Parenting can mean several different things to different people. For some, parenting represents a coming of age. For others, it’s a new chapter in their lives and for others, it’s a conscious decision to bring life into the world. It’s something that has no equivalent and for those who have children, will be a life-defining moment.

A parent is anyone who is a legal guardian for a child. A parent is someone that cares for a child from a certain point in their younger years up until their adult years. A parent is someone who financially provides for a young child and a parent is someone that guides and teaches a young child how to navigate life’s many trials and tribulations.

Common worries and fears for new parents

Being a parent is one of the most rewarding jobs, but it can also be one of the most difficult. Many new parents worry that they don’t know what to do. However, there are practical ways to deal with the challenges of being a new parent so you can enjoy parenting your baby.

It’s normal to have strong emotions while you’re pregnant and after your baby is born. You will probably experience joy, love, delight and surprise. And at other times stress, anger and frustration.

Many people learn how to be parents as they go along. It can be harder to deal with your emotions if you are:

  • living away from your family
  • learning to parent on your own

Often, having a baby is different from what you expected. You might be worried about different things, such as if:

  • the birth did not go as planned
  • breastfeeding is harder than you thought it would be
  • you are having some bad days

Many parents feel lost — as though they are not coping. However, over time, you will learn to be a parent, and your confidence will grow.

It’s also common to experience negative feelings towards your baby. Talk to your doctor or child health nurse if these feelings are:

  • intense
  • don’t go away
  • keep coming back

A low mood and overwhelming or distressing thoughts and feelings may be signs of perinatal anxiety or depression.

It’s normal to feel worried or anxious when you are caring for a new baby. Here are some common worries, with tips on how to manage them.

Many parents fear their baby will choke, roll over or experience sudden unexpected death in infancy.To reduce the risk:

  • always place your baby on their back to sleep
  • make sure your baby’s face and head are uncovered
  • keep your baby away from smoke, before and after birth
  • do not let your baby get too hotbreastfeed your baby, if possible

For their first 6 months, the safest place for your baby to sleep is in a cot in a room with you.Worried you do not love your baby
It’s common for parents to feel they have not bonded properly with their baby. It can take days, weeks or months until you feel close with your baby.

You will likely feel a mix of emotions. If you feel very low and disconnected from your baby, talk to your doctor or health visitor

Worried you will harm the fontanelle
Babies have soft spots on their heads called the fontanelle. The fontanelle is tougher than you think.

While you should always take care of your baby’s head, you can’t hurt them by gently touching or stroking over the fontanelle.

Worried you will drop the baby
There are ways you can reduce the risk of dropping your baby:

  • Baby-proof your house to prevent tripping or falling.
  • Check there are no snags on carpets or rugs.
  • Keep objects away from stairs.
  • Take your time when walking around with your baby.

Worried the baby is not normal
Parents often compare their baby’s development with that of other babies.

Remember that children develop at their own pace, and reach milestones at different times.

Up to about 1 in 7 children experience a developmental delay of some sort.

It’s important to get your baby’s development routinely checked using the check-up sections in their Child Health Record.

Trust your instincts, and if you are worried, talk to your health visitor or doctor.

Worried the baby is crying too much
It’s normal for newborn babies to cry. Crying may increase in your baby’s first few weeks and peak at around 6 to 8 weeks of age.

Babies aged 6 to 8 weeks cry for an average of 2 to 3 hours per 24 hours. Crying is usually worse in the late afternoon and early evening. But it can happen at any time and may last several hours.

Crying usually improves by 3 to 4 months of age.

Check with your doctor if:

  • your baby’s crying or irritability comes on suddenly
  • their crying sounds different
  • you are worried about your baby
  • you are finding the crying stressful or upsetting

Worried the baby is sleeping too much
Some babies sleep most of the time; others wake a lot. On average, newborn babies sleep for 16 hours in a 24-hour period. By 2 to 3 months, the average is 15 hours of sleep.

For the first few weeks, your baby should be waking to have 8 to 12 feeds in 24 hours.

If you are concerned about your baby’s sleep and feeding, talk to your child health nurse. If you are breastfeeding, a lactation consultant can advise you on how often to feed your baby.

Worried about money
Many parents worry they will not be able to provide financially for their baby.

It’s important to start planning before the birth and to budget once the baby is born.

Parenting styles

Your parenting style can have a major impact on what your child will be like as an adult.Your parenting style may be influenced by your upbringing, your culture and values, how much support you have, and the examples you see around you.

The 4 main styles of parenting are authoritarian, authoritative (or supportive), permissive and disengaged.

The authoritative approach works best for children, with parents who are loving yet set firm limits. You can become an authoritative parent by showing love for your child and interest in their life, listening to them and encouraging them to have a go, while setting clear rules and modelling positive behaviour.

The way you parent your children can have a major impact on the type of adult they become. Parents might use a mix of parenting styles, but most tend to lean towards one style. Each style of parenting may lead to different outcomes for children.

There are many influences on the way you interact with your child, such as:

  • how you were raised
  • your experiences
  • how you see other parents act
  • your health and financial situation
  • how much support you have
  • your culture and values
  • what you read or see in the media

You might want to parent the same way your own parents did, or you might want to take a different approach. It’s your decision.

Research has identified 4 main styles of parenting:

Authoritarian — these parents tend to set strict rules, with little input from their child and expect their child to do what they’re told.
Authoritative (or supportive) — these parents have firm expectations, but they also listen to their child and give them independence and responsibility that are appropriate for their age.
Permissive — these parents are warm and loving, but they tend to give in to their child, and don’t set or enforce boundaries or limits.
Disengaged — these parents provide their child with their basic needs, but don’t show interest in them or set rules.

What are the limitations and benefits of different parenting styles?
Children of authoritarian parents may be obedient and know how to follow rules, but they may develop low self-esteem and poor social skills. They may be less proactive and wait for others to tell them what to do.

Authoritative (or supportive)
Children of authoritative (supportive) parents are likely to grow up to be assertive, happy and socially responsible. They are often motivated to try their best.

Children of permissive parents often have good self-esteem, but not having limits can make them feel insecure. They are more likely to have poor social skills and self-control.

Children of disengaged parents may feel unloved and anxious. They may have behaviour problems and poor social skills and may not feel motivated to achieve.

As a parent, it’s your responsibility to care for your child and give them the best start in life that you can. It’s up to you which parenting style or mix of styles you choose. Remember that providing your child with love and guidance will help them develop into a confident, resilient and socially responsible adult.

Research shows that authoritative (or supportive) style of parenting works best for children because they are warm, loving and provide clear guidance and support. This style of parenting helps your child develop secure relationships and independence. They are encouraged to explore their world and try different things, while knowing that you have set limits and will take charge when the need arises. Having limits helps your child feel secure.

It’s your role as a parent to set limits — ‘It’s OK to play with the water in the bath, but it’s not OK to splash it all over the floor’ — and to set rules for safety — ‘If you won’t hold my hand when we cross the road, you can’t come with me to the shops’.

Using an authoritative (or supportive) approach, you can set limits that are appropriate for your child, explain your reasons and allow for discussion. This way, your child will learn how to behave appropriately, not just to follow rules.

Here are some practical tips for how to use the authoritative (supportive) style of parenting:

Build your connection with your child — spend individual time with them and try to see things from their point of view. Show interest in things that interest them. Know what’s happening in their life, go to their activities or sports and get to know their friends.

Tell your child you love them and give them hugs and cuddles.

Talk to your child about many different topics, listen to their views and give them your full attention

Encourage your child to have a go at different things that interest them and practise their skills.

Praise them for working hard and having a go.

Guide and support your child — set clear rules about what is OK and what is not OK. Look out for opportunities to praise your child for behaving well.
Be a positive role model — behave in ways you expect your children to behave and treat people the way you want your children to treat others. Live according to your values.

Positive parenting

‘Positive parenting’ sounds like a big ask, and none of us can be perfect all of the time.

There are 5 key steps to effective positive parenting:

  • create a safe, interesting environment
  • have a positive learning environment
  • use assertive discipline
  • have realistic expectations
  • take care of yourself as a parent

As parents, you take care to put knives and medicines out of a young child’s reach, you put them into age-appropriate safe seats in the car and you have child-proof locks around pools. But what makes an environment ‘interesting’ for a young child?

Children don’t need expensive toys, but you can encourage imaginative play by providing dress up clothes, boxes for making cubby houses and craft materials to keep children active and creative. Busy children are less likely to become bored and misbehave.

Parenting a Teenager

Your lovely, happy, smiley little child has suddenly started to argue, shout, and slam doors. What’s more, they’ve suddenly shot up, and may well be taller than you. Whatever you suggest is wrong, and you sometimes feel like you have regressed back to the toddler years, except that your teen is now too big to sit on the bottom step.

It is a stressful time, especially if you have other things to worry about, such as younger children, work, or older parents.

The good news, though, is that there are some relatively easy ways to cope.

It is too easy to start to skip meals, because you are ‘too tired to cook’, or lie awake at night worrying about the situation. Instead, make sure that you take extra time to look after yourself, and everyone else.

  • Try to make sure that you, and everyone else in the family, eats a healthy balanced diet.
  • Get enough sleep, and encourage your teenager to do so too. You will all be grumpy and unpleasant if you do not do so.
  • It is much easier to cope with stress, including within the family, if you are fit. This means that you may need to start taking a bit more exercise.
  • Getting outside in the fresh air is also good, and if you can combine the two, so much the better.
  • Take time to have a break from your children. Work with your partner, or perhaps another relative or family friend to make sure that you both get ‘time off’, and that you have a chance to relax away from the family.
  • Ask for help. No man is an island. None of us is stronger on our own, and asking for help is not a sign of weakness. Do turn to your partner, your friends, and other family member, or ask for professional help if you think you need it.

It can be hard to stay calm and focused when talking to your teenager.

Our children have a unique ability to press all our buttons, and generally be able to wind us up. If you feel yourself getting angry, take a few deep breaths before replying, and don’t be afraid to say something like “I’m just going to take a few minutes of time out before I reply, as I’m getting a bit angry, and I don’t want to discuss this when I’m cross.”

This will not only help you to calm down, but also model desired behaviour to your teen and show them how to behave.

Make sure that you keep communication channels open with your teenager.

While it may be tempting to send them off on the bus, remember that giving them lifts to places may offer a useful chance for a quick chat. Give them opportunities to talk, and ask general questions, listening to the responses.

If you are worried about specific behaviour, avoid challenging them directly. Instead, provide sources of information, such as a suitable leaflet or link to a good website, and say that you thought they might be interested to read it.

Teenagers are trying very hard to find and create their own identity.

It is important to allow them time on their own, and some privacy, to enable them to feel that they are growing up. That said, it is also important that they continue to spend time with you and with their family, so it may be helpful to continue with shared mealtimes, and perhaps occasional family outings.

Just like toddlers and young children, teenagers need boundaries.

You may find the process of enforcing them rather easier if you have agreed them together, rather than simply imposed them. It can be helpful to explain why you think something is particularly important, and negotiate on areas where you feel you have some flexibility.

Just as with toddlers, teenagers will use whatever means are available to achieve what they want. If you give in to bad behaviour, they will use it more often: you will reinforce the behaviour.

Empty Nest Syndrome

Empty nest syndrome refers to the time when your children have grown up and left home. Feelings of loss, sadness, anxiety, grief and fear are common among parents experiencing empty nest syndrome, and the condition affects both men and women. You may experience some or all of the following:

If your days were once filled with football practice, piano lessons, parent-teacher meetings, playdates, carpooling, and birthday parties, the end of all of this can leave your days feeling a bit empty, even if you still have other commitments with work, friends, family and hobbies.

This feeling is common for parents whose children have recently left home, especially if you were a stay-at-home parent or you felt that you were largely defined by your parenting role.

Allow yourself time to adjust to your new situation and then explore how your new-found free time might enable you to take up a new challenge, hobby or perhaps a different role at work. Remember that this is a new chapter in your life, as well as in your child’s, and there will be opportunities for growth and development for you both.

For years, you had quite a bit of control over scheduling your children’s lives—but that has now changed. With your child being on their own, you won’t know as many details of their day as you used to.

The lack of control over when your child is attending class, going to work, going on a date, or hanging out with friends can be frustrating. You might also feel a bit left out when you don’t know the details of your child’s day-to-day schedule.

Avoid becoming a helicopter parent, and don’t use guilt trips on your children to convince them to keep you more involved in their lives.

Research on the helicopter parenting style—characterized by over-involvement and “hovering” over a child—has shown that it backfires, actually producing a lower sense of well-being in college-age students.

Although you have the best intentions, your adult child may resent what they see as an intrusion into their newly independent life. Even if they welcome your guidance and attention, too much checking in and giving direction will hinder your young adult from learning to make good decisions and handle life on their own.

Remember that your child is using the skills you have taught them to begin navigating their own life, and this is an exciting time for them. Try to have confidence in their ability to learn and thrive independently.

Your child still needs you and always will, but your role now should be one of an advisor rather than a constant source of instruction or correction in their life.

Instead of trying to have control over the details of your child’s life, focus on coping with your discomfort in healthy ways. Try one of these ideas:
• Pursuing interests you didn’t have time for when your kids were at home
• Taking a class on an interesting topic
• Reconnecting with friends
• Learning a new skill

With time, having an empty nest will get easier. You’ll get used to your child being in charge of their own life and you can begin to develop a new sense of normal in your life.

If you burst into tears watching sad commercials or driving down the road, know that this is normal. You’re in an emotional place right now, and it’s not surprising that situations or comments that you normally wouldn’t be affected by become a much bigger deal.

  • Becoming an empty nester can stir up a variety of emotions. You may be feeling:
  • Sad that your child has grown up
  • Angry at yourself for not being more available to them in the past
  • Nervous about the state of your marriage
  • Scared that you’re growing older
  • Frustrated that you’re not where you imagined you’d be at this phase in your life

Whatever you feel is OK. Trying to deny your pain or suppressing your sadness won’t make it go away, and could even make it worse by causing it to spring up at the wrong time or place.

Allow yourself to feel whatever emotions come up, and remember that emotions are not right or wrong. Rather, they are a reflection of the situation you’re facing.

Fully experiencing uncomfortable emotions, for as long as it takes until they subside on their own, can actually help those feelings run their course and fade away more quickly.

In the process of raising a child, many couples set their relationship aside and make the family revolve around the kids. If you’ve spent years neglecting your marriage, you might find your relationship needs some work once the kids are gone.

You may not know what to do with yourselves as a couple if your activities always revolved around kids’ school and activities. Getting to know one another again can feel like a bit of a challenge.

Also, some couples find they react differently to becoming empty nesters. If one of you is adjusting better or appreciating life without kids in the home more than the other, you may experience more tension in the relationship. Make it a goal to get reacquainted to life as a twosome.

Look at this time as an opportunity to reconnect with your partner and rediscover what led you to fall in love in the first place.

Whether your child has gone to college or simply moved into their own place, it’s normal to worry about how they are faring after they’ve left the nest. What isn’t normal, however, is to feel constant anxiety about how your child is getting by.

Checking in multiple times a day or investing hours into checking your child’s social media accounts won’t be helpful to either of you. Avoid calling to ask them if they are remembering to floss or to nag them about doing their homework.

This is your child’s opportunity to spread their wings and practice using all those skills you taught them while they lived at home.
Balance your desire to check in with your child’s need for privacy and create a plan for how you’ll stay connected. You might set up a weekly phone call, communicate frequently via text or email, or have a weekly dinner date if your child lives nearby.

With 18 or more years under your belt as a parent, this can be a scary and emotional time in your life. Rest assured, the feelings you are experiencing now will fade as you grow accustomed to a quieter house and a life more focused on your own desires.

If you feel like your life no longer has meaning or you think your depression or anxiety might be worse than what’s normal, seek professional help.

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