Oh, how I wish I could go back to the days when I was a parenting expert. Before I had to live with actual children, I had all the answers to all the childrearing questions – even if nobody bothered to ASK me the questions, tsk! So much unsolicited advice and silent judgement. So many apologies I now owe to friends who had kids before I did.
Here is an abridged list of the Things I Would Never Do, Things I Would Never Let My Children Do, and Things I Outright Judged You For before my own children arrived.
1. I Will Never Allow My Kids To Eat In The Car.
This is a throwback to my own childhood. My parents raised five children – FIVE – and somehow religiously adhered to the no-food-in-the-car rule. At the time I thought it was ridiculously strict. As a childless adult who disliked cleaning things, I thought it was perfectly reasonable. As the parent of small children who without fail begin to lose their schmidt as soon as they’re buckled into their carseats, and are without fail instantly comforted by food (the crumblier or stickier the better, apparently) – I say ‘Here! Here!! Have a cracker. Shh, eat up, it’s yummy! That’s right, eat your feelings, sweetheart! Swallow them way down inside. Good girl! We’ll get those crumbs later and deal with your eating disorder in your teens, that’s ages away. Fruit stick??’. I keep food in the glovebox specifically for this purpose. I’ve mastered the art of throwing morsels into the rearfacing carseat behind me while driving, without hitting my daughter in the eye. It’s a complete free-for-all and my car is a mess because I still dislike cleaning things. The only refreshment I’ve put a red light to in the car is ice-cream. My daughter is dairy-intolerant.
2. I Will Not Have My Lifestyle Dictated By My Children’s Nap Schedule.
I once had trouble organising a lunch date with a girlfriend, because she needed to be home by noon so her baby could have her nap. I was baffled, and a little offended that she was giving me such an obvious blow-off. Kids are adaptable, the childless me reasoned. Surely if they’re used to being out and about with you, THEY will learn to fit in with YOUR schedule. Do they really need naps anyway? Can’t they just sleep in the car or on your lap if they get tired? It’s not the end of the world if they miss a nap, right? They’ll just go to bed early and sleep better that night.
UM. NO. SLAP THAT 2008 VERSION OF ME RIGHT IN THE FACE, PLEASE.
The main thing I failed to understand was that naps are sacred because they are Down Time. Not for the child. For the parent. Naps may be the only part of your day when you don’t have someone touching you, or talking to you, or needing you in some way. Aside from the fact that most kids definitely DO need to nap or they start foaming at the mouth, most parents need the break that a nap provides and will strategically plan their days around naptime. I still have a four-hour clear zone in the middle of every day. Not because my kids sleep for four hours a day (if only), but because sometime after 11am someone’s nap is likely to begin, and said nap could last anything from 40 minutes to three hours (on an awesome day), and sometimes both children may even nap at the same time (the Holy Grail of naps). No way am I putting that in jeopardy for the sake of a lunch date, when the alternative is spending time with tired grumpy children for a possible thirteen hour stint. Worst of all is the possibility of the two-minute car-nap, which happens when the morning’s engagements don’t wrap up early enough and the kid falls asleep in the car on the way home, possibly as the car is turning into the driveway. No matter how long or short this car-nap is, my children will behave as though it’s been a good two-hour camp. They’ll wake refreshed and ready to tackle the rest of the day, even if they’ve only been asleep for a couple of minutes. If I look in that rear view mirror and see heads nodding, eyes closing, I crank the music up, start asking loud questions about lunch preferences, wind windows down and generally behave in an obnoxious manner to keep them awake. Sometimes it’s just not enough though.
3. MY Children Will Always Remember Their Manners
No they won’t, you prim little snit. Your kids will shout ‘NO!’ to your face. They will throw sand. They will secretly learn swear words and repeat them at inopportune moments. This will be in spite of your very best efforts to model and encourage good manners. One day your son will stand up in the barber’s chair and loudly declare that his new haircut is ‘stoopid’ before dropping the mother of all tantrums when asked to apologise. This will only deteriorate into violence and foul language (such as ‘idiot’, the worst word he knows) when he discovers that he is not to be rewarded with the strawberry shake he’d been anticipating. During this performance, you will remember the time you chipped a friend’s child for forgetting to say ‘please’, and wish the ground could swallow you up twice.
Side note: Later that day, your son will ‘fix’ the offending haircut with craft scissors. Discussion will reveal that he didn’t want spikes, so he has removed most of them close to the scalp and now looks decidedly mangy. But that’s another story.
4. You Won’t See Me Breastfeeding A Walking Talking Child. Because, Ew.
I can clearly remember being pregnant with my first baby, and trumpeting opinions along the lines of ‘Once the baby is old enough to walk over and ask for a feed, they clearly don’t need breastmilk anymore!’. Nature then saw fit to bless me with a child who walked at 10 months, and could say ‘Boobies!’ and sign ‘milk’ well before his first birthday. So, a walking talking child, but clearly still a baby. Awkward. Luckily, by then I’d figured out that breastfeeding was the cheat’s solution to a zillion parenting problems. Fussy eater? No problem, he’s breastfed so his nutritional needs are met. Got an owie? Boobies’ll fix it. Resisting naptime? Boobiezzzzzz. Sick and not keeping food down? Thank goodness he’s still on the boob! Want to eat whatever you want and stay skinny? Breastfeeding burns more calories than exercise, woo! Oh, and I’d become aware of the recommendations of a little group called the World Health Organisation or some such, who advise that children should be breastfed until at least the age of two. Two! AT LEAST! Well, how embarrassing for me to have to shuffle my feet and confess to my friends that no, I wasn’t planning on weaning anytime soon even though, yes, he was a walking talking toddler. (Nah, not really. By then I’d figured out that it was nobody’s business but ours anyway, and that the pre-kids me really wasn’t entitled to an opinion without a set of lactating bosoms and a baby to attach to them).
5. I Will Never Allow My Child To Eat Things Off The Ground.
As you can see, this is a picture of Boy-Child not only eating off the ground, but eating some of the ground itself. And wearing some of it too. There’s really no further explanation needed here, apart from the fact that it would be a full-time job to try and stop a child from eating things off the ground, and you’d probably still miss something. A friend once told me she saw her baby pick up a mystery item off the floor and pop it in his mouth. By the time she got over there and did the cheek-squeeze to eject said item, all that was left on his tongue was a wing and some legs. Roach? Moth? Cane beetle? We’ll never know, and he survived. I used to freak out when I saw my kid put something gross in his mouth and I couldn’t grab it in time. Then I realised two things:
a. He was perfectly healthy.
b. He probably ate far more disgusting things when I wasn’t looking. Meh.
6. Good Heavens, I’d Never Put My Child On A Leash!
You’ve seen the ones I mean. The kids wearing a harness attached to a little leash, sometimes cunningly disguised as a backpack or a cute animal with a long tail for the parent to hold. I used to be horrified at the indignity of these poor kids being restrained like dogs. ‘What’s wrong with just holding her hand?’ ‘Surely you could put him in the pram if he’s going to run away.’ Cue the above-mentioned Early Walker, who by his first birthday was a fully-fledged Runner. He flatly refused the pram on most outings – by which I mean, I could have physically gotten him into the pram (because: grown-up vs small child) but it would have involved pushing a screaming, thrashing, arched-backed ball of rage around, which isn’t anyone’s idea of a good time. He also proved to be an expert at slipping my grasp and pelting towards whatever interested him way off in the distance, oblivious to roads, bikes, strangers and the impotent squawks of his frazzled mother. (See also: That Kid Is Way Too Old To Be In A Pram. Honey, if your five-year-old is happy to sit in a pram, I no longer sit in judgement of you. I sit in awe and say ‘Hats off to you, Mama. Your life is made easier in this one small way, and good on you for taking advantage of it. Push that easy-going kid to fricking high school if he’ll let you’!). So, I swallowed my pride and bought a damn leash until he was old enough to understand ‘No’ ‘Stop’ and ‘Danger’. Oh, let’s be serious, he still isn’t crash-hot with those concepts, but he’s got a better idea of cause and effect now:
Staying close at the shops = maybe a donut 🙂
Running away = Mummy does that thing with her cross voice and her eye twitching. No donut 😦
Anything I’ve missed? Feel free to share your own pre-kids parenting pearls of wisdom. Childless readers, please consider this your opportunity to tell us what we’re doing wrong and how you’d do it better. It’s all downhill once your own kids arrive so you might as well feel like experts while you can!