My oldest child is 22 tomorrow. Twenty Two.
I mull on that sometimes; looking back not at the obvious of how he’s changed (because, y’know, he’s a LOT taller… but he’s notsodifferent inside to how he was at 7, in all honesty), but more on how I’ve changed. Oh, the things I used to fret and worry over when he was a tiny little dot so incredibly, terrifyingly dependent and unfathomably mystifying.
Every single stage (and they come so thick and fast in the first months and years, don’t they?) I met with excitement, sorrow and nervousness. How the heck would I ever solve him waking at night? I was bottle feeding – would he be damaged forever? Or would the fact that I went back to work when he was 3mths old damage him more? How much pear puree is enough? Is it okay that I forgot to change his nappy until it was literally swinging beneath him because we were out and having fun? Why did he projectile vomit his milk every night after gulping it down – was there something seriously wrong? Should he have shoes yet? Was a secondhand pushchair okay to use?
*sigh* it’s a wonder I made it through – the list is ridiculously endless. But of course – it’s all new territory. You have no frame of reference for your first child – you just have to figure it out as you go along. And every single curve ball throws you (and naturally there’s a new one every week). Two years later, and child no.2 was a breeze in comparison, right? Erm… wrong, actually. I breastfed Boy; so I was waaaay back at the beginning of my learning curve again – whilst concurrently learning about toddlerdom from No.1.
By No.3 I’d have it covered though, right? Sort of… only Jolly was different again – he had horrible reflux which was so very very hard to deal with when also handling a 17mth old, a 3yr old, redundancy and a builders in the house completing the extension I no longer had a salary to pay for…
But obviously, you learn a lot along the way. Twenty two years and four children later I’m pretty confident in my parenting skills (though I’m happy to admit that the later teenager years had me running for parenting forums again). When Bear (no.4) was born I fed her without thinking about it, she weaned without me really noticing she had done so, and now she’s almost nine and I really don’t recall a single angst-riven moment with her in that time. Oh, except for the time the police called because she broke out the garden and went for a walk up the road when she was 18mths old. Or the time she clambered up the dresser and crashed to the floor with shelves of glasses smashing around her. Or maybe the time she went missing and I found her actually in a neighbours’ pond… You know, just the usual stuff. *sigh*
I read recently that, on average, it takes a first time mum an average of six months to feel confident as a parent. I think that’s probably true – by 6mths in you’ve found your rhythm, got to know your new family and are starting to make sense of the world again.
But despite feeling like I could take on a newborn in my sleep these days… parenting? It just keeps on going. And challenging. and Scaring. The minute you feel like you have it all worked out, something new will be thrown at you. A chronic Illness. A problem you simply cannot be the answer for. The stress levels of a hormonal teenager facing exams. The worries change, but the challenge remains.
So what would I impart in my huge and enormous elderly parenting wisdom to new parents? Here’s my tips;
1 – Relax. Human beans have been doing this for a very very long time. Unless you’re a pretty bad person, you are not going to break your baby. There’s a million pieces of advice out there on every single subject – it can feel overwhelming trying to follow it all. So just trust yourself. You *know* if something is the right thing, right now, for you and your baby. Go with it. A happy relaxed Mumma makes a happy relaxed baby. Their needs are simple, and you’re going to be magnificent.
2 – Keep a decent first aid kit ready. I can’t tell you the number of times I had a sick baby at 2 in the morning, and no paracetamol in the cupboard. Also, the first aid kit changes over the years. Tiny babies can’t be given much but a warm damp flannel bath, plenty of fluids and soothing voices. I’d also keep some saline as it’s fabulous for tiny blocked noses. But over 3mths, I’d keep baby paracetamol or ibuprofen ready. Once they’re up and running, add antiseptic cream, some antiseptic wash like Savlon or TCP and a box of plasters.
By the time they’re school age I’d also make sure you have nit shampoo, a nitty gritty comb and worm tablets ready. I know. But trust me on this.
3 – Maintain your perspective. Will your child die of malnutrition if it eats pasta-with-cheese on three days on the trot? No. Will Social Services be knocking on the door if you haven’t dusted for three weeks or put the duvet cover back on un-ironed? No. Will your toddler remember if you had to place it in a safe room, walk out and close the door because you could feel your own rage building to toddler-levels and just needed a time out yourself? No. Will your child still be wearing a nappy/refusing to sleep without a nightlight/only eating yellow food when they’re 20? No.
In the grand scheme of things, honestly these are small blips. Repeat to yourself “this too shall pass’. Because it will. And you’ll all be fine.
4 – Ask for help. You’re not a superhuman. You don’t have to be able to do it all, and the people around you are simply waiting to know what they can do to help – so let them. Everyone loves to feel useful. Have them hold the baby while you have an uninterrupted shower. Let them bring dinner over so you don’t have to. When they offer, don’t insist that you’re fine. Of course you’re fine – but that doesn’t mean they can’t still help. Just say ‘yes please’.
5 – There is no quick-fix one-size-fits-all answer. What works for your best friend/sister/Baby Yoga buddy will not necessarily work for you. Heck what worked for your first child won’t necessarily work for your second. Learn your baby, listen to your instincts and work out what works for you and your family. I think that was maybe my biggest lesson – no one else has a magic cure, no matter what their Facebook and Instagram will lead you to believe. We’re all just figuring it out as we go.