I can't believe that my pre-baby self had an opinion on how to raise children. I hope I was clever enough to keep my judgments to myself, but in case I didn't, I'm sure those parents are secretly smirking an "I told you so…" or two right now.
Every day I find myself breaking silent parenting rules I'd set for myself. Sometimes I feel guilty. More often, I feel humbled. Mostly, I feel like a raging hypocrite.
1. Pre-baby self: Babies should sleep in their cots every night and for every nap. Having your baby in your bed is unsafe, disruptive and will never end.
18 months later … she is in our bed. Every night. And it makes so much sense. She can't eat on her own, get dressed on her own, go to the toilet on her own, so how can we expect her to sleep on her own? For the first 10 months of life, she loved her cot. She went straight into it as a newborn and after six months even moved to her own room. Then suddenly it stopped. Now, the simple act of being lowered into it, even when she is sound asleep, leads to koala-like clinging to my body, screaming and a terrified look in her eyes. When my husband was travelling for work and I was struck down with second pregnancy-first-trimester-fatigue, she won, and we've all been sleeping soundly since.
I'm sure she'll take herself into her own room and own bed sometime before she hits university, so I won't worry for now.
2. Pre-baby self: I will always find time for my personal grooming.
18 months later … I'm sporting a mullet in my Christmas photos, and although I have managed to shower every day (some days this is quite an achievement), my unwashed hair accentuates my regrowth. And most days in January were spent leaving the house with a chipped Christmas-themed manicure, often with no make-up. My constantly changing body shape is draped in ill-fitting clothes and my waxing … well, let's not go there.
My pre-baby self had no idea how much time and coordination was needed for such maintenance. I manage to find minutes throughout the day, but a block of time is just amazingly difficult.
3. Pre-baby self: I will not use screens to entertain my baby, especially when out in public. She will be so stimulated by all the wonderful places we will visit.
18 months later … iPad, iPhone, TV where are you? The convenience always wins. The new rule is all about limited screen time, rather than no screen time. Some days I have 10 minutes to get out of the house and she's following me around demanding, "Up! Up!" and I know that Bananas in Pyjamas is on. Or we're in public, she's done with the pram, toys are strewn, snacks are finished, everyone available has carried her, she's run about, we've put stickers in every place possible but we just need 30 more minutes. Out come the phones.
4. Pre-baby self: If breastfeeding works out, I'll stop by the time she's one.
18 months later … she is weaned, but only as of a few months ago, and I only stopped because once pregnant, it was just too uncomfortable. Many of my friends are still breastfeeding and the common conversation is that they just don't know how to stop. It's so convenient and portable, not to mention cost effective. No worries if you're caught out and about with no baby food and no time needed to prepare bottles. It's one less thing to think about when leaving the house.
5. Pre-baby self: Prior experience as a high school teacher has given me good training on behaviour management. If I can control 25 teenagers in one room, I can handle a toddler tantrum.
18 months later … I realise that no experience in the world will help me through this with my own child. Just yesterday we had our first public tantrum. In the library. My instinct (and the judgmental eyes peeking from behind the shelves) told me to pack up and run. My reality was a stiffened, screaming toddler on the floor, a pram, a bag, a seven-month-pregnant-bump and a queue for the lift. Reasoning failed. Bribery failed. I couldn't even give her what she wanted (to be pushed around in another toddler's fabulous plastic green car). It came on without warning and with a stark realisation that I was flailing.
It's totally different when it's your own child and it's totally unpredictable. Behaviour management skills won't get me nearly as far as replacing control with a good sense of humour.
Now I've accepted that the best way to parent is just do the best I can with the situation I'm in. And if I find myself smirking my own "I told you so's" at new parents, I'll remind myself that I still have many years and many more parenting rules to break.