Sunday, October 20, 2013

Six Early Parenting Truths

Six months of parenting: six early parenting truths

My daughter has gurgled and cried her way to six months old, and I have achieved my first parenting goal of getting my baby to this half anniversary milestone with my sanity and hairline (mostly) still intact.

Having been tied up entertaining the Teething Monster, and watching late night reruns of reruns, I have abysmally failed my first celebratory mummy test. There is no half birthday cake, no colourful cardboard hat, and no carefully crafted Instagram snapshot to capture the moment for posterity.

I have, however, made a list of the six parenting truths that my daughter has taught me (and wailed deafeningly at me) in her first wonderful and cheeky six months on planet earth.

It's not quite a burnt cake and a special occasion teething ring, but here goes ...

  1. Parents Group was invented to make you shower
    Part and parcel of life with a baby in my neck of the woods is some configuration or another of a New Parents Group. My first experience of parents group was pretty standard: rushed, discombobulated and blurry.

    The two hour session left me flustered.
    I lost my name tag in the baby carrier. I failed to focus on the instructional videos. I accidentally sat on the new parent handouts. I hung like a voiceless stunned mullet as some of the other mums tried to stir up small talk. I panicked when faced with an explosive nappy and a communal change table located in plain view of the group. I also dropped half a biscuit on the baby's head and irrationally concluded I was the most inept new mother in the group, and possibly the known universe as well.

    But from among the fluster and the insecurity, I had unearthed an exceptionally important early parenting truth: the magic of parents group is its ability to make you get through the shower, into your recovery shorts and out the front door when nothing else will. Pure early parenting gold.

  2. 'Sleeping through the night' is false advertising
    Another truth learned in the clean and comforting circle of Parents Group.

    Before embarking on the dodgem car derby of parenthood, I was just another one of the deluded millions who thought 'sleeping through the night' meant 'sleeping through the night.'

    This delusion was firmly shattered by the Maternal Health Nurse during the first fifteen minutes of the first meeting of our Parents Group: in many quarters of baby land, 'sleeping through the night' does not mean sleeping through the night at all. It means sleeping for five hours in a row, with top and tail feeds and maybe, if you're really lucky, a short parental nap in the middle. It is also a concept that most babies will not even consider trying to master for several long, hungry, squirmy, months.

    This early parenting truth taught me two very important things: never, ever assume you know anything about parenting, and never, ever ask questions at Parents Group without taking a big cup of concrete first.

  3. Onesies don't need to be changed as often as you think
    In the opening weeks of the parenting play, I changed the baby's singlets and blankets and onesies and socks almost as often as I changed her wet and dirty nappies.

    Spit ups, milk vomits, badly aimed medication, drool, excessive tears and unexplained damp spots all provoked immediate outfit changes. I quickly developed an aversion to press studs, and started avoiding the overflowing laundry baskets like a pregnant lady avoids the bathroom scales during the third trimester.

    Over the weeks it took to achieve 'sleeping through the night' I gradually let go of my fanatical onesie changing tendencies and started to assess each spill and overflow on a case-by-case basis. The baby isn't quite as clean as she used to be, the washing basket isn't as full as it used to be, and we are all surviving just fine.

  4. Babies know when the toast is ready 
    It only took a week of mummyhood to learn what so many experienced parents know so well: even when sleeping, babies have a sixth sense for detecting when your toast has popped, when your kettle has boiled and when your head has touched the pillow.

    They also know when you are about to take your first sip from a glass of expensive bubbly, when you really need to concentrate on something important without interruption and when you are about to ... practice making additional babies.

    Sadly, this is a universal truth with no universal remedy, although I have found learning to appreciate cold toast and finding a willing babysitter to be helpful band-aid solutions.

  5. Crutches are priceless
    New parents make many investments. Prams, slings, rattles, teething toys, white noise machines, musical mobiles, portable cots, car seats, parenting books, nappy bags, cloth wipes, floor mats, blackout curtains, bottle warmers, sleeping bags, mittens, breast pumps, comfortable tracksuit pants.

    Over the past few months, I have realised that these investments are entirely useless without calm parents to cart, unwrap and administer them. Packaged baby stuff is just packaged baby stuff unless it is applied to the baby in a meaningful and constructive way.

    The best way to ensure you use the packaged baby stuff well is to buy some packaged adult stuff for yourself along the way. Invest in your own house-bound, sleep-deprived sanity: buy a crutch.


    Buy a gaming console, buy a sewing machine, buy the boxed collection of The Simpsons, buy the 1974 postage stamp collection, buy a never ending packet of Tim Tams. Buy your crutch, lean on it relentlessly until you can stand up on your own two feet again and then unwrap the packaged baby stuff and get on with it.

  6. When it doesn't make sense, hug the baby
    The early days of parenting don't make a lot of sense. It's pretty easy to get lost in the fug of sleepless nights, dirty nappies, overzealous onesie changes, Angry Bird battles and conflicting snippets of parenting advice.

    No matter your personality or your background, somewhere along the line you will probably cry and you will probably swear and you will probably yell at your significant other. There will be confusion and uncertainty and grumpiness, and a desire to either rip your remaining hairs out one by one or trek barefoot through the Himalayas until the baby starts school.

    And while there are certain merits to dusting off the backpack and the boots, just take a few minutes to hug the baby and you won't want to go anywhere ever again.

    That's the most truthful early parenting truth of them all.

M x

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