It’s been just over two years since we walked out of those hospital doors with our daughter, half expecting (hoping?) to look over our shoulder and see someone run after us yelling “Stop! You’ve no idea what you’re doing!”. Despite all the urging to ‘slow down’ and ‘enjoy it while it lasts’ it turns out there’s not actually much you can do to stop the passage of time. And so alas, I’m now a fully paid up member of the toddler parent club with my own 2 year old tornado and not so much as a badge to welcome me.
The truth is there’s no way of knowing what kind of parent you’ll be, and although I was sure this was what I wanted, my history with both depression and anxiety filled me with worry that I might just not be up to the job. How parenting changes you, physically or mentally, is different for each of us. There’s no ‘perfect time’ to do it and you will never truly be ‘ready’.
I like to do my research, but there are some things that aren’t written anywhere, that no one tells you, and that you have to discover for yourself along the way. Here’s the lessons I’ve learned so far;
Easier said than done, I know. We don’t have family locally, so babysitting can be tricky. In the early days someone reminded me not to try and be a hero-you don’t get a medal for time served without a break.
I work three days a week at Small City, and I wouldn’t change it for the world. Freya’s in the best hands with a wonderful childminder who adores her, and I get to do a job I love (having a lunch hour on those days still feels like HEAVEN!).
Your most important relationships will be affected. Like all couples my husband and I share a history, with nine years together before Freya joined us. Don’t underestimate the importance of making a conscious effort to not just become roommates.
Being a parent is a huge responsibility; it will push you to your limits, and then beyond them to new ones. I teach Freya about kindness, patience and tolerance but the truth is she’ll learn by watching me, and in order to set a good example I try to make sure I don’t burn out.
Not seeing enough of friends, looking at my phone too often, forgetting someone’s birthday, realising I only replied to text messages in my head, Freya having sausages for dinner 3 nights in a row, the Everest-like pile of ironing… the list is endless.
One of my worries about publicly documenting my experiences in this family column was that other mums reading about our ‘adventures’ might secretly (or not so secretly) want to poke me in the eye for making it seem like Freya and I spend our days skipping through a meadow with a bag of organic carrot sticks.
The truth is if you scratch the surface of even the most Instagram worthy parents, underneath the home made play-doh and smiling faces there’s dishes piling up in the sink or that one door that’s gone unpainted for years. At some point we all lie in the bath in tears thinking all the other mums have their shit together far better than us, and that’s okay, because everyone has their turn.
Freya’s range of facial expressions, selective vocabulary and comedic timing are impeccable. The other day, exasperated and out of ideas as to what was wrong with her I snapped “Freya! What do you want from me?!”. She stopped in her tracks, pulled a face, thought about her answer carefully, and announced it quite frankly as “cheese”. It was like looking in a mirror.
I've lost count of the number of times i've tried to 'shush' her from repeating a word (yelling 'BOOBIES!!' in the changing rooms at swimming a personal highlight), and her own little language never fails to amuse (she's not sure why some people say 'cuddle' and others 'hug' so she goes straight down the middle and asks everyone for 'cuggles').
Some people just love a game of Parenting Top Trumps. As in “I see your sleepless nights and raise you chicken pox and a Labrador with a dodgy tummy” or “Teething? Pah! Try potty training…”. Where does it end? Whatever happened to just listening and responding, or just letting people have a wee moan? Call me old fashioned but if someone’s struggling I prefer to just listen, make sympathetic noises, tell them they’re doing a great job and offer a biscuit.
My personal favourite is when you just cannot, at any cost, be allowed to enjoy the experience. Any exclamation of joy is met with the classic tilted head accompanied by a sqwuawk of “Just wait until you have two/three/twins etc…!’. I take my hat off to anyone with more than one (especially those with multiples) and I’m happy to wave my white flag at those attempting to make it a competition.
Not so long ago I had an unexpected day off with Freya. I’d planned a wee soft play date, girls’ lunch with friends and a walk in the afternoon. For reasons unknown to me she didn’t share my vision, and let me know in no uncertain terms (see main pic-hissy fit in the ball pool). I eventually abandoned my plans and took her home to play tickles instead.
I didn’t have a strong maternal example to follow, which made me worry that it wouldn’t come naturally, but also gave me the freedom to make my own way. I’ve learned that it’s not about better or worse decisions, but different instincts and beliefs, and for the most part everyone is trying their best.
Contrary to popular belief having children does not in fact give you instant wisdom; some of the best advice, guidance and observations I’ve had is from people without kids, complete strangers or even the girls in JoJo so try not to get precious about it.
Maternity leave was like a dream. I spent all twelve months of mine swimming, walking, singing nursery rhymes, eating cake and doing animal impressions (for the record, I do a great giraffe, just saying). If you’re about to embark on yours I hope you enjoy every minute of it. If like me it seems like a distant memory perhaps it’s time to enjoy the simple things again.
Some of the best times we’ve had have been when it’s pouring rain outside; I squeeze her into her old Halloween costumes and we dance around like dafties to Elvis, Abba and early years Madonna (she has impeccable, if quite specific, musical taste).
Last but by no means least has been the somewhat healing realisation that for some people like me having a child suddenly makes the future far more important than your past.
I’ve been taken quite by surprise how huge an impact it can have on others in your wider circle. I’m overwhelmed by how many nice people there are out there, and the effort that they go to.
Despite my worries we seem to be making a pretty good job of things so far and have a sweet, kind and caring toddler to show for it. I don’t know what the future holds, but for now I’m incredibly lucky to have a happy healthy little girl who, despite her stinky peanut butter breath, is our world. As for her world, I’ll just try to make it the best I can.