The baby/toddler years can feel a bit like you’re in the trenches; most days you’re just trying to survive. The repetition of crying, settling, whinging, tantrums, feeding, bathing and the rest of it will wear you down. It’s not all bad…but some days are really, really hard.
And it’ll be on those tricky days – when you’ve barely managed to get out of the house – that someone decides to tell you, “Just wait til they’re older! Four (or 7, 12 or 18) is the WORST age!”
Hey Karen, just let me get through the “terrible two’s” first, okay?!
How can you find joy in the early years of parenting?
Find your village
There’s a narrative going around that although it “takes a village to raise a child”, nobody has a village anymore. There’s certainly truth in this statement but there’s nothing stopping you from building your own village and gaining a support network along the way.
• Attend any and every group function your antenatal class or Plunket group hosts. If you don’t like the other people in the group, don’t go back. But you never know who you might bond with! And better yet, these parents will be in your area so much easier to organise coffee dates and morning walks.
• Google the free baby/toddler activities in your area and check them out. Most libraries, churches and other organisations provide free activities running through term time.
• Talk to other parents! At the Plunket group, free music class, park or swimming lesson…TALK TO THE OTHER PARENTS! You have a shared interest – a baby.
Slow it down and simplify
Keeping up with the Jones’s (or whatever her Instagram handle is…) is hard work. Babies and toddlers don’t need a jam-packed schedule. Sure, it’s good for you and bub to get out of the house each day but you don’t have to fill your week with expensive activities and fancy playdates.
Take the early years as slowly as you need. Slow parenting is not about doing things physically slowly but instead, simplifying life and bringing balance into the home.
• Forget perfection: whip up pikelets for your toddler and stewed apple and kumara for your baby – lunch doesn’t have to look like the perfectly curated Bento box you see on social media. Go down to the local park for the afternoon or plant herbs in a bucket; these activities are all your children need.
• Assess the “stuff” in your kids rooms (and the lounge…the hallway…the bathroom) and de-clutter as if Marie Kondo was watching. Studies show that less toys = more joy. Children don’t need a heap of toys to make them happy. And it also means you’re spending less time cleaning up after kids and more time relaxing – win!
• Worry less about routines and instead, focus on rhythms. Your child doesn’t need to eat and sleep at the exact same time each day. Allowing some flexibility will be less stressful for both of you. But children do thrive on having a similar rhythm each day e.g. a nap always comes after lunch but it matters less about the precise time they go down.
Of course you’re going to look back and wonder how these years flew by. Of course you love and cherish your babies. Acknowledging the tough times doesn’t mean you don’t appreciate these early days.
If you’re struggling to find your village – or cope with parenting in general – make sure you reach out and seek help.
Being able to enjoy the early years might not happen until the sleep deprivation eases, or until you are able to manage anxiety and/or depression.
And don’t forget to talk openly and honestly with your friends. Chances are they’re feeling the same as you.