I’ve heard it said that everyone has a stage of parenting they’re best suited to. For some it’s the baby years, for some the toddler years, and for some very brave people, it’s the teenage years.
I’m not a baby person. It’s something I don’t voice often, being a parenting blogger, but I’ve never been overly maternal, and I really struggled with the first year of motherhood. The lack of interaction in the early days I found really difficult to deal with, and the constant instruction from health visitors to ‘play’ with your baby I have to admit that I found baffling. When all you can do is put them on a playmat and wave things in front of them, there’s not too much playing to be had. That’s not to say I didn’t make an effort, and I certainly talked to Max and played with him a lot, but it didn’t come naturally to me. I’m sure the sleep deprivation and the constant crying made everything harder to deal with too!
And throughout that I would hear people telling me “enjoy every minute”, “it only gets harder”, “just wait until he’s crawling / walking / talking – then you’ll have your hands full!”
But once Max started walking, and then being more able to communicate, I found that everything started to get easier. I suspect a big part of things with Max was that he needs a lot of attention and stimulation. Everyone would comment when he was a baby as to how alert he was, and he steadfastly refused to switch off and sleep during the day – it was as if he didn’t want to miss out on anything. Once he could move to where he wanted, and explore the things that caught his attention, life was so much easier. And then once he could express his likes and dislikes in a more complex way than simply crying, everything got a whole lot easier again!
I’ll fully admit that I’ve loved the toddler years – the unbounded enthusiasm for exploring new places, the joy they find in the little things. It’s opened my eyes up to so much of the world that would have normally just passed me by. The dandelions and daisies picked from the grass and presented like a bouquet – “for you mummy!” – and the search for the perfect stick or stone. And seeing their emotions develop as they learn what it is to feel happiness, sadness, pain, love, and anger. The arms flung around your neck as they snuggle into you. The moment when you arrive at nursery for pick up and they come running over shouting “mummy!” And yes, of course, the anger is a tough one during the toddler years, but I’ve found handling it to be easier than I expected – and Max can throw a mean tantrum when he’s in the mood! I seem to have levels of patience that I never even suspected I possessed, but ultimately, it’s easier to handle when you get the payoff of the lovely moments too. I suspect that the toddler stage is the stage of parenthood that I’m best suited to.
The thought of returning to the baby days does make me rather nervous. But this time around I won’t be alone during the days; I’ll have Max to keep me company. But more than that, I’ll know that the baby stage is just that, a stage, and there will be another one just waiting around the corner. And those baby days fly by before you know it – as much as I resented the people who would say “enjoy every minute”, I now understand what they were getting at. The years fly by more quickly with each one, and although I’m sure I won’t enjoy every minute, I hope that I can find in the midst of the baby haze the moments that make it all worthwhile – the first smiles, the sleepy cuddles, the giggles.