When my first child was born, motherhood hit me like a wet-weather semi-trailer with zero tread. I had spent so much time focusing on the pregnancy and impending birth that I hadn’t given too much thought to how parenthood would alter my days (and very long nights). So when my son arrived in all his squishy screaming glory, despite trying my best to be the perfect mum, I felt like I had no idea what I was doing.
My first child had a perfectly styled nursery decked out with knitted toys, unnecessary gadgets (hello wipes warmer), a pristinely organised change table and a wardrobe full of brand new Country Road clothes.
We set him up next to our bed in an organic Moses basket with a mattress made out of the milky sap of a rubber tree and 100% cotton sheets weaved by Tibetan monks. I fully expected to be one of those mums you see on commercials for baby bath oil, the ones with perfect GHD curls smiling pensively out the window as their calm baby nuzzles into their neck.
I expected the nursery to be fully set up and immaculate at all times. Image: Walt Disney Pictures.
After four months my reflux baby was still screaming every time I was out of sight, projectile spewing breast milk in my hair at least twice a day and waking every one to two hours overnight. I resembled an extra from The Walking Dead, found myself crying at infomercials and was living on a diet of coffee, dissolvable vitamins and chocolate biscuits.
In an effort to clutch onto the last shred of my sanity, I started reading every parenting book recommended by well-meaning friends and Facebook groups. I also made the mistake of listening to every bit of advice from diverse parenting camps and found myself wading through a muddy swamp of self-doubt.
In an effort to gain some control, I introduced a routine and became petrified if life got in the way of feed, play and sleep times. When it was time for solids, everything had to be homemade and organic, no way was my child going to consume any preservatives, refined sugar or (shock, horror) frozen meals. I never asked anyone to babysit because the thought of being away from my bub made my palms sweat.
As I ran myself ragged and drowned under the ridiculous self-imposed pressure, two little lines indicated it was time for round two.
Round two was coming. Image: Giphy.com
When my second child came along 18 months after the first, everything was different. Despite running after a toddler, I felt mentally and emotionally prepared because I knew what to expect. Instead of focusing on all the material trappings, I knew that all bub needed was somewhere safe and warm to sleep, a boob or bottle in his mouth and an abundance of love.
I stopped worrying about all the things I SHOULD be doing and according to the myriad of baby whisperers I did everything wrong – I fed on demand, rocked him to sleep, let him nap on my chest whenever he looked snoozy and popped him in a sling if he got cranky. He got around in hand-me-down onesies and supermarket brand nappies. If he woke up repeatedly during the night I put him in bed with me where he latched on while I got a few more hours sleep.
The rigid routines were gone, I politely ignored advice and did whatever worked on the day. If I didn’t have time to fire up the Thermomix, the pantry was full of supermarket squeezy tubes and the freezer was stocked with emergency fish fingers. Bub slept in the pram, car or in a capsule in the corner of a friends living room. Despite having two under two, life felt easier and more balanced.
"Despite having two under two, life felt easier and more balanced." Image: supplied.
As my second bub got older my ‘anything goes’ approach succumbed to more structure but I tried to remain flexible enough to never miss opportunities for social catch-ups. If he skipped a nap, I knew the world wouldn’t combust and if someone offered to babysit, I handballed him over and got my lipstick and Spanx out. Of course it wasn’t all riding ponies into the picture perfect sunset, it was still exhausting and at times completely hellish. The main difference was I had learned to trust myself and chill.
My boys are now 2 and 3.5 and they are both happy, hilarious, confident and excessively loving kids. I’ve come to the conclusion that no matter what your approach to parenthood, as long as you love them fiercely and keep them healthy and safe nothing else matters. If you like structure and routine, go for it. If you prefer to go with the flow, good for you. Trust that you know what you’re doing, cherish the snuggles and surrender to the chaos.
How has your parenting style changed with each child?
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