Since when did I become the one dishing out parenting advice? This morning I found myself ending a message with the legend ‘You can never have too many muslins’ while wishing a friend good luck on leaving the house with her newborn baby girl.
A few hours later it dawned on me just how far we’ve come from that point.
I still remember Adam’s first trip out to the Broughton Deli (still a regular hangout now; he has his regular highchair and we share lunch). He was snuggled into a stretchy wrap and we fussed about whether he was warm enough/too warm, if he would suffocate and if we had enough spare nappies etc for the 200 yard walk. I was all at sea, and my enduring memory is of a sense of ordered chaos. Its a fond memory now but seems like decades ago. A different me, a different Adam.
And what a learning curve it’s been. I want to caveat any advice I give you, should you be a new parent in my company: feel free to ignore me. Advice gets hurled at you from each and every direction in those first few weeks and months. Take on board the stuff that you like the sound of; that sits well with who you are; that suits the way you want to live. The rest is entirely redundant and belongs to another sort of parent.
What would I have done differently? Not much, actually. I believe you need to make your own mistakes to learn independently – something I’m trying to pass on to Adam now as he goes through some massive developmental changes.
I’d maybe have avoided springing out of bed to lift Adam as the first sob rang out of his cute wee bake; he’d maybe be able to settle himself to sleep by now (at 10 months I’ve still got to be in the room for him to nod off). Meh, he’ll do it eventually. I never heard of a three year old who couldn’t fall asleep on their own.
I’ve read a few articles about child development and been interested to find that independent learning is really important for babies. We’re conditioned to intervene almost constantly to keep babies doing what we want them to do, and stop them doing what we don’t. We engage them in structured play and games, songs and stories. We take them to classes and playgroups. We get disappointed when they don’t listen or take part, and allow ourselves to feel guilty or inadequate for that.
Since I stopped worrying about this (along with the sleep, the pressure to do baby led weaning, and the eternal fear that he will be emotionally damaged by something I must be doing wrong) and started letting him ‘free play’ I’ve seen how much fun babies can have when they just use their imagination.
We have a story at bedtime – most of the time he grabs the book (which has a cut out hole on the front cover) and opens it so he can ‘peep’ at me through the window. Once the hilarity of that is over with he will tolerate me reading to him because its a habit now. I know some babies love books and it used to vex me that Adam’s main interest involves trying to eat them.
But then I see him crawl over to his toybox and pull himself up to stand peering into it. He will carefully select what he wants and then spend a while interacting with toys, cruising around different parts of the room, overcoming physical obstacles and whooping with delight at inanimate objects. He doesn’t need any input at all! What is lovely is that he frequently comes over to me to ‘touch base’, give me a toy or pull me down for a cuddle, to make sure I’m watching. He knows I’m there and he feels secure enough to play independently – learning all the time.
So can’t a new parent learn this way too? I feel like I struggled to follow advice from books and websites and peers, to the point where my brain began to fizz and I found myself feeling quite down – as though I was a bit of a failure for not managing all the things I felt I should.
No one was harder on me than… well, me. And yet I’m still rushing to suggest stuff to new mums. I’ve reflected on this today and while I know its just out of a desire to help, I want to be mindful about it. Unsolicited advice can be helpful but can also weirdly make you feel under pressure, like you’re a sandwich short of the full picnic. I don’t want to perpetuate that so I’ll stick to answering questions I’m asked, and making sure my proverbial door is always open.
If I want Adam to learn anything from me, its that he can be confident and have faith in himself. I think I have been on an amazing journey over the past ten months, and have learned a huge amount – most of it just simply through experience. There is just no substitute for ‘on the job training’.
But it IS true, you really cannot ever have too many muslins.