Parenting is such a personal thing. We all have our own style and every child is different. There isn’t one size that fits all.
Whilst I was pregnant and during Tommy’s first year, I read tons of parenting books, articles and manuals. From Gina Ford to Supernanny to Annabelle Karmel to a host of celebrities writing and endorsing parenting books; the choice is vast.
Advice is often conflicting and confusing. We recently celebrated Thomas’s third birthday and I feel like I’ve gotten to a place where I’m fairly confident in how I parent. I’ve learned what things to let go of and the things to try harder at.
Here are some of the lessons I’ve learnt along the way:
1. Embrace this new chapter of your life
I was mentally totally unprepared for motherhood. I had all the practical tools in place but I absolutely went into it with rose-coloured spectacles.
I feel that I’ve only recently fully embraced motherhood. I think my traumatic birth experience started parenthood on a difficult note for me as it took me a few months to recover physically, and longer to recover mentally. I still had no clue that our lives would change quite so much! Nothing can really prepare you for parenthood and the highs and lows that come with it.
Although I loved my baby more than anything on earth and loved lots of elements of being a Mummy, I clung onto the person I was for a long time. You have to go from being selfish and carefree to really selfless. You can’t go into parenthood half-heartedly.
2. Pick your battles wisely
My son is extremely strong willed. Most days with him feel like a battle. It can be exhausting. This is a controversial topic, lots of people have opinions.
The many voices and opinions I’ve heard over the years echo in my mind (including from my own family). “That child needs discipline”, “He gets away with murder,” “what a brat,” I’m sure you’ve heard many similar critisisms. It isn’t until you have children of your own that you realise how difficult it can be to have a ‘well behaved’ child.
Who defines what good is anyway? My child is stubborn and strong willed not necessarily naughty. But he is a handful especially when I take him out and about to places and he doesn’t listen to a word I say because he loves to run off and explore.
It’s an area I’m still working on but I have certainly learned that not all battles are worth fighting. It’s easier to let some things go and focus on the more important battles, the things that you’re not willing to compromise on.
3. Don’t overschedule your life
There is immense pressure to sign your baby up to multiple classes, from as young as six weeks old. These classes can be brilliant for getting out of the house and meeting other Mums, but they’re not for everyone.
We went to Baby Sensory, a very popular and over- subscribed class. I’m extremely glad that I did as I met one of my best and most consistent Mummy friends there and some other lovely Mums and babies. If I’m honest though, Tom never really enjoyed it. Many weeks he was unsettled and unhappy, making the experience quite stressful most weeks.
These classes aren’t cheap either and take a lot of commitment and effort to get out of the house. I have been to some groups and classes that are very ‘clichy’ and unwelcoming and others that are really friendly.
After leaving my job last year, I’ve been thrown back into the world of toddler classes and playgroups again. I often felt like I should be going to them and they can provide some much needed adult company. I realised this past year that Tom is much happier in smaller groups.
He can be a little shy and sensitive when I take him to a big, busy, loud group and would often get upset. He also likes to do his own thing and rarely sat around in a group for songs or snack time which used to frustrate me. I felt like I had the ‘naughty’ child. But I’ve learned that he just wasn’t comfortable doing those things, maybe I expected too much from him at a young age.
I think you have to really find what works for you and your baby, don’t go along to things because you feel you should.
4. But do try to get out every day, preferably mornings
This may sound like a slight contradiction to tip number 3, but one thing I’ve realised is that it really helps to get out of the house every day. There will be exceptions and often the beauty of being at home with your child/working less is the lazy mornings and staying in your pyjamas until lunch-time (or all day!).
It is probably a little easier before your child is mobile (although the amount of things you need to pack for an outing with young babies is a little crazy in itself!) I remember the leisurely lunches and Mummy groups where I could actually hold a conversation without my toddler running off!
Once your child is a toddler and pre-schooler they are full of energy and never stop. I find my little boy climbs the walls if we stay home all day. I do break it up with screen time (a controversial topic I know, but there are lots of educational apps for little ones now for IPads/ Kindles). I wouldn’t want him to be staring at a screen all day so it’s good to break it up with free play and getting outside.
There is something about getting out of the house, even if it’s just for a walk or a trip to the park for an hour. Fresh air/ a change of scenery can make you all feel so much better and sets a great tone for the day sets a great tone for the day.
5. You probably can’t have it all, at least not all at once
Whilst raising little ones, something in your life will have to give. Young children take up a lot of energy and demand a lot of time and attention. I hoped I could have the career I wanted and be a committed Mum as well as maintaining a social life, exercising and organising a household.
I always felt torn; I felt that I wasn’t giving enough at work and I wasn’t giving enough at home. I ran myself ragged and ended up burning out. Try to find ways to manage things before it all gets too much, stay true to your values and make the best decisions for you and your family.
If you need to work full-time for financial reasons or because your career is important to you, accept that you probably won’t have an immaculate house or a busy social life. If you can afford to, I would absolutely recommend hiring a cleaner. It is one of the best investments we have made!
I hope you found some of these tips useful, I have quite a few to share so keep your eye out for posts #2 and #3.