The first two years of your baby’s life are filled with so many lessons, most of which you can only appreciate or recognise with the gift of hindsight. So, as my daughter approaches her 3rd birthday, and my brand new son enters into his seventh week of life, I thought it would be a good time for me to reflect back on 5 things that I learned in those crazy 2 years. My hope is that it may offer some reassurance to other mothers, and also serve to remind me of a few things as I walk this road for the second time.
- “This too shall pass” – I know, it’s such a cliché! But it really is a great mantra. The hard times always pass, even though it may not feel like it when you’re in the thick of it. By the same token, this saying is also just as true for the “easy” times. Have you ever seen a parent announce on social media that their baby has slept through the night? I always cringe when I see this, because 9 times out of 10, the next time you see that parent and enthusiastically high-five them, they will look sheepish and confess that baby has started waking again – even more frequently. Such is life. Take each day as it comes, because good or bad, you can be guaranteed that it won’t be like that forever.
- Babies don’t progress in a straight line – Let’s consider again that parent who joyfully announced to everyone that their baby now sleeps through the night, only to have things go backwards again a day, a week or a month later. Too often that parent ends up seeing their baby – or themselves – as having failed somehow. How did it get messed up? He was sleeping through! We did it. We won! Well. No. Because babies do not progress in a straight line. They go forwards, backwards and hell, even side to side. They sleep, and then they don’t. They eat everything you give them, then they are only interested in cheese sticks, or better yet, old dog biscuits they found behind the garbage bin. It’s okay! They are allowed to progress and regress. It’s all a part of growing. They will get there eventually, just don’t expect them to follow a predictable path, or rather your path. Let them find their own and surrender to the unpredictability. It’s far easier than fighting against it. And, also speaking of old dog biscuits, this brings me to my third point…
- They will eat eventually! – My daughter hardly ate a thing until she was about 15 months old. Seriously! She would sample things, like some kind of snooty wine taster, and then spit them out. Occasionally she would swallow some food but especially if it had chunks or was chewy, forget about it. She honestly lived off breastmilk for almost her first year and a half and it completely sustained her. She just wasn’t fussed about eating. She enjoyed her liquid diet. Now, at nearly 3 she doesn’t stop eating. “Mummy! I want some food!” Is her current catch-phrase (used interchangeably with: “Mummy I need food!” and “Hmmm! I’m hungry! I think I should get some food!”) It’s like she’s making up for lost time. So seriously, parents, stop trying to force your kids to eat. They WILL eat eventually. And to those mothers who are breastfeeding their toddlers – don’t underestimate your milk. We live in a culture that isn’t conditioned to appreciate how much our older babies get from our breastmilk and how our breastmilk changes appropriately as the baby gets older. If your child prefers his mother’s milk to a bowl of sweet potato or a vegemite sandwich that is absolutely okay.
- There isn’t a magic age for when they stop needing you – “I sort of can’t wait until she doesn’t need me so much”… this is probably one of the saddest things I have ever heard another parent say because, at 31 years of age, I still need my mother. Admittedly, not for the same reasons as I did when I was young, but still for reasons that are completely legitimate. I think that a lot of parents have an expectation that their babies will need them less when they hit a certain age, but this isn’t true at all. They will just need them in a different way. For example, a 2 year old may not need to be rocked to sleep (though I’m sure some do) but many will still need a loving parent to lie with them until they fall asleep. They may not need the presence of a parent from the same fear of abandonment as that of a newborn, but their fears of the dark, or their simple desire for closeness and comfort from someone they love, isn’t any less valid. Children need us, regardless of their age.
- Try to enjoy the journey – I know it’s hard. I’ve had those difficult, dark moments too. But I speak to a lot of grandparents in my job (and a lot of friendly strangers in my day-to-day life) and a common saying I hear is: “Enjoy it while it lasts.”
While it lasts… Because it doesn’t last. It’s easy to feel like you are going to be the parent of a baby forever, but in truth, you are only that for a very short period of time. Then, they grow up and that baby disappears. There will come a time in your life where you will never have to change another nappy, never have to spend another hour negotiating with someone to get dressed, and never have to wake up in the middle of the night (countless times) to soothe someone back to sleep again.
But there will also come a time in your life when you won’t be able to hold your tiny, helpless baby in your arms again, or get to rub your face against their soft, baby hair, or snuggle them in your bed in the darkness. So as hard as it is, try to enjoy the journey. Because although it can be tempting to just want to hurry up and reach your destination… you need to remember that once you get there, your baby won’t be your baby anymore.