Meeting the needs of three

“I’m just going to go upstairs for a bit to see if she’ll go to sleep, alright?” I repeat myself. Talitha’s lost in whatever is on TV. I promise her, multiple times that I’ll be back down once her baby sister is asleep. Then we’ll turn the television off and do something together. She murmurs agreement, probably just to get me to go away.

I don’t feel I’ve given her much today. I was up too late working, then Ophelia woke up more than usual, chatting and squealing and rolling over in the dark.

At one point I turned away from her, hoping she’d settle down if I ignored her. She screamed.

So, that was our night, in and out of sleep. Her brain is working on something big. She can’t switch off, though she’s tired.

So, mama’s been hitting the coffee today and tackling tasks that don’t require much. I’ve not felt completely here.

The tired baby who really, really needs a nap so she can recover from her exciting night wants to be held all day but also cannot stay still. She is grabbing for everything.

She cannot nap. She cannot stop rolling and getting into crawling position. She is wired.

She finally falls asleep at the breast. I ease away from her and sneak back downstairs.
“OK, I’m back. Remember, when this programme is done, we’ll do something else, OK?”
“No.”
“But we need to cook dinner and make bread.”
“But I want to watch more.”
“I know that but you’ve watched lots.”
“I want to watch lots.”
“We don’t have to turn it off now. When it’s done.”

The show finishes and she turns it off. For a moment, I think this will be the first time in forever that she’s turned off the television and not been upset about it.

I’m wrong. She starts crying.

I feel like just putting it back on so I can cook in peace and not deal with this. But she has already watched more TV today than usual and there is a need here…there is a need…I’m looking for it…

I’m not sure why but I suddenly ask: “Would you like to go on my back?” I haven’t worn her in the house for a long time. I’m surprised at how enthusiastically she agrees.

She is still crying when I tie her into the podaegi. Eventually her sobs quiet and I feel her muscles relax into my back. She begins to look at what I’m doing. Connection and distraction – that’s what she needed.

I think for a moment of the smallness of her. Of the growing distance between these moments where we get to be mama and baby. Then, just like that, it’s over. She wants down. She wants to peel the carrots for me.

I hand her the peeler and I hear the cry. Ophelia’s woken up. She will now go into the pod. We’ve moved on.


My parenting instinct? What’s that?

I remember, with surprisingly clarity, a phone conversation with a breastfeeding counselor (now a friend) in the early weeks. It may have been week two after Talitha’s birth and I was in a bit of a state from utter sleep deprivation. She was waking something like every half an hour and the midwife thought it was a breastfeeding issue. Looking back, I think it may have been related to her tongue-tie, actually, but this wasn’t something on the table just yet. What remains with me was the question over the phone: “What is your instinct telling you?”

My instinct? My baby was days’ old. I was tired, traumatised by the birth and none of it felt like it was going well. My confidence had dissipated. I just wanted someone to tell me what was happening and what I should do. I wasn’t even sure I had any mothering instinct. At first, I felt like this was yet another thing I was meant to have and didn’t, along with the ability to birth the way I’d wanted. Perhaps I’d fallen at the first hurdle. There was no voice inside me telling me what was what.

I know now that wasn’t true. Even then – in fact, even in pregnancy – my instinct was there. It told me that we should aim to birth at home, even if that’s not what happened in the end. It told me I needed to breastfeed, even though that ended up being one of the most uncertain battles I’ve fought. But learning to listen to instinct – there was the skill that would grow over time. It’s still growing.

We’re always told that no two children are the same, that a second child could be different. I don’t think I fully believed that until Ophelia was in my arms. Her sister may have been a frequent waker for the first year of life but Ophelia slept lengthily from the start. Talitha was tongue-tied and suffered weight gain problems as a result. Ophelia never lost weight and has gained generously ever since. Talitha was never happy to be separate from me for even a moment, for the first six months of her life. Ophelia frequently lay happily where she was set…at first…

Talitha became relatively independent once she’d learned to sit up, largely entertaining herself. I guess I assumed Ophelia would be the same. Instead, sitting up for Ophelia has coincided with her intense need to be held, to be attended to, to have our attention. It’s hard work, especially with a big sister to look after, a house to keep relatively clean, work to be done, a husband to love and a personal space that needs, well, personal space.

My parenting instinct - what's that

In frustrated moments, I’ve had to take a breath, to ask myself: “What is my instinct telling me?” My instinct tells me that she is only little, that I won’t carry her everywhere forever, that I’m laying down the foundations of natural independence, that “the second nine months” is a thing. I have carried her inside me. The time for me to carry her outside is so brief in the scheme of things. Right now it is tough. Parenting is tough. Babies need so much. Thank goodness for slings!

Further down the line with three-year-old Talitha, I’m often uncertain what instinct is telling me. There’s so much noise and action, not much time to pause and think. But it’s there. It’s there, in rotten clarity, when we get into a battle of wills or when I end up shouting. It tells me that coercion doesn’t raise the kind of adult I want to give the world or that I want to be friends with in the future, and that it doesn’t respect her now. It tells me to slow down, to be creative, to find other ways, to think about where the limits are and why. Instinct is there, even if I sometimes ignore it.

But I’m also tuning in to a message I didn’t hear so loudly last time. It’s one about what I need to live and give abundantly. I’m accepting help where it’s offered and taking the time for other things, even if it’s limited. I’m now saying what I feel instead of internalising it. This time, the connection between my needs and my children’s needs is much clearer.

A few people have recently asked me if the choices we make about the way we parent are philosophical. I suppose they are, in the sense that any choice anyone makes is, one way or another. I feel, though, that they’re better described as instinctual. They always were. I just didn’t know it yet.


Choosing not to send my child to preschool

We decided early on that we would home educate our children or at least give the option a good look-in. The choice is finally starting to feel real. While other parents with children who’ll be four next academic year are starting to look around at schools, we’ll be ignoring the letter inviting us to apply. You might assume that this meant we wouldn’t consider preschool, either, but we did.

From 18 months, Talitha went to a childminder one day a week. It gave me a chance to work, her a chance to have fun with someone else and us both a break. For various reasons, a few months after Ophelia turned up, I couldn’t manage to take her to the childminder anymore. Suddenly the weeks felt LONG.

I felt so guilty about this but it’s hard looking after a three-year-old and a baby all week. I won’t pretend it’s the most difficult thing in the world but it is a challenge. Even looking ahead to each week and trying to schedule enough play dates takes its toll. I guess the thing is, in a village-days-gone-by setting I wouldn’t need to. There would be other children around to play with and other adults to share the parenting. But that’s not the way we live.

So I started to think again about nursery. I talked to home educators who’d sent their kids and those who hadn’t. Their perspectives offered me points I hadn’t considered. Bit by bit, I did what I do and made a list to weigh up the pros and cons.

Pros:

  • Time with just Ophelia
  • I might be able to work in her naps
  • Time apart from Talitha, helping me recharge for time with her
  • She wants to go (or thinks she does, anyway)
  • She loves that kind of setting so she’d likely have fun

Cons:

  • She might find it tiring and, on some level, stressful
  • Ophelia is six months old, doesn’t always nap reliably and is trying to crawl – I probably wouldn’t get any work done
  • Might it make her want to go to school when the time comes?
  • Sessions would dictate what else we’re able to do
  • I don’t feel completely happy about it

I was still undecided about it so applied anyway, thinking I might as well get on the waiting list for a local nursery. Their admin through that process was so disorganised that it put me right off. It made me pause enough to listen to my instinct and decide, once again, that preschool or nursery is not for us. Not right now, anyway. Probably not ever because if she’s not going to school then it does seem an odd route to take. I rang up the nursery on Friday to tell them that we no longer required the place.

As soon as I hung up the phone, I felt both relieved and daunted. On one hand, I am so glad to have rested the case in my mind. On the other, I’m looking ahead to weeks that feel…long…

I know we will get into a rhythm. I know I need to organise our time, start going to home ed groups more regularly, actually do more of the stuff I’ve pinned on Pinterest, get my calendar out and plan those play dates, and accept that moments of boredom are also a part of life, especially life with a baby.

Maybe we will eventually look for a home educating childminder or a babysitter or Laurence will work less or we will find some sort of flexischooling solution. I don’t know. I’m not going to think about “eventually” right now. This is what we’re doing today. As with everything else in family life, we’ll take it one day at a time.

Choosing not to send my child to preschool-2


Three (or four) in the bed – Our bedsharing journey so far

I never planned to have my first child sleep in bed with me. I thought it was a bad habit. I thought it would spoil my baby and ruin my sleep. Sure, she might come in for the odd night when she had a nightmare. After all, I remember lying in my parents’ bed, looking up at the patterns the watermarks made on the ceiling. It would never be a habitual thing, a lifestyle choice.

Then Talitha was born. She would not settle. I rang the midwife on the ward for help so many times that she eventually brought me a co-sleeper cot to attach to my bed. Finally, peace.

When we got home, I couldn’t understand why she wouldn’t settle in her Moses basket for more than a few minutes during the night. I was exhausted and felt like there was no recovering from a lengthy labour with this baby who just wouldn’t sleep.

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Talitha at three weeks old

I sat on the sofa, breastfeeding her, dosing and terrified of dropping her if I fell asleep. The midwife pieced together her green poo and her constant waking as oversupply of breastmilk. I now know that actually she wasn’t accessing enough milk because of her tongue tie. But after three years of knowing my first daughter, I think the waking thing was more than just hunger. She wanted – needed – to be close to me.

The midwife warned us against taking her into bed with us. I hadn’t even considered it might be unsafe. I knew many people in Trinidad who slept with their babies. Out of exhausted desperation, I began to breastfeed her in bed and would accidentally fall asleep. I’d wake up terrified. In the daytime I was unsure about admitting to people that she was in bed with us. I felt guilty about it all. But I became a reluctant co-sleeper.

It’s funny remembering all of this because just three months after Talitha was born, I counted bedsharing as one of the things I would have done sooner, in retrospect. We kept moving the goalposts for when Talitha would move into a cot and possibly into her own room but wegot a bigger bed instead.

In the end, she moved into her own child’s bed at age two. We’d just moved house and we made her room a place a child would love to call her own. Still, she’d have bedtime there but I’d pick her up and bring her to bed with me when I was heading there because I was still night nursing. Maybe she would have stayed asleep there all night. I’ll never know for sure.

Toddler room
Talitha’s room when we moved in. I give you an update here on the blog soon.

There wasn’t long to find out. I fell pregnant as soon as we’d moved. Breastfeeding at night made me nauseous. It was no longer an option. So Laurence started going in to comfort her if she woke at night. Let’s just say she wasn’t keen on the arrangement for a few nights. After that, though, she slept through in her own bed most nights! Sometimes she’d go through a phase of waking but she’d accept her father’s comfort and go back to sleep.

Once we spent the night at a friend’s, sharing a bed, and it was a total nightmare because she wanted to breastfeed the whole time. I guess it was just to soon for the new arrangement to have settled. Soon, she didn’t want to get into bed with us. If she woke, she and Laurence would negotiate over where they would sleep. If she wouldn’t come into our bed, he’d insist that they went in the spare room. If she had her way, they’d sleep in her tiny bed. Not an option.

We talked about what might happen, in case she started wanting to sleep with us again once Ophelia was born. I really didn’t want her to feel like she was missing out if all of us were in the bed and she was on her own. This time it was obvious to us that the new baby would sleep in our bed.

At first we went through a musical beds situation. Laurence sometimes slept in the spare room, Ophelia and I in our bed and Talitha in her own bed. I decided I didn’t like Laurence sleeping separately, mainly because I resented being the only one having to wake at night. Yes, selfless, me.

Our Bedsharing Journey-2

We put Talitha’s bed guard on my side of the bed, stuffed a towel into the gap between the guard and bed so it was flush and I kept Ophelia on my side, away from any pillows and duvet. As it turned out, Talitha was happy enough to sleep in her own room and trundle into ours in the mornings for her wake up feed, just as she still does.

We’ve been through a couple of phases of her sleeping in bed with us (due to nightmares), both children pinning themselves against me, me gently moving them away. I’ve honestly really enjoyed those nights and wish they’d happen more often (sans nightmares). I playfully call our bed “the family bed”, which makes Laurence rolls his eyes.

It’s hard to look back and see how much time I wasted worrying. I wish I’d just allowed myself to be okay about the whole thing sooner, to know that we would find our way.

NB: La Leche League has recently published up-to-date information on bedsharing and safety.


Slow down your parenting so you can say “yes”

Lately, I’ve been in conflict with my older daughter quite a lot. That’s a lofty way of saying I’ve been picking fights with an almost three-year-old – as ridiculous as a lot of the stuff we’ve actually been clashing over.

Three things are going on here. One is that Talitha is going through enormous leaps in how she reasons things, views herself and understands the world. I can scarcely get my head around the emotional and neurological changes taking place before my eyes.

She’s in this amazing space between baby and older child. She is exploring more, experimenting more, pushing boundaries and asserting her own will.

She is also trying to adjust to having a baby sister. Though completely in love with Ophelia, always gentle with her and, even now, pretty excited about her, it must be a bit scary and confusing no longer being the baby – and suddenly having to share her mother.

On my side of things, I’m adjusting to looking after her while also meeting the all-encompassing needs of a newborn. I end up saying “no” more often than I know is healthy.

“No” becomes a reflex, a punctuation mark in the pattern of negativity between us. Since she’s growing up, she doesn’t just go with it.

It turns out I’m not raising a robot. She’s a flesh and blood human being who demands that we relate. More relating happens behind “No, Mummy!” than “Yes, Mistress.”

As I’ve learned when she was a new baby, so I’m learning again: the answer is usually to slow down. I really do believe that this is the key to being able to say “no” less and “yes” more.

I forget sometimes because I’m tired or overwhelmed or just feeling a bit lazy. So I’m reminding myself of what it means to slow down your parenting.

How to Slow Down Your Parenting

Be careful what you commit to

Rushing to get out of the door, overtired toddler at the end of an overpacked day, feeling like she is a distraction from things that need to get done – all of these are signs for me that I am overcommitting.

That I need to slow down our days and say “no” to other things so I can say “yes” to her (and myself!) more.

In my situation as a (very part time) work at home mother, I have a lot of freedom to do that. But I still get sidetracked by what we “should” be doing according to our timetable rather than what I can stop and see my children need – which incidentally often goes hand in hand with what I need.

Plan ahead

This one is really challenging for me. Slowing down my parenting requires that I do the grown-up thing of being a little more organised than I’m naturally inclined to be.

It might mean packing the bag the night before so I’m not rushing about like a mad thing in the morning. It might be getting us all dressed as soon as we wake up so there’s lots of time to spare. It might mean leaving a longer time to walk somewhere, toddler pace.

I’ve been struck recently by how much I hate being rushed to leave the house (though I’ll admit I do need gentle encouragement) and yet I can be quick to hurry Talitha up.

Take time to calm down and respond

It’s all very well and good knowing what I should have done in advance but in the midst of a tantrum, what now? Ninety-nine per cent of the time, the best move is to slow down.

Sometimes this means holding her until she’s calm. She can’t hear anything while she’s crying. Sometimes it means holding my tongue until I can think clearly about what I want to do. This is hard for me because I am reactionary by nature.

I do think it’s important to express my feelings and to be honest with her but a lot of damage can be done in the heat of the moment.

Learning to slow down my parenting.jpg

When faced with challenging behaviour or simply unexpected behaviour, slowing down may just mean taking a moment to ask myself whether I really need to say “no” to this. More often than not, when I do this I realise there’s a lot that I can say “yes” to.

A lot of her choices may seem strange to my grown-up mind but they’re not necessarily wrong as a result.

If it does need to be a “no”, there’s usually a more creative way to say it. Talitha’s shoes often make their way to the rack by starting to talk: “Oh no! We need to go home. Help us, help us!” Or getting down to her level, explaining the situation, listening to her side and trying to arrive at a solution together.

“No” is sometimes necessary but it does more harm than good when it becomes a verbal tick, which it does when I don’t take my time.

Reflect on what you’re doing

Being too busy and keeping life hectic can mean that I make no time to figure things out. So I’ll put the girls to bed and think “Ugh. I hate what I did today. Today was so stressful.”

Yet I don’t always stop to think about how it could have been different. And so follows another day with much repetition.

I will get things wrong and there will be things beyond my control. This is not a quest for perfection but an opportunity to keep learning.

Find ways to slow down your parenting.jpg

Take care of yourself

Whenever life feels frantic, it’s usually a time when I’m not getting any time alone to recharge so I have the resources to meet the needs of the people I love.

I used to think that I needed a lot of alone time to refresh and to connect with God. I’m learning now that I can find what I need even in small increments of time, that what I do with the time I have matters more than how much of it there is.

I’m also accepting that taking care of myself includes forgiving myself when it all goes wrong and when I don’t act as I want to.

I may have double the mother guilt now that I have two children but they also give me twice the reasons to let it go.

What about you? Have you been finding ways to slow it down recently?


When parenting sucks…

With both my babies I somehow figured things would be messiest in the first few weeks then would calm down ’round about say three months – Ophelia is eleven weeks old today so ’round about now! It didn’t work out that way last time and I’m not sure how but I managed to forget between then and now!

With Talitha it was hard around now because of her breastfeeding problems and because she was my first, the lifechanger. With Ophelia, breastfeeding is so textbook and she’s such an easy baby to look after. We can’t work out if that’s because of our experience or her temperament or a bit of both. Babies really are easier the second time around.

Balancing the needs of a little baby and an almost three-year-old, though? That’s what’s strenuous about these days on the tail-end of the birth-y afterglow. That’s dreadfully obvious, isn’t it? I expected it to be hard. I didn’t expect to be lured into a false sense of security in the first couple of months!

when parenting sucks 2

There are just so many questions. And I don’t means “Why?” and “What are you doing?” Talitha has given those a rest, thankfully! Those are no match for the ones going round and round in my head these days. The ones I ask myself fall into three categories:

Why does this situation suck?
Who has the greater need right now? Who has to cry alone for a bit? Who’s it going to affect more? Which battles do we pick? Where are our limits? Do I think about this present moment or the years down the road?

Why do these kids suck?
Why do they have to cry at the same time? Why are babies designed to be so needy? Why do people go on about the terrible twos when it’s the threenagers who get you? How do you make her stay and listen to all you say? How do you keep a wave upon the sand?

Why do I suck?
Shouldn’t I be better at this?!!!

sisters

Then it’s a new day. We’ve all had a sleep. I’ve had my first cuppa. They’re smiling and chatting to each other. And I ask…

Why did I ever think it sucked?


What the last decade has taught me that I want to teach my children

So I got up this morning somehow 28. It’s my birthday today. Really, 18 does not feel a decade ago, even though everything has changed in that time.

I’ve been reflecting on what’s changed and what hasn’t. It’s made me think about what I want my daughters (who have been the biggest change in my life) to know about what maturing means.

Ten years ago, I was learning to drive. Today, I’m still learning.
In fact, I have another driving test tomorrow. I’m actually in a pretty good place with this. I might pass, I might not. I will eventually. At least I’m not putting it off anymore. I’m determined, I’m going for it and I’ve finally reached a point where I believe I can drive. Even a few months ago I was still wondering whether I should just choose to be a lifelong pedestrian.

What I want my girls to learn is that just because something doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it’s not worth learning. I also want them to know that it is OK for failure to be part of the journey.

Things I want my children to learn

Ten years ago, I hated my body. Today, I don’t think about it that much.
The other day, Talitha leaned in to tell me something very earnestly. It was spoken like a precious secret. “Mummy, I am very beautiful,” she said. I smiled and agreed with her.

I long for her to grow up strong against a world that will tell her that her body is public property and that her physical beauty is what’s valuable about her. I rage against these lies, knowing too that “You are not beautiful” and “You are not enough” are whispered with them.

Ten years ago, I thought I needed a relationship to feel complete. Today, I know that’s not true.
This year Laurence and I will have been married for five years. I absolutely love him more than ever. My admiration and respect for him have grown with time. The first blush of romance has faded and is growing into something far more meaningful, something I wouldn’t trade for the excitement of new love. But.

I have learned again and again that that does not mean we can save each other. Any demons I entered this marriage with are going to stick around until I find a path to freedom. He cannot fix me and to expect that of another person is not only unfair and unrealistic but cruel.

I want to model a healthy relationship for my children. That’s one of the best gifts a parent can give.

Things I want my children to learn that I've learned

Ten years ago, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. Today, um, I’m still figuring it out.
At 18 I was on a gap year, having enrolled to study English Literature because I was good at it and, frankly, I didn’t really know what I wanted to do, career-wise.

After my first degree, I did a Masters because I figured I wanted to research and teach. I fell out of love while writing my dissertation, partly because I’d chosen the wrong area of study, really, and partly because I was depressed at the time.

Then I embarked on a really short career in magazine journalism.

Then I got pregnant and realised I wanted to stay home with my baby, like long-term too because home educating was something I’d always thought about.

And now? Well, yeah, that’s the path I’m on but I still don’t know what I plan to do. I’ve been copywriting and doing social media stuff around Talitha for the last couple of years. It’s pretty decent but is it what I want to be doing with my one wild and wonderful life? I don’t know.

What I want my kids to learn is that there are different paths to things. You don’t have to figure it all out in one go or even early in life. It can unfold over time. Your purpose and dreams can also change over time. Life does not have to be spent doing just one thing.

What I've learned I want to teach my children

Ten years ago, I thought I knew everything. Today, I’m cool with some doubt.
I was so black and white about things when I was younger. I’m naturally very driven by rules and certainties. It makes me feel safe.

The last decade has seen me move country, meet a much wider pool of people with so many different histories and perspectives and have experiences that have made me question everything.

I want my children to grow up knowing that doubts do not invalidate your faith, that doubt can make you softer, more compassionate and more understanding.

What do you most want your children to know?

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Circus Queen is a finalist in The MAD Blog Awards. Please vote for me to win “Best Pregnancy Blog”.