The things I would tell myself before I had children
By Emi Watson, mum of two and a Digital Advertising Sales Manager
Yesterday I took three children to soft play. Three whole children.
Now, to a lot of people reading this, that's probably nothing. Especially those of you who actually have three or more children (you lot are my heroes by the way). But, to me, it was a pretty big step considering three years ago I had no children of my own and had never even held a baby until my cousin gave birth ten weeks before I did. That was when I suddenly realised that I was soon going to be sharing my life and home with an unpredictable and confusing new resident. I thought having two clingy cats would prepare me. I was wrong.
Saying the beginning of parenthood was difficult would be an understatement. So, to not only offer to take a friend's child along with my own to an activity, but to do it relatively stress free has really highlighted to me how different I am to the person I was three years ago whose main priorities were what I'd order from Starbucks and what film I'd spend my Sunday morning watching in bed.
So what would I tell 'childless Emi'? How could I make her understand that not only were the things around me going to change but that my very self was going to totally transform and I was going to be kept up at night by important life matters like work life balance, my baby's often unpredictable development and why on earth George Pig's first name doesn't start with a P...?
It's okay to worry
The first thing I'd tell myself is that it's okay to worry you're going to lose all the things you love. They're just going to be replaced by other, cooler things that you love instead. You're still going to enjoy all those things but you'll put them lower in your list of priorities and, oddly, not by force either. You're going to want to do that.
Things like trips to the cinema and entire afternoons browsing around Waterstones are fantastic, but in my experience they don't really stack up with watching your daughter slowly creep along the furniture and taking her first steps while cautiously looking back at you for reassurance and watching your partner develop and become an amazing father. The cinema trips will wait and the books will still be there.
Don't judge mums
Next. Don't judge mothers. It's rude and rubbish and just shows how totally naive you are to this parenting thing. Right now you look at toddlers with dummies and think 'why did they ever give them those?' and see people gently trying to verbally prise their children from the floor of Marks and Spencers where they've thrown themselves after being denied a solitary Percy Pig and think 'just pick them up and walk out'.
Well I hate to tell you but your two-year-old still has a dummy at night and you'd probably give up an entire bag of Percy Pigs if it might make the shopping trip three minutes faster. Don't judge parents who are just getting through their day with as few battles as possible. You're going to do the same and in a fairly unashamed manner too...
Your job will become less stressful
You probably won't believe this since your career is so important to you but having children puts things in perspective. The stressful sales job has actually got much less stressful despite doing the same things because I suddenly know where it comes in my list of priorities. I'm meeting the same sales targets I was before having a family but Fridays aren't about worrying about end of week figures any more and instead about getting home to be with the girls for two whole days.
It doesn't mean that you care less about your job, you love it just as much, but you realise that it is just a job. And that if you had to walk away tomorrow because your family needed you to, you'd do it without a second thought. It's not got smaller in the giant pie chart that is your life, the chart just suddenly got much bigger.
Don't read anything about 'mummy wars' online
Whatever you do, don't read anything about 'mummy wars' online. You would never worry about how people feel about bottle vs breast, cosleeping vs cots, buggys vs babywearing or any of that crap if you didn't read it online. This is because the people around you will support your decisions and at the end of the day that's what matters. Don't be awake at 3am wondering whether the fact she's happy to sleep in a cot means she hasn't bonded well. Just be glad she's sleeping and not screaming and enjoy the rest yourself!
You're not going to care so much about what people think about you with your second child because you're going to be so tired that frankly anything that gets you through the day is going to be a bonus. Even if that means the toddler watches more TV than you'd like or you need to bribe her with a chocolate biscuit to be quiet while the baby naps. Guess what? they're both fine and those chocolate biscuits or occasional Ben and Holly marathons are unlikely to have messed her up too badly.
You may feel low for a bit
Finally, and this is a big one, one of the hardest things I'd have to tell myself is that you're going to feel very low for a while after having your first daughter, M. You're going to look around at everyone enjoying their kids, including your far more relaxed partner, and wonder why you sometimes wish you could get away from it all. Lots of people are having those thoughts too.
In a few years you're going to have the courage to casually mention the low feelings to people and virtually all the mums you speak to are going to admit the same thing. There were days you wanted to run away or days you genuinely thought you might be messing them up far more by being there than not. That is so very common with your first child. But having a second has made me really reflect back on those feelings and I realise now I was probably in the throes of postnatal depression without wanting to admit it.
The far more relaxed early days of babyhood with the second will make you realise how very unwell you were and that's pretty scary. In fact, sometime after having M, you're going to look at photos taken in her early days and it's going to catalogue a blur of time that you don't even remember. Thank goodness for those photos, quite frankly, because without them you'd have totally forgotten about the days of colic and trying everything imaginable to get her to sleep for longer than twenty minutes at a time.
It might seem strange to want to remember those moments but, as your partner always says, they're part of the story. He's somehow managing to document their lives in pictures without actually missing the experiences which is pretty impressive. You're going to be grateful to have someone there who doesn't just take cooey-eyed photos of the baby but actually charts real life. Because some days you're going to feel so bad that it's easier to just block everything out.
But those days, rubbish though they might seem, are as important a part of the story as the cutesy photos of her cuddling the cats or rolling around in her play gym.
So that's it. The things I would tell myself before I had children. Before I suddenly had the wonderful and sometimes frightening title of 'Mother'. In theory, I knew most of these things in fact (well, not the 'better than ice cream thing' because frankly even having gone through it I find that pretty amazing) but living them and actually realising them for yourself is the beginning of the road to becoming a parent.
Despite other people's urgings it's okay to not enjoy and savour every little second because frankly some of it is hard and rather rubbish but the times you look back on and remember vividly will be among the best moments of your life.
Oh and finally don't eat that egg mayonnaise sandwich right before labour. Trust me.
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