It’s a long old slog. But as I say goodbye to the ‘baby’ stage and my sons grow into little boys, I’ve been reflecting a little on what I’ve learned in the early years.
1. You will become ‘that’ friend
You know the one. The one who only talks about her kids and it’s so boring it makes you not want to invite her out. Because the conversation will inevitably turn to sleep deprivation (yawn) and pooey nappies (urgh) at some point.
Nobody wants to be that parent. I remember telling a friend across the pub table over a sherry (her) and an orange juice (me) whilst pregnant with my first, that I wouldn’t become that person. I may even have promised.
But it’s a promise I couldn’t keep and I’m sorry. The sad fact is that parenthood, or new parenthood at least, brings with it the unfortunate truth that a new baby takes over your life, eviscerating any previous hobbies, holidays, social appointments, friendships or careers - it’s all banished to the wayside because you have a tiny human to keep alive, one which demands all of your time and effort, every second of every day. Which leaves little opportunity for a conversational coffee at some trendy bistro on a Tuesday afternoon.
2. Patience is a virtue
Sometimes, just sometimes, I simply cannot hold it in any longer and I just have to shout. I know I shouldn’t, but when my patience runs out and the frustration takes over, it is inevitable.
What I have noticed though, is that if I raise my voice, my son raises his voice. If I shout, he shouts. And if I scream, he screams. He feeds off my emotions.
It took me a long time to realise this but now I have, it means I’m much more able to respond to his outbursts and protestations in a way that minimises the risk of it escalating into a full-blown screaming match.
I’m not the most patience person, I’m really not. I am a Scorpio, after all. But I’ve found if I can try to remain calm and disconnect myself from his anger, then I can encourage him to communicate his feelings in a less aggressive way.
3. It’s OK for your kid to be sad (once in a while)
I’m sad once in a while too. Like when we run out of ice cream or wine, or when the laundry basket’s full again. Or when I see pictures of other people going on exotic holidays, and showing off their flat stomachs. Or when I try something different from the takeaway menu and sadly realise I should’ve stuck with my usual.
Life is full of disappointments. Sometimes you can’t have everything you want. And sometimes you have to do things you don’t want to do, often to earn the things you want.
I want my boys to understand that and if I have to withstand a few tantrums to teach them, then so be it.
4. It’s OK to be silly
I wasn’t very good with kids before I had my own. They made me nervous. I just didn’t know what to do with them. But it turns out, reducing myself to the emotional level of a toddler isn’t as difficult as it looks.
I’ve found that it works much better if I properly immerse myself in a game with them even for a short while, as they’re then much more amenable to me getting some tasks of my own done afterwards.
Tickle chase? I’m in. Roaring like a dinosaur? You got it. Popstar posing? Make way for the master.
5. Naps are more important than visitors
Sorry, Gran. You’re going to have to come back in an hour.
Although if you’re willing to deal with the fallout from the baby missing it’s nap, step right in. But I won’t be staying - I’ll see you tomorrow, after the 100 decibel wailing has subsided and you’ve worn your slippers out pacing the nursery carpet.
6. Nobody gave the baby a manual either
As I’ve progressed from ‘mother-of-one’ to ‘mother-of-two’ and as the boys have grown out of the new baby stage, I’ve realised that most of what is written in so-called ‘baby handbooks’ is a load of complete twaddle.
It can be useful guidance as long as it’s taken with a huge dollop of instinct and a big cup of ‘chill-the-heck-out’.
No baby is the same. Heard that before? Yes? That’s because it’s true. What will work for one baby may not work for the next. And especially not for it’s sibling, it seems.
So if your baby doesn’t latch immediately, or it doesn’t appear to see the point of baby sensory, don’t worry. Your baby isn’t broken. It’s just a person, figuring out how to live, just like the rest of us.
7. Love is all you need
It’s true, though. Love gets me through the bad times and helps me appreciate the good times even more. I didn’t need to spend lots of money on fancy classes or posh puree (but I did). I don’t think my boys will remember whether I fed them Ella’s Kitchen or supermarket own brand. They won’t care if they wore the trendiest brands as a baby or if their toys came from Poundland.
But I know that every kiss and every cuddle is an investment in our bond as a family. It’s an investment in their independence because they know I’ll always be there for them. It’s an investment in their ability to empathise and show compassion to others as they grow into young boys and eventually into men.