For a few moments, around the time my eldest daughter was halfway through her first year, I felt like I was on top of my parenting game. I had a six month old who ate well, slept like a champ (finally), had mastered a mean commando crawl and was showered with attention as the first baby of the next generation in our families.
Nine years and two births later, parenting feels like a constant learning curve that shows no signs of abating. It’s a daily navigation through a complex labyrinth of sibling rivalry, friendships, self-image, playground politics and an onslaught of emotions.
Yet as my first decade anniversary of parenting approaches, there are six things I now know to be true (at least for today).
- Lay off the judgement When it comes to parenting decisions there’s no shortage of ammunition to judge each other about. So much of this judgement I suspect is driven by our own deep-seated panic that we are doing a horrible job and scarring our kids for life. The responsibility of parenting is overwhelming and the lack of any balanced feedback from the objects of our devotion can make us wonder whether we are doing anything right. This harsh self-criticism and anxiety may briefly feel more manageable when we project it onto others and point out how they are clearly doing it all wrong. It needs to stop. Most of us are doing the best we can, trying to get through the day and raise kids that are resilient, confident and happy. We need to be kinder to each other and ourselves.
- Mistakes happen We may be doing the best we can, but there is no such thing as parenting perfection. We all have limitations and moments of weakness. We can aspire to kicking parenting goals while reminding ourselves that children learn from the way we deal with our own imperfections as much as they do from all we do well.
- If mama ain’t happy…..ain’t nobody happy Never a truer word has been spoken. The demands of kids can be punishing and it’s easy to get weighed down under a pile of laundry, dishes and after school activities only to end up looking at yourself in the mirror one day and wondering, how the hell did I get here? Take the time to nurture yourself: play sport, join a book club, get up on stage, whatever it is that helps you keep connected with who you are outside of being someone’s mum. Don’t lose touch with the person you were before having kids; you’ll need her around.
- Kids’ memories are strong…but not always in exactly the way you’d like. You can spend hours on the weekend explaining theories of how the world was created, playing board games and generally indulging your kids in a world of wisdom. But what will your kids they tell their class come Monday morning? Probably how their mum was driving and dropped the f-bomb. Funny how this power of recall magically disappears when you’ve asked them to clean their room. For the fifth time.
- Little kids, little problems. Big kids, big problems. When I was in the throes of sleepless nights and the delirium that accompanies it, my own mum’s sage advice was, ‘little kids, little problems, big kids, big problems’. It still reverberates now because it’s true. Having small kids is mentally and physically exhausting but the stuff to really worry about, if you’re lucky, can be distilled into the three basics: eat-play-sleep. As they get older there is so much more to navigate: social complexities, body image, online safety, self-esteem and that’s only skimming the surface. It’s no longer possible to cocoon your child in an organically sealed bubble where toys are gender-neutral and every milestone is applauded. Once they’re at school, friends, teachers and the big wide world start filling their minds. It can feel like years of building up your child’s self-confidence can be undone with a casually delivered ‘You’re ugly/fat/stupid’ in the school playground.
- Time really does fly When my eldest turned nine I couldn’t get my head around the fact that she was half way to adulthood (or the fact she thought she was already there). I remember counting her age in months until she turned two and feeling like these years would last forever. Now it feels like all the clichés about time flying by too past are painfully true.
The best piece of parenting wisdom I’ve received, which resonates with me now more than ever, is this: The days may be long, but the years are short. Here’s to the next decade.