Even before I had children, I considered myself clued up. I’d looked after plenty of kids as a family doctor, though my education actually began in my teen years. As a fifteen-year old, I used to baby-sit a feisty brood of five living round the corner from me. Four of the children moved so fast that I could barely tell them apart, let alone stop them wrecking their home. The baby, less mobile, needed constant nappy changes, which was a challenge as he was in a ‘frog plaster’ for developmental dysplasia of the hip.
The scales fell from my eyes, however, when my own kids arrived. Here’s what I learned from having my three sons.
1 Everyone has an opinion on raising children, especially those who never had any. The fewer children someone has, the more insistently they share their wisdom. Experienced parents rarely dish out advice because they know that not all kids are the same.
2 Yep, all children are different. Before you ask: yes, even identical twins. My own twin boys had different personalities from day one. After all, why should they be exactly alike? The environment begins in the womb, and there are always differences in the closeness to the mother’s heartbeat, to her dominant hand, even in the amount of blood flow from the placenta, to name just a few factors.
3 Babies need a lot less sleep than their parents. They don’t have to go to work. They can just loll about all day looking cute and innocent, and save their strength for another fun night ahead. Had I fully appreciated this, I might have stayed on maternity leave longer rather than dragging my befuddled brain (plus a breast pump) to work.
4 The best toys engage the child’s ingenuity, not the toy designer’s. That’s why empty boxes, old saucepans, wrapping paper, and key rings make great playthings. By the way, if you’re still looking for your keys, try checking inside your boots, behind the radiator, in the toilet, and out through the cat-flap. Or keep a spare set somewhere.
5 The longer you take to prepare a meal, the less likely your child is to eat it. Strangely, letting a child make his own sandwich does not put him off wolfing it down, even if it contains the most outlandish food combo and looks nothing like a sandwich.
6 Shopping and mayhem go hand in hand. Before supermarkets provided trolleys for more than one child, I’d have to push one trolley and pull another one. This was the moment when I’d be accosted by a patient who wanted to chat over the baked goods about her test results, or even show me her painful knee. On the plus side, my kids rarely had tantrums while out shopping. Instead, they amused themselves by pulling toothbrushes off the shelves and stuffing them down the front of their dungarees.
7 Children have an infinite capacity for embarrassing their parents. At a neighbour’s house one morning, I was offered coffee, only for one of my sons to pipe up, “Mummy likes gin and tonic.” Another memorable event was a job interview, the kind where you’re invited to bring your entire family (GP interviews can be like that). One of my little lads promptly removed his shoes and socks, gleefully shouting “Sock, sock!” The snag was that, at the time, he pronounced every S as an F.
8 Being a doctor helps you cope with children’s illnesses, but doesn’t make you superhuman. One of the low points was the Christmas when both twins, aged eight weeks, had bronchiolitis. Their older brother didn’t get much attention that year. Another low was a convulsion which landed one of the boys in hospital at the age of eighteen months. The little lad was fine in the end, but my husband drove into a bollard on our way to A & E.
9 The biggest lesson? You have to put your child first, before yourself, before anyone else. But that’s perfectly OK, because, until your own baby come along, you have no idea how intensely you can love a little person.
If you’d like to help a new parent cope when their child is seriously ill, please take a look at Lucy Air Ambulance for Children’s Mum Matters campaign. This great initiative comes just in time for Mother’s Day.
You can find out more about Lucy Air Ambulance for Children right here.
4 thoughts on “What Nobody Told Me about Having Children”
Although I didn’t have twins, I did have three children under the age of three-and a half, at one stage, and lived in the sticks away from family. I didn’t drive and shopping was an art mastered by a caffeine fuelled maniac. Husband is a pharmacist, and I qualified as a nurse, but their bumps and health scares did not register as ‘medical’ to us parents. They were scary times in our lives when our brains focused only on the child, and all sense and reason went out of the window. When my first was born a midwife handed him to me for breastfeed, and said ‘you’re a nurse, you know what to do’. Well, she soon realised the sobbing mess holding the unfed baby was a new mummy, not a nurse. I can guide my children with their own babies now, but I just tell them it is down to them to find the best way to cope. 🙂
Scary times, indeed. I’m not sure how we managed, but it all came out more or less OK in the end. If you had one piece of advice to new parents, such as your children, what would it be?
Never think you are alone.
That’s a good one, Glynis. Without family around, it can feel quite lonely.