I lived at home with my parents in the first years of my first child’s life. It kind of suited everyone because I was not settled in my relationship with my baby-daddy, given that it was an accidental pregnancy. Also, I needed to learn how to be a mother.
You might think parenting is something that comes naturally to men and women. I beg to differ. Sure, we all know how to feed babies, keep them warm and safe, take them to the doctors when ill and tick all the check-boxes. But for the really good stuff, I think learning from the expert really helps. Our parents, grandparents and the older generations have so much wisdom to offer.
This is something I learned from my Ma which served me well 30 years later.
My Ma used to babysit happily when I had to go for my horse-riding class or when I had to study. She occasionally babysat so that I could go on my nights out with my friends. But often, when I wanted to pop down Palmerston Road (our little town square) and I asked my Ma to babysit for half an hour, she would say, “Oh, why don’t you take him along” or “A walk would do him good.”
No, Ma! If I take him, I have to take spare nappies and baby wipes!
“Oh go on, Jac,” my Ma would say. Implacably.
I would slam upstairs to my bedroom. Or I would grab the baby and slammed out of the house.
But little did I know, my Ma was teaching me a very important lesson: make your children a part of your life. They are a part of you, not spare parts to be foisted upon someone else.
In time, I learned. I had a small rucksack by the door, containing a couple of nappies, a small packet of nappy wipe and a spare set of babygros. I began baby-wearing automatically: I had a blue corduroy Babybjorn that became so worn because I was using it so much.
From these small steps, I learned to cope with doing a very challenging degree at University with three small children, no maids and no cleaners. It always puzzled me later on that people marvelled at how I cope. It wasn’t that difficult! I have written parenting books about it – it is all down to the mindset.
Of course, what made it easier is that my children’s father was brought up by a mother who was very similar to my Ma. My mother-in-law was a cleaner and she used to take her blue eyed little boy with her to work. He would help her clean offices and shops. At the convent where my mother-in-law cleaned, the nuns oohed and aaahed over the cute blue eyed little boy and spoilt him rotten. So the blue eyed little boy grew up into a man who believed in what modernist term ‘attachment parenting’. He took his kids everywhere. Probably because in the early days, we could not afford the babysitters.
We would take the kids to the pub, leave them in the car and throw a few bags of crisps in. We drove across Europe with them. They went to work with him and occasionally, with me. Yes, it sounds crazy, but our kids grew up beautifully with tremendous closeness with us and are very socially adept because of their multi-generational friends.
Here’s my children’s father ‘baby-wearing’ our 60 kg youngest child. He recently had knee surgery but was hobbling all over the football pitch whilst she had her football practice.
He read what I said that parenting should not be a sacrifice but a compromise. He corrected me: ‘Parenting is not a sacrifice, it is not a compromise, it is a pleasure.” Yes, when you find something a pleasure that you have a passion for, you do your best job. I am still learning but here’s what I learned: my child is as she is not because of genetic lottery but because of the devotion of her father who has a passion for parenting.