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Is it Normal: Help! Does parenting get easier?

Is it Normal is the Spinoff Parents advice column. Today we have the amazing Pinky McKay talking to a mum who asked: does it get easier?

Welcome to the third instalment of The Spinoff Parents advice column Is it Normal? If you don’t know what this column is all about – here’s a good primer.

Real advice (in my humble view) should be non-judgemental, take-it-or-leave-it, actually useful and able to be put into practice (none of this give your kids caviar to help them be adventurous with food bullshit). It should be from someone with experience, maybe even qualifications if that’s appropriate; it should be from someone without an agenda, from someone who genuinely cares about children and parents.

Our columns have so far covered:

Today we have the amazing Pinky McKay as our expert. Pinky is an internationally certified lactation consultant, mum of five and best selling author of Sleeping Like a Baby, Parenting by Heart and Toddler Tactics (Penguin Random House). Her website has been a godsend to me and her Facebook page has lots of tips too. She’s also the creator of Boobie Bikkies!

I’m mum to two beautiful boys, who are seven months old and just turned two years. My eldest has always been a high needs kind of baby/toddler whereas my seven month old is pretty chilled, though still with all the needs of a baby. I knew this early season would be particularly hard as they are both so little, but I’m finding it emotionally challenging in a way I hadn’t really anticipated. Is it normal to feel like you’re constantly torn between your children’s needs, never fully being able to give either all that they deserve? Does this feeling end as they age or become less intense? I thought it would, but I now feel like it’s getting harder as my baby is trying to be mobile.

Firstly, you are perfectly normal feeling torn between two little ones. It is a head spin worrying whether you are meeting all their needs and giving them the care you imagined giving them before you had two to care for. Your head and your heart are stretched to the limit right now.

This stage is probably the peak of intensity for you physically and emotionally. It is really hard as your baby becomes mobile – you are keeping him safe, keeping him out of his brother’s ‘stuff’ before big brother takes matters into his own hands (literally). This behaviour is normal too, even if you have gently nurtured your older child with kind words and positive attention.

Things won’t necessarily get easier in a practical sense because parenting is a constant learning curve as you move through all the seasons of childhood: from supporting a toddler as he adjusts to having a new sibling (imagine, your partner bringing home a new lover and explaining how you are now going to share his/her attention!); juggling a wriggling baby in one arm while you wipe a toddler’s bum or clean up a spilt drink with the other hand; to refereeing squabbling siblings – ‘he got more than I did!” This will really push you (tip: get one to divide the cake/chocolate bar/drink and the other one gets to choose his ‘half’ first).

However, as your boys become more independent (this will take a while yet) and can do things for themselves, you will be able to relax and step back a bit; you will also know when you can ‘cruise’ and when you need to step in and give one or other child some extra attention. You have a great bond with your little ones, so you can trust them to let you know what they really need.

Your children don’t need you to be perfect and it’s actually better for them if you aren’t – sharing a few stories about your ‘screw-ups’ when they are teenagers will enhance their sibling bonds. Please don’t let your mama mind go there yet, though. For now, at least, take heart that you know what they are drinking and who they are sleeping with!

Meanwhile, please try and cut yourself some slack, you are doing an awesome job. And if you are feeling overwhelmed with the emotional intensity at any time, it can be helpful to find a professional to talk with for reassurance and practical strategies to help you get through the rough patches.

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Email me at emily@thespinoff.co.nz with “Is it normal?” in the subject line if you have a question for one of our experts.

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