Have you ever met up with childless family or friends who have a rose tinted view of how they would parent if only they had children? You know the type; the ones that glare at you when your baby is screaming blue murder because it will not sleep EVER, daring to say ‘when I have a baby, I will have a strict sleeping routine, I will make sure my baby sleeps thought the night form day one’. Or the one who watches you try and coax your four year old into eating a tiny slice of apple after refusing and throwing every other piece of food from his plate in a tantrum, who says ‘when I have children, they will sit nicely at the table and eat everything I give them. I wont have fussy eaters’.
We all have people like that in our lives and instead of bludgeoning them with a baseball bat, we have to smile, nod and remember that one day, they will be eating their words and cringing at the comments they made on other people’s parenting before they entered the work of parenthood themselves.
We know that they will cringe because that was us too once, in our glorious, child free days.
We have all done the same; judged a mother in the supermarket for not soothing her screaming newborn, judged the father for dragging a screaming child under each arm from the playground because they didn’t want to leave or judged the harassed looking parents with the tantruming child in the restaurant (‘why didn’t they teach good table manners’).
When we have a child, we thought, everyday will be like a picture perfect example of family life, for we will be good parents who instill manners and routine into our happy little creatures.
Then we have a child of our own and we realise they have minds of their own and feelings which we cannot control. That’s when we are the one in the supermarket queue, bribing a three year old with chocolate if they just stand still for five more minuets, while others look on and judge our terrible parenting – and when we cringe internally while we remember doing the same to other parents.
I’m sure we all had great expectations of what out children would be like compared to the feral offspring off lesser parents. Here are a few examples that I have encountered over the years from friend, family and yes, myself.
Trips to the park
What you imagined: You will skip blissfully though the sun speckled park with your rosy cheeked toddler, both dressed impeccably in matching Boden prints and hunter wellingtons.
Your darling child will frolic in the playground, making friends with other Boden clad children with lovely mummies and take turns on the swings and slides beautifully.
Then you will sit together on the grass, admiring the view, making daisy chains and pointing out the different types of birds in the trees while eating a delicious, home made, entirely organic picnic, before taking a meandering stroll home eating ice creams.
What actually happened: It’s Tuesday (or possibly Wednesday as you have no idea what year it is, let along what day of the week since leaving your job to be a stay at home mother) and you can’t remember the last time you and the toddler left the house. Out of guilt and shame, you drag yourself away from This Morning and prize your toddler off the ipad, finger by finger. This results in a twenty minuet tantrum while you simultaneously try to get you both dressed in whatever is clean and stuff the unwilling toddler into the pushchair.
On reaching the park, your toddler wants to go on the swings. There are five swings, and another child is playing on them too. You toddler will not even contemplate going on one of the four free swings, he wants the one that the other child is using. Cue: Meltdown.
There are two slides, and another child. See above for your toddlers’ reaction. This time, however, the other child’s parent has seen your plight and brings her child over to try and make friends. Your toddler does not like other children, so bites him. You abandon the park and your toddler falls in a huge puddle on the way out, soaking the both of you. Cue: Meltdown.
You obviously had nothing in the house to make a picnic with, so you go grab a bag of chips each on the way home. (Toddler is now happy for five minuets).
What you imagined: From the day your baby takes his first taste of solid food, eveything that passes his lips from that day forth will be organic and home cooked. You will puree everything yourself and sneer at those lesser mortals who feed their baby ready made food from a jar. Your fridge will be filled with grass fed meat and glistening vegetables and your fruit bowl will be abundant with all the colours of the rainbow.
Your child will have an extraordinary culinary pallet, enjoying foods from the four corners of the world all with a big smile on his face.
Meal times will be a joyous occasion, with all the family sitting round the table discussing their days and laughing with the children happily sitting and eating everything you cook for them. The same will be true in restaurants as your child behaves impeccably and is charming and polite to waiting staff.
What actually happened: The first time you tried to cram a spoon of lovingly prepared, home steamed, organic butternut squash puree in to the baby’s mouth he screamed blue murder and turned his nose up at it. This happened with everything you pureed and with all the pieces of loving cut up and steamed vegetables you put in front of him. One day, you gave in and bought a jar of ready made orange mush. The baby ate the jar of food and smiled. From then on, you bought jars and abandoned the homemade purees.
Meal times though, continued to be fraught. As the months and years went on, you got used to the dinner time tantrums, protests, hunger strikes and the refusal to eat anything other than plain pasta and cheese. You considered it a victory if your child’s entire meal consisted of on piece of pasta and a pea – especially if he ate a pea!
Your child will not eat anything spicy, crunchy, wet, dry, orange, green, red or yellow. And dinner times round the table? You haven’t seen the dining table for three years; it’s covered in a mixture of clean and dirty washing and playdough.
As for eating out? Yes, you tried that. Once. Never again; the judging stares of the other diners as you tried to restrain your screaming child from clambering onto their table to retrieve the dummy they threw into their soup will haunt you forever.
What you imagined: A year off work! How fabulous! While the new baby sleeps (thought the night and two hours in the day, as obviously, you will have a routine in place from the second he is born) you will do a course in business! Or maybe start an Open University degree! This is all while re decorating the house, taking your baby to ever baby sensory and baby signing groups you can find and having lunch with all the wonderful new mummy friends you will surely make. This will be such fun!
What actually happened: The baby never sleeps and you have no routine to speak of. You can’t remember the last time you slept, brushed your teeth or had a shower. The Open University folder sits on the kitchen table gathering dust and mocking you, as do the rolls of wallpaper you bought a week before the birth to revamp the sitting room.
You haven’t made it to many baby groups as it takes you three hours to leave the house. The ones you have made it to have made you feel life you a back at primary school as all the other mothers seem to know each other and don’t want to speak to you, so you never go back.
You have been Googling nanny agencies and day nurseries since your baby turned five months and are wondering if anyone will judge you for finishing your maternity leave early and running back to work for a break.
The moral of the story? We are all coping with parenthood the best we can and for those who continue to judge before they have been there, done that and got the puree incrusted t-shirt – don’t judge parents. For one day, it will be you with the tantruming toddler.