It is all too easy to judge the parents of the screaming baby on the plane (pre-Covid) whose superhuman shrieking blocks out the best bit of your in-flight movie, or the mum of the out of control toddler lying in the toy aisle, red-faced and venting his fury by kicking his legs at thin air. The mum who bottle feeds or who sometimes parents their child through a screen, or the one who feeds their kid a Happy Meal or a chocolate biscuit. Or the mother of the 3-year-old still carrying her comforter and sucking her dummy. It is so easy to say to yourself, ‘When I have children, I am never going to…’ Until you have children of your own, and you become that mum on the plane or that mum in the supermarket and you curse yourself for your previous ignorance and give a polite nod of understanding to your peers whilst shoving a chocolate bar into your toddler’s hand in the forlorn hope you can complete the week’s food shop in peace, thanking the powers above that for once it isn’t your child causing all the commotion. Welcome to a world that has required a major rewrite of my own parenting ‘rules.’ Here’s a quick overview of the ones I’ve broken so far:
# Thou Shalt Use Thine Breasts For the Purpose in Which They’ve Been Given
When I was pregnant with my son, it never really crossed my mind that I might not be able, or want, to breastfeed. Breastfeeding was touted on every poster, in every antenatal appointment, and by every midwife. It didn’t cross my mind to have a tin of formula handy in the house just in case; nor was I advised to despite our lack of feeding success during our post-natal hospital admission. Instead, I was sent home with a breastfeeding ‘plan,’ in which I was expected to record all my efforts to feed my son on a piece of paper, with no guidance given around what I should do if it wasn’t working. The result was a visit to the emergency department a few hours after discharge, when we couldn’t rouse our son, who had become hypoglycaemic and was promptly given a bottle of formula to help bring him round.
Formula feeding seems to have become such a taboo that there’s a distinct lack of discussion and preparation around planning for the alternative to breastfeeding, to the extent that when I resorted to asking for formula to top up my daughter on our second night in hospital who absolutely couldn’t be sated by boobs alone (I’ve since read this issue is quite common in very overdue babies, but in our case it turned out to be the first indication of lactose intolerance), I actually had to sign a consent form before I was permitted to utilise this alternative means of feeding my child.
I have the utmost respect for women who do breastfeed; I think it is an awesome achievement and a great act of selflessness and perseverance that I imagine must create such a unique and special bond; but it isn’t for everyone, and that should be ok too. I tried it with my son who couldn’t latch properly, ever. He hated it, I hated it, and in the end I personally felt I would be a better mum to him when I wasn’t frantically trying to feed him as he screamed blue murder while I agonized over why this totally natural exchange that before the advent of formula was so essential to the survival of the human race was so flipping exhausting, stressful and hard to achieve.
I used to feel self-conscious getting out my baby bottles to feed my son in public, even though in those first weeks it was often expressed milk. But second time round I realised I owed no explanation, and whilst I definitely wrestled with guilt both times (but was pleased my babies got colostrum and a few weeks of breastmilk), I knew this was the best decision for me and my family. Whilst no one can argue that breastmilk isn’t the absolute best thing you can feed your baby, the most important thing really is that baby is healthy, safe and loved no matter how they are fed – and that you’re OK too.
#Thou Shalt Not Swear
There’s barely a day goes by that I haven’t muttered FFS under my breath at least 50 times, and fervently hoped that of all the words my toddler chooses to randomly parrot, he doesn’t choose the F one, and definitely not in public.
# Thou Shalt Beware Thine Dummy
I was determined that I wouldn’t resort to the use of a dummy to settle my son. I’m not sure why I was so against it, but felt sure I needed to be. Fast forward about 3 days into my son’s existence on earth, and I was up at 5am Googling what local supermarket would be open the soonest so that my husband could go buy out their stock of dummies. My son has never looked back, and at 2 year’s old he’s showing no signs of ever wanting to part with his ‘nana’ (we kept a spare dummy in the fruit bowl next to the bananas – he then assumed everything in the fruit bowl must be a nana). I don’t regret it, but I do keep putting off that inevitable day that we must banish the dummy once and for all. In the meantime, I tolerate the pointed, ‘What’s that thing doing in his mouth?’ comments from the anti-dummy movement (grandparents everywhere) ‘til I can summon up the courage to do something about it. That dummy has saved our sanity for the last 2 years (if you discount all the nights he’s woken up every 45 minutes wanting us to replace it in his mouth). My son has always had a strong desire to suck and had all of his teeth by the age of 20 months which must’ve been pretty painful, so I didn’t begrudge him the comfort and security the use of the dummy has given him, because I’m pretty certain he won’t still be using it at 18.
#Thou Shalt Serve Thine Munchkin Only The Most Nutritious, Organic, Home-Cooked Diet of Whole Foods
I entered into this motherhood thing with such good intentions, one of the most important of which was to prioritise feeding my son a healthy, wholesome, veggie-laden diet of home-cooked food, and a total aversion to cowing into the temptation to save myself the hassle and purchase the store-bought equivalent instead. My son was gonna be scoffing vegetables like a pro. Alas, it was not to be. He flat out rejected pretty much every combination I came up with to tempt his developing palate, and nearly every carefully thought out and painstakingly prepared effort ended up either on the floor or in the bin. For every new recipe I tried, there must’ve been 9 losses to every win. But throw my son a chicken nugget or a salty chip and he’ll polish it off in a heartbeat then ask for more. With sauce.
#Thou Shalt Brush Thine Baby’s Teeth From the Moment the First Stub Pops Up
Does a quick wipe with a wet washcloth count? Unfortunately, my toddler’s interest in toothbrushing starts and ends with chewing the ‘dishas’ (his word for delicious) toddler toothpaste off the brush. Now I’m not discounting the importance of the task, but this one remains a work in progress for us.
#Thou Shalt Never Feed Your Baby to Sleep
Whoops. I think I’m guilty of committing every sleep sin going, and I’ve got the caffeine habit to prove it. Feeding, rocking, pacing, driving, dummy-ing, patting, shushing – even though I know I’m probably setting up sleep associations left, right and centre that’ll be a nightmare to break down the track, all I want in that moment is the fastest route to the oblivion of sleep – and I can’t get there til baby’s gone down by whatever means possible until that beautiful and far off day that they eventually achieve the epitome of parent sleep goals – the ability to self-soothe (go to sleep unaided) – which required a rather exhausting wait of 15 months in the case of my firstborn. Not bad.
#Thou Shalt Breed a Reasonable, Rational, Well-Adjusted and Tantrum- Proof Toddler
If I thought before I became a parent that this was even remotely possible, I’d obviously never met a toddler. Who am I to halt my son’s natural progress through the rite of passage toddlerhood entails; and all the messy, chaotic, sweet, special and intense moments it brings us?
#Thou Shalt Never Bribe Thine Toddler to Gain Their Cooperation
Similar to above. I won’t even enter a supermarket without a haul’s worth of snacks or promising the world if my son can only just sit nicely for 10 minutes. Failing that, a piece of the supermarket’s free fruit for kids usually works wonders.
#Thou’s Boudoir is Thine Fortress
I did manage to stick to this one mostly, but there were occasions in which I broke my own rule and brought my son into bed with me in the hopes of catching a few extra zzz’s (even just 1 zed?). Fortunately for us, he never quite took to co-sleeping anyway, so it never became a habit we would have to break. Until baby number 2 arrived, that is.
#Thou Shalt Protect Thine Toddler From the Perils of Screen-Time
I have a toddler. And I have a newborn. Whenever I need to tend to my newborn, my toddler usually takes great umbrage at this. In these moments, The Wiggles are my new best friends. Is frequent exposure to these exuberantly cheerful performers likely to ruin my son’s developing brain? I certainly hope not, only time will tell. In the meantime they might just fry mine (just kidding, I quite like them!).
With so much information coming our way on what we should and shouldn’t be doing, it’s not hard to understand why the parenting journey can be one that’s riddled with guilt and angst for many of us where you constantly second-guess the potential long-term consequences of even the most innocuous decision upon your little tot’s future. Sometimes we’re sick or exhausted or we’re pulled in all directions, and even with the best will in the world we’ve just gotta do what we need to do to get through the day (or night). In moderation most things are probably perfectly fine – including what might be considered the ‘bad’ stuff.
I’m pretty sure that for most of us, our preconceptions about parenting don’t exactly match the reality, and that there’s things most of us have resorted to that our best self would have tried to avoid, probably because our best self isn’t perpetually sleep deprived and sometimes looking for a quick fix. Parenting doesn’t come with a rule book and for the large part it’s a case of trial and error as we muddle through and find our way, but the most important thing is that whatever we do we do out of love for our beautiful babies (and of course the need to get the shopping done in relative peace). So long as your child’s needs are a priority you can’t go too far wrong, and they will turn out just fine (though perhaps with a slightly fried brain – but that’s ok, it didn’t do us any harm 😂).
How does your actual experience of parenting compare with what you thought it would be and what ‘rules’ did you set out with that you’ve later broken?