I was just 22 when I had my first child. At the time I remember thinking that I relatively had my shit together, however looking back, I knew zero about parenting and together with my (very young) husband, we were just feeling for the lights in the dark for many years, winging it on a daily basis whilst trying to do the best we could by our boy.
Less of a child and more a man-child, our boy is 15 now. There are 13 and a half years between our son and our daughter so naturally, we are different people than we were thirteen years ago. I’m sure that’s not abnormal; I’m sure most people change as they get older, whether that be changes in maturity, in temperament, in attitude, in priorities; people must naturally change as they age, meet different people and take different paths with their lives. The biggest change we have seen in each other is the way we parent.
These are just a few things we have done differently the second time around:
- Relaxed a bit:
Even at 22 I was highly strung. That was nothing to do with becoming a young mum, I was pretty highly strung before I got pregnant. For some reason, I was just like that. It did, however, spill over in to my parenting. I was a big worrier. If it had been socially acceptable to wrap my baby boy in cotton wool and tie him to my left leg so that he could never leave my side, I probably would have done so. No ‘probably’ about it, actually. I was a ‘text book Mum’ according to my out-law. As much as I would never admit that she was right, I do sort-of-kind-of-agree-through-gritted-teeth that she was right. I was trying to be the parent they talked about in the guide books, the parent you see in Pampers TV Ads or the parent you see in the Mum & Baby magazines. I tried to be perfect. I will never forget the ends of the earth I went to in order to look ‘perfect’ for my Midwife’s first home visit. I got up ridiculously early (even before the baby – what complete and utter madness that was!), washed, dried and straightened my hair, chose a smart outfit (one far too formal to be wearing sitting around the house with a colicky baby) and dolled on the make up. The result? My midwife was suspicious! I thought I’d present as the ‘perfect mum’ and it actually had the opposite effect! She looked at me up and down in surprise as she asked what I had planned for the day. I said ‘nothing’ and she looked utterly confused. Probably because I looked like I was about to go to the biggest job interview of my life; and all three days after giving birth to a whopping nine pound ten ounce milk-guzzling machine.
With my second, there was no reading of guide books, no Mum & Baby magazines (having the time to read them would have been a fine thing) no lusting after the perfect mummy image. I greeted the Midwife in coffee stained pyjamas, with hair that hadn’t been washed in a week and she had to wipe the crumbs of digestive biscuits off the sofa before she sat down. I remember with my first baby feeling really exposed when getting him undressed in front of the Midwife to be weighed. I worried that she was examining the way I was pulling his little arms through his vest. I worried that she would bellow at me ‘You can’t do it like that!!!’. Obviously there had been a large gap between my children so in some ways it felt like I was having my first baby all over again. It wasn’t like riding a bike, much to my dismay, it didn’t all come back to me naturally. There were no two ways about it; I did feel out of touch with it all. But, this time, when the midwife was sat watching me undress my baby girl, I didn’t feel like I was being scrutinized. Yes, sometimes I felt clumsy in the way I was undressing her but that was more about me wanting to be gentle and careful with all five tiny teeny pounds of her. I felt a confidence about the way I cared for, and interacted with, my daughter. A ‘this is the way I parent, like it or lump it’ type of confidence.
- Felt able to ‘let go’ a bit:
I never allowed my son to swing high on the swings at the park, climb the climbing frames, sledge down hills, jump in the deep end of the pool – if I considered the activity to pose even the slightest bit of a risk (even if it was a totally safe, measured risk), it was a no-no. I didn’t encourage him to embrace freedom because I didn’t want him to have any! Looking back I now understand that was more about me than it was about him. I wanted him to need me and for that reason I never made a conscious effort to encourage independence or freedom. Years on, I can see the ill effects of that style of parenting and it isn’t something I’m particularly proud of.
Little Miss is only 17 months old but I can already see a difference in her character and confidence compared to what my son was like at that age; I firmly believe that a lot of that is down to us embracing a completely different parenting style. This time round both my husband and I have made a conscious attempt to ‘socialise’ her, ensuring she spends lots of time with other people so that a dependence on us doesn’t develop. She can, of course, be clingy sometimes, usually when she’s poorly or tired, but she isn’t afraid to go to other adults she knows or play with other children.
We embrace the swings, slides, jumping in puddles and jumping on the bed; she has so much fun and is adventurous as a result. I might have bitten all my nails off in the process watching her but it is her that matters, not me.
- Became ‘at one’ with crying:
There was never any question as to the pair of lungs my boy had as a baby – he was the loudest baby on the maternity ward; he single handedly out-cried all the other babies. Even when I’d gone through the ‘why is your baby crying?’ checklist and knew he was dry, fed, warm and so on, I always found it really hard to listen to his crying. To me, that was my precious baby telling me he was unhappy and I found it really hard sometimes that I couldn’t soothe or settle him. As he grew in to a toddler, I still would find it hard to see him upset and boy did he know it! He played me like a good’un! He ended up getting his way more times than not. He still does come to think of it!
I don’t know whether it’s something that has come as a result of maturity or what but this time round, I am good with crying. Me and crying have made amends. I don’t want to sound careless because I don’t care any less than I did with my first, but this time I am able to keep things in perspective. A bit of crying is not the end of the world for them or for me. Certainly now Little Miss is a toddler and starting to show she is quite the stubborn and strong willed little thing, we are no stranger to tears and tantrums in this household. The difference this time round is that hearing her cry doesn’t upset me or stress me out. Obviously I’d prefer her to be happy, but her shedding a few tears over not being able to have ice cream for her breakfast, lunch and dinner (nasty mother that I am…) or because she wants to wear odd shoes for nursery is not the end of the world. I now understand that a few tears here and there aren’t going to harm her. And it’s all character building, right?
- Been Selfish
I used to be the female equivalent to the ‘Yes Man’. I just never said no – like, to anyone. If someone wanted help, whether that be with a uni assignment, their decorating, their work, their babysitting or anything else it may be, I would say yes. I never felt able to say no to anyone, even when the saying ‘yes’ meant giving up my free time or time with my precious family. I’ve gradually, over the years, got a lot better at saying no. My boy got big in the blink of an eye. One day I was cradling him in my arms and the next he’s going out to town with his friends and about to sit his GCSEs. I have longed to go back in time and enjoy him being little for just a little bit longer. I now realise that if I had said ‘no’ more and been more selfish with my time, I would have spent more time with him. I was, by no means, absent from home on a regular basis but when you factor in full time work and all the other bits I said ‘yes’ to, it starts to eat in to the time that should be strictly reserved for family time.
This time I have said ‘no’ more and I have been extremely selfish with my time. I know how quickly my baby girl is going to grow up and I don’t want to miss a thing. If that means appearing like a bad friend, or a boring person who doesn’t have a life outside of her work and children, then I’ll take that. I’ll take that ten fold, because I want to spend every possible moment with my family. They make me happy.
- Been more ‘Present’
I’m not one of those people that ‘s about to launch in to a lecture about the effect our mobile phone usage is having on our children because a) I’m not judgmental and b) I would be being a complete and utter hypocrite because I’m quite fond of my phone myself. However, speaking from personal experience, I know how easily my phone can hook me in and before you know it, half an hour is passed and you’re not quite sure what you’re looking at or how you got there. I use my phone a lot – for work, for keeping in touch with friends and family, for my diary, for social media and for lots of other reasons. Whilst I acknowledge that I’m quite a heavy user, I also acknowledge that it takes you away from the moment you’re in. I didn’t realise until I went on a social media detox on holiday just how much I was missing by being on my phone a lot. Just like with the above, I know that my daughter’s childhood is going to fly over in a millisecond. I’m not prepared to miss that for anyone or anything. I am definitely more acutely aware of my phone usage when I am around the kids. Yes I’m glued to it once the kids have gone to bed but there’s no harm in that if that’s how I choose to spend my (very limited) free time. When my phone is off or away I am definitely more aware of what is going on around me, I’m more active in conversations with my Big Lad, I’m more able to concentrate on what he is telling me and I’m definitely more present in the moment with Little Miss.
- Been more grateful
After ten years of trying for our second child and battling with secondary infertility, we were always going to feel extremely blessed to have a second child. We have been blessed with two gorgeous children and I feel so incredibly lucky.
However, when we had our first, I was too young to realise just how lucky we were. I took the conception, the straight forward pregnancy and the healthy baby at the end of it all, all for granted. With Little Miss I have felt extremely blessed at every step of the way and her existence has made us even more aware of how lucky we are to have both our children. For a number of years we genuinely thought we weren’t going to have a second child. I’ve sat in the waiting room at the fertility clinic opposite couples without any children. That was an experience that instantly opened my eyes to how lucky we were to be parents at all.
Now we are a family of four, something that I never thought we would achieve, I feel like the luckiest woman in the world and I will never, ever, take either of my children, or the time I spend with them both, for granted.
So, you see, the second time around can be very different to the first. It’s no better or no worse to the first, but it can be very different. My only advice would be to relax, go with the flow and you will enjoy parenting so much more. It’s a tough gig, I get it. I have those moments where you just want to scream in to the abyss or sit in the corner of the room sobbing, rocking back and forth. But we get back up, and we get back up again for the gorgeous kiddiwinks in our lives.