Being a parent is one of those things that you always imagine but you never truly understand until you are one. You might think it’s going to be difficult, wonderful, emotional, tiring, stressful, exciting – turns out it’s all of these things, and way more. When you embark on a new career, you usually have extensive training. You would never send someone into an operating theatre who hadn’t trained to be a surgeon. So how is it that suddenly you are expected to care for a tiny human who is one hundred percent reliant on you to keep them alive? It’s slightly insane when you think about the weight of the responsibility that comes without any real preparation. How do we do it? We just do! We use our instincts, our gut feelings, our best guesses to get us through the numerous different ages and stages.
We might read books and ask advice from seasoned friends and family, but ultimately we have to decide what’s best for our child. There have often been times when I’ve weighed up all the options and just gone with what I think is best, crossing my fingers and hoping I’m right. Parenthood is such an unknown quantity and the constant changes don’t help. Just as you think you’ve got the hang of things, everything moves on and you have to move on with it. Your baby finally sleeps through the night, but then comes the weaning which changes things all over again. We have to become so adaptable to these constantly evolving little creatures, it can be utterly overwhelming.
Here are just a handful of the many roles we take on as parents and how survive them!
The ultimate love giver
From the second your precious baby is born, they look to you for love and nurture. You are the first experience they’ve ever had of being loved and cared for, you will teach them what that means. You always imagine you will fall in love with you baby immediately, some people do, but for some it can take a little longer. I suffered with post natal depression when my first child was born and it took me a few months to really love him like I wanted to love him. It’s not easy to admit that, even now, as it just seems unthinkable. Post natal depression is so hard for everyone involved, but it’s not something to feel ashamed of. Like all mental illnesses, it’s not a choice. I’ve talked before about my experience with post natal depression so I’m not going to go through it all again here, just know that you’re not alone. Tell someone you trust how you feel, don’t keep it inside. It will eat you up, it will consume you. Don’t let it win! Get help, be honest, it’s ok.
You will love your child, so much. You will feel how you want to feel about them, and it will be amazing. I adore my son more than I could ever have imagined and those first few months feel like a bad dream to me now. I shower my children with love and affection. I tell them all the time how much I love them. In fact, I said ‘I love you’ to my son yesterday and he said ‘Mum, don’t keep telling me that!’ I asked him why not, slightly concerned and he just looked at me and said ‘because I already know how much you love me.’ I felt so happy and reassured that my child feels so sure and safe in the love I have for him. I’ll keep telling him though, whether he likes it or not.
For me, this has been one of the most difficult aspects of parenting. It’s so easy to look at other people’s children and imagine how you would do things differently, how you would keep them in line. It’s such a different experience when it’s your own kids. I know that discipline is vital and that it gives your children stability and grounding. As far as hitting other kids or being good at sharing, I’m all good. It’s when they want just one more biscuit or one more cuddle at 9pm when they’ve been out of bed ten times already that I struggle. I’m too soft! Not only that, I’m still figuring out the methods I want to use to discipline them. For example, I do the count down thing ‘3,2,1…’ This used to work, they’d run off and do whatever is asked them before I even got to number two. Now, however, they shout back at me ‘what happens if you get to zero?’ As ridiculous as it sounds, I don’t know! I know that I need to decide on boundaries and stick to them. Children need to know that their parents are strong, that they know what they’re talking about. Parents are meant to be people that a child can turn to for council and direction, it’s so important.
Discipline with love, don’t lose control. Listen to your children, give them a chance to speak their opinions and then tell them yours. Let them know that certain things are not ok and they never will be. I’ve often fallen into the trap of giving in but I know that’s lazy parenting. Doing things for a quiet life is not good for anyone in the long term, it really isn’t.
The selfless comforter
When you have children, you suddenly realise how much free time you had before they came along. You always thought you were so busy and had no time for yourself, but really you had no clue what that meant! My life revolves around the needs of my children, and I’m happy with that. I love that they want to be with me and look to me for all of their emotional and physical needs. It can feel claustrophobic at times, like when I’m on the toilet with two little people chatting away to me, and sometimes I just want to be on my own. I’m learning how to be more selfless, and it’s mostly working through changing my thoughts. When I get to that point where I just want five minutes and feel like I want to shout ‘please leave me alone’ I take a moment. I collect my thoughts and I put myself in their shoes. They don’t understand the need for alone time and why should they? I’m their mum, it’s my job to fulfill their needs and give them a happy and enjoyable childhood. I don’t want to look back one day and wish I hadn’t pushed them away.
The one who lets them go
Wow, this is the toughest of all. My children are only three and five years old and already I get a lump in my throat when I think of them growing up and leaving home. How will it feel to not be needed any more? To not be their number one? What will it be like when I can’t take away their sadness with a hug and a kiss? My first real taste of stepping back has been my son, George, starting school last year. It has been a difficult transition for me, but it does get easier. As soon as I’d waved him into his classroom, I’d release the tears I had been working so hard to keep inside. I never let him see that I was sad, that would have done him no good at all. I wanted to scoop him up and take him home, but that would have been completely selfish. He loves school and has always happily waved goodbye and never looked back. I just found it so hard to not know every detail of what he was doing during the day. I wanted to be there if he fell over or if someone was mean to him. It is part of growing up, to learn to be without your parents and I’m not sure who finds it more difficult! The first few weeks after school I would quiz him about everything he’d done and it would drive him crazy. He wanted me to stop asking him questions, it was too much for him. I realised I was smothering him and instead of strengthening our relationship, it would make him pull away from me.
Don’t suffocate your children. Love them and always be there for them but give them space and let them figure things out. Try not to offload your own emotions and worries onto them, they don’t deserve it or need it. Let them be children, then let them be teenagers, then let them be adults and hopefully through all of it they will be your best friend.