Becoming a mom in my twenties was the most thrilling — and terrifying — moment of my life. Twenty-six years later, here is what I wish I'd known when I was just starting out as a terrified, twenty-something first-time mom.

Becoming a mom in my twenties was the most thrilling — and terrifying — moment of my life. While adjusting to sleep-deprivation, breast-feeding and diaper-changing, I was simply in awe of my gorgeous baby — and second-guessing everything I did. Today, I am the mother of four children: two boys, ages 26 and 23, and two girls, ages seven and four.

After raising two boys who are now independent, healthy, kind young men, I’m a whole lot more relaxed. Twenty-six years later, here is what I wish I’d known when I was just starting out as a terrified, twenty-something first-time mom.

A Mouthful of Playground Sand Isn’t (Necessarily) Fatal

I used to freak out when kid number one (a boy) and kid number two (also a boy) would eat dirt, which they did more than once, usually at the playground sandbox. Despite my anxiety over whether it would permanently damage their digestive systems, they’re now fully grown and healthy. So I wouldn’t be as upset if my daughters wanted to taste dirt, but thankfully neither have been interested.

Everyone Gets Potty-Trained ( Eventually)

Whether you have sons or daughters, they’ll get it eventually. Don’t worry if junior isn’t potty trained at age two, or even age three, despite what your mother says. The age at which they master this not-insignificant ability really isn’t a reflection on your parenting. And by the way, the same goes for talking, walking, and graduating from a sippy cup to a grown up cup.

A Peanut Butter Sandwich For Dinner Won’t Stunt Your Child’s Growth

I wish I could go back in time and tell my young-mother-self that an occasional peanut-butter and-jelly sandwich for dinner won’t stunt your child’s growth. Sometimes it’s necessary due to crazy work and sports schedules.

Give yourself space. Life is hard, and a lot is expected of parents, so if you can’t have a well-balanced dinner every single day, don’t sweat it. It won’t always be this busy.

University is EXPENSIVE, and Comes Up Fast

Though squeezing daycare costs into your budget seems tough, it won’t be long before college or university beckons. Time goes by fast, so don’t procrastinate when it comes to starting to save for your children’s education.

The sad fact is that no, your kid can’t pay for all their university costs by working during the summer of their high school years. They’ll need financial help, whether that’s in the form of a student line of credit, a loan, scholarships, bursaries or additional savings to round out what they manage to save.

As I discovered, even small, regular contributions to a Registered Education Savings Account (RESP) can grow nicely over time. This is thanks to the magic of compounded investment earnings plus additional RESP benefits such as the Canada Education Savings Grant, Canada Learning Bond, and provincial government incentives available to eligible families. As my kids seem to have enough toys, I’m always happy when their birthday gifts come in the form of cheques from relatives that we then put towards their RESP savings.

It’s About the Times, Not the Toys

This one can be easy to understand, but tough to carry out. My sons say their favourite memories are of me reading them bedtime stories, and spending time together on picnics at the beach. Not the expensive toys I struggled to buy them at Christmas.

Remember to make time to make memories, even if you’re busy building a career, studying at night, and you’re exhausted.

Take the time to talk and listen to your children. Ask them about what’s on their minds, and really listen. This shows them that you value their thoughts and concerns. Then tell them what’s important to you. When I had a health scare in my early thirties, I thought a lot about what I wanted my young sons to know if I wasn’t there to give them advice as they grew to adulthood. As a (former) financial advisor, the simplest piece of financial advice I could give them was to save 10 percent of everything they earned. Both sons say they still remember this. (I hope they actually DO this).

The Days Are Long, But the Years are Short

Finally, pay attention each amazing stage your child grows through.

Those early years can seem so long, when you’re trying to deal with a toddler and a newborn, sleepless nights, teething babies and our endless Canadian winters. But as you move through them to the preschool and elementary years, the years speed up. (Okay, the teenage years can drag a bit. But if they make it through to about age 19 in one piece, they’re likeable again).

Despite the challenges, try to enjoy your child at each age. It all goes by fast.

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