To some people, especially friends without children, I think I have become a thoroughly bizarre entity. Having children has done things to my brain. I’m not just talking the forgetfulness. It’s deeper than that.
Being a mother of two young children has, in some ways, been a most lonely and isolating experience. It’s very difficult to explain why or how I could possibly be crying into my digestive biscuits at 3pm because, really, what’s so bad? So Joni refused to nap and is now being less than angelic and Wilbur has been shrieking and clingy for the last 4 hours and we’ve run out of milk and the last thing I can summon the energy to do is paint pictures with the girl who is demanding to do so. Nothing to cry about though, is it? It quite probably seems completely alien to explain to someone without children that when the children weren’t waking us up, on average 4 times between midnight and 6am, we may not have been sleeping but instead worrying about how they’ll settle at nursery or whether they should be immunised,whether they’re getting their 5 a day or when I’ll lose weight and be able to wear my clothes again. Make no mistake, it’s not all tears in the kitchen – I would not change what I have (apart from that illusive lottery win) and I’m more grateful than I can articulate. It’s just that life is full: life is fantastically, brilliantly, hideously, exhaustingly and wonderfully full.
I am so grateful for the people in my life who support me – kind words go a long, long way to sleep deprived parents who are doing their best to raise their children, work, put food on the table and still be themselves.
So, if you have friends or family with young children please do these things:
1) Tell them they are doing a good job
Everyone is doing the best they can do at the time they are doing it. They may well be constrained by energy, money, patience, worry or time. But they are doing a good job – even if you would do things differently – they are doing a good job, tell them – it will encourage them and actually it will make them do their parenting job better.
2) Offer sympathy, not solutions
Unless a parent specifically asks for advice – don’t offer it. It is likely that they and Google will have thought of every conceivable solution to their parenting problem. Instead sympathise and tell them they’re doing a good job. They may well then actually ask for your advice and value it because you made them feel good about the job they are doing.
3) Invite them places
They might not be able to come but invite them. It feels good to be made to feel like you’re welcome in your pre-baby life. Money, tiredness or time might prevent them from coming but invite them anyway. They may well be desperate for child free time and conversations that don’t revolve around whether a 2 year old can watch another episode of Peppa Pig.
4) Be there
If they’re like me and like company: be there. Be there at 5pm when their house is a tip and their children are running around high on life and petit filous. Be there, don’t feel you have to join in, just be there – and tell them they’re doing a good job.
5) Be patient
Parents of young children might cancel plans at the last minute or go home early. Children have an unhelpful special talent for getting ill, needing packed lunches, dressing up costumes, bags packed, clothes washed, and keeping their parents up at night. There is never ever enough time for everything that parents have to do. So be patient, the days are long but the years are short in the early years. This time will pass and they will be so grateful that you stuck with them.