The truth about small children: they are the way they are

The truth about small children: they are the way they are

I have been a parent for seven and a bit years now and, over that time, I have learned many things. I have learned practical things about breastfeeding, collapsing prams with a single hand, changing the nappy of a flailing toddler, settling an infant and cooking with one hand.

I have mastered the art of distraction, how to head off a stage 5 meltdown and the wizardry required to secure an incalcitrant toddler into a car seat when that is the thing she wants least.

I have learned a lot about patience, letting go and negotiating. I have learned, the hard way, that hell hath no fury like a three year old with a sandwich cut into squares when she wanted triangles.

Seven years, three children and so many things learned. But the funny thing is that the most enduring lesson of my seven years in the parenting arena is something I have to relearn almost every week. It is this: in so many ways children are simply the way they are.

The first time around we got a sleeper which, we concluded, was obviously the result of our excellent parenting. Our second-born taught us otherwise. We weren’t good parents: we just had a child who liked sleep who, still to this day, likes going to bed. Our second-born, still to this day, doesn’t. SLEEP IS SO BORING I HATE IT, is a phrase we hear often. Nightly, in fact.

These children have the same parents, the same home and very similar genetics but they have wildly different settings in so many ways. It’s the same with our third.

Three children, three personalities and three different settings. I know this as well as I know anything and yet it’s still hard not to internalise the good and the bad as indicative of your value as a parent.

It is something the blogger Lauren Dubois captures in her wildly popular social media feed Thud & Pop.

When your child refuses to eat, it’s difficult not to take responsibility. Am I making the wrong food? Have I done something wrong? Is it too early? Too late?

When your child refuses to get in the car or the pram or the bath, it’s hard not to question your technique. Did we not stay long enough at the park? Did we stay too long? Did I not communicate clearly? 

When your child refuses to sleep, it’s difficult to do anything. When every bedtime presents an almighty battle, it’s hard not to adopt the foetal position and rock back and forth hoping a magical sleep whisperer will appear and make it all better.

These challenges are par for the course with small children and I believe we have enjoyed something close to the full spectrum with our three daughters.

Nine times out of ten our youngest goes to sleep without so much as a wimper. Having a child who didn’t do that for several years means we count our blessings every night that happens. It also feels like a credit to our parenting, when in reality it’s a credit to her temperament.

Just as we weren’t vastly inadequate parents when one of our children refused to sleep, we are not wonderfully qualified because one of them does.

We have reached out for help in a variety of ways in different places at different stages with our kids which I have always found enormously helpful. There is so much to learn and there are people who can help.

But that doesn’t change the universal truth, that children are the way they are. Learning to manage that – rather than change it or change them – is the trick I am always trying to master.

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