We all know that kids don’t come with an instruction manual. One day this wrinkly little thing (literally) pops into your world and changes everything. No one tells you what to do with it; sure, you’ll have handy tips from grandma, and from friends and family that already have children, but really, deep down, you’re on your own. This kid is your responsibility now, to feed and clothe and bathe and keep safe. In the depths of the night when you’re tired down to your bones, trying to soothe a grizzly baby or toddler, maybe your partner’s snoring next to you, oblivious, it’s easy to wonder why you made this decision and if it’ll ever get better, and if you’ll ever feel like you know what you’re doing. Then you feel dreadfully guilty for thinking such things and try and remind yourself how lucky you are to have been given this lovely baby, and that there are so many men and women who would kill to be in your position. This in turn makes you feel worse that you’re not happier. Shouldn’t you be happier? Aren’t kids supposed to be the best thing that could ever happen to you?
This self doubt and guilt isn’t just reserved for mums and dads of newborns. It stays with you, maybe forever (I don’t know as I’m not there yet) but it follows you. You find yourself wondering if you’re doing anything right; should you be breastfeeding still? What if you couldn’t breastfeed? Is it ok to use formula? I vividly recall a mum and tots group where a lady looked at me in astonishment (as she merrily breastfed her baby) and said ‘so he’s exclusively formula fed is he? Just formula? Well *wide eyed surprise* he’s fine isn’t he! How funny!’ I didn’t find any part of it funny – having breastfed as long as I felt able then switching to formula, of course my baby was fine. What a ridiculous thing to say.
Then comes weaning. Should I purée or go for baby led? Or a bit of both? Jars or no jars? How many parsnips do I need to purée in one go? How do I know if he’s full up? What spoons do I use? So and so uses those spoons but what about these? Once you’ve decided all of this, then you’ve got to deal with the actual feeding, which is very much like trying to stick a spoon full of goop into a melon with a small hole in it, while it’s swinging from side to side and automatically expelling the contents back at you when you finally get them in. This is after you’ve spent half an hour cooking, and blending up a carrot, then trying to shove it into stupidly tiny pots for the freezer.
Once they’re finally eating proper food, the real guilt begins. Are they allowed sweets? How much salt is in that? Should they be vegetarian? Does cow’s milk really have hormones in? Should I give them pizza? Is beans on toast an acceptable dinner if that’s all they’ll eat? Are they fat enough? Are they too fat? Should I let them go to bed hungry if they mess around with dinner? Parents these days are bombarded with opinions and ‘advice’ and it’s really impossible to tell what’s healthy and what’s not.
On top of all this you’ve got the judgmental-ness of other parents to deal with. You’ve got the ones who’s kids never have sweets or the ones who stopped using a bottle at 1. Or the ones who still give their child a bottle at 5. The ones who carry their babies around in slings, or the ones who prefer a buggy. The co sleepers vs the ‘sleep in your own room’ parents. The ones who’s kids have dummies or the ones who have to bring mr snuggles everywhere or the child will scream the place down. You’d think there would be some kind of solidarity given that we’re all in the same boat but nowhere else will you find more judgy-pants than a mother & baby group or *shudders* a soft play centre. Or the supermarket, when you’re desperately shoving Haribo at your children just so you can get the shopping done.
Once you’ve (somewhat) cracked the food, and other parents, you’ve got everything else to deal with. Such simple things like going for a walk. Should I be using reins? Or does that seem a bit dog-like? Should I insist he holds my hand? Or the buggy? Should I bring a buggy? What kind of buggy should I buy? Are his shoes ok? Do they still fit or are they too small? (for days I couldn’t understand why beast 2 refused to walk, until I finally realised his shoes were too small and were hurting his feet but he didn’t know how to tell me. I still feel terrible about it now). Should I go to Clarks for shoes or should I get them somewhere else?
Then things like doctors appointments and dentist appointments. Is he poorly enough to need the doctors? He always perks up as soon as we get there. Is his temperature too high? Too low? What if I take him and it’s nothing? What if I don’t take him and it’s everything? How often should he go to the dentist? He refused to open his mouth last time so is there any point? Trying to brush a small beast’s teeth is a bit like when you’ve promised your drunk friend you’ll help them get to bed and you’re trying to get them to brush: there’s singing, head swishing, a bit of gagging and toothpaste everywhere. But you know you have to brush them, because no one else is going to do it.
Then you’ve got social media – the quickest thing in the world to make you feel like an utter failure of a mother (or father). Trying to tell yourself that people only post what they want you to see and it’s not really a true reflection – while you’re staring at a picture of a beautiful mummy and a beautiful daddy with their beautiful child, who’s eating organic quinoa while behaving impeccably and who’s potty trained at 18 months. But even if he wasn’t it wouldn’t matter because they used environmentally friendly re-ususble nappies, and never had an exploding poo situation at three o clock in the morning because their super little angel slept through the night from two months old.
The point to all this is that although each day parents are faced with a hundred different options, and a hundred different opinions, and a hundred different people telling them ‘you’re doing it wrong’, to their kids, nothing’s wrong at all. The kid who has chicken nuggets for his tea and the kid who has salmon and cous cous, or the kid who watches tv at breakfast to the kid who’s parents don’t even own a tv. The baby who’s breastfed compared to the one on formula, or the one who gets spoon fed purée versus the one who nibbles on carrot sticks. To those kids the most important thing isn’t a good picture on Facebook or a tidy house or being potty trained before they can walk – it’s not like that’s going on their cv – the most important thing is that they know they’re loved. That they feel safe in their home and know that mummy and daddy or mummy and mummy / daddy and daddy will give them a cuddle when they’re sad and read them a story at bedtime. That there will always be dinner on the table (even if it is just beans on toast) and that it’s ok to be them. And whatever you think you’re doing wrong, you’re not.
Soon enough you’ll start realising that the way they laugh in delight at a butterfly or become entranced by a ladybird, or throw their chubby little arms around you and kiss you on the cheeks makes everything seem a little easier. Or when they’ve found their words and can tell you that they love you, and that you’re the best mummy or daddy in the world. Or in those stolen moments at bedtime where you’re supposed to let them fall asleep alone but instead you’re cuddled up together and their eyes are heavy with sleep, and you can feel the gentle rising and falling of their chests, that’s when you understand it. That’s when you get it, and all the other stuff fades away until it’s just you and them.
So whatever way you’re parenting, try and stop doubting yourself. Whatever way you’re doing it, I’m pretty sure you’re doing it right.
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