My sister got married when I was about eight months pregnant with our first child. I remember clearly my father at the wedding, nursing my niece who was about 10 months old, and him saying, “Blink and this will be you.”
This statement seemed slightly incongruous, given my baby had not yet made her way into the world. I couldn’t imagine how she was going to get out of my uterus, let alone how she might one day walk down the aisle.
But fast forward six or so years, and I see he has a point.
Kinderling Conversation: Midwife Cath on surviving the first year of parenting
Parenthood is a completely absorbing experience, so time travels fast
Have you ever been reading a book, so absorbed that you look up and realise that hours have passed without you noticing?
Ok. Perhaps not now, because who has time to read a book? But once, long ago.
Parenting is like this, with a bit more effort.
From the minute they pop into the world, yelling and covered in goo, your child has the ability to absorb time. You get lost in their strange little twitches and squirms. You disappear into first smiles. Enveloped in the peace of holding them in your arms.
And when you’re not lapping up all the lovely stuff – you’re busy trying to keep them alive, whilst also remaining sane. While the moments of rocking them to sleep in the early hours of the morning can feel like forever, children can make that feel like a blip on the radar.
One morning, you wake up and realise the baby (or toddler, if you’re unlucky) has slept through. Days start to regain a sense of shape. You manage to have a shower every morning and get out of your pyjamas before 5pm.
Understanding the magic reality of time with kids
The funny thing about parenting is that it’s a total contradiction.
When children are challenging (which is often), it can feel like time is elongated. A year of bad sleep can feel like an eternity. It can feel like you will never get to leave the house without changing clothes several times (both you and children), carrying more bags than a Real Housewife of New Jersey on a shopping spree. When they throw food, say “no” all the time and fight with their sibling. It may feel that life will never be quiet and still again.
It feels like you will never have time to go for a walk alone or catch up with friends. Or have five minutes of silence to process your thoughts.
That’s when time feels endless, and you see your sense of self slip out the window with the cat.
But children grow and develop at a crazy pace, and so that endless time can also feel like the winking of an eye.
The first year of parenting
Has ever a year possessed this kind of magic time continuum as the first year of parenthood?
Days can be filled with both boredom and drudgery. But also delight. And then one day, people are slapping you on the back, congratulating you on making it through the first year. And you’re relieved that you made it through, but also teary as you fold away their 0000 outfits and get rid of the bassinette.
Compare that first year of parenthood to any other in your life, and you’ll be hard pressed to find one so full of fundamental changes and achievements. You’ll have learnt to feed, sleep and care for a small child. Developed a deep bond with them. Said farewell to your former life, and started to understand your new one.
Your child has gone from a helpless baby to one that is walking, babbling happily and eating solid foods.
Why every season of childhood is one to be cherished
I’m not a fan of parents who warn others of the years ahead. You think the baby years are hard? Wait till you get a toddler! Small children, small problems … you’ll know real struggle when you have teenagers!
The truth is, every season of childhood (and the teenage years) will have its challenges, because we’ve never done it before. And neither have they.
Just when you learn how to get a baby to sleep, they turn into a toddler who won’t get in their carseat. Once you’ve mastered the carseat, they’ll be a four-year-old who cries over their sister looking at them. And so on and so forth. You get the picture.
Make like a Buddhist, I say, and accept that life is full of suffering. Then get on with life and enjoy your kids.
Because while it’s true that every age has its challenges, they also have their delights too. Wishing them away is like wishing away the good stuff too.
Once they start sleeping through the night, they no longer fit along one arm. Once they get into the carseat and clip themselves in, they’ve lost their chubby cheeks and their delight in watching snails. Once they’re not fighting with their sister, they’re embarrassed when you sing out loud.
When you’re stuck in the mire of challenging times, my advice is to try and remember that.
This parenting gig is a lifelong journey, and we’re going to be learning all the time. Learning can be painful, and that’s ok. That’s life. Just don’t forget to cherish each season as it comes.
Because my dad was right.
They’re only ours for a short time really, and it’s up to us to enjoy it.
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