Everything I do as a parent is what I swore I would never do

Mother dressing her daughter

I can't believe that my pre-baby self, had an opinion on how to raise children. I hope I was smart enough to keep my judgments to myself, but in case I didn't, I'm sure those parents are secretly smirking an "I told you so ... " or two right now.

Every day I find myself breaking silent parenting rules I'd set for myself. Sometimes I feel guilty. More often, I feel humbled.

There were a bunch of things I swore I'd never do or more so, never let my children do, when I became a parent. Yet, when it got to the point where I literally considered selling a kidney in exchange for a decent night's sleep, I quickly learned that in this parenting business, all bets are off. 

And we've all heard the saying 'Don't judge a man until you've walked a mile in his shoes'. Well, we should just update that to 'don't judge a parent until you've experienced your toddler throwing a DEFCON five-level styled meltdown in the chip aisle at your local supermarket'. Because everything I thought I knew about raising a child before I actually had one, turned out to be laughable.

Here are some examples of my most notable backflips:

Babies should sleep in their cots every night and for every nap. Having your baby in your bed is unsafe, disruptive and will never end.

18 months later … she is in our bed. Every night. And it makes so much sense. She can't eat on her own, get dressed on her own, go to the toilet on her own, so how can we expect her to sleep on her own?

For the first 10 months of life, she loved her cot. She went straight into it as a newborn and after six months even moved to her own room. Then suddenly it stopped. Now, the simple act of being lowered into it, even when she is sound asleep, leads to koala-like clinging to my body, screaming and a terrified look in her eyes. When my husband was traveling for work and I was struck down with second pregnancy-first-trimester-fatigue, she won, and we've all been sleeping soundly since.

I'm sure she'll take herself into her own room and own bed sometime before she hits university so I won't worry for now.

I will always find time for my personal grooming.

18 months later ... I'm sporting a mullet in my Christmas photos, and although I have managed to shower every day (some days this is quite an achievement), my unwashed hair accentuates my regrowth. And most days in January were spent leaving the house with a chipped Christmas-themed manicure, often with no make-up. My constantly changing body shape is draped in ill-fitting clothes and my waxing ... well, let's not go there.
My pre-baby self, I had no idea how much time and coordination was needed for such maintenance. I manage to find minutes throughout the day, but a block of time is just amazingly difficult.

I will not use screens to entertain my baby, especially when out in public. She will be so stimulated by all the wonderful places we will visit.

18 months later ... iPad, iPhone, TV where are you? Convenience always wins. The new rule is all about limited screen time, rather than no screen time. Some days I have 10 minutes to get out of the house and she's following me around demanding, "Up! Up!" and I know that Bananas in Pyjamas is on. Or we're in public, she's done with the pram, toys are strewn, snacks are finished, everyone available has carried her, she's runabout, we've put stickers in every place possible but we just need 30 more minutes, out comes the phones.

If breastfeeding works out, I'll stop by the time she's one.

18 months later ... she is weaned, but only as of a few months ago, and I only stopped because once pregnant, it was just too uncomfortable. Many of my friends are still breastfeeding and the common conversation is that they just don't know how to stop. It's so convenient and portable, not to mention cost-effective. No worries if you're caught out and about with no baby food and no time needed to prepare bottles. It's one less thing to think about when leaving the house.

Prior experience as a high school teacher has given me good training on behavior management. If I can control 25 teenagers in one room, I can handle a toddler tantrum.

18 months later ... I realize that no experience in the world will help me through this with my own child. Just yesterday we had our first public tantrum. In the library. My instinct (and the judgmental eyes peeking from behind the shelves) told me to pack up and run. My reality was a stiffened, screaming toddler on the floor, a pram, a bag, a seven-month-pregnant-bump and a queue for the lift. Reasoning failed. Bribery failed. I couldn't even give her what she wanted (to be pushed around in another toddler's fabulous plastic green car). It came on without warning and with a stark realization that I was flailing.

It's entirely different when it's your own child and it's totally unpredictable. Behavior management skills won't get me nearly as far as replacing control with a good sense of humor.

I swore I'd never use my own saliva to clean my child's face in public.

I remember only too well the mortification of seeing my mother coming towards me, licked thumb raised, ready to rid me of food from my face. She did this in public, and she did this often. And now that I'm a mother, so do I. Because those kids leave me little to no choice. There I am, dropping them off at school and I notice a big Milo stain on their top lip and I swear it's instinctive to throw the thumb in my mouth, moisten, and then wipe.

Now I've accepted that the best way to parent is just doing the best I can with the situation I'm in. And if I find myself smirking my own "I told you so's" at new parents, I'll remind myself that I still have many years and many more parenting rules to break.

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