I'm not the same parent I was seven years ago. And my firstborn certainly isn't the same child either.
Seven years ago, Alisha was born premature, weighing in at a tiny 1.89kg. Her weight was a big concern from day one. She struggled with breastfeeds, she struggled with formula. She struggled with putting on enough weight to stop us and the doctors worrying. Breastfeeding was successful in the end, but what followed in the next five years was a journey defined by routines and supplements. A journey that made it so difficult for us to relax, because our lives were so bound by routine.
Our journey with our first born
Soon after Alisha was born, she met her paediatrician for the first time. This lovely lady would see our daughter every one or two months for the next five years, monitoring her height and weight, as well as making sure that everything else was developing normally.
In those same years, Alisha also saw a dietician who told us which foods and supplements we should be feeding our daughter. Due to the ongoing help of the paediatrician and dietician, our daughter was able to gain weight at a much faster rate.
For most first-time parents, it's normal to have trouble adjusting to the sleep and feeding cycles of a baby, to get used to looking after a little baby and attending to every need.
But my husband and I needed to help Alisha adhere to a really strict feeding schedule – so strict that we were given a full page of notes each time the schedule changed. In the first five years of Alisha's life, she took iron supplements, carbohydrate supplements, multivitamins, along with other supplements, to aid in her weight growth. We were to give these supplements at a specific time, in a specific order. When we introduced solids to Alisha, it was to be with these carbohydrate supplements mixed in.
Due to the rigidness of these feeding routines, it was really difficult to leave Alisha alone with anyone else. But we were so determined to be good parents to our firstborn, it didn't bother us.
We wanted to do what was best for our daughter, but in the end, we neglected to think about ourselves. All these routines had not only drained us on a physical level but on an emotional one as well.
A turning point came when we became parents to our two subsequent daughters. They were born at a healthy weight and we had no complications when it came to feeding them.
By that stage though, we were so accustomed to following a strict routine, we struggled to deviate from it. We struggled with believing that it was okay to feed our kids slightly later sometimes, that it was okay to put them to bed a little later every now and then. We were harder on ourselves than we needed to be.
Learning to relax
By the time our eldest was five years old, she'd finally stopped seeing the paediatrician and dietician. After many years of supplements, blood tests and urine tests, the experts concluded that Alisha's petite size was simply due to her genetics. Alisha is now seven years old and is a healthy and confident girl. She's still petite, but I know that everything we did for her back then has been beneficial to her growth.
Although our experience as first-time parents was bound by routine, we've learned to relax over the years. We've realised that being parenting isn't about being perfect. For us, it isn't about following a schedule to a tee. We've learned that as long as we put the kids to bed around 7pm most school nights, then that's okay. That it's okay to relax and change the routine sometimes. That we're not hurting our kids. That we're not bad parents.
We've learned that it's important to be consistent with our routines, but to give ourselves leeway to stray from the schedule.
We spent many years feeling restricted because of structure, but we've learned what it means to 'go with the flow', to 'live in the moment', to cherish life rather than just busily rushing through it.
Our kids normally go to bed around 7pm on a weeknight, but every once in a while, they'll go to bed a bit later. On the weekends, bedtime might even be 8.30. Sometimes they'll want to read another book, have a longer play, or simply get cuddles from Mummy or Daddy.
And I'm perfectly happy with that.