The truth about parenting

Before I had a baby, I was lazy, self-involved and never wanted to do anything but watch TV. So this is one of those positive motherhood stories about how dirty nappies helped to make me a better person...
Publish date:
July 31, 2012
parenting, pregnancy, children, the truth about parenting

Before I got pregnant aged 27, I took for granted that a lot of things would happen before I became a parent - some trivial, others more major.

They ranged from being married to having an established career to figuring out how to get my hair to look like something other than a rat’s nest at least a day a week (any attempt at hair styling would surely be the first thing to go post-baby, so I really needed to get on top of this one).

None of the above boxes were ticked when I did have a child: Career? Question mark. Hair? Disaster. Marriage? Pending - I’d gotten engaged a hot second before falling pregnant.

In an over-excited frenzy, I found my wedding dress at a sample sale two weeks later. And then I tucked it away into my in-laws’ wardrobe when I realised I probably wouldn’t be able to wear it since my due date was three weeks before my wedding was supposed to happen.

I also happened to be a terrible failure at pregnancy. No glow, no elation, lots of scary movie moments like projectile vomiting all over our car and bleeding gums when I brushed my teeth.

This is how I spent my life pre-parenthood

And then, as soon as I started to feel I could cope with it, I was a parent. Nothing about me, personality-wise, had changed - still spacy, still over-emotional, still consider rotting on the couch with telly and junk food my number one favourite activity in life - but everything else had.

How the hell was I not going to screw this one up?

Of course, the beauty of parenting is that there’s always an opportunity to screw it up - you have a lifetime! But after I gave birth, the reality of having to function for my daughter took over.

I had to feed her, bathe her, coax her to sleep and protect her, and for once I didn’t have time to over-analyse everything, which temporarily put my many neuroses at bay.

I was busy in a way I’d never been busy before, and unlike most of the things I did for myself (‘Should I watch The Good Wife or Vampire Diaries?’ was among the major existential issues I grappled with on a daily basis), everything I did for my daughter mattered - or at least it felt like it did.

So lots of people - and by lots of people, I mean all of my husband’s friends, who look at me in terror as the person who robbed my spouse of half of his twenties by saddling him with a child - think that becoming a parent means losing your freedom.

But instead, for me, it was like I finally found my purpose: I got motivated with work and became much more prolific (being up at all hours and learning to make the most of the scraps of time I had for myself helped).

I became much more social and moved my life off the couch and into London’s parks, museums, baby cinemas, cafes, restaurants and music and movement classes, and I started to enjoy the little things much more.

Seeing my daughter smile at me or laugh with me or light up when I read to her makes me feel so happy and so validated. Especially because it helps me realise that being unprepared for something doesn’t mean you’ll fail at it.

People often think parenting is really boring – the looking after a newborn part, I mean – because even though you have this amazing, gorgeous baby you’re head over heels in love with, they don’t really do anything for weeks and very little for months. My friend Sharon calls it the ‘pet rock’ stage, which is hilarious and totally apt.

The early days - aka living the dream

For me, it was the time in my life that I felt the most alive, the most exhausted, the most joyful, the most overwhelmed... I was never anything close to bored.

You have this indescribable kind of euphoric feeling, and if you’re breastfeeding, which I chose to do mainly out of laziness (going up and down stairs to sterilise bottles and teats and mix formula at all hours? I don’t think so), you can eat and eat and eat and still be legitimately hungry and in need of nutrients because your baby is consuming so much.

Also, since you are essentially a cow for such long periods of time, sitting on the couch and watching TV is one of the few options available to you most days, so you’re basically stuffing your face and rotting, yet impressing everyone you know, since you’re this relaxed, accidental Earth Mother suddenly.

This isn’t to say that every moment of my early months as a parent was blissful. I went from having minimal responsibilities in my life to being almost entirely responsible for this tiny creature. But becoming a parent did wonderful things for my confidence.

I am largely non-functional; there are many things I can’t do that most ‘normal’ people can - ride a bike, arrange a cupboard without everything falling on your head every time you open it, use a tin opener properly - yet I found that amazingly, I could look after a child.

For every disgusting nappy you change - and there have been what feel like millions, ranging in colour from radioactive orange to swampy green to tarry black - there is a tiny finger curling around yours.

For every glass-breaking, screaming tantrum - usually in public for ultimate embarrassment - there is an unexpected hug and a tiny voice saying ‘Thanks, Mum’ just because you’re serving her beloved mac and cheese for dinner.

Now that my daughter’s almost two, it’s amazing how much of my ‘old’ life - albeit a better version - I’ve regained in the past year.

Thanks to part-time childcare, (which, admittedly, most of my salary goes on, but it’s worth it to not lose my mind and helps ensure I’m a better parent), I now have time for my work and also to invest in my personal and spiritual well-being, whether that’s a yoga class or a coffee with a girlfriend.

My husband and I have moments to spend alone together each evening after baby goes to sleep and I can go out on a weekend or evening when I need or want to.

I won’t be the last girl standing - but I wasn’t that girl even in my wilder uni days - and I won’t get too drunk (two drinks and I’m ready to keel over) but it doesn’t mean I don’t have fun.

I have learned to enjoy my life much more, even though temper tantrums are now a very frequent part of it. For me, becoming a parent has been an amazing, life-altering experience that gave me some much-needed direction.

It’s not for everyone, and my situation of unexpected pregnancy could have turned out hideously (and there were certainly moments when I wondered if it would). However, there is one thing that every mother, or mum-to-be, experiences, and it’s by far the worst aspect of parenting: the judgement.

People are always quick to give you an opinion or a dirty look, and it does strip away at your confidence, especially since you spend so much time doubting yourself anyway.

Before I became a mother, I used to see children flinging themselves down in the street, wildly kicking and throwing things, and I would think: ‘Now that child is a disaster because his/her parents are doing something wrong.’

Now I want to hug every parent I ever quietly judged - if only I’d known. We all have bad days, and now I am frequently the poor parent whose kid is ruining a flight or destroying someone’s lunch hour.

Sometimes parenting is hard, unrewarding and exhausting: You’re covered in marker and have Play-Doh in your hair and raisins in your shoes and your failures are being played out in a public forum and no one appreciates you and your child won’t stop screaming and life is, temporarily, terrible.

But then something magical happens, like your daughter gives you a kiss and a huge cuddle unprompted.. And that outweighs the bad.

As for all the boxes I needed to tick before I became a parent? I’m too busy to care about what they were. I’m also having too much fun.