“Treasure every moment,” you’re told when you have a new baby. “They’ll be grown up and leaving home before you know it.” It’s a valid point. But I defy any parent to say they’ve never wished the time away sometimes. No matter how old your child, there are things you wish they’d grow out of. There are stages, habits, and practicalities you can’t wait to pass you by.
The early months
This is arguably the hardest part of having a new baby. There’s a reason sleep deprivation was used as a form of torture. Our bodies are designed to be awake and active, and then enjoy a period of rest. Being woken up harshly and insistently, sometimes several times each night, takes its toll.
Food isn’t always the primary reason for waking, of course. Your baby might be lonely, scared, or just miss your face. You’ll come to know the difference in time. It doesn’t make it any easier to cope with, though.
Fear of cot (crib) death
We never stop worrying something will happen to our kids, but in the first year, this is most parents’ main fear. You’re given all the information, you know what to do (and what not to do) but there are no guarantees. We watch them breathe, panic if we’re not sure we can see their little chests rising and falling. While the disturbed nights are hard, at least hearing our baby cry for food means he’s ok.
Still on the subject of illness, meningitis is another big worry. Babies get sick. They get fevers, rashes, and stomach upsets. Some of the symptoms are the same. If you’re a new parent and you’re worried, seek medical advice. If it turned out to be serious, you’d never forgive yourself.
There’s no such thing as ‘just popping out’ when you’ve got a baby. Even a trip to the shops for bread and milk means taking as much gear as most people need for a two-week vacation. Nappies (diapers), spare nappies, a change of clothes, a spare change of clothes, food, tissues, a changing mat, blanket, favourite toy…. You get the idea. You’d be forgiven for thinking wistfully of the days when all you did was put on your coat, grab your purse and keys, and close the door behind you.
Once our little ones get a bit bigger, they start pushing the boundaries. There’s a reason why the ‘terrible twos’ are so-named. Anything can set them off. You’ve tried to feed them. You haven’t tried to feed them. They can’t see their favourite toy. They wanted their favourite toy to be a different colour today. The wind is blowing in the wrong direction.
In public, they’ll do their best to shame you, too. I remember watching one small boy give his mum the full screaming experience in a shopping mall. The little lad went stiff as a board, so she picked him up and tucked him under her arm. As she strode away, cheeks scarlet with embarrassment, he wailed: “But Mummy…. I love you…” Everyone’s hearts melted – and she felt like the bad guy.
The longer you leave it, the easier it is. It’s possible to condition quite young children to use the potty when you sit them on it. But proper ‘training’ means teaching them to recognise when they need to go, and to let you know in time.
Even if they get the hang of it quickly, there will be accidents. Usually when you’re out somewhere. You’ll plan trips based on how fast you can get to a public restroom. “Do you need the toilet?” will become your most-used phrase. A bag full of soiled clothing will be your new fashion accessory.
When they’re ‘into everything’
Once your child becomes mobile you realise how dangerous the world can be. It starts in babyhood, of course, but I found it was easier to protect them at a younger age. Cupboard locks, stairgates and simply moving things out of the way were simple solutions.
Once they’re that bit bigger, it’s more difficult. Have you ever tried to divert a determined three-year-old, hell-bent on emptying your laundry basket and using it to surf down the stairs? I have. And while I was picking up all the dirty socks, she found a rogue tub of baby powder and decided to make it ‘snow’ all over the bedroom carpet.
The school years
The school run
When your kids start school, you might breathe a sigh of relief. What will you do with all that time to yourself? Or the money you no longer have to pay out for childcare? Then you discover the downside.
You have to get your child ready, with everything they need, and out of the door on time. Every day (except during holidays). Then you have to collect them again, on time, in the afternoon. This can be especially difficult if you have a baby at home who decides to either fall fast asleep or fill their nappy (diaper) around five minutes before you’re due to leave the house. The school run soon loses its charm. And it goes on for years.
I used to dread parents’ evenings. Not because I was worried about what the teacher would say. It was more to do with logistics. At primary level, parents’ evenings were usually held from 3.30pm (shortly after school finished) until 5.30pm. I was a working mum by then and couldn’t leave work until parents’ evening was over. My only option was to take vacation time.
It was the same with the nativity play, Christmas carol service, class assemblies, and countless other events. Generally, these were held during the day. If you couldn’t make it because you were working, there was always a hint of disapproval hidden beneath the sympathy. “Oh, what a shame. The children have worked so hard, and we were so looking forward to you seeing what they’d learned.”
Don’t get me wrong. I’m all for events like World Book Day to encourage kids to discover the joy of reading. What I’m not so keen on is having to provide a costume for them to do it in. I’m not great with my hands, frankly. I’ve never been one of those crafty types that can produce an authentic-looking replica of the TARDIS using only cardboard tubes and sticky-backed plastic – even when they only discovered the information letter in their child’s schoolbag at 11pm the previous evening.
Similarly, I dreaded the monthly cake stall. No lovingly decorated, home-made butterfly buns from this mum. Not when the local supermarket had a perfectly adequate bakery section.
You might already have a teenager and be wondering what I’m talking about. Be patient. Sooner or later, you’ll know. Older kids have a certain…aroma. It pervades their clothes, their rooms and generally hangs around their bodies. A bit like an aura, but more obvious.
In most cases, better personal hygiene can help a bit. Showering, using antiperspirant. Basic stuff. But even then, there’s a lingering undertone. They can’t help it. It’s part of growing up. You could stick a peg on your nose while you wait for it to pass. Might hurt their feelings, though.
Cigarettes and alcohol
The law states how old you should be to smoke tobacco or drink alcohol. And for as long as anyone can remember, teenagers have blithely ignored it. If we’re honest, most of us did so at least once – which is why we worry our kids will, too.
Peer pressure is a powerful thing. Your teenager might go to hang out with friends and have no intention of trying a cigarette or sneaking into a bar. But if everyone else is doing it, will they resist? And what if they get caught by the police?
Let’s talk about sex
At what age will it be ok for your child to have a relationship? Chances are, they’ll think it should be younger than you do. You won’t always like their choice of boyfriend or girlfriend. There’ll be arguments over whether they’re allowed to spend time in their bedroom together with the door shut. You’ll worry about what they’re doing, and if they’re careful while they’re doing it.
You know you have to talk to them about issues like consent and not feeling pressured to do anything that feels wrong. Not to mention sexually-transmitted diseases and pregnancy. When they’re younger, you can stick to the facts. Now emotions and hormones are part of the picture.
It doesn’t stop there…
There will never come a day when you magically stop worrying about your kids. My son is 25. He has a job, a flat, a car. He is completely independent. I imagine what would happen if he suddenly found himself out of work or had a traffic accident. What if he gets sick, but doesn’t tell me? Or meets people he thinks are great, but they end up getting him into drugs or gambling?
These fears are totally unfounded. There’s nothing to suggest any of this is likely to happen. It doesn’t matter. Your kids are your kids, and you’re desperate to protect them – no matter how old they are.