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Before I had my baby I had it all figured out. I had read every book, article, blog and toilet cubicle graffiti message on the topic. I knew what was to be done and not done with babies, how I would parent and — more importantly — how I would not parent and I judged those that came before me. My, my, how rapid and terrifying the descent to reality was.
Quite possibly the first lesson any parent learns is that setting things in stone and casting judgment is just stupid. I mean really stupid because babies are unpredictable. They do not take your carefully drafted 50-step plan to developmental success into consideration. They just brazenly go about trying to lick electrical sockets or choke or sleep with their heads stuffed in pillows. So you have to pick your battles and sometimes you have to give in. When that moment comes — usually on day two of parenting when you forget to put nappy cream on your baby's bum — you have an epiphany. You realise that every parent is just doing their best, already lives in a universe of their own guilt and doesn't need any more of it.
Quick note: Kate Middleton has a team of stylists and nannies. You do not. As a consequence ideas about hygiene, nutrition and style become very abstract in early parenthood (and you don't quite ever recover). A slice of toast becomes acceptable dinner; showers no longer take place daily and can be done in under three minutes while playing peek-a-boo; baggy, ripped and stained items of clothing become a daily uniform and hair morphs into a frayed and knotted "mum bun." None of these things even registers as a concern because you're too busy trying to keep a baby alive. Not even the horrified look on the postman's face is enough to make you realise that you — once again — forgot to clip up your feeding bra.
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Since by day three you will have let go of judging and your own personal standards it follows that setting off on a path of comparison is a bad idea. You dabble at first: "I wonder when my baby will smile," you ponder innocently. Then your mind races to cooing or rolling or weight gain. But things quickly spiral out of control and before you know it you're nervously scanning other babies and googling things like, "newborn moves hand, autism?" or "baby sleeping five hours, imminent death?" And, inevitably, the internet confirms your fears and you completely lose your mind. Not a good idea. You need your mind.
Fortunately it generally doesn't take long to figure out that all babies have their own plan in life and it has nothing to do with your expectations, hopes, dreams, anxieties or fears. Once this thought sinks in (from experience sometime after you've repeated — and heard — "every baby is different" about a hundred times), life becomes easier. You discover that comparison is evil, embrace your baby as an individual and live happily ever after… or at least try.
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Parenthood can be traumatic. You're tired, hungry, lost and relatively sure that a family of raccoons has set up house in your hair. This can lead to sudden and unpredictable drops in self-confidence and trust in your own judgment, ability and sanity. It can be rough and nobody is going to be as brutal about your parenting as you. So when something bad happens — say your baby smacks her head on a toy or sucks on a charging cable — you can feel like a failure. Resist the urge to run into the street and shout, "I'm not fit to be a parent!" At these times it's far more helpful to remind yourself that everybody makes mistakes and you'll just have to do better next time.
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Babies are tiny endurance coaches. On some days you'll actually believe that they were sent to this planet to destroy you via dummy retrieval. You spend hours playing fetch, slightly in awe of your baby's Herculean strength. Equal amounts of time are dedicated to replacing hats, shoes and headbands as your baby throws each away with manic determination. Every day is an exercise in patience. And, amazingly, you have it in spades. There is no other way — become patient or perish.
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Yes. There comes a point in every parent's life when the words "please let me do the grocery shopping and washing up today," are uttered with more than a hint of desperation. Chores become an opportunity to temporarily shirk the responsibility for a human life. For those blissful 30 or so minutes, when you're scrubbing away at the pot with the remains of dinner you burned only minutes before, you are the master of your destiny.
Image credit: Selbe
This is how I feel about the book I've read a thousand times but rely on to calm and occupy my child. It's also an accurate description of the feelings I harbour towards any and all musical toys. They are a blessing and a curse. This startling divergence exists in every fibre of parenthood.
I often have moments when I'm at complete odds with myself: when my daughter got her first tooth I was stupidly excited for a few seconds and then actually (and it is embarrassing to admit this) cried at the thought that she would no longer have her gummy grin. If nothing else, parenthood is a place where these drastic polarities find a turbulent home.
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The instant my daughter was born I was crazy in love with her and, like every parent, thought she was the most beautiful newborn in existence. "Even her poo is cute," I gushed to my friends, "it doesn't even smell." Yes. I now realise this is not normal behaviour.
I have since looked over my baby's early pictures and it turns out my daughter looked like a balding old man. And there is nothing cute about dirty nappies. But that is love. This lesson is something that you feel inside and it is the best.
Disclaimer: My daughter is still a baby. I imagine this list will grow and maybe change as she turns into a toddler, a child, a teenager (at which point I'll start a routine of crying in the shower) and finally an adult.
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