Saturday, 6 February 2016

Advice

I wrote a tiny thing for the Guardian today about the advice I wish I'd had when I had children. I couldn't quite decide what to write, so this is the other version I wrote, which is also true, and an attempt to put into words what I felt, and feel, most intensely about parenting, but came out a bit incoherent:

Pregnant at 26, I was certain I would not become “one of those obsessive, weird mothers who stare at their children all the time.” I was, I believed, young enough to be selfish about my own needs and that selfishness would save my sanity. After my son was born and I was wondering, shell-shocked, how the hell childbirth had stretched my nostrils, for God’s sake, I wish someone had told me the following: 

“You’re already one of those obsessive mother weirdoes, numbskull. You will spend the next year bound to this incontinent, snurkling piglet creature physically and psychically to such a degree you will lose any notion of who you used to be. Let us be clear - this is not because you enjoy it; rather it seems to be some kind of biological imperative you are powerless to countermand. Even leaving a room with your son in it will seem wrong and unnatural and as you sit and stare at him as he sleeps, because apparently you are now incapable of doing anything else, your helpless co-dependency will terrify and oppress you. But keep the faith. You are still yourself. 

That weirdly intense physical connection never goes away, but it slackens gradually, like one of those retractable dog leads and eventually your brain will be - partly - your own again. You will read books, have friends, take an interest in the world, go out for the evening without feeling sick with rootless anxiety, eventually. 

Sometimes, even when your kid is a surly, exasperating giant who steals your headphones, the lead will snap taught again and you’ll need to hold him tight and listen to his heart beat until he shakes you off in disgust, but that’s ok too. That retractable lead is love and sometimes love feels like a sudden tightening round the throat, not a fuzzy glow. Embrace it, find an accommodation with it. It's not like you have any choice in the matter. Sorry about the nostrils, they’ll never look normal again. Try a bright lipstick, MAC do good ones.”


After that, I also thought of a third piece of advice which is "learn some really basic baking, but hold it in reserve until your children are old enough to regard it as an act of miraculous witchcraft, then bring it out." I have had more kudos from my kids for whipping up scones in 5 minutes or doing those terrible Pokemon cakes I used to make than for anything else I have ever done. I make scones about twice a week now and everyone looks at me like I'm Derren fucking Brown or something. Satisfying.

Fellow parent-drones, what advice do you wish you'd had?

11 comments:

Hannah said...

As the proud owner of a six-week old and an almost three-year old, can I just say that I take great solace from your reassurance that I am still myself. I was only saying to my husband yesterday that I cannot shake the feeling that I am only half here. I think it's a combination of being sleep deprived and not being able to guarantee that I will be able to wash my parts every morning. That, and spending large portions of the day listening to a baby monitor as it pipes yelps and grunts into the living room where I pretend to "relax" whilst my baby "naps". It's the platitudes that are getting me through it. I repeat in my head about 60,000 times a day the following mantras, which I now know, thankfully, to be mostly true: "this is not forever", "you will find a routine", "they grow up eventually", and, most importantly, "if you can just get to 5pm then you can start the bedtime wind down and then there will be a glass of wine". Anyway, reading your blog gives me a lot of joy when I am sitting in a darkened room frantically shushing the baby, so thank you very much for that.

Place to Stand said...

I was at a lunch yesterday with a lovely family and a six week old baby - I was literally about to stand on the table and yell - just cuddle them, play with him, go to fucking baby yoga and sing Miss Molly whatever. Take TIME in the queue in Trotters when buying Start Rite shoes. Laugh when they are car sick.

Watch them when they sleep. Don't be arsey if they are stroppy they are just learning.

See Peter Jones as a visceral mothership. Stuff the fact that you are knackered and you have a gut. Sod sleep you will get some when they are bigger because soon enough they get bigger and one day bigger than you and their voices change and they don't always want to hold your hand.

In an nutshell enjoy every minute. It's Dickens birthday so I am utterly overcome with emotion.

Patience_Crabstick said...

My four children are mostly adults now (ages 23, 22, 20, and 16) and I wish I could tell my younger self to have been less anxious and also to NOT fuss so much about messes and neatness or control issues. I tried not to make the same mistakes my parents made, but I made some of them anyway, mostly because of anxiety.

Bytowner said...

So well said Waffle, your description of the gap between who one thinks one will be as a parent and how it really is. It is like an ambush. I wish I had understood earlier on that they will be who they will be, and my job is to love them and support them and teach them good habits and all that, but I do not really have that much control. I learned this in a fairly extreme way as one of my 3 lives with significant disability however this is true for the others as well.
I wish I had understood the trajectory- really hard for the first few sleep deprived months, then easier for 6 months, then the unbelievable marathon of toddlers (hardest of all for me), and then how much FUN it is when are past that and they tell you jokes and talk about their day and have interests. Even adolescence is fun so far. I had a lark going to Mad Max with my huge teenager.
Totally agree with your last point Waffle; I do not cook much- spouse does the every day cooking and he sticks to the basics and no baking. About twice per month I bake either apple crisp or chocolate chip cookies, and receive extravagant praise for these miracles of the pastry chef.

Laura C said...

Waffle, it is a wonderful piece, snapping with its own elastic brilliance in the last line. Am SO LOOKING FORWARD to a whole book!! And thank you from the heart, I really mean it, for putting my book up on your site so prominently. I blush, and am thrilled.

Waffle said...

But Laura you are supposed to already HAVE my book - they sent you one before Christmas! I wrote a note to go with it and everything. Did it get lost? I bet they could find you another if I asked nicely. I loved your book so so so much, as you know. It was wonderful.

Anonymous said...

Your guardian piece is lovely.

What I wish I'd been told:
Savour the joyful moments and don't feel guilty for not enjoying every minute.
I have one year old twins and an older child all with various issues. Many, many people have trilled how blessed I am and how I must enjoy every minute. When the reality is the first year nearly did for me. Yes I am blessed, but yes it is possible to struggle while still loving your happy, thriving children.

Twin specific: completely ignore anyone who says "I had [not twins] that's just like having twins!!" as they are clearly deranged.

Ruth said...

My 'advice', for what it's worth...

Breastfeeding v bottle feeding: do whatever stresses you out the least.

Utilise your co-parent, if you have one, to the hilt. They ARE perfectly capable. They might do things differently, but as long as the kid is still alive at the end of the day that doesn't matter.

If, like me, you worried about having kids because you don't really like kids, fear not. You will love your kid. Although you still might not like it sometimes. Again, this doesn't matter.

Madeleine said...

Late to this, I know, but the best piece of advice I was given when my 4YO was tiny was "progress is not linear". An otherwise incredibly stupid man was bang on with that observation, I feel.

kim at allconsuming said...

Everything is different forever. Stop stressing about it and just grow comfortable in it.

Also, alcohol is not the answer but sometimes it helps. FOR YOU! I mean for you. All sorts of shit breaks loose if you give it to the kid(s).

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