Advice for friends who are about to become parents.

I’ve been thinking about this for you a bit lately and this is what I have come up with so far… unfortunately (or fortunately, I don’t know) this is something I could write about for hours.  But I will try not to!   🙂

We went through a lot of IVF and god awful crap to have our one little miracle, and when he got here, we were incredibly grateful to have him at all – so even the hard stuff was good stuff in my opinion. He was born four weeks premature, which comes with its own issues – he was only 5lb 7oz and his tiny little hand fit through my wedding ring and his head was about the size of an apple.  He wouldn’t breast feed (suppressed suck reflex) so I was pumping every feed and he was getting a bottle and when I did try and put him on the breast he would go into what is called Infant Shutdown Syndrome (he would go from crying and struggling and hungry, to eyes rolling up and going floppy like a rag doll – like someone had flicked off a switch) which happens when they are expending too much energy to get food, but without reward.  This was scary as all shit btw, but no one ever tells you about things this until it happens to you and you’re ready to call an ambulance!  All I had to do was wait patiently and rub his cheek a little until he was crying and hungry again, but the first time it happened – I freaked the fuck out.  So mostly his early weeks were spent just worried he wouldn’t put on weight and would end up back in hospital on a NG tube… eat, sleep, eat, sleep. It was a bit overwhelming – he went from 24 hour, round the clock care of professional NICU nurses, to being sent home with US.  Crazy talk.  I didn’t bond with him immediately, to be honest, I was mostly just scared of the little bugger – scared he wouldn’t put on weight, scared he wouldn’t thrive, scared he’d catch the flu and his immature little lungs wouldn’t cope… there is such a thing as ‘too educated’ in these situations. When you are aware of everything that can go wrong – you will worry about all of it going wrong. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been so stressed – the little buggers are extremely resilient and he was never at anything even remotely resembling risk, cloistered in our cosy living room and his warm cot.

He was a really good baby – especially once I gave up on the breast pump and reluctantly switched him to formula at about the ten week mark… it was a self preservation move, but one that I beat myself up over nonetheless ( the breastfeeding nazis are hard to ignore).  Both Mr K and I had been attending to every feed – he would feed the baby while I sidled up to a cold breast pump at 11pm, 3am etc.  In the day time, I would feed bub and then while he was sleeping, spend the next half hour pulling out the next feed.  It was never ending, very time consuming and meant both of us were sleep deprived.  Not long after we switched to formula, he started sleeping through the night and unless he was unwell, he has slept through ever since. There are a couple of things that I think helped him be a good sleeper… one, we had a dimmer switch in his room, and would never turn a bright light on at night or take him to a brightly lit room, and two, when he woke for a feed in the middle of the night I wouldn’t talk to him much – he would get a feed, get a fresh bum and I’d hold him and rock him a bit and then straight back to bed.  No playing, no singing, no visual stimulation, just dark and muted and quiet.  If he fussed, I would hum to him, or ‘shhh, shhh’ him quietly but there was a very distinctive difference between what day time looked like (bright, colourful and playful), and what night time looked like.  I think it really helped. But… I have since read articles that claim good sleeping as an infant is genetic – if you were a good sleeper as a baby, then chances are your offspring will be too… so what the hell do I know?   🙂

After the tiny infant stage, parenting for us was pretty easy compared to what some people describe. He was just a little person who lived in our house and was expected to live the way we live. From almost the very start, he was never treated like a ‘baby’. That is, we didn’t ‘baby’ him like some parents do. He got all the love and cuddles and affection and fun that a child needs, but we spoke to him like a little person – I never baby-talked at him and used my usual vocabulary from dot.  From about 12 months old, he would constantly amaze me when he did things that demonstrated he totally understood the things we said, even though he wasn’t able to verbalise comprehension yet.  By the time he was four he would ask me to explain whenever I said a word he didn’t understand, and would say things to the doctor like, “I am rather concerned about my sore throat”… kids are little sponges and can absorb so much more than we give them credit for.

Even from when he was as young as one year old, we would set an example of what is expected of him to live here, with us, and it was a ‘monkey see, monkey do’ situation. I’m a bit OCD, so I probably didn’t let him feed himself as early as other Mums do because I couldn’t stand the mess.  I didn’t give him food to eat in the car, or in his pram either, because I didn’t relish the idea of teething rusks being smooshed into the upholstery fabric. I also didn’t want my house to look like a BIG W toy sale had exploded in it, so we had a cupboard in the living room which housed all his toys, and together we would always put all the toys back in the cupboard before going onto another activity – even if that was just to go have lunch or go have a bath.  All other toys belonged in his room, so they weren’t constantly scattered all over the house. He got used to cleaning up after himself which is a good thing to try and drill into them early – for years now it has bugged him when other kids come and mess up his space.  It is amazing too, how much shit kids these days accumulate, even if you are not buying it for them yourself – he had more toys by the age of three than I had my entire childhood.  Unbelievable.  And in those early years – they would honestly be as happy with a pot, a wooden spoon, a bucket full of clothes pegs and some tennis balls, as with the fancy expensive newest Fisher Price Whatever.  They don’t know, they don’t care, they won’t remember.  Keep the toys to a minimum if you can, because you’ll be giving them away when they grow out of them within months anyway.

Behaviour?  Well, he was never one to throw a tantrum, because the first time he tried, I just wasn’t having it… he would start to wind up, and I would say things like “Well, that is very interesting, but it is not going to get you what you want”, and if it was safe, I would turn away from him.  Or he would see other children having tantrums and decide to try it on for attention and I would respond by saying, “We don’t do that.”… and it very quickly got to the point where he just didn’t bother, because it was a waste of effort.  Actually “We don’t do that” is a very useful phrase for all sorts of things, but the best thing I ever did was shutting down the tantrum thing before it ever really started… we got to the point somewhere around age three or so, where we would see other children throwing tantrums and HE would look on, confused, and say “Why is she doing that?”

Shutting down the tantrums and introducing very early the concept of actions and reactions – that his actions had consequences were probably the best parenting tools we had.  “If you do that, then this will happen.”  And always following through with any threats of consequences, whether that is early bed time, no games, no dessert, no stopping by the toys shop… or if you’re pulling out the Big Guns and threatening a smack.  Not going to go too in depth on the whole smacking/non-smacking thing here… but we were smacking parents.  It was always the last tool in the box, but we used it when he was too small to respond to logic and reason.  He never got smacked a lot, but when he did it was always in a reasonable and considered manner – never when one of us had lost our temper, which I believe is the worst time to be smacking your kid – and it didn’t take long before the threat of the smack was all it took to alter behaviour because he knew we would follow through.

I think we managed to get through the infant and toddler years relatively unscathed compared to what some people relate.  Sometimes I think this is because we had an ‘easy’ child – he had no developmental issues, is completely normal and actually has a rather easy going of temperament (thankfully took after his Dad there).  Other times I think that things went well because we were firm and consistent with him right from day dot – he always knew what was expected to live here, in this house, with us, and we never changed up the rules on him without there being reason or logic and discussion surrounding what was, and was not, allowed.  As a result we now have a teenager who is smart, thoughtful, caring, considerate, aware, well spoken and can negotiate the hell out of any given situation.  🙂

I’ve already written way too much and I don’t have all the answers – no one does… but one thing is for certain, your lives are about to change enormously.  In amongst it all, try not to get swallowed up in your new roles as Mum and Dad, try to remember who YOU are.  And … good luck!

screwing it up

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