(First published on The Contented Calf Website on Wednesday 28th November 2012.)
Last night I sat in semi darkness, holding a sleeping 7MO in my arms.
She’d fallen asleep during her final evening feed. Having only managed a not so grand total 45 minutes sleep at nursery (four pesky top teeth seem to be pushing their way down all at the same time – ouch!), she was a tired little bundle. Although she was completely sparko and had long stopped actually feeding, I just gave myself a few minutes more to enjoy the moment.
There’s nothing more glorious than holding a sleeping child in your arms is there?
As I looked down at her beautiful, soft face, gently breathing away, I took a deep breath myself and acknowledged how grateful I am to have her. It’s not only that we’re blessed that she’s here, healthy and (generally) happy (except when those pesky teeth make their presence felt). It’s that by her being our ‘Number Two Child’, and me now being a Second Time Mum, she’s really cemented me into my role as a mum.
It may seem slightly crazy that it wasn’t cemented before, as I’ve been a mum for quite a while now – 3YO is fast becoming a 3.5YO, and she keeps pointing out to me “I’ll be four next birthday, so I need to have four (raisins, crisps, grapes, chocolate buttons etc)”. So it’s not as if I’m still that ‘caught in the headlights’ New Mum I was back then.
But some of you may remember, I for one certainly struggled with my new identity as a Mum – it took me a long time to properly feel like one (see “It takes nine months…”).
And it only started feeling completely second-nature around the 18 month / 2 year mark. I kept just having moments of looking in on myself and thinking “I’m a mum! Really? How strange….” It’s not that I didn’t want to be, just more that I still felt like I was ‘too young’ (I’m not. Really, I’m not.)
But then again, I was one of those people who could never utter the word ‘fiancé’ and it was probably around 18 months / 2 years before I stopped giggling (or at least wanting to) after saying the word ‘husband’. So it’s not surprising really that it was going to take a while for me to adjust to being a mum.
When 3YO first came along, everything was all so new. EVERYTHING.
I knew nothing.
Despite reading books, attending classes and having friends with babies, I was totally unprepared. And it felt so vital to get it all ‘right’. Obviously, all parents understand that their child’s life depends on them totally. In this sense, getting the care right is vital.
The problem is that not only are all babies different, but all parents are different and all situations are different. So it is virtually impossible to work out what the right thing is, and even more impossible to learn from previous experience and apply that learning to the next one! (See my First Time Mum flaw in my cunning plan here?)
Everything feels so chaotic! As one of my friends commented when she went back to work after her maternity leave: “Of course it’s tough juggling everything, I miss my baby and I’m totally shattered, but I love the fact that when someone asks me a question at work, I know the answer!”
On top of this, whether it’s my genes, upbringing, schooling or general life experience, I’m someone who does like order and method and planning and detail…… control. If I can gather enough information and think about something enough, I’ll get the answer.
Of course, this approach just does not match with parenthood does it?
Especially with my gorgeous bundle of explosive energy that is our 3YO.
Parenthood is full on; starting the day on the back foot; ‘boom!’ you’re awake; mess everywhere; do 100 things at once; non-stop; no clues; no answers; reliant on gut-feel; you being the rule maker; you being the decision maker; constant tidying; constant washing; constantly tired. (I know I’m missing a zillion more. You get the gist though.) Of course there was going to be a clash.
Then this Spring 7MO joined the party too.
Yes it’s exhausting – no more ‘sleeping (or at least sitting down) when the baby sleeps’. Instead you have to give some much craved attention to your poor Number One child, who has had to play second fiddle to The Baby’s needs.
Yes it’s a constant juggling act – the needs of a young baby are naturally very different to those of a 3YO. There are a LOT of tears – from all of us! And you have to learn to operate while being screamed at full throttle by both unhappy campers at times – often at the start of a car journey.
Oh yes, and you practically never ever get an unbroken night’s sleep. Case in point: 7MO has FINALLY slept through for FIVE NIGHTS IN A ROW (so happy!) On the other hand, 3YO has been a bit under the weather, so up every hour or so with ‘bad dreams’ for the past couple of nights. I’ve had a bad cold, so unable to sleep past 4:30am….. Etc, etc, etc.
This time round I actually experienced the ‘Babymoon’ couple of weeks that people talk about after we first brought 7MO (well One Day Old) home. It was so wonderful just to enjoy that time, high on hormones, without the uncertainty about what was to follow.
This time I haven’t changed who I am. I’m already a mum. This is already my life, already who I am. It’s just that at times my stress levels reach 11/10 instead of 10/10! And I know there is no ‘right’. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It can’t be. As one of my friend’s NCT teachers said: “Good enough is good enough“. My parenting is not perfect in any way, but 3YO (and 7MO) knows a) that I love her unconditionally and b) there are boundaries. I try to remember that when I’m fretting about some parenting ‘issue’ or other.
In return for not having as much attention laid on her, having her toys constantly ‘borrowed’ by 3YO, and carted round to various play-groups, classes and playgrounds, 7MO benefits from a MUCH less neurotic mother.
Of course I still wonder whether it’s teeth, or tummy, or tiredness as to why she’s crying and won’t sleep. I just don’t obsess over it. And the weekly weigh-ins are more like monthly (er-errm, or much longer, ssshhh….) as I can see she’s healthy and growing. I’m much less often at the doctors (or on google!). And I have the experience to know that all phases pass and we won’t be stuck forever in whatever difficult period we happen to be in.
I finally feel like I can confidently put on my CV ‘Mum’ and know I’m not just blagging it. And I’m so very grateful to 7MO for giving me the opportunity to do it all over again.
With love from our family to yours,