Sometimes I feel that parenting is a bit like one of those games like WoW or D&D, because a lot of the time it's random chance. You roll the right number or meet the right player (I once had a boyfriend who was OBSESSED with WoW, but I actually still don't really understand it, so forgive me if this analogy sucks/is inaccurate) or you... Well, sometimes you don't. The thing about parenting experience is that it's fluid, which is not to say that it's smooth and pleasing to the eye, but that rather like water, if there is a gap or a crack it will find its way through and leave you feeling drained and like you don't know what the fuck to do now.
So today I'm going to share some parenting level-ups and experience points with you, because maybe it'll make us all feel a little better about the bad days.
Sleeping through the night: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
For one glorious week. Under-eye bags are diminishing, elixir of life is returning, you're about to attend your coronation as the monarch of parenting... Oh wait... Is that?... Yeah. It's still the middle of the night and the baby is definitely NOT still asleep. FFS.
Teething: EXPERIENCE POINTS +5
The struggle. The tears. The unadulterated anguish. And then... POP. It's all over. But don't get excited; you've got 19 more to go. Time to restock the Calpol and grit your own 32 pearly whites.
Unswaddling: LEVEL UP
After an hour of watching your baby struggle on the video monitor, they've finally passed out sprawled awkwardly across the cot with their arms flung wide. Quite why this is such a pivotal parenting moment is beyond me, but the joy of it is almost unrivalled. Y'know, except for the nagging worry that they might wake up at any moment and beg you through the medium of screaming to be bound back into the swaddle again. They stayed asleep? LEVEL UP, MAMA.
Weaning: EXPERIENCE POINTS +10
That's 10 points for every food offered that doesn't end up in your hair. Or theirs. Or the cat's. Another 10 points if you remain calm in the face of an upside-down-bowl-on-the-carpet incident. More experience points are on offer for the discovery of successful distraction techniques when trying to feed a teething/tired/sick baby. And if you don't cry the first time your baby spits out the food they loved last week which you have lovingly steamed, blended and stored shitloads of in a huge Tupperware container ... Well, then you're a Weaning Warlock.
Potty training: LEVEL UP/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You've just stepped in your third puddle of pee of the day and you're pretty sure there's a poo somewhere around here too. What do you do? Sigh and locate the poo whilst mopping up the pee, say "never mind; it's just an accident" and kit your child out with new pants and a subtle reminder of where the potty is and how to use it? +5 Experience points for you. First pee in the potty earns you a level up, as does the first poo. And on the glorious day when puddles and secret poos become a thing of the past: NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. I bet you feel like a parenting paragon, don't you? As well you should.
Public tantrums: EXPERIENCE POINTS/LEVEL UP
A screaming toddler is a force to be reckoned with at the best of times. In the middle of a busy supermarket it's just about the Worst Thing Ever. To be honest, I don't think there's a wrong or right way to deal with a public tantrum. I've tried most things, like getting down to my child's level and talking calmly to him about why he is unhappy. I've also tried ignoring him and walking slowly away in the hope that he will get up and follow me. Bribery has even been attempted once or twice, as has the threat of not buying him the magazine I promised I would at the end of the trip. It depends what kind of mood he's in. If he's tired, NOTHING works. I've always wanted to be one of those mothers who has The Answer to diffusing every tantrum... But I'm not. If you are, LEVEL UP for you. I'll be down here building up my experience points.
Disapproval from older generation: EXPERIENCE POINTS/NEW SKILL UNLOCKED
You're out in public with your baby/child, minding your own business and trying to get on with your day. You hear an older person make a rude comment about your parenting style/child's behaviour. How do you respond? This tends to be very heavily dependent on your level of sleep-deprivation. The worse it is, the more likely you are to explode or cry. Or both simultaneously. Since it's generally a comment such as "children in my day were seen and not heard/didn't have dummies/never cried in public", you can actually just fucking ignore it. This happened to me at a funeral tea earlier this year when an elderly and distant relative made an observation about "young mothers these days sticking dummies in their babies mouths the minute they make a noise" while watching me try to comfort a tired and refluxing Baby Taylor with his dummy. In hindsight I wish I'd asked her to repeat herself, since she wasn't actually talking to me directly, and then questioned her about why she felt that it was her place to comment. I didn't. Experience points for me. Not giving a shit what anybody else thinks about how you parent your children? NEW SKILL UNLOCKED. You know what? You can get a LEVEL UP for that too. You deserve it.
The thing about parenting is that no matter how you handle any given situation, you will probably always wonder if you could have handled it better. Some evenings I will sit on the sofa after the kids have gone to bed and go over every little thing I think I did wrong with them that day, but being a parent is a live-action experience; it’s happening right now and you have to think on your feet. It’s hard work and it’s exhausting and, no matter what anybody says to the contrary, there is absolutely no way that you can “cherish every second of it”. For every moment with my kids that I wish I could bottle, there’s another one that I just want to forget about. I suppose the only take-home message I have for any parent is this: We’re all at the rookie stage in one way or another and we are all just doing the best we can. The most important thing you can do for your kids is to love them and be there for them. Everything else you do, you do because of that.