Not the plan

This parenting caper is not what I expected. Like many parents, I had some pretty firm ideas about child rearing before I had kids. Needless to say, a large percentage of those ideas turned out to be as relevant as boardshorts in a blizzard – and just as comfortable in the try out phase.

In truth I hadn’t thought much about it. I was going to parent the way my sisters and my own parents had. It was all I had seen. The trouble was that my daughters had other ideas, and when it came to the crunch, so did I. I wound up doing things I found quite startling, but that felt incredibly right – like co-sleeping, and breastfeeding on demand. I even did strange and bizarre things like breastfeeding both girls well past 12 months of age – which turned out to be natural, comfortable decisions that worked for all of us, but used to seem quite unthinkable.

My instincts led me to comfort my girls when they cried – heedless of the alleged rod I was creating for my back. They also led me to stop travelling (I used to travel several times a year for work, and never dreamed that I would stop when I became a parent), and in the very early years I rarely went out unless my kids could come too.

I found I wanted to be there for my girls in a way that my original view of parenting didn’t allow for. My oldest had her first sleep over at Grandma & Grandad’s when she was 7.  My nearly 4 year old has never slept without us, although she does now sleep in her own bed (mostly).

But it’s not all positive. I also find myself shouting more than I intended. I can be quick to snap and my tantrums sometimes outdo the kids’. I struggle to be calm in the face of 7 year old fury, and I often have to ask myself: “Who is the adult here?” when I take tantrums personally. I know all the theory, and in my heart I can see the calm, unflappable mum that I would love to be, but am unlikely to attain.

sleeping bear

We have struggled all along with sleep – in hindsight that had a lot to do with reflux, rather than the self-doubt that I tormented myself with on a day to day basis – but both girls are finally starting to sleep pretty well. The youngest is nearly 4 and we still don’t have many nights in a row where she doesn’t wake us at least once, but that’s down from several times a night, so we’re counting ourselves lucky.

Sleep is the holy grail of parenting, and it’s amazing how many people come sheepishly out of the woodwork when you confess that it’s a constant nightmare in your house. It’s hard to admit to sleep troubles in public, because of all the people boldly asserting that they’ve had it sorted from the word go. You can’t help fearing that you’re a bad parent, or you’ve made the wrong choices, or somehow failed your kids. It’s horrifying how quickly a crisis can send you down into the “I’ve failed my kids” vortex – especially when you are sleep deprived.

As my kids grow up I find myself wondering what other certainties will evaporate like dew on a 40 degree day. Ultimately all I can do is my best – in the certain knowledge that there will be days where my best feels woefully inadequate, and that in the future I will often wish my best had been better, or at least different. At least until my girls are teenagers I will most likely continue to be my own fiercest critic.

This parenting caper is not what I expected, but, as it turns out, neither am I.

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4 thoughts on “Not the plan

  1. Joe

    I tend to secretly snigger when new-ish parents tell me their babies are sleeping through the night “already” or “since six weeks” or similar things. Almost invariably these are parents with their babies in another room. I always think to myself, “noooo, *you’re* sleeping through the night”.

    With both our kids, we slept them in a cot with the wall down butted up against our bed… within touch but in their own space. It seemed to work *reasonably* well for all of us, and for each of them we moved them to another room at roughly one year old, when they reached the point they were rolling over but not actually waking up. Their routine rolling over and grunting would be keeping us awake to no purpose, so we moved them.

    At 4, our daughter still gets us up every few nights. But our son (at 14 months) really does seem to be fine right through most nights.

    1. lindamciver

      Hah! Too true. :-) It brings to mind one of the most dangerous moments in the life of a new parent: getting up in the morning and saying “Hey! She slept through last night!!”… more often than not, in our house, the response was through clenched teeth: “well, someone did, anyway.” And it wasn’t always the same parent!

  2. Chris

    Ah yes, firm parental ideals…

    “I will get my child into a regular routine with regular naps and a set bedtime”
    “I will never let my child eat fast food”
    “I will never get irritated with my child for asking ‘why’, no matter how silly the question”
    “I will never let my child watch television when they should be playing outside”

    and of course, most importantly:
    “I will never embarass my child by dressing them in a funny costume with big floppy ears”

    These days, and especially after a bad night, I’m settling for:
    “I shall not let my child get eaten by a boa constrictor before they are 18” and
    “I will set a fair and reasonable reserve price on their ebay listing”

  3. This was just what I needed to read tonight. I am always wondering if I will ever live up to my own ideals as a parent. Glad to hear that I’m not alone in being way off the mark much of the time!

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