Not so long ago, my eldest son turned 10. For me, more than him I think, this marked quite a milestone in our lives. Something about my first baby reaching double figures seemed utterly unbelievable. I mean, wasn’t it only yesterday we brought him home from hospital, clapped proudly at his first tottering steps, snapped smiling family photos as he first met his baby brother, wiped away tears as he entered the classroom for his first day at school? It suddenly felt like I had watched these moments through a series of highlights flickering amongst the daily rituals of family life that had made the days and years go by so quickly. And suddenly, I wished I could have them all back, all the little moments that made up the last ten years, when it was just us, our little family unit, totally impenetrable against the outside world, and where every hurt or injustice could be solved in Mummy or Daddy’s arms. I found myself lying in bed at night counting the months my son would have left in primary school, fearing the rush towards secondary passing as quickly as the first five years of primary inevitably had. I found myself saddened by the realisation that our son had now most likely lived with us for longer than his years remaining, and the prospect of one day wandering through the rest of my life without two little hands to hold filled me with dread.
It turns out that realising how quickly a decade passes can make your imagination run away from you at rather an alarming rate.
So before I allowed myself to drift too far into melancholy about my son reaching a milestone birthday, I gave myself a little shake and reminded myself of all the positive things about my little boy getting older. How lovely it was to see him growing up into a kind and caring little man, how much easier life was than it had been with two rambunctious toddlers, and how much I loved watching the relationship between two brothers who were often so alike I couldn’t tell where one of them finished and the other one began. Most of all I considered gratefully all the things ten years of being a Mother had taught me, not just about being a parent, but about how to be a better version of myself. So for those of you starting out on your journey of being a Mummy (or Daddy for that matter), or like me, are a few years down the road, or in fact if you’re at any other point in your parenting journey, here are some of the things I’ve learned (and am still learning), since a little boy entered the world and changed my name to Mummy.
1. Mummy is the Best Word
I have never quite gotten over the novelty of hearing myself called ‘Mummy’. I honestly think it is probably the most beautiful word in the English language. And ok, I’m pretty sure that both my kids said some variation of ‘Daddy’ first, but no matter what, it still catches at my heart every time I hear a sweet small voice utter those two syllables. I do sometimes wonder how long it will be before my boys change their address to ‘Mum’ and another little remnant of babyhood is gone. For now, though, just like cuddles, bedtime stories and the tooth fairy, Mummy remains. And as you can probably tell, I’m in no hurry for her to go.
2. Children are a Great Leveller
Before I had children it’s fair to say I was a bit wrapped up in myself, worrying too much about my appearance, criticising myself, obsessing over making my home look ‘perfect’ and generally being quite a highly strung individual. Whilst I’m not for one moment suggesting that anyone who doesn’t have children behaves in this way, for me, having kids helped level out my personality, focus my attentions away from negative distractions and generally calm down my obsessive compulsive tendencies. I no longer had time to worry about my appearance – mainly because I no longer had time to look in the mirror very often – and while some people find their confidence dips after having a baby, I found myself renewed by the safety blanket of our little family unit. I became less interested in other peoples’ definitions of success and more absorbed in the simple things in life that made me happy. I’ve learned lessons from tiny humans about kindness, selflessness, tolerance and love. Oh, and humility – there’s nothing like a three year old having a tantrum in a toy shop to keep that good old fashioned pride in check.
3. They’ll Always Be Your Baby
No matter how old your baby gets, somewhere in the back of your mind they’ll always be just that – your baby. As they get older, even the simplest of things – a rare emotional outburst perhaps, can remind you that they’re still just little people in a very big world. I’m quite sure the desire to protect and nurture them doesn’t ever really go away – even when they’re grown up and living independent lives of their own. I remember my own Mum sending me a card saying something along these lines when I got married. Mother love, it seems, is always guaranteed to stand the test of time.
4. Comparison Really is the Thief of Joy
One thing I’ve definitely learned along the way of being a parent is never to compare your kids or your family to anyone else’s. It’s easy for new parents to fall into the trap of worrying about when everyone’s babies are sleeping through the night, crawling, walking, or saying their first words. This doesn’t really achieve anything, except to steal away the joy of precious moments, and to be honest, in a few years time no one is even likely to remember that such-and-such’s baby slept like an angel from the moment they arrived home from hospital. Treat your child as exactly what they are – an individual – and don’t waste your time or energy worrying about comparisons with others. As time goes on, you might well find the ‘big’ things now turn out to be the much smaller things later. And the little moments, well, they might just turn out to be the happiest memories of your life.
5. Trust Your Instincts
Maternal instincts are pretty powerful, and I’m sure we’ve all had those moments of knowing when something just doesn’t feel quite right. On the rare occasions when I’ve gone against my instincts in matters to do with the kids I’ve always ended up regretting it. Don’t let anyone else tell you what’s right or wrong for your family, even if it means going against the grain sometimes. You are the expert on your own family and the chances are, where your kids are concerned, your first instinct is likely to be the right one.
6. Keep A Journal
If I could go back and give my ten-years-ago self one bit of advice, it would be to keep a journal. I wrote here not so long ago about starting a ‘happenings’ journal to keep track of the funny little things my kids say and do, and my only regret is not starting it much sooner. It’s amazing how easy it is to forget the little things that happen when your children are small and the days whizz by so quickly. It’s fantastic that we now have camera phones, social media (and blogging!) to keep a sort of ‘diary’ of everyday family moments, but it’s hard to beat turning the pages of a little book dedicated to memories a screen can’t always capture. That said, I’d definitely recommend spending time taking video as well as photos of your children. I recently stumbled upon some video footage of myself singing nursery songs with my kids when they were smaller and it was wonderful to watch and listen to (minus the cringing at my tuneless performance).
7. Do It Your Way
Whether you’re a working parent, a stay-at-home one, or like me, some sort of combination of the two, be confident about your situation and don’t let anyone (including yourself) make you feel guilty. I don’t know anyone who isn’t trying to be the best parent they can be and make the most of whatever hand life has dealt them. I wrote a while back about being a Stay at Home Mummy and how peoples’ perceptions sometimes affected me. This was nothing to do with pitting working and stay at home parents against each other, but rather about putting out there that other peoples’ choices are just as valid as our own (and recognising that in many cases ‘choices’ aren’t really choices but necessities anyway). We all have bad days, good days, and days where we could have done better, but when our kids tell us that we’re the Best Mummy In The World, let’s just give ourselves a pat on the back and believe them.
8. Enjoy Every Minute
I’m a living breathing testament to the fact that the first ten years with your children literally flies by, and I often catch myself wondering how on earth I got to the ripe old age of 40 with a son in double figures – yikes. Even though the days (and nights), can be long sometimes, that old cliché about the years being short is true, and I feel so very grateful every day to have had the good fortune to do something not everyone is lucky enough to experience. So my last bit of advice for you would simply be to enjoy every minute with your children. And instead of worrying about my kids getting older, that’s exactly what I intend to go away and do.
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