Oh, I could write a book on this one.
But for some reason, in nearly a year of blogging, I haven't written a single post on Parenting. Or a book, either. I think that's because I don't see myself as a Parent-er. I spent a good chunk of my 20s and early 30s as a high school English teacher. Then I became a copywriter.
At 34, Mummyville.
Here's my experience. (Yours may be different!)
Kids are beautiful, frustrating and not as fragile as we imagine. You love them; they gut you with equal parts worry and joy.
They are everything. They are everything that scares you and scars you and thrills you and stabs your heart a zillion times a minute like no adult ever could. American poet e.e. cummings wrote this about being in love, but to me it's about being a Mum:
Carrying someone else's heart is heavy labour. Here's what I wish I'd known...
1. Your Littles are their own selves. With a life path that's got surprisingly little to do with you.
That's all. Understanding this truth is everything.
2. Sleep. I never got ANY with babies. And I was crazy.
Crazy. I cry to think of it now. If you know a mother who isn't sleeping, go to her house, take the baby from her arms, send her upstairs with a stiff gin and tonic and force her to sleep. Feed the baby pumped milk, formula, green smoothies, anything. Take it outside if it cries. Just HELP. (And do not ever, under any circumstance, say IF YOU WERE MORE RELAXED, YOUR BABY WOULD SLEEP MORE.)
Honestly, if you are one of the people who said this to me, I still haven't gotten over it. Sixteen years later.
3. You're not their Teacher or their Parent-er. You are their Mum.
Whoa, Lordy, I got this one wrong. I still do. I didn't know HOW to be a mum but I knew how to be a Teacher. So I taught. Proper names of flowers. Latin words. Poems in the playground (Blake and Keats, not nursery rhymes). And whether it was my exceptional parenting or who he was or what, I do not know, I took my oldest son to preschool at age four and thought the other kids were... this is putting it nicely... UNEDUCATED.
I was way way way too proud. And then one day, when he was 13 and truly fed up with me, my son said, "Just be my mother, okay?"
(Pause with me while I get a little teary.) While I was doing all this Teaching, I was also trying really really hard to do Perfect Parenting. But now I know: all they want is a mum. Not someone to foresee any future difficulty and prepare them for it, not someone to read them Julius Caesar when they are 12 so they'll be ready for high school, not someone to core every apple before they eat it. Not someone to guarantee that every adult will say, "Wow, you have really nice manners."
My advice (to you & me): ditch the Parenting. Be yourself. Your real self. Margarita drinker. Lazy on occasion. Overlooker of whether fingernails are too long or your kids are perfectly polite to adults. It's okay. It's probably better if you're this way. The worst thing that can happen is your kids will think you're human & imperfect.
Because we are. Human. Imperfect.
4. Schools matter and don't matter. (For Aussie mums)
Yes, education is important, and here in Australia we talk about schools a lot. (For my overseas readers: many Aussies try to send their kids to private school. It costs a bomb.) From what I know when I was teaching in Canada in the 90s -- though it may have changed -- Aussie curriculum is about 2-3 years ahead. So any school here is tough for kids, and Mums wonder constantly if their kids are happy. But ask yourself these questions: who was your Grade 4 teacher? Do you think about Year 11 Biology much? How many friends do you still hang out with -- in real life -- from high school?
Then please, give yourself a shoulder massage and relax. It's all going to be okay, no matter what school you choose or can afford. Your child will forget about a lot of it. Just like you did.
5. For everybody (Including MUms): are you any fun?
I've said this before, and it matters.
Get yourself a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and exhale. Take a few minutes to think about it. If you're not fun to live with right now, that means it's time to find yourself again.
It's terribly easy to lose yourself, especially in a family.
It's okay, my darling. Take baby steps. If you're in the middle of something crummy, think: what can I do to make this more fun? Do whatever it takes to get your fun self back.
You deserve to shine.
Sending you hugs from rainy Sydney!