Being a parent is like folding a fitted sheet. Nobody really knows how to do it properly, we all just wing it.
-Mum’s Grapevine (Facebook post)
If there was one piece of advice I wish I had received in the landslide of advice I did receive both before and after my children were born — this is it.
In the months before and after the births, I felt totally bombarded and overwhelmed by the suggestions, tips and commentary of well-meaning family and friends, but it wasn’t until my Dad said, ‘You’re doing a good job,’ that I realised how much I had lost my own way. I was so busy trying to put all of the advice into action, I wasn’t listening to my own instincts.
Dress her more warmly, wrap her this way, feed her on demand, lay her on her stomach, breastfeeding is best, no solids until she’s 4 months (6 months, 8 months), let her cry … on and on and on …
It was stressful, and I never felt good enough.
In hindsight, my firstborn was a dream baby. She couldn’t breastfeed (don’t let me get started on the breast-is-best nazi brigade or this post will never end … you guys need to put your focus elsewhere and realise that breastfeeding does not work for everyone) — but apart from that she slept through from 1 month, ate well, grew as she was supposed to and met all her milestones when the books said she should.
Then my second child was born and he broke all the rules. I tried following the same procedures as previously, but no dice. He didn’t sleep, he needed to be carried all the time, bathing and changing nappies and clothes was a nightmare, he wouldn’t eat. And yes, the advice was forthcoming again. I put up with it for a while, let it get to me for longer than I should have, but eventually I just closed my ears.
I began to wing it.
I began to smile (politely, I think, my face tends to be rather expressive when I’m annoyed) and say, ‘Oh, really? I’ll give that a go,’ while fully intending to ignore said advice and listen to my own inner voice.
And so began a lifetime of experimenting to find out what works.
I say ‘a lifetime’ because it never ends. My eldest is a female teenager — this is a whole new ball game with highly flexible rules. My youngest is on the spectrum and entering puberty (we decided to start using BO Killer yesterday, he has a sensitive sense of smell and did not like the way his armpits were smelling).
Every child is different, so why should the rules and advice be the same? Who are we to think that we know best about someone else’s child? I, myself, have learnt to think on well-meaning advice and often nip it in the bud before I deliver it. Listening is so much more effective.
I have made, an am continuing to make, mistakes in my parenting role, but my kids are turning out ok.
I still can’t fold a fitted sheet properly either, but I do my best even if it is a bit bunched up, and at least it fits into its spot in the linen cupboard.