UNTIL you become a parent, you just don’t get it.
You can’t get it.
Parenting seems like the easiest, most natural thing in the world when you haven’t got a child.
You see a kid throwing a tantrum in the supermarket and know exactly what the mum should be doing.
You roll your eyes when you see a food splattered toddler in your local cafe (doesn’t that dad know he needs to clean him up?) and tell yourself that if / when you are a parent you will never give your child a dummy, let him watch TV or eat white bread.
Ah ignorance is bliss.
I used to do some of this stuff too, that is until Elsie arrived into my world in July 2012 and s**t suddenly got real. Until I suddenly got it.
Parenting is the most wondrous, life changing experience and the love you feel for your child knows no bounds. However it is also complicated, challenging, exhausting, demanding and all consuming.
Parenting is a tough business. It is the hardest job, especially on the hardest of days.
I’ve made heaps of mistakes in the past two and a half years but I’ve also learnt lots too. Some stuff I’ve handled brilliantly, other stuff not so much.
And I’m alright with that. As a parent you can only tackle each day the best you can, with the knowledge you have at that time. It’s impossible to get everything right and just as we teach our children, they also teach us.
But in a bid to keep things real and because I GET IT, here are the greatest parenting mistakes I’ve made. (To date)
1) I feared I wasn’t good enough
At the very beginning and throughout my pregnancy I was frightened.
I wasn’t sure I would be a good mum or how I would cope. I was terrified that I would fail my daughter and that someone else could do a better job.
And I was wrong.
Motherhood is a scary business – especially when you’re a new mum – but you have to fight the fear and your inner demons and know and believe that you are enough. Because you ARE. And you can do this.
2) I allowed other people to tell me about my child
Many people love to tell you stuff about your child and parenting skills, because they think they know best or because they think they’re being helpful.
But they don’t and they’re not.
You – their parent – know your child better than anyone else in the world. Better than relatives, friends, doctors, teachers or anyone else.
Don’t ever forget that.
You know your child. You know what’s best. You know what to do.
No one – no matter how well meaning – has any right to ever make you question or feel bad about your parenting.
3) I thought I was super mum and could do it all
For the first eight months of Elsie’s life, I was the only person to ever put her down to sleep or for a nap. Even when I was ill. Even when I was worn out.
I thought I could do it all and I felt it was my place to be there for her whenever she needed me.
But trying to do everything only left me feeling fraught and at times a bit of an emotional wreck. And, I hasten to add, it was all my own fault.
As soon as I allowed, yes allowed, my husband to do his fair share, things got much better for all of us. Lesson learnt? You can NOT do it all, no matter how hard you may want to or feel you can.
4) I thought I was failing if parenting wasn’t plain sailing
I can still remember the first parenting day I had when things went wrong. Elsie was two weeks old and up to this point, we’d been doing brilliantly. I was breastfeeding with ease, she was sleeping well and life was pretty rosy. I even remember thinking to myself, “wow, this parenting lark is a doddle” (I know, I know, I know.)
Then one day it all went wrong. Elsie woke up on a Saturday and decided to cry for eight hours straight. She wouldn’t sleep, she wouldn’t feed and nothing that had previously worked, would calm her.
S**t definitely got real.
Eventually we figured out it was colic and introduced a dummy and Infacol into our routine and things straightened out. But I’ll never forget that panic. And that horrible feeling that I didn’t know what to do.
Two and a half years down the line and I now know that parenting throws up challenges all the time and that we should expect it to.
Having a bad day does not make you a bad parent. It’s just a bad day.
5) I ignored my instinct
We all do it and I think the reason why comes from points 1 and 2. We think other people know best, we fear we aren’t good enough and because of that we ignore our parenting instincts.
But we do so at our peril. Doing the best for our children means trusting our judgement and making decisions based on our parenting instincts. Even if it means upsetting others or causing people to raise their eyes in disagreement.
Trusting my gut is crucial to me getting things right as a mum.
6) I forgot about ‘me time’
Every parent needs and deserves a break.
When I have time to myself, I am a better parent. I am calmer, more patient, less stressed and much happier.
Devotion to our children is wonderful but our love for them is not diminished just because we need a few hours to ourselves.
It’s OK to have time apart from our kids, in fact it’s healthy. It shows them that you value and respect yourself which is a very important lesson for any little one to learn.
7) I lost myself
Not for long but I did. When Elsie was about six months old I remember looking in the mirror and thinking: “who the hell am I now?”
But I found myself again by making time for myself, thinking about my appearance, taking on freelancing work and where possible, dabbling a bit in my old life (like seeing friends for a night out).
Motherhood changes us (for the better) but we are still the same person underneath the slightly softer, wobblier and more emotional shell. It’s just sometimes we have to look a little hider to find out where we are lurking and figure out who we are.
8) I thought I was the only one struggling
But I’m not and I wasn’t. No matter what you are going through right now, know that someone out there is in or has been in, exactly the same boat.
Take comfort in the fact that you’re not alone and and reach out to other parents and ask for advice or help.
Us mums and dads are all in this together, just muddling by as best we can.
9) I thought I would never survive sleep deprivation
But I’m still here so I’m doing alright.
Some kids sleep through the night, but many don’t and that includes my wee cherub. It’s been months since Elsie has slept through for a night but weirdly, the longer her chaotic sleep pattern goes on, the easier it becomes to deal with.
Acceptance for me was the key. As well as being kind to myself and my husband.
When your child doesn’t sleep well, my advice is to do whatever works. For you and your family. Forget about everything else and just do what you need to do so you can all get some kip.
Eat well, sleep whenever you can, take it in turns with your partner and keep telling yourself that one day things will be different. Because they will.
10) I didn’t think I could love my daughter any more
When Elsie came into the world, all 8 pounds 4 ounces of her gorgeous self, it was the greatest, most emotional experience of my life. I could not get over how much I totally and utterly loved her and thought it wasn’t possible to love her any more than I did in that moment.
But I was wrong. Again.
Because quite astonishingly the depth of my love for Elsie has somehow continued to grow even deeper. As she grows, so does my love.
It is weird, unfathomable and incredible but you know what?
I wouldn’t change it for the world. (And I promise you that’s not the sleep deprivation talking).
Which mistakes have I missed out do you think? Are there any parenting mistakes you’ve made which you wish you hadn’t or indeed, are glad you did? Mums and dads, I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one.