Parenting is an alternate universe of things you’d never imagine signing up for. Amanda Cassidy on reality versus expectations when it comes to being a new mother.
My sister sits her children on my relatively new couch and hands them a banana. She is two and a half children in while I’m merely gestating. She laughs at my horrified face and then substitutes the banana for a cracker. She is staying in my house, visiting from London before I have my first baby and it is an underestimation to say that I’m learning… a lot.
Later, when she goes to check on them for the fifth time, I suggest she is over-reacting. I roll my eyes when she returns home early from our outing to give them a nap. I am aghast when her tiny baby leaks through his babygrow.
In my head is a mantra that will come back to bite me. It is ‘I’ll never do that when I have kids.’ The next day, she has Dora and Peppa Pig on rotation in the background as we catch up on life. ‘God, that is grating,’ I sigh. ‘Does it not drive you nuts’ (read: I’m not signing up for this). She admits she is immune to the little pig’s dulcet tones.
I start to think about all the things I won’t do when I have children. That night I inform my partner that having a child won’t change our lives THAT much. “They’ll just row in with what we do,” I proclaim.
I will never let my children eat snacks in the car. Eugh, gross.
I don’t need to babyproof my house. The kid will just have to learn not to touch my photo frames.
No holiday resorts with screaming kids for us. Our future child will be different from other children – happily colouring by the pool while we sip cocktails. We will just train them better than other kids.
I’ll still have wonderfully succinct conversations with my friends and loved ones on the phone. No idea why my friends with kids pick up when they are in the middle of things with their kids? Wait until they are in bed maybe?
I’ll just switch from breastfeeding to bottle the weekend my friend is getting married and then switch back. No biggie.
I’ll allow a nappy in my handbag. Why on earth do people need giant changing bags with a zillion changes of clothes?
This baby will not take over my life.
My partner and I will do everything equally.
I’ll never give my kids sweets and sugar.
I’ll never let my kids on a screen.
Five days after my daughter is born, I’m already eating my words. Five months in, my car is a rice-cake depositary with every available space strewn with baby-related tools. Now, my five-year-old gets a screen when I need some peace. There is a reason lollipops exist and it is to bribe small people. It sounds like a train station when I’m on the phone with, well, anyone. When the children are in bed, I drool incoherently on the couch unable to do anything else, bar beg for tea from my equally flattened co-parent.
“I know that someday they will join me in the parenting trenches.”
I look back on the couch incident and laugh. My own sofa with its very own unique patterns of, actually…I don’t want to think about what. But it is a homage to life with three children. I’m very nearly at the stage where the sticky hands have stopped, but I’m reluctant to admit that the physically messiest part of their lives is almost over. It is the end of something precious, something fleeting. The truth is that having children blows up your life. The good, the bad, the gone-off bottle under the seat of the car.
Now, my sister and I laugh about it – all the ‘gosh, imagine doing that’ moments before we crossed that parenting line in the sand. An invisible before and after where nothing is ever the same again. I see the same look on friend’s faces, friends without children – the slight glance of judgment before they realise what it really entails.
I don’t mind it now. I know that someday they will join me in the parenting trenches. We’ll fist pump our way through the nativity-play-costume-finding, the school WhatsApp witches, the is-it-poop-or-is-it-chocolate moments.
My little sister is still there – in that glorious time of her life where she is responsible only for herself and where brunch is the most important meal of the day. She adores her nieces and nephews, but the last time she visited I caught her aiming the remote at the TV to turn down Peppa. “That pig is magic,” I tell her and she turns to me laughing.
But I am deathly serious, Peppa is still the ultimate baby whisperer. There are times when we can accurately imagine how our future unfolds, but let it be known widely that whatever you may think, expectations about having children are nothing remotely like reality.
Photography by @emrata.
This article was originally published in September 2021.