being honest about parenting
FEELINGS

Being honest about parenting

What is it like being a parent? Honestly? Geraldine from Over Heaven’s Hill talks about the toughest job she’s ever had. 

The truth is… Parenting is harder than you will ever imagine.

Being honest about parenting

There are always smiles, day after day, as you meet friends or strangers in the supermarket, at the bank or on a quick walk for some fresh air. “Is she a good baby?”… of course she is. “Does she sleep through the night yet?”… of course she doesn’t. “Are you getting any sleep yourself?”… of course I’m not.

Behind the smile

And yet, most of us smile and nod through the haze of exhaustion and answer the questions politely, telling the world how amazing our baby is and how in love we are (which obviously we are).

But behind the smiles hides the truth that we’re often too afraid to say. Too afraid to show that we are struggling. That we are finding this hard. That everything is not all bright and cheery among the newborn baby smell. That we thought it would not necessarily be easier than this, but perhaps different.

I met a friend recently who has just had her first baby and when I asked her how she was getting on, her answer was simply perfect. “It’s a culture shock,” she said. And she is absolutely right.

There is no preparing you for the big moments, the big changes or even the small changes. You simply have to roll with the motions, rock with the changes that occur once your own Little Bean arrives. Yes, you know in a way what life is going to be like. You know the baby will not work around your life but you around theirs. You know there will be huge changes. But do you know that it will shock you as to how drastic those changes are? Are you prepared for how awkward and difficult baby days can be?

The baby cries more than you expected and is impossible to console. You find yourself desperately wishing that there was a magic fix, but there really isn’t. Not yet anyway until you get to know your baby more.

Your other children are jealous and demand your attention at the worst possible times. The house is chaotic and you often feel like you may be losing control. You fight with your partner through the frustration of too many voices, demands, and loud noises.

Intimacy is on hold, proper conversations are almost impossible. You desperately attempt to regain control of your old routine which clearly won’t fit in with your new life with a new baby. And you can’t envision the baby settling into a proper routine yet.

You cry. You cry so much that you wonder why you feel hurt, angry, upset, sad and frustrated when you should be enjoying your beautiful baby.

Being honest about parenting

Being Honest About Parenting

And yet, no one really talks about the hardship of parenting. It is, after all, something we all do. What makes it harder for me than for you? Nothing. It’s hard for everyone but not everyone will say that out loud.

Since becoming Momma Bear, I know that you have had as many hard days as you have had good days. I know that you have parental guilt. I know that you have cried and wanted desperately to run out of the house. I know that you have questioned yourself over and over again about whether you are doing a good job. I know that you sometimes long for the day before kids again. I know that you too want to say all of this out loud but are afraid that you will be judged for thinking all of this. I know that you are doing your absolute best.

But the fact of the matter is, parenting is so damn fricking hard, no matter what stage you’re in.

But it’s also incredibly amazing. I talk about how parenting has changed my personality, but this change is not necessarily a bad thing. My life and my goals have changed which also isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Having children is the biggest adjustment you will ever make in your life. It’s drastic, it’s a shock. It’s terrifying and exciting. It’s hard. It’s scary.

And it’s worth it. For every change, for every adjustment to your life, there’s a new giggle and smile attached to that change.

I have no advice. That’s not why I write.

But I will say it loud and clear, I will not hide from the fact that I find parenting tough. The only thing I can say is that life changes with every milestone. The shock of these changes never really goes, we just roll with these evolutions and become the parents we need to be.

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Ask Allison

Q My sister-in-law and I both work three-day weeks and we help each
other out with child minding on our working days, which up until recently has worked out really well. Between us, our kids are aged between five and nine years – the problem is that it’s now become quite apparent that we have very different parenting styles. I prefer my two daughters (seven and nine) to have a structured day. For example, in my house, we have allocated times for television and iPads, etc. My sister-in-law, however, lets the kids run loose after school – homework is ignored and my kids end up wired after eating sugary treats all afternoon. I am considering looking at after-school childcare for the kids, but I’m worried that this is going to cause a family argument. Is there a diplomatic way that I can ask my sister-in-law to introduce some discipline into her child-minding days? It certainly doesn’t do her two kids any harm when I am minding them in my own house!

A
In a word, no, there is no diplomatic way to do this as it may very likely seem like your saying that your parenting style is better than
hers. As L’Óreal says, ‘now here comes the science bit.’ Dr. Kaylene
Henderson, a child psychiatrist, wrote a very interesting blog about ‘the
science behind the Mummy Wars’. She explains that before she had
children of her own she hadn’t been aware of how parents have a
very specific sense of the right parenting style. She also found that parents could be very definite in defending their chosen parenting style. Dr. Henderson, who describes herself as a curious, scientific, open-minded person, was surprised at how defensive parents could be and, at times, of their judgemental attitude towards each other. She explained the neurology of the Mummy Wars; okay, I’ll need you to bear with me for a second. Warning; I’m about to use some neuro-techie language.

Why do we judge each other?
As we have all had different experiences, this means that we all have very different memories stored in our brains. Most of our memories are ‘explicit’ memories – these are ones that we can recall easily such as important dates that mean something to us; important birthdays, special events or stories of and about our lives.
There is another type of memory called ‘implicit’ memory that plays a
key role in our parenting. This type of memory is the stuff that you do on autopilot. Psychologists call these heuristics or rules of thumb –
such as tying your shoelace, or driving your car (once you have learnt
to do both first!). Otherwise we’d really waste a huge amount of time
pondering over tasks that we have readily available to us. This seems to be where the science bit of our parenting style kicks in. This implicit memory goes all the way back to when you were an infant being parented by your parents. This is when you started the process of storing up how they did it into your memories.
Unless you make a conscious choice and effort to parent differently, what you saw and unconsciously learnt will be your automatic go-to parenting style.

We learn habits
This can really kick into gear when we feel our parenting style is
being mirrored or highlighted by disapproval from another parent. I know the cold sweat you feel when your child decides to make their outstanding bad behaviour performance at, of course, the most public and worst time. The implicit autopilot of how your parents dealt with these outbursts will flow unconsciously from you if you haven’t worked super hard to be aware and consciously change the old habits.
What’s happening for the on-looking parent is that they see you doing something they are used to doing, but you are doing it all wrong. Simply, because that is not how they know how to do it.

Find a way that works
You both have different parenting styles – who is to say which type is correct? You just need to know what works best for your family and that’s the bottom line. The irksome feelings won’t go away. You can talk to your sister-in-law, but I’m adding a caveat that it would be hard not to hurt her feelings. What we’re possibly looking at is that you prefer a more structured form of parenting, whereas your sister-in-law has a more permissive style. I’m not sure the two styles can mix, the mixture is a bit like oil and water.
If a collaborative shared form of parenting style can be agreed upon, then that is great, but our learnt hardwiring may prove difficult to change despite the intent to do so.
Perhaps, your own instinct of changing childcare might work best for you. In terms of making childcare work; the fit is ultimately the most
important aspect as you want a cohesive congruent feeling of the other caregiver to just ‘getting it’, like in any good partnership. Best of luck
with this and I wish you both well.

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ASK JESSICA

Q. I’m would like to start an exercise programme that will benefit my emotional health as much as my physical health, but I don’t know which type of class would be best. Should I consider choosing from yoga, pilates, tai chi, or could you recommend a class, please?

A It’s great that you have decided to get into exercise. The benefits to you are going to be great. You’ll sleep better, have more energy, better skin, reduced stressed, not to mention all the amazing physical benefits of your clothes fitting better, and looking healthy, trim and toned! My advice to you would be to try them all. Even if some don’t offer pay-as-you-go sessions, if you get in touch directly with the instructor, they will almost always let you try it out first to see if it’s for you. All of the above things that you mentioned are great for mental health, so it really will be a personal preference as to which you go for. On top of the classes you mention, all forms of exercise will give you great mental rewards so consider the not so obvious interval training sessions, bootcamp, and circuits too, as you will also feel on top of the world after a class like that.