Guest post by Kylie Kaden
Before I was a parent, I knew it all. I frowned upon bribery, threats and letting sticky-faced kids run wild at
shops. I’d see a downtrodden mum at Woolies bellowing ‘No!’ to her brat, only to see her cave in an aisle later, and I’d think, My child won’t do that. I will rationalise with my child in a calm manner, free of threats and bribery, to allow intrinsic motivation to develop and drive behaviour. Blah, blah and, yes, blah. Three kids later, I’m happy to admit my tribe display all of those things I’d frowned upon and more in public, on a regular basis. (Although, on the plus side, I do find check-outs miraculously open up for me with a trolley full of screaming kids in tow.) I think back to the pre-kid life, the pre-kid me. I’d get up at a time that didn't require lights on. I’d buy shoes at lunch instead of bananas. I’d eat out at restaurants that didn't include playgrounds and I’d iron fresh clothes to go out in instead of trying to scratch yogurt stains off yesterday’s cargo pants. I’d blare Triple J instead of humming tunes from Giggle and Hoot. I even went to the toilet alone and drank hot tea (not appreciating any of it!).
So does parenting stack up to those precious nappy-ad moments we hoped for? Or are we constantly thinking, this wasn't in the brochure!? I’m the first to admit I find the challenges of parenting unrelenting – just when you get one routine down pat they grow out of it. I naively thought changing nappies was the thing I would struggle with. In fact, they’re one of the most straightforward elements (unless you find green poo, in which case blame the blue icing). What I didn't expect was how it changes you. I've seen the most confident women paralysed with self-doubt when they become mothers. I put it down to the constant decision-making in an emotionally charged, sleep-deprived environment. It does your head in: Is she cold? Is that a hunger cry or wind pain? Should I drop a feed? It’s constant. You grasp at any shred of advice from friends, family, the internet or that woman at mothers’ group. You’re perpetually comparing your child to others. And no matter how devoted you are, there always seems to be some way that you can be a “better” parent. Yet the fact often lost in the hazy uncertainty of the early days is that you spend 24/7 with your child, so you know them best. An adult’s temperament, appetite and sleep patterns are diverse, and so are a baby’s, so ignore the know- all who skites about how her baby slept through at three weeks. Trust in your instincts. Their confidence may be convincing, but they might just be trying to assure themselves.
Another aspect I hadn't anticipated was the loss of personal freedom. Putting yourself first for that yoga class or night out doesn't come easy or often once you’re a mum (and often with a side of self-imposed guilt). It’s easy to forget your old self when you feel like a sleep- chasing, cardigan-wearing, designated driver who tells herself that it’s perfectly OK to wear maternity pants (for years). From there, it can be a slippery slope to casting yourself in a support role for the main star in your life – your child. But we need to ask ourselves, Is always putting yourself last the lesson you want to teach them? Or do they deserve that person who you once were: engaged with life, and pursuing your own dreams and passions?
Parenting has changed me in ways more profound than I’d imagined, but it’s not all bad. I can think of a thousand ways it has changed life for the better… The way their eyes follow you as you cross a room, like a planet orbiting the sun. The way they hang their sausage arms around your neck and breathe Vegemite-toast breath in your ear. The way they fit on your hip like a phantom limb that you feel lost without. It can take a while to see meaning in the routines, in the scattering of Kodak moments within the groundhog days of sticky floors and folding clothes. But despite the challenges, kids enrich your life like nothing else. It is true that we learn more from them than they do from us. Tolerance. Selflessness. Self-control. Weaved in with their unrelenting need for love and attention, they bestow a gift. They teach us to cope with daily uncertainty, see wonder in the ordinary, and force us to view the world as having far wider horizons than the controlled, predictable space we inhabited beforehand. And in the days when the meaning eludes me and it may seem like hot tea, a guilt-free evening out or continuous sleep are extinct species, I try to remember that the days are long but the years short. So when the wheels fall off (as they so often do for me), recite to yourself, It’s just a bad day, not a bad life.
helping little with real-life kids.
If you loved what Kylie has written as much as I did, look out for her debut novel Losing Kate to be released by Random House April 2014.
You can find more about Kylie on her blog and facebook page.