When I had my first child, I had no idea what I was doing. I lived in a state of shock, madly reading baby books, attempting impossibly strict routines and making lots of mistakes. And I felt guilty 99% of the time about everything I did or didn’t do.
You would think, the second time around, I would have a firm handle on one or two parenting skills. I certainly felt better equipped when I was expecting baby No. 2. I’d been there and done that so surely my parenting skills would be bordering on professional.
Not at all.
They seem to have got worse. And not only that, I don’t feel at all guilty about it.
Recently I was at my local playgroup discussing this very topic with another mum who had just had her second baby. My No. 2 child, now three years old, was trying to tell me she’d hurt her foot. I had a quick look; it seemed fine so I continued my very interesting conversation, sharing my expertise as a second time parent.
Eventually another mum came over to tell me that my daughter’s foot was bleeding but it was fine. My poor child had to seek out another mother to get the attention she deserved because hers was too busy chatting.
It was then I realised how I’ve digressed from a neurotic helicopter mum into a laid back, almost laissez-faire one. The toe wasn’t badly hurt and later my daughter told me with confidence that ‘it was going to be okay’. I knew all would be well. I just didn’t tumble into the dramatic decline that I might have with my first child. Still I was fairly certain I’d broken some sort of rule firmly set by myself as a first time mum.
It prompted me to think about where else I may be falling short of my own parenting expectations. Are there are other rules I once made and simply haven’t kept?
The answer is yes and it didn’t take me long to compile a list:
1. Stick a strict bedtime routine: This is very important and good in theory however with an older sister, it just doesn’t happen. Besides child No. 2 tells me quite firmly when she’s ready for bed and that seems to work for both of us. Sometimes it’s earlier and sometimes it’s later so it all evens out in the end.
2. Watching television will be permitted but limited: Television has become my best baby sitter. Even more so the second time around. At least then I know child No. 2 is then sitting on the couch and not trying to parachute off it.
3. Eat your vegetables or there’s no dessert: While the seven year-old chomps her way through three or four carrot sticks, child No. 2 firmly refuses to even try. And I always give in and allow her favourite yoghurt for dessert. I’m worn down by years of fussy eating and have no more answers. However after a recent check-up at the doctors, child No. 2 has agreed to a tiny nibble on the end of a tiny carrot stick, which I consider a fantastic outcome.
4. No sleeping in our bed: Initially I was adamant about this rule but now it happens all the time. My husband and I are both too tired to sit up and re-settle child No. 2 in the middle of the night so she often makes her way into our bed. I know we’ll pay for it in the end, in fact we’re already suffering the consequences as she sleeps crossways, leaving very little usable space.
5. A bath everyday – A bath ‘not quite everyday’ is a relief as far I’m concerned. Apparently kids these days are too clean and are not building up any immunity to germs. Well that’s what I tell myself anyway.
6. I will never raise my voice: With two children this is simply not possible. I find myself raising my voice more frequently, usually to draw attention away from the television. (See Rule #2)
7. Sending to Time Out: I always found using Time Out for disciplining my first child extremely effective. I would count calmly to three and pop her in bedroom for a few minutes. Now with the general chaos in the household, I forget all about Time Out and simply revert to breaking Rule #6. However all is well because when child No. 2 does something she knows she shouldn’t, she actually takes herself off to Time Out without me knowing. Five minutes later she calls out from the bedroom, asking if she can come out again – all round a win-win situation.
8. Give children full focus: As I’m writing this piece, child No.2 has come running in nude, saying she’s hungry for breakfast and let’s just say I’m not immediately jumping up to help. I always try to be present with my children however have recently found myself moving the goal posts. What was ‘just checking a few emails’, maybe ‘organising a phone interview’ in between craft activities and imaginative play has become ‘writing an entire piece to meet my deadline the following day’ while child No. 2 watches a little bit of television. I have to write when I can and ballet lessons don’t pay for themselves.
People often ask me and my husband if we’re more relaxed parents the second time around. Perhaps we are but for me, it’s only because I simply could no longer meet my own unrealistic expectations. I had to relax a little for the sake of my children, my patient husband and my own sanity. And it’s all working out in much the same way.
Now my No. 2 child has just come back in proudly showing me how she got dressed on her own. Something she knows how to do and by me giving her a bit of space, (and finishing my article), was able to get on with it.
What’s there to feel guilty about?