You start off thinking you’re going to be the perfect parent.
You’ll never lose your patience. You’ll never raise your voice. You’ll never let your child see that – yes – they’ve gotten to you and that you’re essentially about to lose it.
I certainly started off that way.
I had grand visions of myself as the ever-calm, always-smiling and never-scary mama who would patiently and lovingly deal with everything my child threw my way. I mean, how hard can it be? They’re children, for heaven’s sake. All you have to do is make them feel “heard” and explain the rationale behind all of your parenting tactics, and they will obligingly and dutifully be the perfect child.
And then there comes the first time your 3-week-old just. won’t. sleep. You’ve nursed her for what feels like not one, but two, eternities. You’re tired. You’re sore. You just want to lie down and close your eyes. Just for a minute. She appears to be contentedly and soundly asleep. You nervously begin to lay her warm and still little body in her cot. As slowly and as gently as possible. It’s almost like the second she feels the cool sheets beneath her, she is startled into wakefulness and nothing will console her except – you guessed it – more nursing.
And then, you cry.
Then there comes the time when you’re about to put your six-month-old to bed for her fourth micro-nap of the day. They don’t usually last long. Half an hour, at most. But you’ve tried everything. Attempting to teach her to self-soothe, laying down next to her, black-out curtains, white noise, calming music, coaxing her into the next sleep cycle by nursing her some more. Bouncing her some more. Holding her some more. Every trick in the book. Nothing works. Half an hour is all you’re getting. And only after endless bouncing, walking, shushing – the formula you’ve figured out which, with some perseverance, will lull her into sleep. But this time, it’s not working. Your back is killing you. Your feet are sore from all the pacing. You need to take a shower. You need to eat something. You just need some space and to not have someone on your person for a moment. But she insists on remaining wide awake, in your arms, and God forbid you put her down. You know she’s tired. Why won’t she sleep?
And then, you cry.
Before long, there comes the time you’re at the grocery store with your 14-month-old. She wants her freedom to roam. She’s started to become verbal, but not verbal enough that she can tell you exactly what she wants. It’s 5.20pm. You’re both exhausted from a long and active day of parks, playgrounds and play dates. You need to cobble something together for dinner, but you’ve realised there’s nothing to cook in the house. It’s the worst time of day to take the baby out because you’re both at the end of your tethers, but you’re left with little choice. She’s strapped into the stroller, which you know she hates, because you just need to get this done as quickly and painlessly as possible. You’re briskly whizzing through the aisles, trying to focus on what you came here to get, but her incessant screams and cries keep bringing you back to square one. Your shopping basket remains empty. You can’t concentrate. You crouch down in front of her and try to ask her what it is that she wants, wishing she could just calmly articulate it to you. She screams at you some more. You offer her the snack you carefully prepared before leaving the house. It gets thrown on the floor. You play her favourite song on that nifty little speaker she always loves. More screaming.
And then, you cry.
And of course, more often than anyone would like, there comes the time your 19-month-old has caught her fifteenth cold in the past year. She is miserable. She is tired, because she hasn’t been getting enough sleep over the past few days. You’re exhausted. You haven’t had a moment’s rest because you’ve been tending to your sick child. She only wants you. No one else. Any attempt to leave her side sends her into complete and utter meltdown mode. You understand, because you know she needs that extra bit of love and attention when she’s not feeling like herself. But you’re also desperate to feel like yourself. You try to persuade her to play with someone else for just five minutes while you take the shower you haven’t yet had the opportunity to take. The whole time, all you can hear through the sound of running water, are her devastating cries. Five minutes feels like five hours.
And then, you cry.
Oh Mama, I cried too. During those moments, I felt helpless. I felt trapped. Overwhelmed. I felt like I was never going to have a will of my own ever again.
No one told me that such a tiny little human being, for whom I had more love than anything in the world, could push me to breaking point. No one told me that during those moments of desperation, I would be so overcome with hopelessness that all I could do was cry. That I would react in a way that was not measured, that was not balanced, that was not consistent with all of the parenting philosophies in which I so strongly believed. That I would be shocked at the sound of my own voice when I snapped. That I would feel so much remorse for the irrational ultimatums I would issue, which I promised myself I would never do. That sometimes, all I could do was leave the room, with my screaming child in it, and shut the door so that I could take a breath.
My baby won’t sleep. My baby won’t eat. My baby won’t stop crying. My baby won’t behave like the perfect infant or toddler that I was expecting. And I am reacting like the imperfect parent I never wanted to be.
Mama, those moments will continue to come. And you need to be kind to yourself. This is not an easy gig. You are doing your best. And go on, admit it, most of the time, you do react in the way that you intended. You are raising and educating another little being, and in turn, through these most challenging moments, they are educating us. Teaching us that patience, while always praised as a virtue, is hard. That speaking kindly, even when anger is about to get the better of you, is hard. That forgiveness, especially towards yourself, is hard. But that all of these qualities, although difficult to develop, are worth it.
And sometimes, despite all that, your baby will still make you cry. And that’s okay. Because you are human. And your imperfect moments teach your child that we don’t acquire these qualities without hard work. And without failing sometimes. But that there is always another chance to be more patient, more kind, more forgiving.