I once heard that you are the best parent you will ever be before you have a baby, and since having two children of my own I really believe this. All those ideals that you imagine yourself doing as parent I certainly had. I imagined myself lovingly holding the baby while cooking and cleaning.
I imagined all of us playing board games into the evening or sitting and reading as a family. The great thing about your imagination is that there are no stresses of the every day. No bills to pay, time has no meaning and money is certainly no object. Unfortunately, reality then bites.
As a child I wanted to watch TV a lot and etched in my brain is my dad saying, ‘It’s such a lovely day, don’t you want to go and enjoy it.’ Obviously at the time it was a resounding no and very reluctantly I would drag myself outside to play or go and get some other activity to do indoors.
It was only as I got older, I appreciated my father’s point. What a waste of time TV was, particularly during the day. I vowed as a parent I would follow his example and restrict my child’s viewing time to be very minimal. This worked really well for the first year. My daughter was not interested in the TV at all and even if it was on after about a minute she would move on to wanting to play with something else or to my absolute joy read a book!
Then I became pregnant with my second daughter and I became exhausted! I remember vividly crashing out at around 4 o’clock so TV became my friend. It provided entertainment for my toddler while I rested next to her.
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When I eventually gave birth to my second the tiredness became better, temporarily. I think my body was so relieved at not being pregnant anymore that I did not get anywhere near as tired.
Then the sleepless nights kicked in and again TV was there to help me entertain my toddler. I am not proud of my use of the TV but it has certainly helped me when exhaustion has taken hold. Everyday I strive not to reach for the remote but I have given up feeling guilty when I do.
Having been born in 1984 my parents never had the option of giving my sisters and me a tablet or phone to play with. I feel we have been brought up to almost think of using them for entertainment as a bad thing. Certainly pre-parenthood I looked down at those parents who had children who by the age of 2 could use them better than most adults. I am afraid I am now one of those parents! And I apologise for being so judgmental.
My reliance on a tablet came when my daughter was about 18 months and I didn’t want her sleeping after 2 o’clock in the afternoon. When we were on the way back from somewhere at 4 or 5 o’clock she would get very sleepy in the car. I tried singing with her, talking to her, playing games with her (although these are fairly limited when you are playing with an 18 month old whilst trying to drive); but nothing would keep her awake. Then one day I gave her my phone! She stayed awake and I haven’t looked back since. I take comfort in the fact that most of the games she plays are educational thanks to the numberblocks and alphablocks.
Of course I was going to be the epitome of calm and serenity when disciplining my children. I was never going to shout and scream and I was always going to explain clearly and calmly when they had done something wrong. Then came my toddler and I soon learnt that trying to reason with her was pointless. I still firmly believe that shouting at children is not the way to get them to do what you want them to, but equally when you have asked them nicely 100 times what else to you do?
The idealist in me was going to make homemade dinners, bake cakes and make bread with my children. There were not going to be the fussy eaters you hear so much about. They would try everything and be really healthy!
Then I tried cooking with a baby. Easy when they slept at the right time, impossible if they didn’t! I soon came to the conclusion that I would have to use pouches and jars if I was going to feed my baby anything resembling healthy. On the odd occasion I have lovingly cooked homemade meals for my family, they have been greeted with, ‘I don’t like that,’ or ‘I just don’t want that’. After a tiring day at work the last thing I want is an argument over dinner ruining the few hours I will spend with my daughters that day.
Of course during maternity leave my house was going to sparkle! I would have loads of time off work to do those little projects that never get done. My house certainly would be clean and even rooms redecorated!
Oh how naive I was! In reality my house is never tidy, the second something gets tidied away something else gets taken out. There is an endless supply of washing that never runs out and I’ve completely given up keeping my carpet crumb free!
After stressing out throughout my first maternity leave that the house was permanently a mess, I decided for my second maternity leave not to set ridiculous goals and instead I should enjoy being with my children.
I used to sit back and watch parents following their children around playgrounds and the like. Not letting them play by themselves and I used feel sorry for the poor little things not being able to have some independence.
I recently took my toddler to a soft play centre and for the first time she went around the big area on her own. She loved it – I was a nervous wreck! What if she fell? What if she couldn’t find me? What if she wandered off? I know a bit of freedom is important for their development but I now completely understand why parents follow their children around!
One thing having children has taught me is that you can’t make judgments about how you are going to react to things. I had so many ideals and have failed with every single one of them.
However, I hope I have become less judgmental of others and have started to not be so hard on myself. Yes there are things we strive to do every day like eat healthier, watch less TV, stay calmer etc but feeling guilty about it doesn’t help.
We just have to try again tomorrow! It comes down to a simple fact of wanting the best for your child while trying to keep sane!