When I cast my mind back to before I had kids, better still before I was ever pregnant, I had a very different perception of what being a parent was all about. I mean I was around kids every day – after all, I am a paediatric speech and language therapist – so I wasn’t completely clueless about kids. What I was completely clueless about was what it meant to be a parent. From the outside looking in, it can often look like it’s all movie nights in and fun days out. As I’ve come to learn, however, the reality can be somewhat scarier, more tiresome and challenging. That said weirdly enough being a parent is even more amazing than I could have anticipated. That all sounds a little paradoxical! Which is apt, because that’s essentially what parenting is, a never-ending series of apparent contradictions!
My Expectations of Parenting
Reminiscing about my own childhood, I get all those warm fuzzy feelings laced with nostalgia. It was amazing, epic even. My mother is the prominent figure in my mind for most of it, and she steered us through life seamlessly, helping us transition to becoming happy functioning adults. It really wasn’t until I became a parent myself that I really appreciated how incredible she is and how the task of raising a tribe essentially solo in my mother’s case, is a much trickier job that she had let on.
My expectations of becoming a parent were to put it politely: ridiculous. There were to be lunch dates with friends and the baby. Twinning opportunities for baby and I – matching t-shirts, the works! Strolls in the park, and shopping in town with the buggy for hours. I had set plans for expressing my bottles so my husband could get up and feed the baby at night. We assembled a beautiful cot for the baby so they could effortlessly fall asleep in it alone after half a verse of twinkle twinkle. I, of course, would always be a calm, patient and kind parent. There would be countless hours spent gooing enthusiastically at my new bundle. I would journal and record every imaginable milestone possible. First smile, first fart – no achievement would go uncelebrated. But as they say, everyone is a perfect parent….until they have children!
The Reality of Parenting
If giving birth and all that it entailed wasn’t shocking enough, sleep deprivation and an overwhelming sense of not having a clue what I was doing hit me hard in the beginning. I’m not sure I had really prepared myself for the fact that I was never to be alone again (ever!). When my second son arrived I was with two tiny people all day long and yet I had never felt so lonely in my life. I craved adult company. I struggled to find time in the day for myself to do simple things like shower or dry my hair. Getting out for lunch became a near impossibility with two kids. I had an empty cot taking up half my bedroom and a baby taking up half my bed! I was determined to breastfeed, which luckily was incredibly successful. So successful in fact that all of my children outwardly refused to entertain a bottle. This meant lots of midnight feeds and fun for me as my husband snored beside me.
Since the arrival of my third son, I have become an expert one-handed diner. I can also brush one child’s hair, whilst rocking the other and playing football with a third. Sometimes when I go to the toilet at the weekends and no one is with me I feel like I’m on holidays. I crave time to myself and yet when they head to their grandparent’s house for an hour or two without me, I miss them. The reality is: parenting isn’t a rational lifestyle choice at the best of times, and you will spend much all of your time questioning yourself and everything you do!
Who Am I as a Parent?
There are lots of things I hadn’t really considered when embarking on my journey into parenthood. The first is probably the intense and all-consuming love that you feel for your children. Like yes, I obviously anticipated I would love my kids, but until they were here with me, I didn’t really understand the depth and ferocity of that love. I find myself looking at them at different points in the day and smiling to myself thinking ‘yup, I created that’. That feeling of pride isn’t even marginally comparable to all of my other lifetime achievements combined.
This all-consuming love is what makes it very easy to get lost in yourself and who you are after becoming a mother or parent. For a long time, I found it hard to see beyond myself as Emma, Luke’s Mama and considering the other parts of Emma that were still there. For me, as time moved on the feeling of being ‘just a Mom’ started to niggle at me. I knew I need to re-establish a balance between being a great person capable of amazing things who also happens to be a pretty great parent. As a mother, I feel a constant struggle between being selfless and being selfish. I say selfish in the sense of making time for myself. Adopting some self-care in order to be in the best headspace possible. Why? So that I can parent to the very best of my ability. I’m a firm believer that happy parents are better parents.
There is a constant pressure to fit it all in. I want to make all of the unforgettable memories and share those experiences with my kids. The long-term goal is to ensure that each of the boys experiences a childhood that they don’t need to recover from!
How Have I Changed?
With the arrival of a third tiny human, things have obviously changed considerably since I started out as a fresh-faced twenty-something mother. I have made epic parenting fails and learnt from them. There have been heartwarming wins and I have learnt from those too. I have found different tribes of like-minded parents with whom I live the shared experience that is parenthood, both locally and online. I have learnt to embrace the chaos and imperfection and lowered my expectations about things going to plan. I’m constantly evolving and changing as a parent – a sure sign that I am learning and applying new-found parenting pearls of wisdom that I have picked up along the way.
In conclusion, at the end of each day, no matter how wonderful, hectic or stressful it may have been, I remind myself:
There are no perfect parents. There are no perfect children. But there are plenty of perfect moments along the way.
Photography by the very talented Little Things by Michaela