Thanks to people who have taken the time to comment recently – having an audience, however small, is one of the best parts of writing. Having an engaged audience is even better.
Parenting is hard. I think that’s a given. Everyone knows that.
But I genuinely think of my kind of parenting as the easiest parenting there is.
I call myself an attachment parent, but a lot of our attitudes are also baby-led, free-range, respectful, that kind of thing. We babywear and co-sleep and breastfeed, and we also do baby-led weaning, allow N to roam as freely as possible with only minimal safety concerns, and ask her before we wipe her face. (And leave her with a dirty face if she really protests. It’s not the end of the world. There’s no law that says your baby’s face must be clean.)
So how do we do it?
As I type, my partner is standing in front of the mirror with N, telling her that he’s sorry but he can’t let her play with his (computer) keyboard. He understands that the buttons are fun to press and make funny clicking noises, but when she presses them it does weird things to his game, so he has taken her away from the computer.
This kind of thing happens a lot, which you can take as a sign of terrible parenting (N does this a lot) or excellent parenting (my partner’s response). We redirect her, explain to her why her behaviour is endangering herself or others, try to be lenient when the behaviour is merely inconvenient rather than dangerous. But yeah, we get exasperated. We hand her over to the other parent. We stop what we’re doing and sit with N and give her the attention she needs, which is good and laudable and the kind of parenting we aim to do, but at times we do it reluctantly.
My days are full of little failures. One tenet of gentle parenting which has become more dear to me as my baby grows up is that parents are human, and humans are flawed. We can, and we will, and we do make mistakes. It’s a hard concept to grasp, particularly if your only experience of parenting is being parented. It’s hard to forgive your parents and yourself for these failures.
Recently, I shouted at N for grabbing the toilet brush while I was in the shower. It was the second time I had shouted at her. She sobbed. I felt horrible. I got out the shower, apologizing and saying soothing phrases, dried myself quickly, held her, explained why I’d shouted and told her that though I recognized my behaviour was wrong, I hadn’t known what else to do in the moment. I told her that it was okay to cry, because she was scared, and it had been a scary experience. I want N to learn that everyone makes mistakes – everyone including her parents – and that that’s okay, but that you have to take responsibility for your mistakes.
When I find parenting impossible, there are two thoughts that make me back down and calm myself. The first is that she is not doing this out of malice. This was really, really helpful to me in the early days and is still relevant now. When N would be dead asleep in my arms but wake the moment I laid her into a cot, it was not because she wanted to annoy me. The other day I had a problem with the front door and had to go out the back door, squeeze past some bins and open my front door from the outside – N was perfectly happy, and I’d told her I was going out for a minute because the door was broken but would be back very soon, but I still came back into the house to see her screaming, tears running down her bright red cheeks. She wasn’t pissed off. She was terrified I’d left her.
And the other thought, which is one that is perhaps more helpful for older babies and toddlers, is that she rarely gets her own way. If she wants to sleep in later than me, she can’t; if she wants to play upstairs, she can’t because I want to go downstairs and make breakfast; if she wants to stay in I can decide that we’re going out; if she wants me to walk slowly so she can grab at the bushes I can walk faster and stop her from doing that. I don’t even know the million myriad ways I thwart her desires over the course of the day. Maybe she spent all night dreaming about porridge, and then in the morning I offer her toast. Right now, for example, N is pulling the laptop screen back so I can’t see what I’m typing properly. I’m guessing she wants my attention. So I’m going to let her have her own way.