Parenting Multitasking with a baby in tow is a tall order. We look at 10 ways to save your sanity.
Who'd be a modern mother? Just when you have mastered how to use the steriliser and collapse the pram, you are inundated with advice from relatives and parenting books on how to make the perfect purée, swaddle your child so it falls into the deepest slumber, and snap back into shape à la Elizabeth Hurley. All this on five hours sleep a night (maximum) and a husband who looks like he'd rather be anywhere but home.
The best advice comes from battle-scarred mothers who have the bleary eyes and carrot-stained T-shirt to prove it. Here we look at the top 10 tips of today's mothers.
Friends save your sanity Post-natal depression is common and friends can be your lifeline, alerting you to the symptoms and encouraging you to seek medical help or simply get out of the house. At least one new mother in 10 goes through PND, often when the baby is between four and six months old. Levels of the hormone progesterone are very high during pregnancy and some doctors believe that PND is caused by the sudden drop in progesterone after the birth. About half of depressed women are afraid to express their feelings because they fear they will be seen as bad mothers. "I felt so isolated when Francesca was a baby, especially as we'd just relocated," says Kym King, 40, who lives in Melbourne, Australia. "She was sweet, but hardly the best conversationalist, so I joined a parenting group and it was a lifeline, and the other children became her playmates." And avoid one-upmanship. When someone mentions their child's latest achievement, resist the urge to add an anecdote of your own. It's easier to bond when you share the fun and frustrations of motherhood.
Don't be a pushy parent "It's easy to project all your hopes and ambitions onto your child, instead of giving them freedom to discover who they are," says Fiona Sawyer, 37, a lawyer who lives in Aberdeen, Scotland with her husband and children Crawford, six, and Flora, four. The couple are expecting a third child within weeks. "If you wanted a little princess and got a football fan - adapt," she says. Joanne Baker, of the Guild of Psychotherapists in the UK, says you should be careful not mock or suppress a child's interests. "Children are born with some degree of core personality," she says. "While this can be modified or adapted in some ways, the happiest children seem to be those whose parents understand them and respect them for what they genuinely are."
Cut out the labels Acknowledge your child's unique characteristics, but don't box them in. Negative labels ("shy", "naughty") may be self-fulfilling, and even positive labels can jar. "I was always the clever sister," says Angela Crawford, 32, from Plymouth, southern England, mother to Paddy, six, and Emma, three. "It sounds great, but I felt intense pressure and worried about disappointing my parents if I didn't excel."
Stop and smell the playdough Children grow up so quickly, though some days may feel interminable. "It's easy to get so caught up in chores, work and e-mails that you forget to savour the magical moments," says Mags Goodacre, 36, from Melbourne, Australia, mum to Joel, eight, and Katy, five. "The housework will be there tomorrow, but the children will be grown. Make time for each child and don't forget to relax and have fun." Learning about basic mathematical concepts during playtime can help children grasp them later on. For example, if you pour water from a tall thin glass into a broad low glass, you should ask a child if the low glass contains the same volume of water. The evidence suggests that, in the past 10 or 15 years or so, the proportion of children who understand at the age of seven that it is the same volume of water has gone down significantly.
Remember you're the boss You might envisage being best mates with your children, but it's important to be the parent as well. That means setting rules and sticking to them. "Children need boundaries," says Catherine Hanly, editor of the parenting website RaisingKids.co.uk. "Let your children know what behaviour you expect and give clear notice of the consequences. Then stick to your guns and be consistent or you'll lose their respect." Speaking of consistency, agree to the rules with your partner and the grandparents, but with grandparents, don't get aggravated by the trivial. They may not handle things exactly as you would and may indulge your child, but try to relax and let your child enjoy this special relationship.
Take the trauma out of travel Flying is fraught with frustration, so plan ahead. Check whether you can take a pushchair up to the plane door and whether you collect it on landing or at baggage claim. "Take a sling for a baby or a wheeled Trunki bag for older kids to get through the airport," says Jacquin Watkins, mother to Hannah, seven, Zoë, five, Laura, two, and Joseph, eight months. Pack healthy snacks to keep the kids going, as meals are often late. Stuff a small carry-on with sticker and activity books and a few little surprises. Pull-ups (nappies for toddlers aged anything up to four) aren't a bad idea. Sometimes turbulence means toilet breaks must be delayed. Remember a change of clothes in case of accidents or spills. Don't be afraid to ask for help and be effusively grateful for any assistance. "Keep your expectations low," says Jacquin. "Don't expect to watch a film without interruption. If you anticipate the worst, you might be pleasantly surprised."
Celebrate the "golden hour" No matter how much you love your little darlings, the hours between a child's bedtime and yours can be precious. Get babies into a bedtime routine as soon as possible so they know the cues for sleep. The ritual of bath, milk, bed helps them settle at bedtime and means you have time to recharge and catch up with your husband. A regular bedtime lets your child know the household does not revolve around him or her. It also means your child gets sufficient sleep, and is less likely to come down with common ailments. Tiredness leads to cranky children (and mums) the next day.
Brat-proof your child Parents obsess about having brilliant or talented offspring, but it is more important that they grow into decent, compassionate people instead of spoilt princes or princesses who think they are the centre of the universe. Good manners help your child get on in life without offending people. Eat together so your child sees table manners in action, and help children write their own thank-you cards as soon as they are able, to help them learn gratitude and respect. As parents, treat each other with respect and love and your children are more likely to seek these things in their own adult relationships.
Remember your partner - and yourself "Babies and young children are so demanding that it's easy to put your relationship on the back burner," says Helen Kelly, 36, from Marlborough in Wiltshire, mother to Jago, four, Beatrice, nearly three, and Roo, five months. Having "me time" and couple time helps you rediscover yourselves and each other. As a strong couple you will feel united when facing the demands of parenthood. "Don't leave your husband out in the cold," says Tanya Small, 43, mother to Harrison, seven, and Grace, four. "Make your relationship a priority. I've seen so many couples develop marriage troubles because they've been so besotted with the baby they've ignored each other. If you're not near grandparents who can babysit, join a registered service or a babysitting circle so you can get out together. Happy parents equal happy children."
Trust your instincts Take parenting books with a pinch of salt. Keep an open mind and be flexible. Use advice that suits you and your child and remember that no one is a perfect parent. "Parenting is all about making the right calls," says Frank Furedi, a professor of sociology at Kent University in the UK and the author of Paranoid Parenting. "To do that you need to be relaxed about drawing on your experience and using your intuition. By all means, talk to others, but remember that when it comes to your own children, you are the expert."