Nothing can prepare you for parenthood. You are their everything. They look to you as their protector, chef, nurse, carer, teacher, motivator, best friend. You worry constantly about what they’re eating, are they brushing their teeth well enough, am I showing them enough love and attention, are they learning what they need to learn and, most importantly, am I being a good role model?
As a mother of two energetic and beautiful little boys, some may think it is understandable to struggle from high stress and anxiety; however, I have suffered from anxiety and depression for many years now. I worry about problems that I have created in my head and then I end up feeling worthless, thinking that I’m not good enough to deal with the task at hand. Believe me, I have thought this many times as a mother and have even felt selfish for having children because I struggle to cope myself.
Despite my anxiety, I have always wanted children. Perhaps the fond memories I have of growing up close to my cousins triggered that desire. I just know that I have always wanted to raise a family with someone I love and provide a safe, open and happy place to always call home. I want to be valuable.
Children bring so much love and growth into your life. They are magnificent but also exhausting. I think most would agree that parenting is hard work. I hate seeing my boys sad, even though this is a natural part of life. We always want to protect our children from harm. For this reason, even having to discipline my children or simply holding them when they are having a night terror is hard because although necessary, I don’t like seeing them hurt or in pain.
I once used to hate myself for my anxiety. How can I be a positive role model for my children if I keep having emotional breakdowns? This was a question I would ask myself often. Any time my children seemed to be progressing differently from other children or if they were being naughty all week, I would immediately blame myself. It is easy to say that I don’t want to be this way because it is too hard or it hurts too much, but what I have realised is that our experiences make us stronger. They teach us what our true values are. They lead us to our next journey. They help us to learn patience, gratitude, perseverance and mindfulness. Most of all, I think that it is our children who teach us most that life really is too short to worry about the little things.
There will be good days and there will be bad days. There will be tears, mess, self-doubt and exhaustion. But there will also be love, joy and magic. So stop worrying about taking the right step, just take the step. Try not to beat yourself up if you go off track or change your mind. Life is about learning. Just make sure you keep moving. Your life is your own to create and this is how we are good role models for our children.
The stories and images here are by mums and dads of all ages, backgrounds and family situations. They are real and raw. As one dad eloquently put it: “The hardest parts were the worst times in my life. The best parts were the absolute highs that fuel the engines of Hallmark.”
Samantha, mother of 3
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: During that first year, the best part is holding that teeny tiny precious little baby in your arms. You have done nothing but nurture them for the past nine months, so to see them is just amazing — you can’t believe how much love you can have for another human being. Then as the months go by, watching them grow and achieve all their milestones is incredible. Seeing them grow into their own character is magical. They become a little person you have helped shape and mould and achieve so many things that seem little to us but are massive to them.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: When they’re little it would be a mixture of sleeplessness, finding time for yourself and finding time for your partner. As they get older, the many, many, many questions that you have to answer all day, every day. Although it’s cute it can get bloody annoying. Also, if you have other children, they start to learn things from them. If it’s a good thing then that’s great, but if it’s a bad thing then you have two or more of them doing it and it drives you up the wall. And again finding time for you; it seems like you have a little shadow everywhere you go for a few years.
Brett, father of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: Readjusting to thinking less about yourself and more about others. Remembering the simple things in life as you encounter the little things that your child experiences for the first time — first time with animals, first Christmas, first time at a music concert. There is a graceful period that exists between when they learn to smile and when they learn to frown. During this time they can do nothing but express their joy in experiencing you and the world.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: The lack of sleep, the loss of some friendships that were unable to recover from the introduction of small children to the mix, the loss of hobbies or passions that need to be put aside (you do eventually get to have them back). Even harder though is coming to terms with you and your partner as parents. When I met my future wife neither of us were parents and we both had to learn this new side of our personalities when we had kids. Trying to understand myself as a parent has been a challenge. Finding the balance between guidance and love is tough.
Haley, mother of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: All they know is that “Mum is the greatest thing ever”. They are happy to just hang out with you, and they don’t know anyone else who can do anything as great as Mum can. The first four years are a real confidence boost.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: The negotiations with a smaller version of myself, and coming to realise the little things are actually big things to them.
Jodie, mother of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: Definitely watching them play, develop and interact. And sometimes the reactions!
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: Hands down the lack of sleep. I don’t run so well on a low tank. Especially the weeks when both are sick and Daddy’s away.
Kev, father of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: There are moments when I realise I need nothing more in any life than to see my kids happy. Sounds give it away. Hearing our baby laugh as his big sister clowns about is a beautiful gurgle in itself, but what it transmits is that everything is okay, you seem to be doing parenting okay. We can relax and feel real joy and pride and all that good stuff as long as that laugh lasts (or until the next documentary on food additives). Another wonderful sound is the same big sister singing or chatting, telling stories, making up songs. She’s showing us she’s creating, developing, growing and learning. All those things are happening in one crazy fantasy opera about something that probably never happened at day care. The third and best sound is a perennial favourite: silence. Nothing beats the quietly asleep new Mum and baby, except the same silence after an hour or two of settling. And nothing beats that other than both kids asleep. There’s a pause and we decide not to watch Four Corners. Pretty soon we’re keeking in the door to say “aww” to each other, or sharing our photographic evidence of how mind-blowingly lucky we are.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: There have been moments when I realised I was never really tested before. Again, there are three sample sounds that can highlight the challenges we’ve faced, even with two very healthy kids. I used to think I was patient. I never knew what that was. Two weeks out of hospital our first wee angel showed me the true meaning of the phrase “witching hour” every night at about 11 pm for a week. I used to think the hardest sound to hear was extended, increasingly extreme screaming — especially when you are stuck in traffic and there is just nothing you can do. A thousand words on rage and pain couldn’t be more eloquent. Completely different and equally challenging: anything from a baby’s doctor that isn’t categorically, 100% good news. “Anything” includes such horrors as, “We’ll need to keep an eye on it. Can you come back in a week or so?” Are you serious? A week?! The final sound though was that of actual serious injury. Our eldest took a huge dive into a door frame at 2 years old and spilt her head open. Blood everywhere — she looked like Carrie — a panicked 000 call, an ambulance ride and stitches followed, but nothing was as horrifying as the sound of that connection and the moment of silence that followed. Give me a screaming tantrum every day of my life before I have to hear that again.
Jodi, mother of 3
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: In the first four years of parenthood we welcomed our three beautiful children. It was the sheer exhilaration of adoring our first helpless baby, the ease of the second time where we felt confident in our parenting choices, and the contentment of the third child and how he made our family complete. It was a time in our lives where the clock wasn’t always ticking and the to-do list of life wasn’t yet overflowing. We are approaching a pivotal moment in our parenting journey, sending the youngest off to school, and we can quite rightly feel proud about the three little people we are raising.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: The first four years and beyond have been very challenging for a number of reasons: the most intense and ongoing fatigue; the constant illnesses or injuries; the pressure of increasing costs; and, as time has gone on, the jam-packed schedule. It is hard, but necessary, to acknowledge that the children will never have enough of our time and that it is okay to sometimes prioritise time as a couple or time as individuals.
John, father of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: The best part is all the sweet moments shared together and watching them learn and achieve new things. Seeing how much they have improved at something and how wonderful a person they are becoming.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: The hardest part is the tantrums and the pushing you until you snap.
Kaily, mother of 3
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: Watching them grow and achieve milestones. Watching their happy little faces when you turn the bubble machine on because bubbles are the best thing ever according to a 2- and 3-year-old. Helping them master riding a push bicycle (minus the bumps and grazes).
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: Having to deal with the numerous amounts of 3-year-old tantrums that last for 3–4 hours every day because as parents we have to wake them up to make sure they eat their healthy dinner which we slave away for hours in the kitchen preparing just so they can turn their nose up at it and throw it on the floor. Having to ride in the back of the ambulance with our 4-year-old with a big gash to the back of his head with blood everywhere and then having to go through the terrifying ordeal of having our child sedated and telling you, “you have eight eyes mummy, stop looking at me” while screaming in pain.
Ashlee, mother of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: There are so many things. I am always surrounded by so much love, cuddles and smiles. I am told multiple times a day that I am loved by the three boys in my house and I am so proud of everything they achieve. Even the little things make my heart feel warm, and sometimes I will look at them asleep and feel so grateful to have created such amazing little people. My life has so much more adventure in it now than before, along with silliness, definitely more crying but so much more laughter, fun and fulfillment. No matter how challenging it is sometimes, my two boys make me want more, not less. I am so happy that I get to be their mother.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: The hardest part about being a parent for me is the balance between looking after myself but still being there for my family. My eldest is 5 now and I always said that I wouldn’t lose myself after having children, but sometimes there are circumstances that happen beyond our control and they ruin our perfect plans. My family has kept striving to better our lives and relationships but the guilt is a huge burden for me personally. Only now am I finding myself again and beginning to get back into the activities I love and am good at, which in turn makes me a happier mother. My husband is doing the same, but it is definitely challenging trying to make sure everyone in the family is happy, healthy and looked after. As an only child and an introvert, and also as someone who has always suffered from anxiety and depression, I have always valued and needed time to myself. This does not come easily with children but I have to put aside the guilt and know that it’s okay to take time out for myself every so often. In fact, it is imperative. My children are happy and thriving. I have to remind myself that no matter how bad of a parent I think I am sometimes, my kids’ smiling, loving faces tell the truth. Parenthood is challenging but always worth it.
Lian, mother of 2
Best part about the first four years of parenthood: Nothing prepared me for the fierce, protective, primal love I feel for my children. When my daughter was born, my world expanded and I experienced a love I’d never experienced before. When my son was born, that intense love extended to another sweet soul and our family unit now feels wonderfully complete. My favourite times are when the four of us are together, happily just being.
Hardest part about the first four years of parenthood: I’m constantly trying to find a balance between enjoying this time I can never do-over and maintaining my own self-identity. I’m learning to accept that to be the best mother I can be, I need to invest in all areas of my life, which means doing what’s best for my kids but sometimes prioritising myself. With two kids it’s become harder to carve out time for non-mummy activities, and I often feel guilty that I can’t just appreciate what I have without wanting more. At the end of the day, as long as they’re happy, I’m happy, and I know it’s the same for them. Oh, and there’s also never getting enough sleep. Although there’s always coffee for that.