You see – my baby boy, who was born approximately 5 minutes ago, is starting school. He’s got a uniform and everything. He’ll be learning important, grown-up things – and relating to people for several hours each day without any intervention from me. He’ll even have to wipe his own bum.
I don’t feel old enough to be a mum, let alone a mum of a school-age child. Several of my friends have become mums recently, or are shortly to become mums. They are just starting out on the journey. But despite the fact that I don’t feel very far along the road myself, I need to man up and realise that the preschool days (for Mister, at least) are over. So, to mark this transition, here are a few thoughts on the last few years.
I had no idea what I was doing with baby Mister. Not much of a clue when it came to baby Missy either, to be honest. But they’re still alive. Let that be an encouragement to you as you read this at some stupid hour of the morning, nursing your child whilst keeping your brain alert with a small smartphone screen and some little ramblings from a friend.
I watch you with your babes, you new mum friends, and you are utterly fantastic. You rock them with confidence. You know all their different cries, and where to pat when they have wind. You’re in tune with their rhythm. I had no.frigging.idea. God’s grace, folks. That is all.
Then there are the Baby Groups. You need and fear these in equal measure. You need mum friends who understand and nod sympathetically and empathise and share tips and encouragements – you need to find your tribe with whom you will navigate these important early years as you raise your kids together. But you also fear becoming someone you are not. You fear only ever having conversations about nappy rash and weaning, not knowing what’s happening in the Real World, memorising breastfeeding stats, learning which Tweenie is which. You fear that you will not fit in. And I understand. I’ve been there. I arrived in a new city, had a baby, and had no choice but to frequent these groups in order to find my tribe. I found it – and breathed a huge sigh of relief. These were not ‘mumsy’ mums, with nothing to speak about but the length of time it took them to conceive – but real people, like me, flung into motherhood in a variety of situations, none of us prepared, none of us experts. Some of these early friends have become very close – and I now count it as a privilege to have a group of people around me who I can chat to about anything. You stick at it, new-mum-friend, and the tribe will come. Not quickly or immediately, but you persist and it will come.
Moving from a very structured job, with every hour marked by a bell, into the most unstructured job ever, I was determined to fill our week with activities: regular events with a start-time to aim towards – milestones, if you like, in our week. Friend, hear this: these groups rarely create community. We enjoyed baby yoga, baby signing, Tumbletots, music classes and more. Did we make long-lasting friendships in these groups? No, we did not. We turned up, did the thing, then left. Did we fork out a small mortgage? Pretty much. Do I regret it? No – I was aware of not over-filling our week, and these groups do give amazing opportunities to babies and toddlers. But we made our friendships at the children’s centre, at church toddler groups, at the spaces which were designed for us to simply sit and chat and play. Understand the difference, and you’ll be a happier mum.
I’m massively grateful for being able to have stayed at home with Mister. We’re not all in this position – but, whatever your situation, don’t fret. My friends have done a variety of different things – some at home full-time, others working part-time, others working near full-time, others taking a bit of time off then returning to work after two or three years. Don’t regret the time you can’t spend with your child – but do make the most of all the time you can.
I never expected to feel guilty as a stay-at-home mum – but yes, guilt seems to just come as part of the parenthood package. Whatever you choose, whatever you do, there will always be some guilt attached. For me, it comes every time I fail to give the kids my full attention, any time I play half-heartedly (or not at all), any time I whack the telly on, any time I read some super-duper, arty-crafty parenting blog. The voices come thick and fast: “But you’re a stay-at-home mum! You have no excuse! You don’t have a job to fit in! You’re not juggling enough! You’re lazy!” These voices aren’t helpful. They’re from a greater force who wants to tear down every last bit of confidence we have in raising our kids. Friends, recognise that you will feel guilty at some point (maybe at lots of points) – but remember that Jesus takes it all. It is not God’s plan for you to live in guilt, because it’s not God’s plan that you shoulder the weight of parental responsibility yourself.
New-mum-friend, take heart. This is not your show. You’re in it, for sure, shaping and influencing your little person to become a great player themselves – but leave the directing to the One who knows your baby more than you ever could. Who has known them since the beginning of time. Who loves them even more than you do. When I drop my baby off at his Reception class tomorrow morning, I’ll be doing just that.