I have been a mother of boys for over 12 years. But that makes me no expert; more a reflective manager considering how I could have dealt with things better, when issues arise. Each boy is wildly different, and in the case of my first boy, genetically different, so adaptation to parenting style is essential. I am also now older, wiser, and enlightened to, at the age of 40, what hopefully will make my smallest boy feel utterly secure, and cool with the ways of the world. But something bothers me, and I need to put it to bed. There are many things I regret about decisions I made when my first was small. When I thought I was doing the right thing, or perhaps, what I thought was expected of me. And this is what I would like to say to my less experienced, younger self, who bumbled through those first few years, saving face, and full of fear and anxiety.
1. This time passes quicker than a breath. Facebook Memories are testimont to this. Your boy will turn into a young man before you know it. Hold him close. Cuddle that small boy. Study his freckles, breathe in his hair, run your finger along those baby teeth and wonder in the absolute perfection of that young, soft, beautiful face that you will miss.
2. That crying in the cot you have been told to ignore. He is not manipulating you. He is searching for the only thing that makes him feel totally safe. Go to him and respond to his needs. The house can stay messy.
3. Forget developmental milestones and let him get dirty. Comparing him to every baby, toddler and small child you meet will fill you with anxiety and make you act differently towards your boy. The score he gets for his developmental check at twelve months, to his tests in primary school, will have little bearing on his future life. He is an individual and will have his own special gifts. Focus on letting him interact with the world on a daily basis. Let him explore. He will be filthy. This is fine. It is good. Get over it and use your washing machine.
4. Spellings don’t matter. That tiny boy who sweated over ‘teddy words’ at 8am while eating his weetabix should have been daydreaming about superheroes, or chatting to you about his favourite wrestler. Just because he can spell ‘because’ this week because you’ve bored him with the ‘because’ acronym because you’re worried everyone in the class can spell ‘because’ because you want him to be a sheep, doesn’t mean he’ll be able to spell ‘because’ next week! Who cares when you have autocorrect anyway?
5. Be present. Don’t disappear off to work all week and then commit to more work at the weekend. He’ll never be small again. That window of opportunity has gone now. It is he that now disappears. And you that waits at the window.
6. Don’t live out of your means and rush back to work. That big house won’t make you happy. It’s a commitment to earning more, to showing off your seemingly perfect set up. But those four walls will remain empty all week as you farm your family out to institutions. Jump off that aspirational treadmill as it’s toxic for you, and for your son.
7. You can feed your son with your body. That’s a great thing. Lots of people wish they could do this, and they can’t, so keep going love! It doesn’t get weird at six months. It doesn’t get weird when they have teeth. Ignore people who say it does. It’s what your body was made to do! The goodness, the antibodies, the protection and the comfort offered, let alone the money saved.
8. Be grateful to your parents. Yes – the school and work run is the horror of our age. But you are lucky you don’t just have to rely on childminders and nurseries. You have parents who are willing to help you, and give up their days bringing up your child as you go off to work. Lucky you! Your parents will do their best to help you, so don’t resent them as you hand over your boy. If it grates you, pull the plug sooner.
9. Take charge. Those hazy days after his birth, when you felt like your body had been turned inside out and was no longer your own – when you allowed your house to fill with guests despite feeling miserable, in pain and totally overawed, take charge and say no. Months later, when you allowed your baby to be dragged to outings, to church, to Christmasses elsewhere, to please and placate someone else, it made you miserable. Take charge, say no. Your family, your timetable, your decision. Make your own choices, forge your own path.
10. For all the things that make you sad about what’s passed, you must let go and know that love was there, is here, always, and that he forever will be your first boy, and the joy you experienced was so gut-wrenchingly wonderful that every morning felt like a surreal dream – that you were responsible for this small life. Now – he feels the freedom you give him, the sacrifices you are making for his happiness, and he knows you will always be there, so forgive yourself, take your place in the wings and watch him go.