well at school. They have hobbies and friends and still (at this stage) love me back. Their teachers have not once correlated their performance in the classroom with whether I bottle fed after six months, or the fact I cuddled them to sleep in front of the TV because I was binge watching Midsomer Murders.

Watch: Superwoman is dead. Post continues below.

Video via Mamamia

I am not discounting solid medical research and legit scientific facts behind feeding and looking after our next generation, BUT there is also research on looking after a mother's mental health. And baked beans out of the tin is a very fine meal indeed.

When you are bone tired in the little-kids trenches and drowning in a tsunami of mum-judgement, small decisions and details about feeding and sleeping feel all-consuming. But then your little babies get bigger and you become a bit more comfortable in your role as a mother, and so much of what you once worried about will feel very far away.

If you are a new mum feeling judged or overwhelmed, here are seven things I wish someone had told me when I was a new mum. 

1. Your kids' birth stories are really only important to you (and maybe your kids).

For a few months and maybe even years, it feels like your birth plan and then your birth story is all that matters. Friends and family want to know the details and some people might even openly judge you for your choices. 

If talking about or reliving your child's birth gives you pleasure – you do you. For some, birth can be a wonderful experience that you might enjoy telling your kids one day. But if you have feelings of guilt and trauma associated with the birth/s then please know that one day soon no one will ask you about your school-age child's entrance into the world.


No one will ask because there are so many other things to talk about. Maybe you are back at work or maybe not, but your child is a human with interests and a whole personality that extends way beyond their arrival – as are you.

In my experience, the mum friends I've made in recent years know what I do for work, how I'm feeling and what I'm currently obsessed with on Netflix, and I'm not sure we've even mentioned my sons' c-sections.

Cuddles just after the second c-section. Image: Supplied.


2. The same is true for how long you breastfed/whether you gave them only organic puree when weaning.

I used to dread being questioned over my decision to bottle feed my boys from six months. Or being given side-eye by a fellow mum when I whipped out a jar of baby custard at a café so I could linger to drink my tepid coffee. 

After almost 13 years as a parent, the weaning phase feels like a very long time ago and if I could go back to my rather nervous guilt-ridden self, I would offer nothing but hugs and reassurance. 

I would show my 30-something self my now happy, sturdy kids of today and say that a few dodgy snacks and crap dinner shortcuts (hello, baked beans) are all part and parcel of making it through the years as a busy parent.

Most other parents are doing the same thing and no one gets it all perfectly perfect all the time.

3. Parenting is a long game – you will excel at parts and fail at others and that's okay.

There is so much about the early years of parenting that we stress over that literally last days or weeks. But parenting is a long game that will continue (all being well) until you die. 

There will be many phases and stages, and some will be harder than others. The lack of sleep and other people's judgement when you have no clue what you are doing in the early days is tough. But then I know parents of teens doing their HSC who say they have never been busier or more stressed.

I did not enjoy the baby years and 'failed' at so many parts of it (if you call not obsessively cooking and mashing up vegies 'failure'), but I loved the cute toddler phase and didn't mind the music classes, soft play sessions and library visits. Perhaps you will love the primary school lunchbox making phase or the tween-age soccer support act phase? It is so personal and specific to you and your kids, so try to enjoy the bits you can along the way and know that the tough parts are usually just phases to get through. 


Get help where you can and be kind to yourself when you are doing your best – parenting is definitely a marathon and not a sprint.

Listen to Mamamia's parenting podcast This Glorious Mess. Post continues below.  

4. You can't always please kids and actually that's not your job.

Sometimes you have to say 'no' or make tough decisions as a parent.

When they are babies, that might look like putting them in the car seat when they don't want to get out of the pram because you have a doctor's appointment, or weaning them off your boob as you have to go back to work. As they grow up, that might mean saying no to having chocolate biscuits for lunch or watching another episode of Cocomelon. Then you might have to navigate social media and friendship dilemmas by setting boundaries and offering advice they might not always want to hear. 

Sometimes they will cry when they are little and they can't tell you why – and it's overwhelming. 

Sometimes they will cry when they are older and even if they can tell you why they are sad, they might not want to and it's heartbreaking. We all want our kids to be happy but their problems don't always have simple solutions and you are not a circus clown; rather, you are their parent and sometimes you just need to listen, and provide a back rub and a high-calorie snack.


5. Ignore the labels but find your people.

Mummy tribes and styles such as the helicopter, tiger or attachment parent have been around for years, but TikTok has co-opted the mum tribes for a new generation and I'm just not sure it is all that helpful.

If you find watching 'crunchy' or 'silky' mum TikToks helps you feel seen in your own parenting decision making, then that's great. 


If, however, trying to align to a style makes you feel inadequate, guilty or sad, then exit the app immediately. 

We all know that what we see online isn't always the full story of what happens in real life. So focus on finding yourself a mum support network in real life over TikTok if possible. 

In those early years, I tried to catch up with the women and mums who didn't judge me for shop-bought custard pouches but supported me, laughed and cried with me, even if we didn't always agree.

6. Your kids just want you to be happy so focus on that.

My boys love it when I'm in a good mood and we can relax, chat or just be silly together. It's always been this way, but it has taken a few years out of the trenches to really understand it.

Sometimes I have to set the boundaries and put them to bed when they say they don't want to go, or feed them vegies when they might prefer chips. But do they notice if I am not always the 'best mum' on paper? Even if won an actual award for excellent textbook mothering I doubt they would care, unless there was a cash prize or free Xbox that went with it. 

So rather than focussing on getting all the little things right, I think it is better to focus on doing what makes you happy that means you will be a happier, more present parent.

If that means not batch cooking a bunch of organic toddler-friendly meals when you are too tired to function, then let it go. Buy the organic sugar-free, salt-reduced baby food if that helps. 


7. Make sure your partner and wider network are doing as much as possible to support you.

We talk so much about mum tribes, 'crunchy moms', 'mommy wars' etc and yet – what about the dads?

Are they worrying about their parenting 'style' or stressing over the fact their two-year-old is not yet toilet trained? Or are they just showing up and doing their best? It took me a while to find my groove with motherhood and I wish I had asked more of my husband in the early years. I guess I didn't really know what to ask for but looking back now I can see how much I initially struggled with becoming a mother.

If you need help with new mum life, please ask. Start with your partner and if they are also overwhelmed or doing all they can for you and baby, then move to your wider community or go see your GP.

Motherhood is a big job and we can get caught up in the weeds of it all, especially in the early years when it feels like our every move is being watched and judged. 

It is okay not to get it 'right' when you are learning as you go, and it is okay to take shortcuts when you need to or simply seek help. 

Time and perspective as a parent are wonderful things, so if you are currently stuck in the trenches please take it from me as an older, experienced mum – hold on. It gets better and you are doing just fine!

Laura Jackel is Mamamia's Family Writer. For links to her articles and to see photos of her outfits and kids, follow her on Instagram and TikTok.

Feature Image: Supplied.

Love watching TV and movies? Take our survey now to go in the running to win a $100 gift voucher.