When I was a new mum struggling to get to grips with looking after a baby quite a few people told me stuff like,
‘Oh, if you think this part is hard just wait until she starts teething/weaning/sleep regression/skipping naps etc’
‘When they can crawl/walk/talk/say no/start potty training, then you’ll really know you have kids.’
When I announced I was pregnant with my second child people said stuff like,
‘If you think this is hard just wait till you’ve got two to run after.
You won’t know what’s hit you then.
That’s when you really know you’re a mum.
That’s when you’ll really be tired.
just you wait,
just wait until they,
that’s when you’ll really,
if you think you’ve got it hard now,
just you wait
ad infinitum . . .’
Well, I just waited (whilst obviously actually living my life and not just sitting around waiting for some kind of parental doom bomb to fall on me) and guess what?
Things got a hell of a lot easier.
And ok, I hear you, the ‘just you wait’ crew. I know that my kids are only five and one and that yes, one day they’ll be teenagers and that they’ll undoubtedly be slamming doors in my face and puking up cheap cider into my flowerbeds and telling me that they hate me and won’t want to have lunch with me or a cuddle or whatever. I know there’s loads of really hard things to come and I guess that we’re all really different in how we handle things or whatever but just like how hardly anyone ever talks about how difficult the early days can be with a baby, hardly anyone ever talks about how awesome it is to hang out with your five-year-old for the day.
No one is like, ‘just you wait until you read a proper big kids book with them and you are both genuinely laughing or scared or just totally gripped by the story and it’s kind of magical.’
No one says, ‘just you wait until you can have a proper conversation where you are both really interested in what you have to say to each other.’
No one says, ‘ah, just wait until you watch Wreck it Ralph, you’re going to love it.’
No one says, ‘just you wait until they do a really good impression of you and is genuinely hilarious and totally captures you acting like a twat.’
You know, I never had this kind of OMG/ bursting with pride parenting moment when my eldest learned to walk. She was a late walker and she was always so unsure of herself and never ever let go of my hand, even when she could walk quite capably. Physically she was always a little nervous. She was never willing to just go for it and dive in.
But when she picked up a book and read it out loud to me for the first time, I felt like I was watching those first steps; so shakily bold and new. I felt like I was witnessing something that, for her, was more momentous than anything she could do with her feet, stumbling over the sentences and difficult words, always with her hand poised, ready to push me away from butting in with any offer of help. She didn’t need me to hold her hand. Not with this.
No one is ever like, ‘just you wait until they get older and you get to know them more and discover more of who they really are and what they care about and love doing and you just can’t believe how lucky you are that you’re their mum.’
No one is ever like, ‘hey, if you think it’s really hard now, just you wait until they’re not babies anymore and they sleep all night and you get to sleep all night and you’re not so tired that you fantasise about pillows and sheets and google ‘can I die from sleep deprivation’ at least once a week.’
No one says, ‘oh wow, you’re having another baby, just you wait until they make each other laugh for the first time and one of them is finding the joke so funny that they are just silently vibrating with laughter because they have reached the can’t-actually-breathe level of finding something funny.’
Look, I know full well that being a parent is hard, but in those raw early days with a baby I wish I had been able to see my way out of the fog to some of this joy. Sitting in the semi dark of the early hours of the morning trying to psych myself up to feed my tiny baby from my cracked nipple. Swallowing back the lump in my throat as I finally made it through the supermarket checkout with a toddler at full scream and feeling the eyes and hearing the whispers of other shoppers as I tried to calm her down and cram stuff into bags at the same time. I wish that in some of those moments, by some magical power I had been able to see in to the future because it HAS got easier.
It has got easier and for me I’ve found that the just-you-wait crew were always wrong. Of course it is easier to hang out with a child for the day than it is to hang out with a baby and how does it help anyone anyway to say that things will get harder? Is it some weird kind of one-upmanship? It is just a way of dismissing someone’s experience and feelings by saying that their feelings and experiences are nothing to what they will become?
I dunno, but a couple of months ago I went through a really rough patch. I kept getting sick and the kids kept getting sick and the baby was waking several times in the night and I started to feel quite down.
If I’m being really honest I might as well tell you that some mornings after being awake most of the night either with the kids waking up or me being sick or just thinking ridiculous anxious thoughts I would have a secret cry before everyone woke up, just at the fact that the day was starting over again and I didn’t want it to. I found myself crying quite a lot. It was a really shitty time.
If I’m being super honest I’d say that I started to feel like I was losing it (whatever ‘it’ actually is). I would sit up in bed, sweating and shaking with fever, clutching my sick bucket while my husband snored and the baby hogged the pillow and my daughter cried out to me across the hallway. I remember one night thinking,
I just have to get away from you all.
I worried I was losing it then because I felt like the only way I could feel better again would be to get as far away from them all as possible.
One morning, after a particularly bad night I posted in a little group I am part of about how I was feeling and how I feared I might be losing my mind. The other mums in the group were really supportive and understood exactly how I felt and one of them said that one day I would get enough sleep and that the kids would leave the house for a bit and I would get some time to myself and that they would come home and I would love seeing them. For some reason I really latched onto that, especially the last bit, that I would love seeing them, because at that time things were just so hard and as much as I loved my kids I wasn’t really enjoying my life and all I wanted to see was an empty bed that I could lie on for eight hours alone in the dark.
Sometimes what you need is the alternative just-you-wait. The just-you-wait of hope.
Just you wait until you get some decent sleep.
Just you wait until you laugh so hard.
Just you wait until you feel so close.
Just you wait until you feel so happy.
Just you wait until the day feels easier.
Just you wait until they put their own shoes on.
Just you wait until they play together.
I confess that I am probably one of those awful people who wants to say stuff to new mums when I see them out and about in the street or the supermarket or doctors’ surgery or whatever. I want to be intrusive and butt my nose in. I hold back most of the time but the urge is quite strong because of that feeling of recognition when I see them with their tiny, tiny baby and a muslin draped over their shoulder.
‘It’s so hard,’ I want to say and, ‘you’re doing so well.’
But most of all I want to say,
‘It will get easier.
I promise you it will get easier.’