things i have learned from ten years of parenthood

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Alice turns ten next month and .. wait, WHAT?!? No, no, there must be some mistake. How did she get to double digits already? Seriously, you take your eyes off a screaming baby for just a minute and when you look back they’ve turned into a miniature adult who rolls their eyes at the stupid things you say and do. I sometimes think I’ve gone back to my teenage years and am living with my mother again.

I swear to god last year on holiday Alice looked at the (rather short) dress I’d put on to go to dinner in and said “shouldn’t you be wearing leggings with that?” Er, shouldn’t you be wearing rollers in your hair and a pinny with that attitude??

It’s been a steep learning curve, this parent lark. You start off with the basics, like how to keep a newborn (and yourself) alive on less sleep than any person should have to endure, ever. (Really, there should be EU regulations on minimum hours of sleep.) Then you swiftly move on to intermediate stuff such as keeping an eye on a crawling baby while simultaneously moving anything dangerous out of its path/steering it away from sheer drops. Following a crash course in toddler tantrum diversion tactics, before you know it you’re on to advanced school-age child handling, covering anything from bedtime negotiations to lie-detecting.

But ten years on I think I’ve probably learnt a few things that should be shared with the world, particularly unsuspecting innocent parents-to-be.

1. From day one, your first priority for your precious bundle should pretty much be food. Clean, dirty, hot, cold, bored, tired .. all that shit is unimportant if you have a hungry baby/toddler/child (or parent) on your hands. Get the feeding right and everything else will follow.

2. Honestly, I cannot stress enough how important number 1 is. Read it again, just to be sure. Go on, I’ll wait here while you do.

3. Toilet training doesn’t end once they know how to use the toilet. Yes, it didn’t take me long to get to poo territory. It won’t take you long either, trust me.

4. And while we’re on the subject, life is too short to wash pants that have been used as nappies by anyone on solids. They make disposable nappies for a REASON. Until you are confident of your child’s ability to control their bowels, I can strongly recommend buying cheap and cheerful pants in bulk.

5. As a new mum at home with a baby for the first time, other new parents can be a lifeline. My antenatal classes were useful for one thing only; the group of friends I made who supported me through those first hideous, terrifying, soul-crushing weeks with a newborn and whom I am grateful and fortunate beyond belief to be able to count among my closest friends ten years on.

6. Every stage of your child’s life is just that; a stage. Although in the darkest depths of sleepless nights, separation anxiety or potty training it may seem as though this is how life is going to be forever more, try to comfort yourself with the thought that somewhere in the not-too-distant future, you will suddenly remember those dark days and think of them (almost) fondly – worse still, you’ll realise that you hadn’t even noticed they were gone.

7. Shopping will never again hold the same excitement that it did before you became a parent; leisurely expeditions will be replaced by fairly leisurely expeditions interspersed with impromptu feeding/changing stops (I am more familiar than I ever thought possible with every shopping centre baby changing room within a 10-mile radius of my house), soon to be replaced by slightly frantic dashes around the shops within the constraints of a toddlers’ tolerance for being strapped into a pushchair (mileage will vary by child considerably here), eventually to be phased out altogether except for dire emergencies and then some. These days I get my retail kicks online and when I do get the opportunity to visit real shops on my own, I find my boredom threshold is worse than that of my girls’; quite frankly, I don’t even want to go shopping with myself. I AM RUINED FOREVER.

8. Calpol can solve most childhood ailments. For those it can’t, there are doctors, NHS Direct or the hospital and sometimes all three. Alice proudly keeps track of her number of hospital visits (more than one for every year of her life, currently) and I will always remember the Christmas Eve I lay awake listening to Jessica barking with croup and waiting for a call from NHS Direct that eventually came at 5am.

9. I have turned into my mother. It happened to me, I can see my husband turning into his father and it will happen to you too. You can spend your entire life up to this point fighting it, but the instant you have children that process of metamorphosis begins and there is NOTHING you can do about it. You know that thing your mum/dad used to say when you were a kid, that you vowed you would never say to your children? ONE DAY IT WILL HAPPEN. Don’t beat yourself up about it, just go with it. There may even come a point when you realise they were right.

10. Confidence. Of all the things I have learned (and let’s face it, this list barely scratches the surface), this is one of the best. Even in my thirties, before I had children I was a quiet little mouse. I may not be a roaring lion on the outside now, but I have the inner confidence to do (and say) things I would never have dared before. I have the confidence to not worry whether people think I’m still a quiet little mouse, because when it comes to my children I will be the fiercest lioness.

If you’re already a parent (and even if you’re not), I’m sure you will disagree with at least half the things on my list and have a better/longer/profounder list of your own. In fact I hope you do; I’m certainly not claiming to be any sort of authority, just sharing a bit of the wisdom(?) I’ve accumulated in the last decade. So maybe you’d share some of yours – what’s the best (or worst) thing you’ve learned from parenthood?

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