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July 4, 2016

We all start on our parenting journey with the best of intentions, but Madeleine Tobert finds out just how quickly reality steps up to greet us… 

 How many times are you feeding a night?” “I don’t know,” I reply, “five or six.” There is an audible gasp from a couple of mums and the course leader. I know, I know – my seven-month-old should be sleeping much better than this by now. I know she shouldn’t be feeding every thirty seconds and yes, I know I shouldn’t feed her to sleep. I know. But sometimes in the dead of night when the choice is between a quick feed or hours of crying (her and me), I choose the feed. I noticed some mums didn’t react with quite as much shock. I’m guessing they’re not strangers to 3am either.

Before I had my daughter, I was the greatest mum. I had so many ideas about how I’d raise her; it was going to be perfect. I spent my pregnancy planning it all; what I would do and of course, what I wouldn’t. Feeding to sleep was on the second list. Fortunately, I’m not alone when it comes to bending to reality. I asked a few other first-time mums what they’d thought they would or wouldn’t do and how that has changed. The list was endless and ranged from bribery to sucking snot straight from baby’s nose. Here are some of the big hitters:

‘I’ll always put my baby down awake and I definitely won’t bed share.’

Sleep! What a loaded topic. Put new mums in a room together and we can riff about sleep, or lack thereof, for hours. Many of us had no idea that getting a baby to sleep would be so difficult. We envisioned putting the little ones into their cots and leaving them to self-settle easily while we went off to enjoy our evenings. “Well,” one mum confided, “I spent six months rocking to sleep.”

In fact, almost all the mums I spoke to had compromised their intended strategy in some way. I, for one, have tried everything I can think of from co-sleeping to changing bedtime and more.

‘I’ll never use a dummy.’

I’m a failed dummy user. Like a lot of mums, I had negative feelings towards them. I was concerned in a vague, uneducated way about speech development issues and did not like the idea of silencing my baby for my own convenience. My stance changed one night when baby had been suckling on me for hours and I felt like my nipples were about to fall off. I begged her to take a dummy that night, and the night after and the one after that, but she was having none of it.

Other mums have been more successful: “I vowed only to give it for naps and hideous nine hour car journeys and so far it’s worked a treat,” says one.

‘I’ll only give my baby homemade food.’

Never mind if we were terrible at cooking before we had a baby, never mind if we hated it, most of us soon-to-be mums envisioned the glorious smell of home puréed deliciousness wafting through our houses. Why would we use store-bought food? In the words of one mum, “How difficult is it to mash a potato?” The answer, it transpires, is: very!

Although we planned to steam and freeze, it turns out that life with a newborn is busy. “Now the best thing in the world is that packed food, especially the sachets that you can carry everywhere. You get nice, different flavours and honestly, I’m not cooking wild rice lamb risotto for dinner.”

So if you do cook for your baby, bravo, but if you don’t, you’re not alone.

‘I won’t let our baby rule the way we live our lives.’

I had this dream that maternity leave would involve me drinking coffee and writing while my baby slept or played in the corner. It was going to be a productive, creative time. Any change would be wholly positive.

And my friends and I all agreed that we wouldn’t become those women who only talk about their children. Not us. No way. We would be as we always were and the baby would slot into our lives. “That has changed!” one friend told me. “Now I’m like, ‘Whatever is best for the baby.’”

Now we’ve all found ourselves creeping around the house to avoid disturbing the little one, passing on opportunities to go out because staying home is so much easier and yes, talking about our babies – a lot.

‘I won’t stop taking pride in my appearance or start to dress all mumsy.’

I have to confess that, as a bad dresser, I quite like how being a first-time mum is a sneaky little excuse for a terrible wardrobe. My more fashion-friendly friends find it less enjoyable and lament their badly fitting clothes and the “…30 pairs of heels in the spare room

gathering dust”. But even I would never have imagined going out with clothes covered in baby sick and bogies. Now it’s a regular occurrence for me and many others. In fact, I’m writing this while wearing a blue top that is covered in banana, from when baby wanted a little cuddle after her lunch. Despite wiping her hands and face three million times a day, she and I are constantly covered in food. If any of you out there have worked out how to keep food off your child, what’s your secret?

‘My baby won’t have any screen time.’

They say that if your baby is interested in your phone, it’s because you spend too long on it. My baby loves my phone… and my computer. I fully intended for her never to see me use either, but it hasn’t quite worked out like that. I struggle not to check them every time they beep. My baby is my favourite being in the whole wide world, but sometimes her chat is a little lacking. I’ve read the entire internet while breastfeeding and I know I’m not alone.
Lots of mums plan, for example, not to let their babies watch television, but “… it’s sort of brilliant for letting you do other stuff,” one said “and sometimes an episode of Paw Patrol is what everyone needs!” For me, with family overseas, Skype draws my baby to screens regularly. Is there a way to avoid that? I’d love to meet a screen-free family and see how they manage it.

‘I won’t judge myself or others too harshly.’

There were so many things that the parents I spoke to thought they would or wouldn’t do when they pictured their child-rearing future, before a real baby came along and changed everything. Now, when I talk to pregnant women and hear all their plans for parenting, I want to add just one more to their list of wont’s: not to judge themselves too harshly when they fail to live up to their own ideals. And no matter what they may think of other people’s efforts, don’t gasp! ′

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