Last month, our eldest daughter turned five! We have been parents for five whole years. I can honestly say, it has been the biggest learning curve of my life.
I’m not sure anybody is ever completely prepared for parenthood. Even people with actual qualifications and years of childcare experience, like me!
Having your own is on another level!
So I began thinking about what I have learned so far. I believe I am still learning and don’t think that I will ever stop. None of us are experts and I don’t know any parent who doesn’t want the best for their children. But there are certain things that really stand out in my head when I think about it and I have chosen some of them for this post.
So here they are: five things I have learnt since becoming a mummy.
1. Children are human and allowed to feel feelings
Before having children I had such a different mindset about children ‘feeling’. I cringe now at how completely naive I was and how wrong I had it.
I obviously knew that babies would feel tired, hungry, hot, cold etc. Physically uncomfortable feelings were expected, weren’t they?
But it’s what happened as my girls got older that I wasn’t expecting. It’s what they taught me that changed my understanding.
I no longer think that a screaming two-year-old is just going through the ‘terrible twos’. I no longer feel uncomfortable when a small child is crying. More than that, I have come to see them as individual human beings rather than just putting them under the ‘children’ umbrella.
Now I understand that it must be so frustrating for a child to want to share their feelings with their parents and to want to ask for help without actually being able to verbalise what’s wrong. Even more so when they’re reprimanded for it.
Feelings of anger, frustration, fear, excitement, feelings that are natural to us are also perfectly normal for a child to feel. Only difference is that we understand them and know how to deal with them.
When my children are crying, and I mean genuinely crying, there is usually a very good reason. Even though it can be exhausting and frustrating, these children are people and deserve our respect. When something is wrong in their little lives it’s up to me as their mummy (and my husband as their daddy) to try and fix it for them.
I don’t always get it right, sometimes they can be so annoying (honestly!) but I know now not to just dismiss them each time and know better than to just try my best to stop the noise.
Whatever they’re feeling, at this age, the display is usually tears. But they’re not always for the same reason. Asking them to stop the tears isn’t enough, we have to find out how best to help them and in time, they’ll understand their own feelings better.
2. It’s ok for them to be bored
I used to think that you had to occupy a child every minute of the day with something. Either a game or an activity, even taking them to places.
While all those things can be fun and do still happen, there are times when we haven’t had time to get something planned for them and that is ok.
When my girls are waiting for me or wondering what to do, sometimes the best ideas and the best games are born from those in-between times.
I’ve heard them complain about not knowing what to play, gone to sort something out for them and come back to witness an amazing game between the two of them. Similarly, when I’m in the middle of housework or jobs that need doing, they may complain about wanting to play with me but it usually doesn’t last long, they will find something by themselves.
When there’s nothing to do, their imagination takes over. They’re more likely to actually look for inspiration if myself or my husband aren’t there to provide it. And it’s also good for them to not have constant stimulation, their brains sometimes need time to unwind.
When my girls are occupied they have been known to stay that way (either by themselves or with each other) for an extended amount of time.
Occasionally their games involve running up and down the hall or jumping on the beds; guess boredom doesn’t automatically mean ‘quiet’.
3. Outdoors is great for everything
I do love being outside. Nature is something that really speaks to me and I love being surrounded by it. We used to sit in the garden with Miss C when she was a baby and loved it.
(I remember being not quite so relaxed once she started crawling but we soon got over it)
As the girls have grown older I’ve realised how easy and lovely it is on the days when they just want to be outside. Eating, messy play, water play are so much better in the garden. There’s less mess in the house (which is always a bonus!) and the children aren’t as restricted in what they can do.
Plus, it’s always nice to feel the grass underneath your bare feet.
The problem we have here is the weather. Miss A especially likes to be outside and she’s not put off by a bit of rain or wind. I know it’s good for them to get fresh air but when I have to go outside with her on the not-so-warm days, well, let’s be honest, sometimes I’d rather not. But when we do get nice, dry days and the girls spend hours just playing outside it’s great!
They get exercise, sunshine (sometimes) fresh air and can be as messy as they like. If they get in the bath with dirty knees, dirty feet and a smile, we know it’s been a good day.
4. Our idea of mess is sometimes an amazing game
There have been so many times when I’ve walked into a room and found toys absolutely everywhere. The girls will be playing in a corner with one little thing surrounded by a disaster.
Sometimes it is just that boxes have been tipped out and they’ve got everything out to look for one thing.
Other times, however, it’s part of their game.
I often hear the girls in their play as I’m approaching the room they’re in and it was through doing this a few times that I discovered that what looks like mess to me, is sometimes a lovely game.
Yes it may mean that the duvets have been pulled off the bed to make picnic blankets and the plastic food from the kitchen is everywhere. It may mean there is a trail of toys across the floor of the landing that is actually part of the pirates’ treasure. It may mean much more mess than I would actually like to see in my own home and more often than not, it will get tidied away.
The difference now though is that the tidying isn’t immediate.
If they’re in the middle of a game, I have to force myself to let them carry on and just ignore the fact that my previously tidy living room is covered in brightly coloured chaos.
More often than not, the girls will help me put things away if asked, and when they don’t, they don’t. But it’s the timing of it that’s changed with me now and I’m careful not to charge in somewhere, demanding that they ‘tidy up this mess!’ before working out if they’re still in the middle of chasing fairies, swimming under the sea or mountaineering.
5. They are capable of much more than I sometimes give them credit for
This one is really all about trust. Not to mention my own ‘control’ issues. My husband is much better at encouraging independence than I am. He is more of a risk taker anyway and you can see it filtering through in the way he brings up our children.
I’m much better than I used to be and it’s because we have the girls.
They are more competent than I give them credit for and more capable. We just have to let them show us.
I’m not talking about everyday things such as independent eating or dressing. (although sometimes I still need extra patience, even for that) I’m talking about them helping us with our everyday things such as cooking or completing jobs.
It’s about letting them try things and sometimes making mistakes. About letting them understand safety and learning how to do certain things on their own. (or at least let them think they’re on their own)
If they know they are trusted it encourages them to trust us back. And believe me, I don’t always find it easy. Sometimes I’d like to hold them tightly and never let go but then, how will they ever learn?
So even when I know things will get messy, even when a simple thing is going to take twice as long with them helping, I sometimes have to force myself to relax and let it happen.
Not only is my husband helping me with this, but the girls are too. They are strong, independent children and proving to me more and more that they are very capable.
And that means they’re proving to me that they actually can be trusted. A lesson I feel is just as important for me as it is for them.
I have discussed this post with my husband a few times and I thought it might be a good idea to ask him what he has learned since becoming a father. He wrote a little something down after thinking about it for a while and the following words are his own:
“People that surround them are their role models. If we are on edge or panicky, they too will be. If we are calm, collected and act like we know what to do, they will be calm, collected and feel in control. If we dance like crazy people in the living room, so will our mini human beings. If we eat everything on our plates they will have a good go and not be afraid to, either.
The way we are contributes to the people they are becoming. Hopefully trying to get them to be the best they can be will bring out the best in me.”