Sure, you’ve read all the pregnancy and parenting books, but the reality of raising children is anything but predictable.
Don’t sweat, though. There’s a whole squad of mum bloggers who’ve been there, done that and picked the three-day-old porridge from their T-shirt.
They gave us the insider track on their own, often hilarious, experiences and tips on how you can win at parenting.
The Unmumsy Mum
Sarah Turner, 30, lives in Exeter, Devon with her husband James, 34, and their three sons Henry, six, Jude, three, and Wilf, three months. In 2013, she set up the frank and funny The Unmumsy Mum.
Sarah's parenting hack: ‘If there’s no time for ironing, I’ve used my hair straighteners to smarten the boys’ shirt collars just before they put them on. Under a school jumper, it gives the impression that they’re very well turned out and their mum must have everything together.’
Top tips for new parents?
Google can be both helpful and horrendous, so use it with caution. My search history is full of ridiculous questions I asked in the middle of the night like: ‘My baby doesn’t seem to be very happy?’ and ‘What does a newborn poo look like?’ and ‘I’m worried my pelvic floor is weak!’
What would you say to parents who feel like they’re failing to live up to the perfect parenting ideal?
It’s important to realise that portrayals of family life on social media aren't accurate representations of their actual lives. Everybody has a day when they feel like they aren’t coping very well, or they’re not cut out for the job. But you’re not on your own. Everyone has good days and bad days, whether they choose to share them online or not.
What’s been your biggest parenting fail?
One of the worst was forgetting to pack anything in my changing bag on a trip to see the paediatrician, so the hospital had to find me a nappy, wipes and a change of babygro for Henry. I felt like someone was going to come and take my child away from me.
What’s the strangest thing one of your kids has had a tantrum over?
Jude loves to collect receipts at the self-service checkouts in the supermarkets, so if other shoppers take their receipts away with them, he’ll have a full-on paddy on the floor.
Anna Whitehouse, 36, lives in East London with her husband Matt, 41, and their daughters Mae, four, and Eve, nine months. She shares honest anecdotes through her blog, Mother Pukka.
Anna's parenting hack: ‘Never underestimate the power of a clean sock — it can be a lifesaver if you’ve run out of wet wipes.’
Should you believe everything you read on the internet?
With all of the forums, bloggers, and so-called ‘experts’ online, it’s easy to lose your parental instinct. You’re doubting yourself every step of the way because there’s someone on the internet saying ‘well that’s not how I think you should be doing it’. Focus on what you know, what works for you and your children, rather than trying to follow in someone else’s footsteps without really understanding what you're doing or why you’re doing it.
How has social media changed parenting?
Social media is an amazing tool for bringing parents together. My mum had nothing, just a cursory ‘hello’ to the lady next door, when you were both lonely and suffering with postnatal depression. Now, if I’m faced with a code red nappy situation at the Tate Modern and have to remove my socks to put them on the baby’s legs as a makeshift babygro, I can share it on WhatsApp or Instagram and hundreds of people will respond with similar experiences. Recently, it’s been less about perfection and more about sharing the mess and the stress.
Most important thing you’ve learned?
My relationship almost crumbled when I started breastfeeding because I never had all the things I needed, so Matt would have to rally around and fetch them for me. Make sure you always have a station with all your stuff on it. Your partner will thank you for it.
Also never blame the baby for any mishaps. It’s a privilege to have children and we’re very lucky. It’s also important to be able to laugh at yourself in those situations where things go plain old wrong. If you put the nappy on backwards and the baby poos all the way through it, you have to throw your hands up in the air and laugh. It’s silly and annoying, but your attitude turns that unfortunate situation into a great story to tell your friends, or to recall to the kid when they’re grown up.
Advice for other parents?
Don’t be surprised by the amount of stuff that gathers in the bottom of your nappy bag. The other day, I found a can of WD40 in there, and a Halloween chocolate. I hadn’t eaten in more than five hours — it was great!
Molly Gunn, 40, lives in Somerset with her husband Tom, 40, and their children Rafferty, seven, Fox, four, and Liberty, eight months. She launched an online community for mums in 2013; Selfish Mother.
Molly's parenting hack: ‘Lay out breakfast things before bed and also get your kids into their PJs as soon as they’re home from school.’
Photograph: Charlotte Emily Gray
What’s the one thing you wish you’d known about motherhood?
That it’s important to be a little bit selfish. You're going to be completely knackered for the first few years, so take the moments to yourself whenever you can. Paying attention to number one means I have the energy to focus on everyone else. My ‘selfish’ moments aren’t groundbreaking: a yoga DVD during my daughter’s nap, or taking the kids for a window-shopping trip instead of soft-play!
How would you describe parenting in two words?
Happy madness. You will end up doing all of those stereotypical ‘mum’ things, such as dancing like a loon to the radio as your kids look at you helplessly, or spitting on a tissue to wipe a mucky face.
Any things that your kids are particular about?
Fox would refuse, through the medium of screaming, to sit in a highchair — he’d only sit in a normal chair. At 20 months, he couldn’t see over his bowl, and would pour the meal over himself.
Mother of all Lists
Clemmie Telford, 35, lives in Peckham, London with husband Ben, 35, and their children Bertie, five, Woody, three, and Greta, two months. Clemmie set up her blog, Mother of all Lists, as a way to ’save her sanity’ during her second maternity leave, and now opens up her blog to guest posts from other mums.
Clemmie's parenting hack: ‘Keep an extra toothbrush for each child by a downstairs sink. That way you don’t have to chivvy them back upstairs before school.’
Any pearls of wisdom for expectant mothers?
Motherhood is a long game — it’s a marathon not a sprint. And, whatever people tell you, kids do not sleep through the night at six months.
What would you say to anyone who feels like they’re not succeeding?
We judge the worst of ourselves by the best of everyone else. We’re all trying to make it look like we’re all holding it together when, actually, no one is. When you realise that, it’s liberating. Everyone’s had a row with their kid about putting their shoes on, or spent 20 minutes trying to scrape week-old Weetabix off the table.
What have you learned that nobody warned you about beforehand?
When I had Bertie five years ago, the parenting blogging movement was very different. There were bloggers, but it felt like many were putting on a front and acting like everything was going fine with no hiccups. I didn’t realise it was alright to say ‘I’m struggling’ or ‘today’s been a bad day’ or ‘my kids are driving me round the bend’. Admitting those things doesn’t mean you’re failing at parenting, it just means you’re normal with the added benefit of being able to admit them to yourself.
What did you do differently after the first time?
My big thing with Greta was putting my own self-care much higher on the list. After her birth, I stayed in bed for a week, then on the sofa for a week. People often forget that you’re still recovering. They can come to visit, but there should be strict time frames. And if they come, they can put the kettle on themselves!