It’s been a while since my last blog post, because I recently embarked on an exciting new writing project and, while I may be a reasonably successful multitasker in many aspects of my life, it turns out that I am a pretty rubbish one when it comes to writing. I honestly don’t know how other writers – and there are many – find the time and the brain space to simultaneously write a novel, blog, teach writing classes, pen the odd sonnet, and regularly update their professional Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram accounts. I imagine they have a lot more writing time than the amount I allocate to writing in between parenting two kids under two-and-a-half, but saying this, they probably also spend less time watching Masterchef than I do. Every decision is a compromise.
Anyway, this blog post comes at the request of a friend, who shares much of the parenting angst I do when it comes to trying to make the best decisions for our offspring. The text she sent me details our endless struggle perfectly: “I would like to see a Natalia Clara blog commenting on the never ending decision making a mum does… the hours of research for every possible outcome and the mixed emotions that come when you reach a decision on said medical procedure/food type/toy/routine”. I couldn’t have put it better myself, and I’m sure a lot of other parents out there echo these sentiments on a regular basis.
Because, let’s face it, being the Primary Parent (usually, but certainly not always the Mum) is a lot harder than it looks. The Secondary Parent (it might be the Dad, or it could be a Mum who works full time) may think that raising babies and young children is a simple process of feed, clean, put down for a nap, repeat. Which it is, once you know and feel confident in what you are doing (and only until your kid does something totally out of left field, and you have to throw everything you have learned to date out of the window). Babies don’t come with a manual, and it is usually up to the Primary Parent (PP) to create that manual to a degree. The Secondary Parent (SP) can then follow this lead – or not, if they are feeling particularly reckless – and then criticise it when things go a bit pear-shaped.
A typical scenario when SP comes home from work might run as follows:
SP: “Why is Geronimo crying?”
PP (scans mind over entire day’s activities): “He’s tired and hungry. He missed his afternoon nap, then was too exhausted to eat his dinner. Oh, and he’s teething. And suffering from growing pains. And colicky. And there’s a weird rash on his bottom. Did I mention he threw up in my ear? I spent four hours Googling his list of symptoms, and I’ve narrowed it down to he’s either suffering from the bubonic plague, or he’s just a normal baby. Too close to call.”
SP: “Um, okay. I’ll give him a bottle and put him to bed, then.” Reaches for carton of cow’s milk in fridge.
PP: “Hang on, we’re trialling a new low-allergen formula mixed with almond and coconut milk. Oh and a dash of probiotic. And some homeopathic teething drops. Maybe I should do it.”
SP: “Okaaay. And where’s Twinkle Toes?”
PP: “She’s in the laundry having Thinking Time.”
SP: “She’s in Time Out?”
PP: “It’s not Time Out. It’s Thinking Time. There was a link on Facebook to some random parenting blog. Apparently, we’ve been doing the whole discipline thing wrong all this time and our toddler is in danger of becoming an ice addict within the next three years.”
SP: “Uh, right. So, why is she in Thinking Time? Hey, what’s that under the couch? Eek, that’s a big cockroach.”
PP: (sighs) “It’s a protein ball.”
SP: “A what now? Argh, there’s another one stuck to the curtain.”
PP: “It’s a sugar-free, dairy-free, gluten-free alternative to unhealthy commercial sweets and lollies. I made them this afternoon.”
SP: “Sh**, they’re everywhere. Why are there protein balls all over our house?”
PP: “Does that explain the Thinking Time?”
Secondary Parent returns from putting Geronimo to bed and to find Twinkle Toes emerging from the laundry with bits of protein ball in her hair, clothes and eyelashes, but strangely none anywhere near her mouth.
SP: “Oh dear, I think I’d better give Twinkle Toes a bath.”
PP: “Okay, but don’t use the regular shampoo. I bought some organic, soap-free, pH-balanced baby shampoo today, as I noticed she has a dry scalp. I’m just praying it’s not Hashimoto’s Disease. Oh, and we’re not doing nappies any more, she’s in training pants. I read online that if kids aren’t toilet trained by two-and-a-half, they’ll be peeing themselves until they’re forty.”
The above example is not designed to illustrate that all Primary Parents are insane (though that is an occupational hazard), but to highlight how confusing and frustrating the process of decision-making is when it comes to our children. Every decision made is laced with guilt and self-doubt. I felt guilty when I began topping up my babies with formula once it became patently clear that my boob milk alone was not going to sustain them. I felt incredibly guilty having my little boy’s (alleged) tongue tie snipped by our paediatrician on the advice of pretty much every parenting “expert” we met, under the pretext that this would help him feed better (it did not). I feel guilty now when I feed the kids fish fingers for dinner, but you know what? They actually eat them, which is more than can be said for my homemade wild salmon fishcakes.
As parents, we are bombarded daily with “expert” advice on how to raise our kids (see pretty much every blog post I’ve written recently), and yet, when we try to apply this advice to our own parenting, we often find that it doesn’t work. And then we feel that we are failing as parents. We reluctantly go back to our old ways – you know, that centuries-old parenting technique of Winging It While Hoping For The Best – and find that, hey, things are actually going okay. The kids are still alive, our sanity is restored to “moderately bonkers”, and everyone is happy – until the next time we click through a link to a parenting blog. Every decision is a compromise. We can only do what we can do, and trust that we are making the right decision for our children.