I was lucky that a met and made friends with a new mum in the early months after having my first little girl who had a little boy the same age, they were just a couple of months apart. We spoke and met up frequently in those first few months (and still do 8 years on!) – commiserating about the sleep deprivation, sharing the joy of their first laugh, trying to figure out the art of doing the weekly shop with a baby along. We both had good days and not so good days – but it was great to have someone who understood and could share the experience, who had the same self doubts, challenges and questions about the whole parenting thing. We offered each other support, encouragement and reassurance (and again.. still do!)
Something we would both say .. pretty often in fact.. “When is it going to get easier??”. I hear this quite a lot from both friends with babies, and often from mums at classes. I would love to say that it will get easier … when they sleep through the night, find their own routine, figure out the whole food thing (rather than just throwing it all on the floor after you’ve tirelessly slaved over cooking, pureeing, mashing and presenting it to them).. but in truth.. IT DOESN’T!
It doesn’t get any easier. In fact, the early months of a babies life is probably the easiest (I know, it doesn’t seem it). Your focus in those early weeks and months is to meet the basic needs of your baby – feeding, sleeping, loving – really quite simple. Yes, there are all the conversations to be had and decisions to be made about things such as breast or bottle feeding, what brand of nappies are best, or should we really be trying better to save our planet and go with the cloth ones. Dummy.. yes or no (in my case, a most definite YES!). In simple terms though, feed your baby, choose nappies that keep them dry and if a dummy soothes, give it a go. Cuddle, keep them safe, and love them like you never knew you could.
Babies grow, develop, change in the blink of an eye. The whole cuddle, keep them safe and love them becomes a whole lot more challenging once they are on the move – climbing, jumping, running – give a cruising baby a walker to push, and watch them go (and smile whilst they are doing it)! And just how fast can a 2yr old run – should be an Olympic sport.
They go from eating anything you lovingly prepared, to refusing point blank to put anything in their mouth unless it has been dipped in yoghurt/apple sauce/fruit puree first (yes, I did this.. anything to get the broccoli down them!)
They grow up so fast, and before you know it, you actually have to teach them things, you have to be a parent more than a caregiver. What you say, what you do, how you react – they are like little sponges and their behaviour, attitudes, likes and dislikes – yes.. a lot comes from you. We all want our little ones to be kind, caring, sharing individuals. We want them to play well with others, be polite, honest and considerate. If we want our children to be these things, then these are the things we must demonstrate first. Hard enough at the best of times, but when your 3 year old constantly interrupts you whilst on the phone/having a conversation/putting the shopping away etc – keeping your annoyance in check whilst trying to tell them to stop in a kind and considerate way.. best of luck.. we are not saints!
So we try and teach them not to hit if they are angry, to share toys (do they really ever learn to do this?). We become more aware of what we say (as they do hear every word, and will repeat what they’ve heard at the most inopportune moments), and how we say it, we try to be calmer, more generous. We explain our actions and theirs to try and get them to understand. Our children are constantly listening and watching.
School.. now there’s a whole different world to contend with. Different values, different behaviours, diverse backgrounds and beliefs.. trying explaining all that to a 5 year old. There are mean kids at school.. the shock came to me when I actually felt the urge to use physical violence on another 5 yr old that had made my little one cry.. I actually wanted to hurt them for hurting her – the need to protect and keep them safe, must be an inbuilt primeval thing (at least thats what I told myself as I tried to self calm!) thankfully I held back. Then there’s homework that you don’t understand, the falling out with friends, consoling your heartbroken child, telling them it will be ok (heart wrenching stuff) only to find they are best friends again 5 minutes later.
The first loves and heartbreaks are still to come, the teenage tantrums at times though feel like they have already started.
So.. does it get any easier than it was in those first few months – I would have to say NO, it actually gets harder. The challenges are different, stepping up to the plate as a parent is fraught with worry, you desperately want to be doing the right things.
But it does get BETTER
I think it gets better, because we get better as parents. As much as our children are learning, so are we. They shape our character as much as we shape theirs. Each phase they go through can be overwhelming to say the least and you wonder how you will get through it. On the good days you work it out, on the bad days you wonder why on earth you had kids, and swear you are definitely never ever going to have anymore.
Bit by bit you learn. What calms them down the fastest, what little trick works best to distract them, what rewards do they respond to best. You make sure you pack their favourite dummy (and a spare), You cut the crusts of sandwiches rather than argue about leaving them on, you learn what battles to fight, and what to let go, even if it means letting them get bathed in their wellies now and again.
It also gets better as you realise that all parents are in the same boat. As you meet and make new mummy friends you understand that every mum has felt what you feel, every mum is feeling the exhaustion of yet another sleepless night and hiding the fact that her socks don’t match. We are all scared of doing this whole parenting thing wrong – even those who when you watch them, make it look effortless.
There isn’t any part of being a parent that is easy. The journey starts off by being so overwhelmingly difficult that we think we’ll never make it. My advice to friends with babies, and mums in classes – embrace the challenges but most importantly share the burden with those around you (all mums I know are happy to listen to endless chat about tiredness, sleeping patterns, what food are this weeks favourites, colour of poo!)
I honestly believe that it is only with the support of my network of friends that I have made it this far in my parenting journey – a social circle is essential – people you can chat to, get advice from, lean on from time to time and share a damn decent night out with. It was with this in mind when I was developing Mini Me Time classes that I decided it was a priority to include social time at the end of every class. Giving us parents chance to talk, get to know each other, go for a cuppa after class has finished. I get the greatest sense of satisfaction when I see mums exchange numbers, or walk out of the doors together heading up to the nearest coffee shop.
I know its not very comforting to hear that its never going to get any easier – but take comfort from the fact that its going to get better, and better – thats a promise.