I’ve been on maternity leave for 8 months now, so it’s fair to say that my creative brain is currently rather mushy, which is slightly debilitating when you largely write for a living. So when Chief Maman asked for more blog contributions, I wanted to help but have struggled to find a.) the time or b.) the actual answer to the topic I was tasked with: age cap parenting.
For every mum on social media who’s in the park at 9am or organising exciting activities for their kids over the school holidays, there are another two of us trying to find clean pants and leave the house before midday. And not in a comedy blogging about it way either. Actually feeling massively inadequate because some days we’re not ‘doing’ any more than nipping to Lidl and negotiating Minecraft over TV (but it’s all still just screen time, right?!)
This summer has been altogether off the scale on that front because of the addition of a new small person in the house. Those of you who’ve read my blogs before will know that our journey to get her here was bloody scary, so I’m not complaining but I most definitely underestimated the logistics of giving my 8-year-old son enough time and attention. It’s perhaps an obvious point, but babies are all consuming – even the content ones – because they need us so much more. Not just on a practical level but our physical presence. They need to be able to see you; to snuggle up and smell you. Which makes the stuff that your 8 year old has got used to you – and him – doing – all the more complicated.
The first full day we were home from hospital, my son burst into tears because I asked him to butter his own toast. Dramatic, I know, but without playing amateur child psychologist, clearly actually about something a lot deeper than breakfast. My daughter was a tiny scrunched up 4 day old and hated being parted from me even for a second. Now that’s obviously completely normal – it’s survival instinct – but in my sleep-deprived fuzz, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could in fact just go hands free if I popped her in the sling. And lo – the toast panic conundrum was solved as my hands were now available to butter aforementioned toast. Unfortunately, not all the challenges have been that easy to crack; as you might expect, the green-eyed monster has been out in force. He’s older, so we’ve talked about it a lot: “Mum, who do you love more – me or my sister?” *heart quietly breaks* and (on hearing us answering other people that she’s a ‘content’ and ‘easy’ baby) “does that mean I was a horrible baby?” Ugh. I have become some kind of parenting spin doctor and master of diplomacy. I’m considering a career in communications. Oh no, wait…
It’s a very difficult balance to strike when there’s an 8 year age gap. In some ways it’s easier right now because my daughter simply tags along with our trips to the cinema or the skate park. It’ll be trickier this time next year when she’s a wilful 18 month old with her own agenda. My son already worries about his ‘cool’ image (I’m no longer allowed to kiss him at the classroom door and singing CBeebies songs or doing a little dance is downright embarrassing) but fast forward a year and I suspect that he’ll think he’s too old for soft play or waiting it out at a baby and toddler group.
He adores his little sister – he tells me all the time. But no 8-year-old particularly enjoys being a babysitter even though it’s just while you nip for a shower, so I get it that the novelty is wearing off. I don’t want him to play second fiddle but equally I’m holding out for a time when his sister is a tiny bit more independent and will be happier with just daddy without me close by and we can nip off to do some of the activities he enjoys. Maybe he’ll find her more interactive then too as they’ll be able to play together – even if he is reclaiming his favourite teddy from her clutches.
There are no magic solutions – age gap or not – but what I don’t beat myself up about is how much I show them I love them every day. One of my friends had a very apt quote written on the chalkboard in her kitchen for several years. It simply read: “Children spell love T.I.M.E.”… truth be told I always thought it was a bit corny but now I have two, I get it. And when you strip it all back, that’s all that really matters, isn’t it? Be gentle on yourselves Mamans. Unless you believe everything you see on social media, nobody is doing it better and you’re certainly not doing it wrong.
A Guest Blog from Rachael Duggan
Rachael is a married mum of three to Haydn (8), Florence, who was stillborn almost full term in August 2015 and baby Eiblín, now six months. She lives on the Gloucestershire-Worcestershire border.
A copywriter by trade, Rachael has written extensively about her experiences of bereavement and parenting after loss having lost her youngest brother suddenly in 2013 and her daughter in 2015. Community-minded with a sense of humour and a passion for humanist values, she is blood and organ donation and pregnancy loss advocate who loves TV crime dramas and good chocolate.
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