My eldest just turned ten. It’s such a cliché but it’s gone so fast. Time’s funny like that, isn’t it? Something can feel like it happened just yesterday, yet at the same time, forever ago.
When I think back to ‘2010 Alison’, she didn’t have the slightest clue what was ahead. Sure, she’d read a few baby books, gone to some NCT classes and read page after page of the Babycentre website, so she thought she had a clue. But she didn’t really.
Because as you might know yourself, becoming a parent is just an insanely life-altering thing. Not just in a sleepless nights/can’t go to the pub together on a Friday night/becoming best mates with Mr Tumble kind of way. But in a way that makes you look at the world through totally different eyes. It instantly seems like a scarier place (I know people who had to stop watching the news when they became parents) and I found myself trying to inject kindness into it, in any small way I could. Holding doors open, stopping to let cars pass, giving a random compliment, chatting to an old lady at the pedestrian crossing. I was at the start of a huge learning curve (one that I’m still on) so let me share with you what I’ve learned along the way…
- Parenthood is an ever-evolving thing
I can clearly remember that feeling of relief when my first baby started sleeping through the night. “Phew!” I thought. “That’s it! We’ve made it through the hardest bit.” Then she started crawling, then her molars started coming in, then we had potty-training, then there was the emotional upheaval of her starting school….
What I know now is that it never gets easy. You just move from one challenge to another. And if it feels easier? It’s probably because you’re taking this stuff in your stride. You know that it’s just the latest thing that parent life is throwing at you and you can probably handle it, right?
I’m still having to reassess and adjust stuff I think I know about parenting. We recently conceded to moving my eldest’s bedtime to 8pm and allowed her to travel in the front seat of the car for the first time (she’s tall for her age). I know that we have a LOT of adjusting and learning as she heads towards her teen years…
2. There is no one right way to do it
The other day, two of my friends casually mentioned that they’d been firm fans of Gina Ford when their kids were babies. Another doesn’t allow her kids to watch any TV during the week. I know quite a few mums who’ve breastfed their little ones until they’re four.
None of these are things that I have done, or have any experience of, but that doesn’t mean that those mums are right and I’m wrong. We’re just different.
We’re all muddling through and making decisions by following our gut instinct, looking around to see what others are doing, perhaps reading up on what experts advise and then making a call on it. Then, sometimes we change our minds, and that’s OK!
But essentially, there isn’t one route to raising a happy family and it’s worth remembering that when you start to compare and then you start to worry.
3. Accept all the help you’re offered
When I was a brand new mum, fresh out the box, I had this BONKERS notion that I wanted to do as much as I could without help. “Me? I’m a modern day woman. It’s 2010! I’m a feminist and I can get stuff done.”
Oh how I’d love to go back in time and tell myself that it’s great that you’re independent and determined. But. You get zero prizes for doing this without accepting help. In fact, you’re more likely to end up a hot, sweaty, tearful mess. If you’re a new mum and someone wants to drop round a lasagne, let them. If a friend offers to pop over and watch the baby while you have a nap, say YES.
And it’s not just the baby days that this applies to. In later years you might get offers to pick up your kids from school or have them on a playdate or a friend might offer to babysit to allow you a rare night out. Just make your default answer: YesPleaseThankYouVeryMuch.
4. Hugs are magical
There seemed a two year period (maybe age 5-7) when it felt like we couldn’t leave for school in the morning without an almighty row. It would usually be about refusing to put on shoes or having left the favourite water bottle at school or not being able to find the one pencil that absolutely must be taken in that day, no THAT OTHER PENCIL won’t do.
On one morning, my eldest daughter (she was my only daughter back then) was lying on the kitchen floor, crying and screaming. I made a decision to stop trying to reason with her, and instead, I just got down next to her and hugged her. After a few moments, she stopped crying, then her breathing slowed, and her heart stopped thumping fast.
It was like magic.
Granted, hugs don’t solve everything, but so often, they just soothe and give the child a chance to calm down.
5. Your needs are important too (top up that empty cup)
Last week, I spoke on Instagram Stories about the school day and whether it should be changed to help working parents. Quite a few people sent me a message which said something along the lines of “The children’s needs are the most important thing here”. And – perhaps controversially – I disagree. In a lot of situations, my children’s needs are important. But they’re not automatically more important than my needs, or my husband’s needs.
I guess the ultimate goal is seeing to everyone’s needs. Happy kids, happy parents. But there have been times when I’ve put my needs ahead of my kids’, to help my mental health. I think it’s important to keep checking in on what you need, as a parent (and as a person!) because if you run low on emotional energy, you’re arguably not going to be on your top parenting form.
6. Play to your strengths
It probably took me around five years of being a parent to work something out: it’s OK to enjoy some parts of it but not others.
Take swimming for example. Mr P loves going swimming with the kids. I can’t stand it. All that getting wet, being splashed and then the faff of getting yourself – and the kids – dried and dressed again without one or all of you having a tantrum. Where’s the fun in that? So Mr P takes them swimming and I watch enthusiastically from the side of the pool.
Likewise, Mr P hates doing messy art activities and baking, which I love. He loves taking them to the park, I find it more boring than the Shipping Forecast. I like reading the same books to the toddlers over and over (I sometimes pretend I’m on CBeebies Bedtime Story but don’t tell anyone) and Mr P has been known to hide books that he just can’t face reading again.
Work out what are the things you enjoy, and what are the things you don’t.
7. Take stock of your parenting wins
Like so many things in life, we often focus on the failures, but it’s important to celebrate the wins. Whether it’s your child sleeping in their own bed, eating all their peas, getting an award at school or just saying please and thank you, own it!
8. There’s no point in tidying up those toys…
… it’ll just be messy again in ten minutes time. Seriously. I’m a firm believer in doing one tidy a day – once the kids are in bed. Otherwise, I just end up doing it ten times a day. And who has the time for that?