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Parenting – it’s a steep learning curve and I’m still finding my way, or more accurately, winging it one day at a time.
Here are just seven things I wish I’d known- if only I could hop in a time machine and go back to speak to myself pre-children. Although, of course, I wouldn’t use my one go in a time machine doing that, but I digress.
1. You will feel emotions to extremes- to levels you’ve never reached before; especially love, rage, guilt, fatigue, and boredom.
I have experienced boredom before, but not to the extent that I feel when I’m reading The Gruffalo for the millionth time.
I’ve felt anger, but no one ever made me scream silently into a teddy, or made me step out of the room to count to ten before.
I’ve never felt as much guilt before I had kids, and for small things like needing a break. Pre-kids I’d experienced sleep deprivation. I’d been to enough festivals, and pulled enough all-nighters to know what being tired was like. But this level of fatigue is different; it’s unrelenting and debilitating, and it just goes on and on.
And then the love – you’ll feel it fiercely, and so intensely that at times you’ll resemble Gollum with the baby as your ‘precious’.
2. You might not bond straight away.
I’ve mentioned this before, that I always had the preconception that as soon as I hold my baby, I would feel an intense rush of love, a deep connection, and this fantasy stems from movies, as well as other parents’ experiences. But I didn’t feel that cinematic rush of intense love, I just felt exhausted and terrified. Bonding can be delayed, especially after a tricky birth, but it does come. And it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad parent.
3. A supportive parent friend is essential.
When I was pregnant for the first time, my mum encouraged me to join some prenatal classes. And I naively said that I had enough friends and that I didn’t need to be friends with people just because they happen to be having kids at the same time as me. This is totally wrong for many reasons, not least because you can never have too many friends. And of course, my friends weren’t on maternity leave, and available for coffee mid-week, and even if they were free, it’s unlikely they’d be keen on sipping the below-average lattes in a sweaty soft play café.
Parent friends are essential because it’s such a relief to be able to say “this is really hard” and have someone understand completely. You can ask if things are normal, you can share tips and ideas, and it abates the loneliness that parents can feel, especially in those early days. Ideally, find a parent friend that doesn’t judge, isn’t smug, shares wipes/nappies/snacks, makes you feel better about yourself, you can laugh with and one you can see yourself having a beer with one day.
I feel really fortunate, I’ve found a few of these and I’m so glad I listened to my mum about prenatal groups – these parent friends got me through some tough times.
4. You will need your partner more than ever.
If you have a partner – you’re going to need each other in new and deeper ways than ever before. They are your teammate, your cheerleader, your confidant. Be kind to each other- even in the depths of sleep deprivation, and one day you’ll have time to be a couple again.
5. Your existing friendships will be tested.
I had no idea this would happen but it is inevitable that when your whole world changes, it will affect the relationships you have, even strong friendships. Suddenly you aren’t able to go out as much, and what’s more – you don’t even want to. In the early days of parenting, I felt really bad about what I looked like (post-baby weight and post-baby hair loss, a winning combination), and I was so tired all the time I just wanted to be in my pyjamas and in bed by 9 pm. Meeting up with the baby in tow is difficult too; it’s hard to follow a conversation when you’re juggling nappy changes, feeds, and naps. But once things calm down a bit and you feel more like yourself again, these old friends will be there and they’ll remind you that you’re not just a mum, you are still a friend, a wife, a lover of wine, dinner, and music.
It seems so surreal now, but it took me time to even think about anything I liked or was interested in because I was so focused on getting to grips with being a new mum. I was probably a bad friend back then, but thankfully my friends didn’t mind.
6. You won’t care about getting poo on your hand, sick in your hair, or snot on your favourite cardigan.
The amount of bodily fluids you’ll encounter is immense and you won’t even care, not at all. You won’t even feel a flicker of anger if you’re pissed on, or if your toddler casually picks his nose and wipes it on your arm. You shrug and clean and continue with your day.
It’s insane but it’s part of being a parent; you become immune to feeling gross by things that are disgusting. Because if you had a normal reaction to it, you’d spend a lot of your day feeling icky. And they are just a bit too cute to care that much about a little poo mishap.
7. This too shall pass.
If you’re going through a challenging phase and you’re wondering how to get through another day of toddler tantrums or another night of broken sleep; this too will pass. It really will. There will be a time when you will sleep uninterrupted the whole night. There will be a time you won’t have to follow your kid around saying “kind hands” constantly like a maniac.
One day you won’t have to crawl around the soft play with them – you’ll be the parent drinking coffee scrolling through their Twitter timeline. One day they’ll be fine with having their teeth cleaned, one day they’ll use the toilet by themselves and even flush and wash their hands. It doesn’t seem like it when you’re in the midst of a bad phase, but it’s a blink of an eye. Don’t put pressure on yourself to cherish every moment, many moments will not be very cherishable, but do remind yourself daily that this time is fleeting – it’s passing by all the time, as our whole lives are.
To my pre-child self one final thought – even though it’s hard, this is the best thing you’ll ever do, in your whole life!