Once I was calm, in control and able to problem-shoot a million issues without breaking a sweat. I thought critically about everything and I got paid to “cut through” as a corporate lawyer.
But as a first-time mum, even a cry would send my nerves sky high, my brain into panic mode and trigger the “I can’t do this” self-talk. A first vomit (no one talks about that gruesome milestone!) saw us racing to the Royal Children’s Hospital. And I was drowning in information and advice that was often contradictory, irrelevant and usually unsolicited.
When you become a mother there’s so much noise from the sidelines: from the pages of books; from the internet; from family and friends; and, even, from complete strangers.
One time when Little Mate was around six months old, a friendly-faced woman approached me at the shops. She poked her head into the pram and said “ah, he looks ready for a sleep.”
Those words instantly triggered my anxiety. Settling the little guy at night was challenging for us and I’d been told that he should be self-settling to sleep in his bed during the day. Quickly I made tracks for home, stopping only to poke Little Mate out of his increasingly sleepy state and chastising myself for being out too long.
Now after two more kids and eight years, it’s different.
Now I call advice that does not suit the unique characteristics, personalities and needs of our family at a particular day or time: “noise”. I’m not saying that advice about a daytime nap routine is “noise”, but rather that there are other factors that also need to be considered – like a mum’s need for extra time out of the house – and, in that case, maybe daytime nap advice is “noise”.
While I still waiver and deliberate at times in making decisions as a parent, I no longer feel so overwhelmed by all the information and advice. Three things stand out as significant in my journey to more confidence.
1. Getting professional help
We sought professional help for one of our kids early on. Certain everyday tasks and some social situations were challenging for him: mainly, getting out of PJs, leaving the house and sitting still. Kinder was also not a happy place for him.
When you have a child that is different, you might wonder what you have done wrong – I certainly did. And while I was never that interested in making comparisons, it’s hard not to as a parent when a lot of things are measured in relative terms (eg the way children’s height and weight is measured in percentiles against other children).
Meeting with a developmental paediatrician and later, an occupational therapist, was the start of the turning point for me. These professionals gave us advice tailored to our children and our family. They reassured us about all the things we were doing right (many things they suggested we’d in fact already done) and offered us new strategies to try.
We found books and the internet were not particularly helpful. Sometimes in fact they stoked the fire of my parenting guilt when they suggested things that I could do when my child was a baby that I had not done (he was already three and a half)!
What I know now is that parenting books provide general guidance for a broad audience. When I look back on some of them now, what I see is not all the things I could have done but all the reasons why the book doesn’t suit our family.
They also cannot just be taken as wisdom because they’ve got a shiny cover – a recent study in the UK concluded that some books go against government advice on important issues such as safe sleeping: see Professor Amy Brown and Victoria Harries, “Some baby care books are giving advice that goes against safe infant care guidelines”, The Conversation, 4 July 2019 (http://theconversation.com/some-baby-care-books-are-giving-advice-that-goes-against-safe-infant-care-guidelines-117606).
2. Finding someone to talk to
Some people have friends, relatives or parents they can call on to discuss parenting advice and information and whether it works for their family. Maternal health nurses can also be good for this.
My number one “go-to” has been and remains, our nanny, Jess. For more than six years, we’ve had the benefit of her wise and supportive counsel. Jess came to us with about 10 years of nannying under her belt, childcare and teacher’s aid qualifications, a life lived around children and a desire to always learn more. And she knows our family intimately.
Our relationship has always been a two-way street and most “Jess days” start with lots of chatter. We both bring ideas and observations to the table and workshop them in the context of our family circumstances.
3. Getting some “wins” on the board
There were lots of little wins along the way, like weight gains, smiles and rolls, first words and first steps. But one thing that really stands out to me now as having really boosted my confidence as a mum was when our little guy, who’d detested kinder, bounded into the school gate on day one of Prep with not much more than a “see-you tonight Mum and Dad.” We really haven’t looked back since.
With children aged eight, six and two, I certainly don’t have all the answers (teenagers…argh!). But what I do now have are the tools to find the answers for our family. My number one tool in my toolbox is my gut instinct. Now I have enough confidence to trust it in all the noise.
Whatever stage you are in your parenting journey, I hope this post gives you comfort that you were or are not alone and, perhaps if you’re in the thick of it, some ideas for what might just help get you through it.