Nothing prepares you for how hard parenting actually is. The grinding, non-stopness of it all, being faced with yourself, challenged with things you find difficult, constantly bombarded with incidents that would be totally shocking in any other circumstance – and all with too little sleep and not enough time to balance yourself again between hits.
I mean who is actually ever prepared to be kicked, pinched, pulled, hung on, climbed all over, vomited, peed and poo’d on, dragged away from their food repeatedly, dragged out of sleep most nights, shouted at, insulted, not listened to…
Army detention camps have NOTHING on being a parent – and the victims in this case are not even protected by any human rights acts.
Nothing can prepare you for it.
Well, maybe military training…
Recently I spoke to a wonderful couple who have been parents now for almost a year. They are totally shell-shocked. Sleep deprived – “He’s almost a YEAR! Surely this should have stopped by now?”- in physical pain from hauling around a hefty infant, desperate for normal adult conversation or some time to exercise or meditate, trying to still run a business and treat each other like allies instead of mortal enemies in the face of this onslaught.
“What happened to the dream? We love each other, we got married, we had a beautiful baby, it’s our SON… why does it all feel so bad? Are we awful? Is something profoundly flawed about us? What are we doing wrong?”
They’re doing a lot right by the sounds of it – but nothing can prepare you.
Another woman tells me bitterly how no-one shared with her just how hard looking after a new-born was. “I’m an educated, intelligent woman” she tells me, “I thought, how hard could it be?” Then her baby came. “I had all these things planned to do during maternity leave. All that free time. I was going to organise my cupboards, make the wedding album finally… but I was too tired – and I’d done nothing all day. I felt like a total failure because everyone else seemed to manage just fine. It was only when I was brave enough to ask my friends that they told me how hard they had also found it. I spent months thinking I was useless. Why didn’t they say anything?”
It’s hard to prepare someone for the constant mindless focus on a being who doesn’t answer back, nappy changes, sleep, wake, carry, rock, feed, feed again, and again… What do they hear when they are happily pregnant and you explain to them that at the end of their day they’ll be covered in all manner of bodily fluids, not have had a chance to eat properly, rest, catch up on sleep, have adult company, go to the toilet properly, their shoulders and neck will probably feel like they’re about to break and then they’ll crawl into bed for snatches of broken, scratchy sleep before starting again.
And I haven’t even gotten STARTED on parenting 4-year olds or teenagers!
I could be sold as a contraceptive couldn’t I?
Parenting is REALLY hard.
Parents, four things:
1) Be very, VERY kind to yourselves. What you are doing is what soldiers are trained for in case they get caught by the enemy. You are probably doing better than you think.
2) Remember to look after yourself. If you are not ok your children won’t be either. In a strange way you must come first. It’s not selfish to take time to exercise, eat a proper meal, meditate or get someone to take over for a while so you can sleep or read a novel – it’s vital for the whole family unit that you do so.
3) When you feel very emotional or overwhelmed, (if you remember to) pause and ask yourself, “How old do I feel right now?” Then once you’ve identified your emotional age at that moment ask yourself, “What does my four / six / thirteen year old self need right now?” Then please, PLEASE honour and act somehow on the answer you get. Your child will agree with me when I tell you;
YOU ARE VERY PRECIOUS – TREAT YOURSELF ACCORDINGLY.
4) Be kind to your fellow parents. Do your best not to judge them and as often as possible remind them that they are precious, important people in the world and should treat themselves accordingly.
Thank you for your hard work.