I find that parenting tips are like pizza: some are good, some are bad, but some are just brilliant, almost life-changing, and make you question why you worry about any other kind of pizza, however, you can't eat ALL the pizzas in the world (sad but true) and sometimes it's best to stick to the good pizzas you've tried and tested rather than being experimental and trying new pizza after new pizza after new pizza. Do this and you risk ruining the whole experience and you'll never eat pizza again... which is not a bad way to live your life but it's not a realistic way to live your life, is it?
I'm still talking about parenting, by the way, albeit metaphorically. Because you can't try all the parenting tips out there and frankly, some just won't work for you. However, the parenting tip I'm going to share with you is one pretty much ALL parents can do, and it's a guaranteed win for ALL parents too.... most of the time,
The only parenting tip you'll ever need... kinda.
However, before I go any further I need to tell you that it's nothing new. You're probably already doing it, but you don't know your doing it. Today I want you to change that and consciously start doing it because that is what makes it a winner. It changes something in your mindset.
I first heard the tip when I made a cry for help. It was a few weeks before my son's first birthday and he'd entered a new phase I can only describe as WRIGGLY, all in caps. He just wouldn't stop moving. He wasn't yet walking so would crawl everywhere and anywhere, showing no fear for heights, drops, edges, stairs. water, fire, bombs... ANYTHING. I would have to walk after him everywhere, so much so that I began to fear large open spaces and would do anything I could not to put him down including giving myself back injuries and causing multiple meltdowns. But that was never a real solution because he also refused to sit still in my lap or in my arms. He would wriggle constantly, reaching for anything in reach and crying for the things that weren't. I remember spending a few hours with him on our boat on Amsterdam's waters as his father drove and I tried to have a conversation with a friend... except of course I couldn't. It was impossible with my son doing everything he could to get away from me, and yet on the floor he would head straight for the "STOP" switch for the engine which was positioned aggravatingly low. It felt like a constant game of cat and mouse. I could never relax. Not that day on the boat and sometimes not for days until he was at his daycare where ultimately he was someone else's problem. My brain constantly worked overtime trying to spot sharp objects or dangerous things he could pick up, climb onto, eat, or crawl over. The only downtime I got was when he slept, which during the day was nearly always on me in the carrier or for a mere forty minutes in his cot. I got nothing done - no cleaning, no washing, no cooking. We ate a lot of take-aways during this time and I bought new clothes rather than washing dirty ones. It's not a period of my life I'm proud of or remember fondly, at all.
I remember later in the evening of that day on the boat, when I felt totally overwhelmed and completely unsure I could do this mothering lark, once my son was in bed, I posted a photo on my Instagram and I made a plea for help. I asked the Parenting Gods (aka my Instagram followers with children) what they did to survive the days like this? What were their magic tricks for getting through it? For remembering it was all worth it? How did they reassure themselves that they could and would carry on?
I received a few responses (most of them including alcohol) but one really stuck out. Funnily enough it was from my sister-in-law, the mother of my nephew and at the time she was pregnant with her second child. I've always looked up to her for how much she loves being a mum but how she also hasn't lost a sense of herself in it all, something I don't think I can say about myself.
Her advice was this, though I have para-phrased because I lost the original message she sent me. "When I have days like that, when it all feels too much, too difficult, and you wonder why you decided to have children in the first place, I make sure once they're in bed, no matter how long that takes, I go in and I watch him sleep. He just looks so sweet and innocent and I remember how much I love him. Almost immediately any ill-feeling I had towards them or parenting disappears."
The reason this parenting advice works
I can't count the number of times I've applied this advice, tip-toeing into my son's room just before I go to sleep, or zooming in on the baby camera to see his little chest rise and fall, and it's completely true. All the stress and strain I've felt in the day gradually eases away and I am reminded why this little person is so important and why I have to dig deeper, try harder, look after myself better in order to be the best guide in life he can have.
It's also true that this can be a moment that you own, and control. Your child is not moving around, screaming, shouting, crying, wriggling, trying throw himself down some stairs even though he can't actually walk yet. In this moment you can do all those good things you're supposed to do but find near impossible as a parent. You can be still. You can breathe slowly. You can be present. You can be in the moment.
There really is something about a sleeping baby or toddler that is instantly peaceful... even if you know they're going to wake up in an hour or so. As with all parenting moments, we have to take the good, soothing, life-giving ones as and when we can. And this is one such moment we can re-create and enjoy every single night... if you can keep your own eyes open long enough!
Frances M. Thompson
Londoner turned wanderer, Frankie is an author, freelance writer and blogger. Currently based in Amsterdam, Frankie was nomadic for two years before putting down some roots with her Australian partner and having a baby boy in July 2015. In 2017, she launched WriteNOW Cards, affirmation cards for writers that help build a productive and positive writing practice. When not writing contemporary fiction, Frankie shops for vintage clothes, dances to 70s disco music and chases her son around Amsterdam.
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+
Find Frankie on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Google+