As a first-time mom or dad, it’s easy to overthink every step of your parenting journey: Is it OK if I have to switch to formula? Will these non-Montessori toys screw up their development? Is it bad if they’re not sleeping through the night yet? Will we lose our bond when I go back to work? What’s going to happen if I let them watch some TV or play on an iPad? And the list goes on and on.
Each decision you make feels critically important. In reality, there is no one right answer to the many parenting conundrums. What works for one family may not work for another. And that’s OK!
But sometimes you don’t gain that perspective until you’ve been at the parenting thing for a little while. By the time baby No. 2 enters the picture, you have considerably more wisdom under your belt.
We asked second-time parents what they wish they hadn’t stressed about so much the first time around. Hopefully hearing their stories will help you worry a little less and relax a little more.
1. Setting up the nursery perfectly before the baby’s arrival.
“With my first, I was totally obsessed with making the nursery perfect. I needed every piece of furniture and decoration place. But it turns out that we barely used that room at all for the first six months or more. Then once we started using it, I realized everything needed to be rearranged anyways for use. I feel like I wasted so much time and energy for what amounted to one picture for social media. With baby number two, we took our time and thoughtfully gathered what we wanted for the nursery including secondhand items that made the transition far less expensive.” — Gina McMillen, artist and author of “The Mommy Life: An Unshaven, Milk-Stained (But Hopeful) Peek Into the Real World of Mommyhood”
2. Obsessing about avoiding sugar.
“As a first-time parent, I had so much anxiety about what foods my child was eating. I was super careful about introducing all sorts of different foods and tastes and avoided sugar like the plague. I wanted everything that went into her body to be nutrient-dense and healthy.”
“By the time I had my second child, I was much more relaxed about what he ate. There were many reasons for this, but I think the main reason is that I was just too tired and stretched too thin to worry about it. My daughter had turned into a super picky eater by then so I had become more flexible about what I fed her by that point ― my second wanted to eat whatever she was eating so I just let him; it was a battle I no longer had the energy to fight.” — Mary Catherine Starr, artist at @momlife_comics on Instagram
3. Having Pinterest-perfect holidays and birthdays.
“I don’t pressure myself to have Pinterest-perfect events for my children. They are young and do not know any different, so any pressure I feel about perfection or how things look for birthdays and holidays is about me. Their birthday and holiday experiences should be about them and what they like and what they want.”
“Everything I worried about boils down to wanting to achieve parenting perfection, and the second time around I am no longer concerned with a checklist that says I did things the right way. I am now concerned with making sure that my children know they are loved and that they have everything that they need. There’s no report card for parenting because it’s not a class, it’s a person.” — Suz Gillies-Smith, body acceptance advocate
4. Being fixated on every developmental milestone.
“With our first kid, we were hyper-fixated on him meeting certain milestones: walking, speaking, eating. It was important for us to gauge if our son was on track with every little thing, and to subsequently fret if he was not. But I was involved in mom groups and seeing their kids’ varied experiences showed me that every kid is different. It wasn’t helpful to stress about our son Elijah being perfectly on track because he ended up being just fine. As long as your pediatrician isn’t greatly concerned, you shouldn’t be either.”
“Now, with our daughter Harper, we just sit back and watch her grow and develop at her own pace, and the experience is more enjoyable. We are often surprised at how much she develops from week to week!” — Danielle Bayard Jackson, friendship coach and host of the “Friend Forward” podcast
5. Fearing screen time.
“Screen time was incredibly limited with my first child. We were afraid of how it would affect her development and worried that she’d become addicted to an iPad if we got one. But by the time my son came around and was a few years old, we got an iPad for the kids and found that — in moderation and with parental controls and supervision — it was an incredible learning tool. They both love it, but they can also put it down when asked and go do something else without having a meltdown.” — Dan Dougherty, illustrator at Beardo Comics
6. Caring about what other people thought about my parenting choices.
“As a first-time parent, I really worried about offending other people and what they thought about my choices. Second-time around, I really don’t care. I’m not worried about it because the only opinions that matter are my kids’ and their other parent. I was worried about offending my family or my husband’s family with certain choices especially around traditions that I wasn’t comfortable with anymore. Eventually, I got to a point where I realized that I was parenting out of fear and not connection. I was afraid of criticism. I was afraid of having to defend my choices, but the only defense that I need ever is that I’m the mom and they’re my children.” — Gillies-Smith
7. Witnessing every “first.”
“It makes sense as first-time parents because we didn’t want to miss a single important moment. With my first son, I once flipped out because another family member had let him feel grass before I had let him touch grass. I can laugh at it now, but at the time it felt like a complete violation. Now with our second kid, the ‘firsts’ are just as special, but we understand that it’s not possible to catch them all. And if you miss one, there’s another one waiting just around the corner.” — Bayard Jackson
8. Capturing every moment.
“The first time around, I was so worried about the milestones and events like birthdays and holidays. You’ll never have enough photos or videos of your children’s lives, but my worry about these things kept me from experiencing them in the moment. I don’t worry about that this time around. I worry about making the memory for myself instead of making sure I record what’s happening or get the perfect picture of us enjoying our holiday or birthday or celebration of any kind.” — Gillies-Smith
“Three months after my first kid was born, my wife went back to work and I stayed home. This meant bottle-feeding, and I was stressed about the adjustment to this daily routine. Turns out there was no need to worry, and it went even smoother with our second child. Which was good, because I didn’t have the engineering skills to create a breastfeeding device like the one in ‘Meet the Fockers.’” — Sham, @HomeWithPeanut on Twitter
10. Not trusting myself as a parent.
“Am I doing this right? Is there a better way to do it? Is this how it’s supposed to be? These are not only questions that often my clients ask me [as a parenting coach], but also the ones I used to ask myself when I first became a mother.”
“Trusting myself was the hardest part of becoming a new mother. It was easy to feel like I was the only mother who didn’t know what to do. It was easy to feel a sense of powerlessness every time I felt unsure how to go about something. I certainly wish I knew that I had everything that I needed to do this job in me. Every new parent has doubts about their capacity to parent, and the truth is that we all can do it.”
“In the end, it is about accepting that we will mess up over and over again. It’s about finding the courage to follow our instinct, to do the inner work needed and to simply show up for our kids. If we do this, trusting ourselves simply becomes our way of life in parenting.” — Carolina Agudelo, conscious parenting coach at Sunshine In Casa