From my sparkly social media and inability to be serious, you would be forgiven for assuming that I have life pretty easy.
I married my high school best bud, we have four kids under four, no twins, they are all healthy and happy (50% of the time) and I am working 25-30 hours in a part time creative job that I love, from home and around school hours.
If you aren’t one of the Mums from my kids’ school who sees me slide into the gate like it’s home base, a few kids under each arm, coffee on my shirt and homework in my teeth, you’d think, ‘Ellie has this sorted. I should ask Ellie for advice on ‘x’ topic.’ And people do…
‘My kid won’t sleep. Any ideas?’
‘When did you introduce peanut butter?’
‘My toddler is being so defiant. What do you do with yours?’
‘What are your thoughts on Ninjago?’
I’m always honoured but always confused…Why would they ask me? The Mum with the children who scream that their socks are on the wrong feet, the Mum who packed the lunchbox full of preservatives, the Mum who let her kid leave the house with four pairs of underwear on?
As far as I can figure, there are 5 possible reasons people ask:
- Every parent is asked these questions. They’re ‘conversing’.
- My Instagram has done its thing and hidden the darker side of a life engulfed in offspring.
- Society equates many children with much knowledge. They think I have The Knowledge.
- They don’t live in our suburb so they don’t hear me screaming.
- They want to know if they will ever have their lives back. I’m like some teensy glint of light at the end of a long tunnel full of babies and toddlers – some Childbearing Goddess wrangling children on my hip and doing business in my Google Glass(es). Okay, perhaps not that last bit but I think people want assurance from someone who has certainly done their time… “PLEASE TELL ME IT GETS EASIER?”
Well, may I assure you. There is light.
When I had my first baby boy, my least favourite phrase from those who had gone before was, ‘it gets easier’. Not very helpful when you’re patting a baby to sleep for 6 hours at a time or your husband is 130 minutes late home from work. Okay, one hour. And 3 minutes. But time is irrelevant to an overtired, overworked new Mum who doesn’t have a tardis or delorean or the benefit of hindsight. But NOW I have traveled through the sleepless abyss (4 Years of it, as the Mum stripes on my right shoulder declare) and popped out the other side of the clouds and guess what? The sun is shining. I’m the ‘it gets easier’ Mum.
The situation doesn’t get any easier. Life is still mental (my kids are now 6,4,3 and 2) and no one under this roof is rational. But one day, something clicked and we realised, ‘life is getting easier’. 6 years after having my first baby I have started tossing out carloads of baby toys (perhaps prematurely, sorry baby), I have attended my last baby rhyme (I just can’t do it anymore, baby girl), I no longer have a child who needs ONLY ME to settle at night and soon she will stop crying every time we get on the highway (soon, please, soon) and start speaking (!) and then…. Then we have kids. You don’t go backwards from kids. Our babies are gone…
It’s not that it gets easier. It’s that, when the breastfeeding and screaming and rocking and sleepless nights stop, you gain the ability to recognise what really mattered, or didn’t, and that annoying ‘benefit of hindsight’.
So, before I get emotional and wish for those 6 hours of settling back…here’s what I’ve learnt:
- Mum guilt is real. No matter which version of reality you choose. For example, we chose not to do daycare – I create artwork for a living from home and I am neck-high in Mum guilt about it. I’m not ‘present’, I’m on my devices too much, I’m not cleaning the house, I keep doing all the kids’ colouring in books…etcetera etcetera. My working friends have their own tragic narratives. #MumGuilt is a thing and it’s not going anywhere, so either succumb to it or just get your Elsa on, own your ice castle and let it go.
- Stop judging others. My number of children is inversely proportionate to my level of judgement. Before I had kids I was Judgey McJudgeson and held All The Knowledge. I worked at a bookstore so, by osmosis, I had absorbed all parenting knowledge that was to be had. Again, after one child I thought I perhaps had to make some adjustments to my navigational instruments but we were basically on course…Then teething. Then tantrums. Then embarrassing behaviour…with every child I realise I know less and less and I have less and less control than I ever imagined. All four are so different and so unique. With each one we’ve thrown our book out and started again. With each one we’ve sent mental apologies and prayers for the parents we judged. I solemnly swear that there is nothing more humbling in this world than having children.
- The very good majority of parents are doing their best under the circumstances (see Point 2). There are 10,000 things I would’ve changed about raising kids if I looked back objectively. But parenting isn’t objective. It’s the most subjective job in the world, full of emotions and circumstance and upbringing and we do the very best we can to make the best choices we can. Looking at the game from the bleachers is a lot simpler than being on the field so try not to beat yourself up if you drop the ball.
- ‘Easier’ takes sacrifice. My whole baby-raising life (maybe my whole life) I’ve told myself ‘when ____ happens, life will get easier’. I’ve been lunging for that ‘it gets easier’ promise like it’s a free snack at the end of the race. What they don’t tell you is what ‘easier’ costs. That by the time it gets easier the chubby cheeks will be gone, the speech impediments will be rectified, the snuggles will have to be asked for, their time will belong to the school, the boss will need you back at work….
So. Perhaps…perhaps we don’t need Easier. Perhaps we need to recognise the beauty in the Harder. Because easier comes as time hurtles along, but our babies never grow backwards.
Trust me. I’m from the future.