9 lessons from 9 years of parenting

Boy 1 has just entered his last year of single digits. I never really saw it as a 'thing' when I was younger, but it really has struck me just what a milestone turning 10 is and how much I have learned from my first few years of being a mother. Not just the cliched "time goes so quickly", I know that, but there are few others that stick with me.

  1. Parenting is never easy. From the first day I held Boy1, I realised the enormous responsibility of bringing a human into the world. Every year that passes, there is a new challenge or concern. And the arrival of Boy2 hasn't eased any of it. From lack of sleep, weaning and toilet training to school choices and 'serious conversations', I defy you to find any parent who doesn't walk around with a permanent worry buzzing around the back of their head. We always seem to be longing for a particular phase to pass or arrive, but all we are doing is wishing a new challenge on ourselves whilst wishing away the precious moments we have in the present. Yes, it's hard, but it's a blessing. The moment it becomes 'easy' is probably the moment we stop parenting and have to standby and witness the fruits of our labour. That thought alone fills me with dread and a feeling of loss. I'll stop right there before the tears start 😢
  2. Parenting is confusing, which probably partly explains why it's so hard. So much conflicting advice from friends, family and so-called experts can lead you in different directions. The feeling of only having one chance to make the right decision is horrible – no rehearsals. I like to tell new parents to listen to all of the advice but don't take all of it on. Why follow the advice of someone whose parenting style you don't respect or admire, or whose lifestyle is so far from yours you could never implement their approach? Everyone is confused at some point, just find what works for you and your family, find your own juggling technique, then go with it. As the above mentioned worries and challenges evolve, so will your approach. That's fine.
  3. Kids are expensive. I'm not complaining, just making the point to anyone reading this that hasn't jumped on the baby train yet. It doesn't end after newborn phase. In fact that phase is kinda justifiably expensive as you're investing in big stuff – Cots, buggies, car seats. It's later one when you feel like you're constantly feeding and clothing an ungrateful machine, who's always on school trips and has a social calendar that would put Paris Hilton (circa mid-lay 90's) to shame. Yep, showing my age. But be prepared for the constant haemorrhaging of the cash you once would spontaneously spend on shoes, holidays, or meals in places that didn't serve everything with chips.
  4. Children like simple things. No big party for Boy1, in fact we only do a 'party' on alternate years. Just three of his friends at Total Ninja followed by takeaway pizza and a very small, undecorated Victoria sponge from Tesco. They loved it. Just the simple act of acknowledging his birthday and spending time friends was enough. I think we often over complicate or exaggerate what our children want, need or like, because of our own insecurities, public opinion or the things we missed out on in childhood. Guess what, there's no need.
  5. Happiness is so important, but we can't define it for them. Every child is different. They learn differently, they want different things. Our role is to help them find out what brings them joy. I'm not a total advocate of 'don't worry about your schooling, as long as you're happy', education (not necessarily academic success) is very important. But by opening their eyes to different experiences, we can only hope that they will discover something that sparks real happiness. Because as they get older and more burdened with roles and responsibility, finding a source of joy, something which rests your soul and eases any stresses becomes more difficult. As adults, our own happiness can impact our children. They pick up on everything, even if they don't or won't tell you. Being a parent has really helped me to prioritise the happiness of my family over everyone else's, because that's what's important. Their happiness today will influence their route to happiness in the future.
  6. Friendships are important. Not hundreds of them, not for social media kudos, not for ego polishing, but real relationships. Friendships give children a lot. As well as the obvious happiness and laughter, they teach children about communication, respect, trust, support, conflict, compromise. Childhood friendships can be messy and fickle, but they are so important to our kids. As much as we can try to instil certain things in our children, it's real life situations that help them understand and navigate the world. As adults, our friendships are just as important, not only because children see the way we treat others, but we become more conscious of external influence. I don't want negative energy around my children, so any 'inappropriate' friends are kept away from our home. That's not because they are at risk, of course not, but because sometimes kids just don't get that the 'banterful' or over opinionated friend isn't being serious and I shouldn't have to explain them.
  7. Honesty really is the best policy. Don't get me wrong, I'm not about to sit down with my 2 year old and break down issues such as sexism, racism, homophobia, the list goes on. However, I've realised that kids do listen even when we think they don't. They watch when we think they aren't looking. They have conversations in the playground and eventually on phones and social media, where we aren't privy to what's being said. So it's important to give them an appropriate amount of truth and honesty. If not to avoid confusion and influence from those negative sources, but to build trust in your parental relationship.
  8. There's nothing wrong with living in the moment. It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day routines and rituals. Running from activity to activity, living life through calendar reminders. But there's nothing wrong with throwing caution to the wind and being spontaneous with your kids. They love it. A random decision to bake a cake, watch a film or go splashing in muddy puddles, can bring sunshine to a rainy day. Just having genuine, unstructured fun is great for all of you.
  9. Nothing beats love. The cheesy bit. I realised when I reflected on my mothering experience for The Mothers project, just how overwhelming the feeling of maternal love really is. I slightly recoil when I see #blessed on my news feeds, but in this instance it's totally true. My children make my heart smile and they bring a feeling that I have never and will never feel again. Regardless of anything that's going on in life, this parental love can get you through the most difficult of times. Don't ever, ever forget that. ❤️

Mind the Gap

There are nearly 7 years between my two boys. Not exactly how I would have planned it but it’s just right for team Mumsomnia. From the day Boy1 arrived we were constantly bombarded with the inevitable question of “when are you having another?”Believe me it gets tired after about 6 months, so 7 years of it drove me mad.

Having such a big gap does mean my mum friends really vary in their stages of motherhood. From first time mothers to well established, tween handling, forgotten how to change a nappy types. Most of my pals with more than one child have age gaps of just a couple of years between them, so I’ve really seen a difference between their experience of having multiple children and my own.

With such a big gap people constantly ask me what it’s like. Had I forgotten what it’s like to have a baby around? How does Boy1 feel after being an only child for sooo long?

Nearly one year in to being a ‘gap mum’ and I thought I should share my take on it.

Big gap ‘cons’

  • Sleep! I’d been used to getting a good night’s sleep for a few years, so the arrival of Boy2 really impacted me
  • Entertaining them together can be tough and will only get tougher. It’s quite difficult to find something they both enjoy. Boy1 is getting too old for soft play just as Boy2 is getting into it. When I have a 4 year old and 11 year old to deal with, who knows what I’ll do?!
  • No joint school photos. Ok this seems quite minor, but as a lover of nostalgia, I’ll never be able to pull out a photo of both my boys sitting awkwardly close to each other, gap toothed in perfectly ironed uniforms.
  • Childcare. I worked out that by the time Boy2 is 11, we would have been paying for childcare for 17 years. Yes 17 years!! Whereas those parents who decide to bang out kids within a couple of years of each other could wipe a good five years off that figure
  • Not as many hand-me-downs. We cleared out a lot of baby stuff when we moved ‘up North’, so have pretty much started from scratch with Boy2. Thankfully we’ve been given loads of things, but it means I don’t have a loft stuffed with old clothes and toys to drag out
  • Different starts – In the time between having the boys our life has changed a lot. Boy1 spent his early years in a first floor flat in south London, no garden and parents working all hours. He even had a cheeky cockney accent for a while! Boy2 arrives to a 4 bed house in Cheshire
  • Different childhood experiences – 7 years is a long time in the world of children. So much can change from TV programmes, popular music genres and even technology, I wonder if my boys will ever be able to reminisce about ‘old school’ stuff together or will they just be generations apart
  • What saddens me the most is that there will probably come a point when Boy1 is “too cool” to talk to his baby brother. Right now he adores him and the feeling is mutual. Boy1 walks into the room and Boy2’s face lights up. I know that once Boy1 becomes a teenager, just as his little brother is in school, he probably won’t want to listen to Biff, Chip and Kipper stories and I worry it will break Boy2’s heart.

Big gap pros:

  • I only have one set of nappies to deal with. Nappies are expensive and dirty. Thankfully I’m only having to clean one bottom each day
  • Continuing the nappy theme, our luggage for days out it much lighter. When I see parents with change bags, back packs, buggy boards and the like just to visit the corner shop, I shudder
  • Boy 1 is rather independent. He gets himself washed and dressed in the morning. Plus he can make his own breakfast! So, only one breakfast to make
  • Help on hand. With an old child that likes to feel like a big boy, it’s easy to give him tasks to do to make him feel responsible, which lightens the load on me. Whilst he’s not quite up to babysitting, I can leave him to entertain baby whilst I do other jobs safe int he knowledge the only thing he’ll smoother baby with is kisses and not a pillow
  • No jealousy! Toddlers don’t ‘get’ babies. They struggle to understand why a little screaming blob suddenly commands attention from all the big people. Not a problem with a 7 year old. He understands that babies can’t do anything for themselves and that they need mummy at certain times.
  • Protective – Even with a bout of teen angst in a few years, I know Boy1 will be his brother’s security guard. He’d never let anything happen to his little pal
  • They both get to grow into their own person. Of course all siblings become individuals but Boy1 spent the first 7 years of his life being him, not being compared to anyone else. And with such a big gap Boy2 won’t have to live under the shadow of his older brother because we can’t compare two people who will always be at different life stages

For us, this gap seems to work fine. I’m not sure I would have ever been able to handle having a toddler and baby at the same time! My boys love each other and we love them even more, so we wouldn’t change them, or the gap for the world. But what works for us, doesn’t work for others. I just don’t think there’s any such thing as a perfect gap. If and when the time is right, it will work out.

xx

Saying goodbye to a special summer

Tomorrow Boy 1 goes back to school after 5 weeks of fun with me and Boy 2. Whilst he is ridiculously excited to be starting junior school and reuniting with his friends, I’m quietly mourning the loss of the summer. Not because of the blistering sunshine or an amazing foreign holiday (I live in Manchester remember), but the length of time we’ve had together. 

This has been the first and, as it has recently dawned on me, the last chance for me to spend an entire summer with both of my children. It’s usually a case of juggling a couple of weeks of annual leave, trying to find activities that my amazing childminder hasn’t already done, whilst wishing I could squeeze in a couple of hours’ rest so I don’t return to work feeling more tired than when I left.

Swimming, cycling, playing chess (he taught me!), museum trips, movie afternoons, afternoon tea, you name it – we’ve done it. The only restrictions being feeding and nappy changes. It has been so refreshing to see him enjoy himself and spend quality time with his new little brother and just be carefree. 

It seems almost unfair that with 52 weeks in a year, I’m only ‘allowed’ to spend 5 of those with my children. 

The only reason I’ve been able to have this special time is the arrival of Boy 2 and maternity leave. So I’ve been trapped between managing my tiny budget and trying to make this time as fun and special as possible.

Whilst we haven’t been able to do anything particularly expensive or extravagant, I’ve realised how fun it is to just have that time together. People always tell you to ‘enjoy every minute’ with your children and that phrase has never felt so true. 

We’ll never get this time again. Who knows when we’ll next be able to have a long summer together. And when we do, he’ll be older, cooler and (it breaks my heart to admit it) probably won’t want to hold my hand to cross the road or cuddle his little brother to the point of near suffocation. 

So, thank you boys. You’ve made my summer so special.