Updated: Mar 22
I thought it was time to make a topic change, as seen as I’ve spent the year pretty much writing about the environment! This was my plan, but I thought I might have time to squeeze a blog here and there about other things, but apparently that was not on the cards for 2019.
I really want to talk about some of the things I’ve learnt since becoming a parent in January 2018. I felt that I knew how to look after children, after helping out a lot with my two nephews, but I had no idea what it was actually like to be a mother.
The experience I gained from looking after my nephews – primarily the eldest one, now a terrifying five years old – has been invaluable for me and my parenting journey. It wasn’t so much that I knew how to parent – does anyone? – but that I knew how to change a nappy with eyes closed, and that I wasn’t too nervous when it came to those early baths when they are just so tiny and scary. I was confident in giving bottles, Calpol and soothing techniques, but there is a lot that you can’t learn from babysitting someone else’s child.
So in no particular order, and without any judgement to anyone else, here is my list of things I’ve learnt in the past 22 months.
Sleep is for the weak – Well, actually, sleep is for everyone! And we’re all strong, no matter how much sleep we are getting. I just want to say that first of all, you can survive on a surprisingly small amount of sleep! It might not feel like you can, but trust me, it’s possible. The frustrating thing about the world of parenthood is that EVERY baby is different. They sleep, eat, and learn differently – they even come into the world differently! There are so many guidelines, books of advice, forums, and websites out there with tips and tricks to help, but there is no “one rule fits all” for parenting. And every parent who has a success story will swear by their method. Why? Because it worked for them. That’s not to say that it will work for you. It might work for baby number one, but not baby number two. You see what I mean? Sleep is a big one there. Sleep is so important for all of us, especially babies and young children, as it really helps with their development. It also puts them in a great mood! However you choose to get them to sleep, and wherever they sleep, will depend on lots of things. There are no right or wrong ways, there is just what works. My little boy is quite unpredictable with his sleep, and although he had a general pattern for a while, we never really know if he's going to wake two times or sleep through, or not sleep at all.
They Will Eat Eventually – Again, every baby is different. I don’t know many people who struggled with getting their kid to eat – I mean, I know plenty of people who struggled with breastfeeding, but I don’t know many people that struggled with weaning like we did. Our feeding journey started 48 hours after our child was born. We tried for ages to get him to latch, months, but he wouldn’t. Whilst he wasn’t latching, we were giving him expressed breast milk and formula, and this ended up being our feeding plan for 6 months, until we switched fully to formula. We made the switch because I was producing very little milk by this point. I was so excited to start weaning, I couldn’t wait to get involved in making him homemade meals, and getting him to try lots of different things. We gave him a taster at around 4 months – he was so interested in our food – but other than the initial curiosity, he wasn’t bothered. A few months later, I did a load of purees for him, with the intention to start there and then combine it with BLW. The purees were a no go – he ate one that he really enjoyed, and after that it was mostly just wasted. BLW – also a no. He had one day of enjoying butternut squash fingers. Every day was a struggle. I kept getting told that as long as he was having a certain amount of milk, it was fine, but I worried every day that he would just live off milk forever. When would he start eating food? We tried a range of jars and pouches – they also didn’t go down well. We eventually discovered, through trial and error that he would eat dry food and Greek yogurt. That’s right – we weaned our baby on dry toast, crackers and cheerios, with a serving of yogurt for dessert. He had an aversion to things with wet, soft textures for so long. It was only after he turned 1, that he started to eat outside of that box. Now he eats just about anything – we limit his sugar intake, and processed foods (he does get them, but not frequently) – and we love sharing our meals with him.
Some days are harder than others – We get told a lot that our little man is “no bother” or “so quiet and content” and similar things to this. I’m not sorry that our child is quite chilled out, but we work hard for that. We try our best to have a calm, relaxed household. This doesn’t mean that every day is easy, in fact far from it. What most people are seeing is our child outside of his comfort zone. He is very cautious and very thoughtful. He likes to observe in situations where he is unsure. He takes everything in. He has to be really content in his surroundings to be himself. And at home, he’s pushing boundaries to see where it gets him. People don’t see him scream the house down because he has to get out of the bath, or throw himself on the floor because I asked him not to put his finger in a plug socket. No one else witnesses him throwing stuff at the telly, or headbutting things because we said no. He is strong willed, and knows what he wants. He gets bored easily, and when he gets bored, he really doesn’t know where the limits are. There are days when I am lone parenting and can’t wait for my other half to get home and take over. I try to appreciate every moment of parenting because I know we are so incredibly lucky to have him, but there are days when I feel like he has been possessed by the devil himself – and this is okay. One of my favorite sayings since becoming a parent is “This too shall pass” and it will. He’s a tiny 23lbs, and still somehow manages to sound like a combination of jungle animals as he runs around the house, and it’s hard to have days where I feel like I say “no” on repeat but it happens to everyone. And don’t forget – It’s okay to enjoy the easy days. Don’t feel guilty if you have a great day and others don’t – celebrate those moments!
You CAN do it – By this, I mean you can parent how you want. We all have ideas of how we want to raise our children, and you will find that other parents scoff at these ideas. I hate nothing more than hearing “just wait till you have children” because I don’t think it’s giving anyone the chance to try. What I will say is that your ideas won’t always work, because – and I can’t stress this enough – every baby is different. If you have a certain idea in mind, just try it – you know, as long as you aren’t causing any harm or damage – and persevere with it! If it doesn’t work, it doesn’t work, at least you can say you tried.
The juggle is real – I work full time. Four days a week I work a minimum of 8 hours a day, and one day a week I work 5 hours. My normal shift is either 8-4.30 or 9-5.30. I work overtime at least one week out of the month, and I work one in four Saturdays. Before work, I get myself and my child ready for the day. After work, I pick him up, I come home, I feed him, and put him to bed (my husband and I take it in turns to do everything, so if he feeds him, I put him to bed, he drops him off, I pick him up, but when he’s doing something with him, I’m doing something else) once he’s in bed, we have our tea, and I start on my to-do list which usually consists of one of my many writing projects. These days I usually see till 9.30, then my eyelids start to get heavy. Moments I’m not with our child, I am writing, making lists, doing house work, cooking, and trying to keep together some kind of social life. Even when I am just sitting, reading or watching the TV, I am usually thinking about the stuff I need to do. I am rarely just relaxing. I know this is my choice, and I know its all relative to each person and what they do or what their life style is like, but there are times when this is so stressful for me. I feel like I wasted my pre-parenting days, by not doing enough. I should have worked harder then, when I had so much free time. I didn’t though and this is the price I pay. It’s basically taking me longer to reach my writing goals, or to get housework done. But I wouldn’t change having my little man for the world.
The take over – Having a baby really consumes your life. But you don’t fully appreciate it till you look around, and realize they are literally in every room, they aren’t just following you round or on your mind constantly. THEY ARE IN EVERY ROOM. How did my shoe get in the bathroom? Why is there a dinosaur in the tin cupboard? Why is there a pile of muslin cloths in the spare room? Who keeps bringing a calculator into the car? Why is there a tupperware lid in the bedroom? The answer is the same each time. And that’s just stuff that the little one feels the need to carry around with him. Then there’s the never ending storage you need for next size clothing and clothing that doesn’t fit anymore; a space for pushchair(s); a highchair; playpen; toy chest; bath toys; baby gate… they are everywhere. My pocket always has tissues in it, my husbands coat pocket is never missing a box of raisins.
You’ll laugh – My son is hilarious. He walks around in our shoes which are far too big for his tiny feet; he answers yes and no at the exact right times (which are actually usually the wrong times)l if he doesn’t want to see someone, he closes his eyes just enough so he can still keep an eye on them, but he can pretend they can’t see him; he greets his Grandfather by sticking his tongue out, like it’s their own special language; he’s very possessive of the tin cupboard, particularly the corned-beef tin; And during all of these – and many more hilarious moments – he remains deadly serious.
It’s Repetitive – All day long, you will find yourself on repeat. Meal times, nappy changes, stories, games, the word no – from both you and the child. If they enjoy something, then they will demand to do it over and over, until you can find a distraction, and then they will demand that you do that distraction on repeat. They will constantly try to put their fingers in the same plug socket, or to open the cupboard that you’ve put childproof locks on. It’s just another joyful part of parenting.
There is a worse smell than poo – and that smell is vomit. I’m not saying poo smells like roses in comparison, and as parents we all have that moment of fear at some point, where we have left the house with it smeared somewhere, because once you’ve changed a bad nappy, that smell stays with you. No one else can smell it, you probably can’t really smell it, and yet no matter how many times you wash your hands or spray perfume, you will still swear blind that you can smell it. But I much rather deal with horrid poo, than vomit. Baby vomit – and toddler vomit – almost always includes some kind of milky, yogurty, horrible substance. And the smell is awful. Bug season is the worst because you just get rid of the smell, when a new bug strikes and you start again. There have been nights where our bath has been constantly full, and our washing machine has ran cycle after cycle. As soon as daylight hits, the windows are all open and the zoflora is out. You have to be thorough, trust me you do not want to miss a spot. And with such a young child being sick, it’s hard to catch it. Once you know it’s coming you have two choices – try to contain it where it is, or risk a dash to the bathroom, where you might get int all in the sink, but you might end up with a trail of sick. It’s a risky business, my friend.
Instinct doesn’t always come naturally – And that’s okay. There have been times when my kid has been out of sorts, or screamed for hours on end, and I’ve had no idea why, and to this day I still don’t really know. I’ve guessed at over-tiredness, upset stomach, hunger from having been difficult at tea time. I’m almost always blaming disturbances on teeth, but he’s got all but the very back ones now. I’d say that most of the time, I’m guessing. It’s very rare that something happens and I feel that I know straight away. That’s not to say that I don’t have parenting instinct, I know when he wants a drink, or when he’s tired, I can tell when he’s hangry, or when he’s feeling shy. I can tell the difference between him having a bug and just a stomach upset. What I’m saying is that sometimes we don’t know how or why our children are feeling a certain way, or doing a certain thing, and that’s perfectly okay.
I guess one really important thing that I want to say is that it doesn’t matter if this our first child or last child; it doesn’t matter if we’ve had experience with lots of children before having our own; it doesn’t matter which parenting strategy we use; it doesn’t matter how we choose to let them sleep, or how we wean them; none of it matters, because we are all learning, we all have different children and we are all in it together. What you have to remember at the end of the day, is that you can do it, and there is help everywhere. Even just having a chat with friends about how you feel can make all the difference.
And it’s okay to wonder, in all seriousness, if your child has been switched out for a changeling, or possessed by the devil.