A Realistic Guide To Parenting

Many parenting books advise us of challenges a new-born will bring.  They emphasise the delirious exhaustion it brings and the rejigging of a previously carefree life.  We are shoved into debates about breast vs formula,  sleeping rituals or how best to bond.  But once that precious newborn smell starts to fade and the nappies turn to training pants, we are left, without warning, with a small person who wants to navigate the world their way.  Sounds exciting right? Well actually, it can be really really hard and you may feel, at times, like you are going mad. The terrible twos is real, except it starts around 18 months and ends at about 4 years (if you’re lucky).  

After a ghastly nights sleep (if you can call it that) I’ve necked my coffee and have decided that there is categorically no solutions to parenting.  All children are different, the crappy times are unavoidable and therefore we may as well have a laugh about it. I’ve written my own, more realistic, guide to parenting below. 

1)      Tantrums

Tantrums have no limits. I kid you not, some tantrums were/are so out of control that I get a ringing sensation in my ears for days. Once, she threw her shoes in the road as we were walking into nursery, another time she threw her shoe at my head as I drove, and the worse was when she laid on the floor of Tesco kicking and screaming.  This was made more stressful when Brenda who was surfing the fruit aisle for some bananas decided to tut at me. Children may be small, but they put up a good fight, so come armed with supplies. I usually find a hip flask of wine and the ability to pick your child up and run quickly back to the car can help a public tantrum. Genuinely though, do not give in; let them scream it out.  Learn to play an episode of friends in your head and ignore the shrieking. Alternatively you may just go deaf which I guess can be considered a win.

2)      Users

Don’t expect unconditional love from a toddler. My children cheered when I suggested snuggling up to watch a movie together only to be told they weren’t interested when the only snack I had was fruit. They were cheering for the sweets and popcorn they assumed they would get, not me. Whilst we’re on the subject of children being users, expect to only hear you’re the ‘best mummy in the world’, after buying both a kinder egg and a magazine. You must then also expect to be told you’re the ‘worst mummy’, 6 minutes later when you won’t let them play on your phone.

3)      Bedtime

Before I had kids, I imagined bedtime to be wonderful. Me and my child sat arm in arm whilst I read them their favourite book and giggled at the funny parts. They would kiss my cheek and tell me they loved me as I left the room and they drifted off into 10 full hours of sleep. Last night, in protest of going to bed, my daughter slept under her bed. She was so pissed off that she ripped a page of her book, threw it at me and then climbed underneath. And no, I wasn’t alarmed, I was so fucking happy she was asleep I simply slid her out from the bed and tucked her in. She can fall asleep in the airing cupboard for all I care, as long as shes actually going to sleep.

4)      Bedtime Part 2  

Just a word of caution, a child’s bed is magic.  When children get into them, they suddenly remember their need to hydrate or empty their bladders. They also realise they have to tidy their room, need to say goodnight to everyone including the next door neighbour, like light, hate light, hate dark, they’re scared, they’re sad, they’re poorly, they need a poo, they need a wee, they’re going to be sick, they need to wash their hands, their eyebrows hurt, THEY NEED TO CHECK THE TINY PEICE OF FLUFF IS STILL IN THEIR SHOE. Basically, come armed with a bucket of water, install a toilet in their room and don’t expect to be out of there before midnight.

5)      Hair Brushing

If your child has long hair, you should anticipate them turning into the grim reaper if you so much as comb the tiniest knot. The other day, to test the authenticity of said reaction, I merely brushed the air next to my daughters hair she, in turn, held her head and SCREAMED ‘ow’. Fake it until you make it hey?

6)      Disappearing Socks

Children’s socks are not like adult socks. Like beds, children’s socks are magic. They can escape, hide and disappear. I once put a sock on my child and two minutes later it had runaway, never to be seen again. Another time, I wrapped a few pairs and put them in my child’s stocking but when the present was opened, they had gone. The socks had escaped. Socks will leave, you will buy more and they too, will leave. They will never match, and you will spend every day of your parenting life looking for a clean pair of socks for your child. You will eventually need to re-mortgage your property to afford the cost of new socks. Alternatively, it may be an idea to make contacts at a sock making factory.

7)      Toilet Flushing

Your children will be fascinated by flushing the loo for the first 3 times they use it and then they will never bother to flush it again.

8)      Home Décor

If you must choose a colour of carpet suitable for children, then I would suggest the colour ‘it doesn’t exist’. The best advice is to not bother with floor. Maybe you could put some newspaper down, if you’re feeling fancy, but no floor is the best bet. Same with furniture. Don’t bother getting any, before you know it will look like you had a break in, and your furniture was vandalised.

9)      Timekeeping

Astonishingly, none of the parenting books I have read have ever mentioned the fact that children are unable to understand you until you have repeated yourself 53 times.  If you ask them something the poor little soles cannot register it until you have actually lost your voice getting the message across.  If you want them to get ready for school on time, it’s worth waking them at 4am and starting the requests then, as they may have heard you by 7am. Also, all children are born with a defect that causes them to automatically slow down when you are in a rush. This again, is strangely not mentioned in parenting books.

10)   Extra Senses

They say children can see ghosts and their senses don’t just stop there.  They have all sorts of additional powers.  One is knowing what a food tastes like before trying it.  For instance, they know that a chicken dish you’ve spent an hour cooking tastes horrible, but only need to hear the word ‘ice cream’ to know it tastes amazing. Other additional senses include; hearing you eat no matter how hard you try to hide it, sudden ability to adhere to all rules if chocolate is mentioned and the instant hunger they are hit with once they are near a cake.

To summarise, parenting can be so hard and were all blagging it.  And yes, that includes tutting Brenda in the fruit aisle.

To The Girl I Used To Be

Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed with balancing life, relationships, work and being a good Mother to my two children. Imagine trying to carry six bags full of Tesco shopping, whilst walking a tightrope and reciting the 8 times tables backwards; that’s how I feel most days.  I often think back to my younger self and compare her to who I am now. I view myself then and myself now as two entirely different people, sometimes wishing I could be more like her again even though when I was, I wasn’t too fond of her.

I remember my Mum saying to me when I was a teenager that she had a dream that she was free.  She had no ties or responsibility and the feeling was amazing and one that she had forgotten.  It stuck with me because I had no idea what she meant at the time. Now, I understand just how possible it can sometimes be to miss that freedom from responsibility.

People used to say (before children) that I was selfish…and I was, because I could be.  Don’t get me wrong, if a friend or family member needed me, I would of course be there for them, but if I wanted to do something then I did it; regardless of consequences. If my parents asked me to babysit my younger brother on the same night of a huge party, then I would be politely declining. I used to put my own needs first, sometimes to a fault. I’m not bitter about the fact I can no longer do that anymore (I couldn’t think of anything worse than gracing a nightclub until the early hours) and being a mother is my biggest achievement to date, but how do I be a good mum and partner AND look after myself at the same time? That is the bit I find difficult. And where along the way did I lose my ability to be even remotely selfish? 

The love I have for my little family is too strong to not prioritise them, I want them all to be happy first and foremost. Consequently, self-care falls by the wayside. I truly find it to be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. When is it ok to put yourself first? Are you even supposed to ever again?

I used to tell myself that I needed to be less selfish, but I always ended up making the decision that suited me best. People would pull me up on it; ‘You must think about others Hayley’, ‘It isn’t all about you,’ ‘Here she goes, talking about herself again’, were things I heard often. At the time, I was always really miffed when someone mentioned just how self-absorbed I could be.  I would instantly jump to my own defence and justify myself into continuing to put myself first. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. And if I could go back, I would tell myself that from the age of 30 I won’t be able to be selfish, so it’s worth enjoying it. A quality I used to think was my weakness I now miss and wish I still had to a degree as it is now engrained in my mind that I MUST do it all, so my selfish side, or the ability to prioritise my wellbeing, always takes a back seat.

The issue is that my brain thinks I am failing as a mum if everyone else is not happy, fed, clean and clothed; it just seems that I don’t fit into that equation. I am sometimes so focussed on making my children and partner happy; making sure their lunch is made and clothes are washed, only to realise I have no clean clothes and I forgot to make my own lunch.  

My partner works very long hours, so without hesitation I will sit up with the children if they won’t sleep, same story if they get up early, I always insist on giving up my lay in even when he hasn’t had a long shift.  Whether this is habit I do not know, but it is the only way I feel I’m doing my job properly. Just for the record, my partner asks to take over all the time and is more than willing to do his share. This issue lies with me, and the fact that ever since I became a mum, I seem to accumulate an immense amount of guilt if I accept a hand and don’t complete everything myself, even if I don’t want to. My capacity to allow others to take the reins appears to have been left in my hospital room the day I brought my son home.

Maybe the way I feel is a common feeling amongst mothers, or maybe it is a consequence of my own experiences. Either way, I do sometimes wonder if the traditional ‘man/woman’ role is more engrained in us than we are aware.  Maybe, as women, we subconsciously think it is our job alone to satisfy everyone else’s needs. The trouble is, times have changed and commonly, women now contribute financially, me included.  Despite this, there still seems to be an immense societal pressure for women to take on the majority of the household and childcare duties.  I know of at least seven other mothers who feel the same way. I know of a few who also don’t of course, but it appears to be more common than not, when talking with others mums.   I am not saying it is the fault of husbands or partners at all, and this isn’t a feminist debate, I am simply stating that I think women feel as though need to do it all and end up feeling guilty if they don’t, even when help is offered. 

I’ve previously confided to my partner about how I feel which makes him frustrated. He asks why I do not just let him take over sometimes and why I decline his help. And he is right. How can I be so stressed and in need of a helping hand, whilst insisting I’m completely fine and don’t need said helping hand? It isn’t fair on him and it isn’t fair on me. I want to say ‘yes please do it this time’, but I just can’t seem to allow myself.

A natural progression in life is to mature, and with that comes responsibility. I don’t miss living recklessly and partying in Ibiza; in fact I don’t miss that at all. What I do miss is how much I cared for me.

There are plenty of qualities I have accumulated over the years as I have grown up which I am truly thankful for. For one, I am far wiser and a lot calmer in a crisis, but the thing I miss most is the raw ability to not care what anyone thinks. I used to speak my mind, shout my opinions and not let anyone walk over me. I rejected a lot of people’s opinions and justified that I was who I was and if someone thought I was odd or had said something unkind about me then that was their issue. I laughed at myself and I laughed at the negative opinions’ others may have had of me. Now, one negative opinion can ruin my week, and I don’t know why. I am so conscious of other people since becoming a parent, and I don’t like it. 

I feel remorseful for sometimes wanting to sit in a room on my own and read a book when my little boy wants me to watch him play a game or my daughter wants to show me a new dance, and I assume this is quite a natural feeling, but it is also one I should be listening  to. You only have to look at the conflicting messages society gives to mums to understand why it can be so confusing.  

Have a break/Don’t miss the special moments. Look after and have time for yourself/ You will have plenty of time to yourself later 

I just need a little moment to myself. It’s the little moments with your children that you will remember.

 It becomes exhausting.

If I sit down and start to relax I can guarantee I will suddenly remember an article I read which told me the years ‘fly by’ and how before I know it I will be a lonely old woman sat at home crying because my children won’t come around for tea. I am then unable and completely unwilling to have a bit of time to myself. 

Usually, I’d conclude my writing with some advice. But this time I have none. Prioritising myself is a work in progress. I need to retrain my mind so that I can reach a happy medium; a bit of my younger selves’ attitude would not be a bad thing and I hope to meet that girl again soon and come to a nice compromise.

I can only speak for myself and my situation and I am utterly blessed to have my two children; I wouldn’t change it for the world. But sometimes I do miss the old me. I sometimes grieve the girl I used to be.

This article is why I named this blog ‘Who’s Looking After Mum’.  Because sometimes I wonder, who is?