7 lessons I've learnt from being a mum of seven
With seven children, ranging in age from eight months to almost 15 years, mother and blogger Jen Hogan knows all about the issues facing modern-day parents
Becoming a mum, and parenthood, has been the most fulfilling, rewarding, exhausting, monotonous, challenging, intense, all-consuming experience of my life.
From the time my first precious newborn was placed in my arms, my life was turned on its head and my sense of perspective changed utterly. Seven children on, this new world is now my comfort zone. Being a mum to such a large brood keeps me on my toes but it has also been, and continues to be, a very educational experience. With a lot of different ages and personalities in the mix, these are seven things that I've learned from being a mum to seven.
Same ingredients, different result
It never ceases to amaze me that in spite of having the same parents, and that initial appearances when each of my babies were born suggested that they were, in fact, just clones of each other, their personalities have proven to be very different. I have some who love sport, some who love art, some who are sociable, some who are shy. I have some who consider the wearing of underwear essential and some who don't rate it at all. I even have some we term "the charm offensive", at the frontline when meeting elderly relatives, and those we definitely keep in the rear until all hatches have been battened down. It's the wonderful mix that proves variety really is the spice of life.
A love like no other
It may sound corny but it's true. You will know a love of such intensity you never thought it possible - and it will influence everything you think, feel and do going forward. These little people become your world and heaven help anyone who messes with your bear cubs. With such love comes huge responsibility and guilt, often of our own creation, as you worry if you're doing what's right for your children in every aspect of their lives.
More often than not you fret about the mistakes you've made. Parenthood is a learning curve, influenced hugely by the different types of children you have and the respective challenges they face.
The important thing to remember is that you're doing your best. Sometimes you'll get it right, sometimes you'll get it wrong, but you did what you thought was right at the time and operated within the constraints and circumstances of the moment. Every choice was made with love.
A passing phase
Never has the mantra, "this too shall pass" applied more than to parenthood. Even though it can feel like a lifetime when you're going through the torture that is sleep deprivation, and even though you may feel that you'll never reclaim your bed, it will pass.
Even when it feels that you'll never take a shower without an audience or use the bathroom without someone seizing the opportunity to join you and discuss the Wise Old Elf's theory "that magic always leads to trouble", the day will actually come that you can do all these things alone.
I can't believe when I look at my older children in particular, how quickly time has passed since they were born. My daughter now stands a full three inches taller than me and my eldest son is entering his last year in primary school. Both are quite fond of their beds nowadays, even though they couldn't be convinced of the merits of sleep as babies and toddlers. I don't have the opportunity, if I was so inclined, to lament sleep deprivation just yet however, as my baby keeps me very much still in the moment. Whoever coined the phrase "sleeping like baby" must never have had one.
Be realistic and expect the unexpected
Trying to get out of the house with children is always a challenging affair. Whether it's packing for Armageddon just to take a trip to the local shopping centre, or trying to make a scheduled appointment or family occasion, getting out of the house with everyone still in a civil mood is no mean feat.
The key to making it in anyway a genuine possibility is being realistic. Allow yourself a reasonable amount of time to get everyone ready and for the inevitable nappy explosion and outfit write-off, that sod's law will dictate happens when you're in a hurry. Children are predictably unpredictable. If you allow for and accept somewhat the unexpected, you're less likely to end up frustrated if and when things don't go according to plan.
Trust your instinct
You can get advice from everywhere - books, other mums, websites - but ultimately no-one knows your child like you. While any advice is always welcome, it is generally a rough guide, and as much as adults are different, so are children. Even within the same family, babies can meet their milestones at very different stages, without it necessarily indicating any sort of issue.
Older children likewise, mature at different rates and are affected by their surroundings in different ways. If you think something is up, pursue it with the relevant professional, be they GP, PHN or teacher. You know your own child well enough to have your concerns taken seriously. No book can replace a mum's insider view and knowledge.
6Look after yourself too
Hmmmm. This is one most of us are definitely guilty of forgetting to do. As the numbers and demands of parenthood mount up, it's easy to find yourself slipping further and further down the pecking order in terms of priority. The reality here is that a happy mum generally leads to happier children. Parenthood, while hugely rewarding, is also extremely demanding and with no outlet, frustration and despondence can easily flourish.
Take the time to do something for yourself, no matter how small and don't underestimate its impact on how you'll feel. A bath without Grandpa Pig's boat, a stroll without having to count how many red cars you see, or a chat with a friend about something other than the longevity of Madame Gazelle's teaching career might be all that is required to recharge your batteries.
The importance of mum friends
Other mums who are friends can prove an invaluable support both practically and emotionally on the parenting journey. Not only can they be someone with whom you share school runs or check homework, they are people who are going through the same challenges that you are.
They can appreciate how difficult it is to remember all of your children's names when you're surviving on three or four hours' sleep. They know the importance of creating an excited fuss when your toddler arrives into the sitting room with a poo-filled potty waiting for his congratulatory round of applause. They know, thanks to the significant role your children's bodily fluids now play in your life, white clothes no matter how appealing on the hangers or mannequins, are not a mother's friend.
They understand just why, these days, you know the characters and plotlines of Ben and Holly better than anything going on in EastEnders. They know how hard it is to try to juggle everything. They know because they're living, or have lived, through the same things.
Being a mum is an ongoing learning experience and each child puts their own spin on what you already know or thought you knew. In between the tears and tantrums, it's so important not to forget to enjoy the smiles and laughter too. They mightn't lessen the workload but they definitely make the daily slog easier.
Read Jen's blog at mamatude7.blogspot.ie