“You need to calm down mummy. You need to calm down,” Molly tells me, patting my back as I stand bouncing Henry in one arm, while wiping my tears away with the other hand. It’s not the picture of perfect parenting: in fact, it’s a complete role reversal. Unruly post tantrum toddler comforts sobbing mum, whose patience (held together that day by a single very frayed thread) has finally given way. It’s the moment when there are no more buttons left to push. The moment you think: “To heck with motherly composure. My child has seriously p@£$ed me off. Now it’s my turn to have a meltdown!”
It was one of those days that started off pretty well. I had had my quota of a few hours of sporadic sleep in between newborn feeds and Molly had climbed into bed with me at 1am, breaking the one 2.5 hour long cycle of snoozing I might have hoped to have had. But all in all it was a good morning, fuelled by a strong coffee, a bowl of museli and a few sneaky squares of Dairy Milk. The husband has been away for over two weeks at work, but I am well able to cope – after all, I’m already a veteran parent. Oh yes, here I was, ready to take on the day…
Let’s set the scene. Up until just about last week, Molly had been the picture of sisterly perfection. Gently stroking Henry’s face, calling him “wee pet’ and generally making us feel we had slipped into this whole family of four thing rather easily. I mean, how hard can it be? Two beautiful children. One girl, one boy – what one would call, “the gentleman’s family.” Job done. (Cue: smug parent face.)
Hmmm. This is just about when the screws started to come loose…
“You’re NOT my best friend ANYMORE!!” shouts Molly that day while simultaneously stomping her foot down hard on the floor. We are in the middle of a bath time stand off and it is not pleasant. It’s the moment you realise your baby has grown up into a little girl with big ideas and a loud voice for letting us know just how she would like things to go. (Which is usually the opposite of what Mummy and Daddy would like it to be!)
I’ll have to admit that in the last week I’ve been struggling with this change in our family dynamic. Naturally I can’t give my undivided attention to my first ‘baby’ anymore, who has always been the centre of my world, and it is a fact that has made me feel quite sad, not to mention hugely guilty. (I think post partum hormones and sleep depravation also play a big role here in my emotional roller coaster ride of a week!)
Understandably Molly has been a tad jealous of her brother for taking up so much of Mummy’s time and this has manifested in her way of seeking attention – tantrums and some downright defiant behaviour! There have few more: “Mummy, give baby to Daddy” or “Daddy – put Henry in his cot.” A few more demands: “Lift ME up NOW Mummy!” and a hell of a lot of shouting the word, “NO!” There has also been many times in this last week that I’ve wondered if a brick wall might be more compliant…
“Don’t take it so personally,” the husband tells me, as he watches the tears well up in my eyes once more. Being somewhat of a sensitive yogi, I don’t deal well with confrontation. I am always the first to say sorry. The kind of person who will never go to bed angry. Then along comes the role of parent – a role that asks you to grow a big set of proverbial balls. It’s a role that requires you to maintain a tough outer core on top of your soft heart, even when small people scream you’re not their flavour of the month anymore!
I’m also torn by the guilt of wanting to spend alone time with my daughter, as well as time alone with myself, at a time when there never seems to be much of a moment for anything anymore! Even Molly’s bedtime stories now might need to double up as a feeding session, while shower time is perhaps the one chance for some solo self-reflection!
Besides the few extra meltdowns, it’s been a week in which I’ve looked at my daughter and been hit with the realisation of how much she has grown, and how far away she is from the helpless little baby I’m now nursing. Perhaps that has been at the root of my emotions – the notion that these stages fly by so quickly – stages that we ought to really cherish and be present for, instead of stressing over whether we are doing this parenting thing right or by the book.
When I put myself in Molly’s shoes, I totally understand the huge upheaval that Henry has made to her world. A world in which she now has to share Mummy with this tiny thing, who, as she so rightly puts it, cannot play with her properly until “he’s all growed up.” As a second child myself, I know that she definitely won’t always feel like second fiddle and that life will settle into a new ‘normal’ soon.
And while she’s pressing a few wrong buttons right now in the hope of turning the focus away from her little brother, she also knows how to press the right ones. “You’re a good mummy,” she surprises me by saying that evening after the storm has passed. “I love you. I don’t want you to be cross now,” she tells me, wrapping her arms around my neck. In those moments, all is forgotten. The tantrums, the tears. (Mine included!) I know this little girl will always be my baby – probably even when she’s heading out on the town in short skirts and high heels. By that stage, I’ll be the old doll sitting in by the phone with my glass of red, wondering how fast time has flown.
To the world you are a mother, but to your family you are the world.