Number 1. These are not necessarily the best years of your life.
‘Cherish every moment’, we’re told when are children are small. ‘They grow up so fast’, they say. This is generally delivered by someone whose children are no longer small. It’s a throwback to a past that has grown all fuzzy with the passage of time. For example, they may fondly remember the luxury of being able to stay in their pyjamas well into the morning because they had nowhere they needed to be, but forget that the very fact that they had nowhere they needed to be was actually the problem.
Some mornings with toddlers, you look down the barrel of 12 unbroken hours of snot or poo or vomit or whinging or tantrums or whatever thing is bugging you at the time, and the thought of cherishing every moment makes you want to laugh. Or cry. Either response is equally appropriate.
Of course, you will undoubtedly have some lovely moments with your pre-schoolers, where you’ll feel fulfiled and are bursting with love and gratitude. I’m just saying that your ratio of fulfilment to despair will almost certainly improve once they go to school.
Number 2. You don’t have to feel grateful 24/7.
Gratitude is an essential element on the path to finding spiritual peace in your life, but feeling guilty if you don’t feel grateful about everything, all the time, is unrealistic and unhelpful. Allow yourself to acknowledge what you do feel truly blessed to have, but also know that you’re allowed to just endure the shitty parts. Get through it and try not to complain too much and eventually you’ll move on to the good bits, thank the lord, and then you can be even more grateful when you get there.
Number 3. Stop feeling bad about feeling bad.
There is so much tragedy in the world that we often don’t give ourselves permission to feel bad. We think we shouldn’t voice our occasional dissatisfaction with the whole mothering thing because, for instance, there are so many women who would give anything to have even one child (and you have 2 or 3 or 4!). Or there are children with disabilities and yours are 100% able. Or you went on and on so much about how much you wanted children before you had them that you feel like you should be happy, happy, happy all the time because of their very existence.
But know this: if you’re tired, you’re tired. If you’re feeling down, you’re feeling down. If your child throws a toy and it hits you in the face, it hurts. And it makes you angry.
Allow yourself to feel however it is you feel, because feeling bad about feeling bad is just plain masochistic.
Number 4. Most of what you’re worried about now won’t really matter in the long run.
My mother used to have a little mantra she would say to help me when I was worrying unnecessarily about something: it’ll all work out by the time they go to school. So when I was worried that my kids were late to toilet train, she was right. When I was concerned because they needed rocking to sleep when they were infants, she was right. When the only food they wouldn’t spit out when they were going onto solids was the sweeter options, she was right. When the other kids were crawling and mine were still sitting resolutely on their lovely padded bums, she was right again.
So much of the tiny little details of our babies’ lives and habits are not nearly as worth worrying about as we think they are at the time.
However, there is one thing that is worth your focus at every step of the way up until they go to school: their behaviour. The way you mould their behaviour at two years of age directly affects their behaviour at three. The discipline you do or don’t follow through with at three, undoubtedly affects who they are at four and five. Their behavioural issues are very much worth worrying about because they definitely won’t just work themselves out with the passage of time.
If they’re ratbags when they leave your fulltime care, they’ll be even bigger ratbags once they’ve been at school for a while.
One of the toughest but most effective parts of parenting is following through with firm, consistent discipline when they are young. It’s pretty exhausting most of the time, and sometimes you want to say yes ‘just this once’ because it means you don’t have to stand up again, or embarrass yourself in public, or break up a meaningful conversation with your girlfriend, but if you can stick with it and put in the hard yards in the first five years, you’ll find you have saved yourself a lot of angst in the later ones.
Number 5. Wine helps.
Just so long as you don’t start too early in the day and you stay under the legal limit. (Unless it’s Friday, then all bets are off)