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.
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.