Navigating parenthood…. are we there yet?
Ok. I know this is supposed to be some enlightened parenting advise on how to have happy, healthy kids that will grow into happy, healthy well-balanced adults, but seriously, after reading article upon article and trying method upon method I’ve come to realise, the only parenting advise I really need are the advice I ask for. When you fall pregnant you get unsolicited advice from every corner. From the teller at your local café to the security guard at the mall. Your stomach becomes public property and suddenly it’s a free for all to ask personal questions. Us humans are so obsessed with making sure humanity keeps existing that we over involve ourselves at every opportunity with those busy growing another human being. If a pregnant woman dares light a cigarette or order a glass of wine she will be stared at and judged accordingly. The health of your baby is not just your own concern while in utero, but the general public around you has vested interest as well, even if they don’t know you personally. The waitress bringing your glass of wine will either stare at you in judgment, or might bluntly tell you how much she disapproves. If you happen to light a cigarette, someone will tell you how unhealthy and risky it is for you to inhale all that nicotine and expose your baby to it. And they’d be right. I am not promoting drinking and smoking while pregnant. I am very much against these bad habits, even when not pregnant. But I do find it fascinating that as a non-pregnant mother or person, not a single stranger will approach you to tell you how bad those things are for you. You will no doubt have family members alluding to the dangers and evil that lies at the bottom of a bottle or within the confines of that rolled Tabaco – but a stranger? Not likely. Once pregnant, you visibly open yourself up to unsolicited advice and it won’t stop once your baby is born. Once you are fully submerged into motherhood, the advice will freely flow from other mothers. The mommy wars will suck you in and make you doubt everything and anything you thought you knew or felt about being a mother. If you are on any social media platform you will inevitably follow parenting sites and be bombarded with even more ideas on parenting – the how to’s and how not to’s. How to raise confident but humble children…well, that’s an article I’d like to read. How to raise a strong-willed child without breaking them. How to enjoy that spirited toddler. How to stop breastfeeding at the appropriate time? (Whenever that is???) How to have a fun vacation with your children. How not to wish school holidays over? How to be the best mother you could be. So many options. So much you’re doing wrong…
Motherhood is based upon thousands and thousands of years of deception. Quite honestly, I doubt anyone would venture into parenthood if told the complete truth about parenting before considering the life changing adventure that is parenthood. Of course once you’re a parent you revel in the rewards… quite honestly I think most of us choose to live in denial of all the effort and hard work and worry parenting involves. You do realise that for quite a couple of years you are responsible, or at least held responsible, for the outcome of another human beings’ happiness, satisfaction, hunger or lack of hunger, fulfilment, creative achievement or lack of achievement, social interactions, mental wellbeing and more…. Sometimes you are held responsible for this far beyond their childhood years even, so boy, if you ever had a hunger for responsibility then parenthood should quench that. Sadly, some find the task too large to handle and shove it aside for more manageable conquests, and then they get blamed for all their kids fears of rejection or fears of commitment. But somewhere out there, there is a winning formula…millions of successful happy adults are the proof, right? Or are they successful and happy despite their parents?
Before I had children, I believed motherhood would be one clothing softener ad followed by another, pure bliss and kisses, giggles and sunshine. Yes, I had complete amnesia from my own mothers’ struggles as a parent, completely oblivious to my sisters’ years of motherhood. I only spend time with my nephew and niece occasionally and then it was always laughter and giggles, chasing them around the house and tickling them. Fun times. I longed to have my own little cherub arms around my neck, tugging at my pants hem to pick them up, cooing lovingly into my eyes as I dress them and feed them. A little chubby body to cuddle next to during our winter nights, watching movies and pointing out all the little curiosities they lay their eyes on. Nine years into motherhood I’ve had my eyes opened. Maybe a little bit earlier than nine years…more like seven years ago. With my first child, I still hung on to the delusion of carefree motherhood, living in denial for almost two years, until my second child was born. She left no room to deny the difficulties of parenthood. Prying little cherub arms off another sibling’s neck left me reeling in shock about the realities of parenting. Not only did I have to keep my kids alive and happy, I also had to ensure they don’t end up killing each other.
Realisation set in that some babies just did not want to be hugged and kissed and cuddled all the damn time. Some babies communicated through screaming, rather than cooing and giggling. Some toddlers really did not enjoy being tickled, or spun around by their arms, or thrown in the air, or hugged, or held, or put down, or cuddled, or anything you thought you knew about mothering a child. Some kids truly dislike jelly, and custard, and even cake (this was my third kid and a complete and utter surprise, until I realised that having a cake smash at one year’s old might be to blame) Apparently, some kids cannot tolerate eating anything but fruit and not all children will hide sweets in their underwear drawer to eat at their own choosing. Only one out of four in my house will do that. Also, only one in four will insist on eating broccoli at least once a week, only because I won’t allow her to eat it every night.
You suddenly realise, with a blinding clarity, that yes, all babies and kids are different. Even from birth. And they are born with their own unique personality, it doesn’t suddenly appear as they grow older. Character does yes, but personality seem to be there from day one. And yes, everyone will give you advise on what helped them through their early stages of parenting, or their later stages, or whatever stage you are currently in, but ultimately it will be completely your responsibility to figure out a way to calm your baby, ease your toddler, encourage your pre-schooler, communicate with your tween, trust your teenager and keep a relationship going with your adult children. You may try all the different methods and ways your friends and family suggest, or you may try none of them, but somehow you must figure it out – well if you care about your children anyway. And if you care about them, you will somehow magically tap into something called motherly (or fatherly) instincts and one day you will realise that you just ‘know’ how to stop your baby from wailing. You will just know what to do to ease all your toddler’s little pains, how to get your children to obey your instructions and do what’s needed to keep a relationship going with those stubborn teens. We all will feel like hitting our heads against a wall at some stage in this parenting journey, but if we truly care and truly pay attention to those little mini people we created, we will figure it out. The trick is to not give up or give in. To be vigilant about being a parent. To be obsessive in demonstrating your love. Your children have loads of friends, they don’t need you to be their friend. They need you to be their parent. And they need you to love them for who they are, not for who you wish them to be.
Parenthood never ends. Even when your children wish you would stop parenting, the responsibility does not end. One day your children will have their own children, your grandchildren, and then you’ll want to make sure they parent ‘right’. Suddenly you’ll have all the answers, you will want to drop pearls of parenting wisdom. But they will want nothing to do with it, until they are at their wits end and realise they have no clue and then they will beg you for it. Or they won’t. They might drop their children off for a night of babysitting, with a list as long as your arm with instructions on how to handle their precious baby, forgetting that you somehow manage to raise and keep alive your own well balanced, healthy, happy kids… Or maybe they feel damaged by your parenting and thus will be doing the complete opposite of everything you tell them to do. The thing about parenting is you won’t know whether you’re doing it right until it’s too late…until your adult children can turn around and blame you for every single thing wrong in their lives. And then, unfortunately my friend, no matter how much you believed you did right by them, if you didn’t show them you loved them, then they probably have reason to blame you.
Because ultimately that’s all that parenting really comes down to, right? I’ve heard it over and over again – as long as you love your children, they will be fine…but I tend to disagree a tiny bit. I can love my children, but if I don’t let that love spill over into my actions I can tell them I love them until I’m blue in the face and they will still blame me for not showing up for their dance recitals, stage productions, netball games or just spending a good ol’ Sunday together as a family. So yes, spew your parenting advise, tell those new parents that their new-born baby is stronger than he looks, or that they must handle her with care, that time flies by too fast, and to enjoy each and every moment, even the screaming you awake in the middle of the night ones. Tell them that walking rings are bad for baby’s balance or posture, or tell them that it encourages walking, say that breast is best or that bottle is convenient. Tell that tired looking mom to have a nap while baby is sleeping, or tell her to do some special activity just for herself while baby naps. Tell that father to be present with his children, or tell him to put in all his effort into providing for his family. In the end, the advice we give are only relevant to our own experiences and none of it will be clear cut, perfect fit, one solution to all your problems. Nobody has all the answers, there’s no one size fits all manual. Honestly, we’re all just winging it, going with our gut as to what works best for ourselves and our families.
So, read up, listen up and then test it out. Don’t be afraid to follow your gut, to listen to your instincts and to make it up as you go. On the other hand, do pay attention to health care advise…but only from professionals. At the risk of sounding completely bonkers though, I’ve only taken my kids to the Doctor in extreme emergencies – like a hard fall on the head, or a rusted nail stuck in a leg, or a break out of measles. Coughs and sniffles get monitored and treated at home. I’ve caught vomit in my hands, sucked snot out of noses, had 39C feverish babies sleeping naked on my chest, searched WebMD repeatedly for the same symptoms, had many sleepless nights, bought herbal and stronger medicines and kept all four my kids alive thus far. My five and seven-year-old got excited to go to the doctor for a check-up when immigrating because they would finally meet a real-life doctor. So even when it comes to your child’s health, don’t run away from your own instincts too quick. Parenting requires confidence, and if everyone keeps telling you that you are doing it wrong or you should try their method or they know what works better for your kids then it’s likely you’ll be doubting your ability. That’s my piece, use it or don’t – it’s all up to you anyway.