I WAS in the park last Friday evening with two of my four -the older two were in gymnastics class and I had a half hour to pass with my smallest ladies, so we hit the slides.
It was the Friday of the first week back at school, and while I am grateful for routine in the general sense of the word there, is always a readjustment when you return to one after the freedom the summer months usher in.
All four of mine are now in some sort of educational establishment, three in primary school and one in playschool four days a week, which for the youngest lady who has had next to no play dates or any form of playgroup since she was born, thanks to Covid, has been a re-adjustment.
Picture the scene, I had two happy albeit tired children with me, I had traffic to face on the way home, a dinner yet to get; long story short I was pretty weary, content but tired.
I had the luxury of looking around, observing others in the playground, and I set my sights on a lovely couple with what I assume was their first born and only child. Why do I assume that, I hear you ask?! I do so simply because they had the energy and enthusiasm for a playground on a Friday evening that only parents of one small child can have (well, either that or I am more ground down from parenting than I realise, but it’s been an intense 18 months so forgive me!).
I took one look at my three year old, tights inside out, dress backwards but shoes were on the right feet (that in itself a battle I only just managed to win) and the whole scene made me think back to the days when I just had one baby. I was once that parent who was exhausted but still full of energy, absolutely blown away by my first child, all she had to do was smile and I was clapping and cheering.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I am still exhausted and I do still cheer for all of my girls achievements, but in a more subdued way.
I almost let myself veer into negative territory, wondering about the effect my lack of overt fervour has on my fourth child, but instead I decided to focus on the positive differences between the woman I was four children ago and the mother I am today.
My memory though of that whole era is not all happy clappy, awe and wonder, it was tinged by worry and self-doubt; why won’t she sleep, why is she crying, why does her breath smell of vomit, do I need to see a doctor about this or that and am I doing any of this right? And that is all totally normal.
By the time you get to your fourth child (or second or third) you have less of that doubt – of course there will be times you wonder because every child is different and they all bring about new challenges and learning. Overall, I feel so much more confident and therefore my fourth child is absolutely bursting with confidence and independence that I most certainly denied my first child out of fear and worry. My eldest is thankfully confident, despite my best efforts at shielding her, so that trait must be more nature than nurture.
I also find myself infinitely more confident as a woman and a mother than I ever was, but maybe that comes with age as much as experience. I don’t care if my toddlers’ tights are inside out, it’s not a sign that I am a bad parent it’s a sign that I’m promoting independence and that I don’t want to dent her confidence by telling her she has done it wrong.
I think, fundamentally, I care less about what others think of me and more about how my children see me. Perhaps it is a sweeping generalisation of me to suggest that all new parents worry about what others think, but I did. However, I came to realise that while at first you may think other parents are judging you as a parent, the reality of it is most of us are too busy trying to stay above water and look sane in front of our own children.
Everything outside of that just isn’t important and it took me four children to figure that one out!
And that couple in the park I looked at with genuine happiness, knowing all the wonderful adventures they have ahead of them as a family, just like us.