People are really opening up about the difficult side of parenting. They are talking about how it can be lonely; about how it can be exhausting, about the days when you really are tearing your hair out and just need some peace. It’s great that we are having these conversations, and breaking down those walls.
That's not really what this post is about - well, it is and isn't. I was busy recently, doing a parenting task that really takes up loads of times - I'll get to that in a bit - when I started to think about all of the things we don't know about being parents, before we become parents, or all of the things that make parenting so hard. But not the things like... it's lonely. Sometimes the kids can be really difficult. Sometimes they don't sleep. Tantrums. Parenting guilt. No, it was different sort of list.
I've only been a parent for four years, so I'm more than sure that there are things still to be added to this list. I'm also sure that there are things that some people don't struggle with, that appear on this list. Let's see, shall we?
Time - There will never be time, ever again. The very task that started this list was sorting clothes. Not putting away laundry (but believe me when I say you will always be sorting the washing out) but moving my daughter up into her next size of clothes. Now, my kids don't grow fast, so this doesn't happen a lot but when it does it really takes up so much time! My daughter, who is tiny, recently started to grow out of most of her size 6-9 months clothes (she's two in March, but whatever.) and it was only then that I realised how much time I spend doing stuff that no one really seems to think about. Getting clothes down from the loft, washing the second hand ones, sorting through new clothes, organising them, putting them away and then sorting through the old clothes, and packaging them, and putting them in loft. For me this does not take an afternoon, it takes weeks. And I spent my free time one afternoon after work doing this. I started when I finished, and I didn't stop till I picked them up from nursery. What else? Batch cooking meals for the freezer that they then won't eat. Toy rotations. Bag sorting. Nappy stuffing. Book sorting. Shoe sorting. And that's all stuff I do when they aren't around.
Food - Are they eating enough? Are they eating the right things? Why won't the eat my delicious home cooked meals? Have they eaten too many tuna sandwiches this week? Am I too strict with their sweets? Am I not strict enough with their beige freezer food? Is it okay to eat spaghetti hoops for lunch, and beans on toast for tea? This is an almost constant stream in my head. I don't want to go on about it, but I have small children. They don't have growth spurts. And there are days when they will hardly eat anything. How will they grow, if they don't eat?
Poo - Oh yes, I hear you say, I've heard this one before! You're not wrong, my sleep deprived friend. We all love to talk about baby poo. Is it the right colour? Consistency? Is it happening enough? No one talks about toddler poo! The joys of potty training, and how easily they can become constipated! And once they are constipated, how many more issues it can cause! But then, if you have a toddler and a baby at the same time, what if they both become constipated for two different reasons, and in different ways? One child needs to go by won't, and one needs to go but can't without acting like she's in labour.
Parenting Anxiety - We hear a lot about parenting guilt - and we should, it's very important and we all feel it - but not much about anxiety. The constant anxiety that something bad is going to happen to your child. That you're somehow messing them up. Perhaps we don't talk about it as much as it does cross over into guilt, but my goodness, it’s really awful!
The heartbreak - There is nothing worse than going into your child's bedroom, after hearing them cry, to be met with "Oh, you're not Daddy" or, if it’s the younger one "No! Daddy come!" Need I say more?
The second guessing - It's almost constant. Have I made the right choice? At the end of the day, it’s you and (hopefully) your partner, the other parent, making the choices. It’s a HUGE thing. You are responsible for these little lives. How do you know if you are doing it right? You don't. There's no instruction manual that comes with them. You follow the research, just to be told by someone else "Oh well I would have done it this way " or" in my day they didn't do it that way". You compare yourself to other parents, and I suppose really this actually fits in with the anxiety point, but you have this worry all of the time that maybe you should be doing something differently.
Sleep - Okay, I know, this one is common. We all talk about sleep. "Oh my baby slept through from 7 weeks!" Really? Did they? Where do these babies come from?! Yes, yes we've heard it before. I'm not here to tell you that children don't sleep. They do. They don't. They start, they regress. It’s a coffee fuelled rollercoaster. No, I'm here to say that no one tells you that you will be tired, forever. Or at least that's how it feels. Even when they sleep, I always feel so tired. Do you know why? Because it’s constant. Night feeds. Early mornings. Nappy changes. Potty training. Cooking. Taking them out. It’s all constant. You don't get to rest like you do before having kids,. When they kids aren't here, or are in bed, I'm working, cleaning, catching up. Even when I stop doing all of that and think I need to just rest - it’s not enough to make up for all of the missed sleep. I think even when they are grown up, I will still feel tired.
Life skills - Teaching life skills to a small child who wants to know "why" everything has to be done in a certain way, or to one that screams as soon as she does something she realises she didn't want to do, is not my strong point. I find myself wondering why they don't know not to throw their food on the floor, or that they should just go to the loo when they feel they need it. I remember when we first took the bars off my son’s cot, and turned it into a cot bed - we gave up at 3am, and put the bars on. How do they not know what we already know? Of course, we didn't always but I don't remember that stage of life. It’s really difficult, for me.
Love - Okay it seems obvious, and it's not actually a difficult thing, but it's confusing how you can be so annoyed at a tiny person who just smacked you across the face because you wouldn't let them dive off the side of the couch face first onto a heap of sharp toys, and then melt at them a second later for doing something really cute. I don't think you can understand just how much you will love those tiny people till you have them. I feel like my chest could explode with how much I love my children, despite all of the above. I do think someone can tell you how much you will love them, but no one can really understand it. You think you'll know how it feels but there's nothing else like it.
So there you have it.
It’s funny because this all just stuff that happens. But you don't realise you're signing up for it when you have a baby, You think you're signing up for night feeds, dirty nappies, baby yoga, and juggling childcare. You think about different things when you are expecting. Of course I never for one moment thought it would be a walk in the park (and really, we've been quite lucky with our kids for the most part) but the difficulties aren't really what I pictured either.
I do love my children an unbelievable amount though. If my daughter would just start sleeping through, and my son could just be fully potty trained, that would be wonderful!
Oh, and before you come at me with "just cherish this time before they grow up, it won't last long, blah blah blah" just stop. I've prided myself on my ability to get up each night, and look lovingly at my child, and appreciate the fact that that time is just for us, and no one else. I've taken joy in crafts, trips to museums (that the children did not enjoy) and celebrated every milestone with both of children. I don't ever wish time away. Parenting is so so hard, but I love it.