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A few things I've learned along the way...

After 16 years of having little kids at home, I can only think of seven useful pieces of advice.

Today is the last day I will ever pick up any of my children from preschool. Sixteen and a half years after my first baby was born, I will soon not have any of them at home during the day. (Being sick doesn't count. Anyway, in this house, you've got to be *really* sick, or you spend the entire day in your bed with no books and no toys. It's a bluff that works like a charm.)

This morning two of the preschool mums asked me what advice I had to give them, or was there something I wish I'd known five years ago (five years ago? Five years ago is like a pinch in comparison to sixteen and a half).

What advice would I give a new parent, just starting out? I hardly know what to say. Everyone's child is different. Everyone's parenting is different. I may have done it for a long time, but there's no way I'd consider myself a 'great' parent of preschoolers. ABC Kids on 2 has been my friend for too much of the time. I'm more patient than I was, but, let's face it, I had a pretty low bar to start with. Still, here's a list of a few things I've learned along the way.

1. Your child's sartorial choices do not reflect on your worth as a person.

I started out my mothering career, like most mothers of baby girls, looking forward to all the cute little frocks I could put her in. Unfortunately, from the age of three and a half, she decided she didn't want to wear dresses and that was that until the age of 14.

I wasn't too worried about what my sons wore (boys clothes are not as cute as girls anyway) and figured their choices wouldn't affect me that much, that is, until the first son refused to get out of a turtleneck skivvy, trackpants and ONLY THAT PAIR OF SNEAKERS for about two years. He sweated through 35-40 degree summers with sleeves and long pants and a neck that must have been stifling, and it didn't matter how persuasive I tried to be.

The second son was the polar opposite. All winter long, he refused to put on anything but a t-shirt, shorts and gumboots (no socks). He did, however, wrap his 'blankie' around himself to stay a little bit warm.

By the time baby number four arrived, I was resigned to the fact that I was never going to win the clothing wars. (My strategy was just to focus on my own outfit and appear mostly presentable at all times, ignoring the children.) Miss Coco seemed, however, very amenable to all my suggestions of dresses and tights and skirts and boots, at least until she turned three. From that point, for six months straight, she wore only three items: a red coat, a pair of gumboots and a pair of undies. That's it.

The red coat was mysteriously 'lost' at one point. A few tears were shed, and normal clothing choices resumed. Ironically, this child turned out to be the one who threw tantrums for three weeks in a row about "I DON'T HAVE ANYTHING TO WEAR TO PRESCHOOL. EVERYONE ELSE HAS PRETTIER DRESSES THAN ME."

2. It doesn't matter what they wear. It does matter what they eat, but good luck getting that right. I read recently that belly fat in women over 40 is often due to stress. I have belly fat. I have stress. And a LOT of it is from getting vegetables in children's mouths. Four kids. Four fussy palates. Four lots of 'Urrrrrrrrr, I don't like that'. I've tried So. Many. Things. If you think you have the answer, good luck to you. It's probably mostly because your kids are who they are, not because you're clever or a great parent. Sorry. All I have to say to the ones who have suffered like me is: Keep at it. Keep at it. Keep at it. One day they'll discover that zucchini doesn't make them vomit (much). In the meantime, it looks like I'm going to have to eat only vegetables to get rid of this belly I've amassed. 3. Toys are largely a waste of time. For my kids they are, at least. My mob would be fine with some lego, a lounge room with cushions, a couple of dolls and matchbox cars, and a whole universe supply of drawing paper, pens and pencils. I have sent so many unplayed-with toys to the op shop, it's ridiculous.

4. They aren't you. We all think we know this, and of course, in theory, we do. In practice, though, we still think our kids are going to be the better, more improved version of ourselves. This is not true. It will not happen. They are themselves. We have to accept it and support who they are, not who we want them to be. I can't think of anything funny to say about this. It requires grieving and self-work. 5. You still need to be you. It's really easy to pour yourself into your kids and not keep anything of yourself. Later, when they're 13, and they look at you with disdain in their face and say, "So, Mum, like what do you actually do all day," you'll cry and then work out that you need to have your own life as well as being involved in theirs. At that point you can publish a novel or take up the cello, and stop cooking on-tap afternoon tea snacks to fill the cupboard, because, really, why should you spend all your time cooking when you don't even enjoy it that much? If they're old enough to say things like that, they're old enough to bake their own cookies.

6. It's not going to kill anyone to let them sleep in your bed. We've had a lot of kids in our bed and on the floor next to our bed. It's been nice. They feel secure and bonded. It's not too much trouble for us, and no one has stayed there past the age of about six. They're so cute when they're asleep. Everybody knows that. Might as well make the most of it. 7. Playgroups can be awesome. (Or terrible: it depends on a few factors) I've had 16.5 years in various permutations of mothers' groups. Some were terrible, others were fantastic. The best ones are where the members are welcoming, non-competitive and supportive. The worst ones are, well, you can guess.Parenting is a tough gig: it's worthwhile finding a supportive group who'll have your back. (Honestly, it doesn't matter too much about the activities for the kids in the group, IMHO. Playgroups are for parents, front and centre.) If you do the work of welcoming - and it really is work, sometimes - you'll reap the rewards of having a tribe you love, and who love you. Good luck, all you parents starting out. God's blessings to you. Stay the course and love your kids. For many of you, having preschoolers will be a shorter period than mine. For the ones who've done it a long time, respect. Go get a cup of tea!


Cecily Paterson writes uplifting, warm hearted fiction for young teenage girls. This piece was originally on her blog here.

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