I can’t quite get my head around it being 2016 yet. It has been such a year. The beginning of 2015 found us living in a small rented flat with dreadful noisy neighbours, still in the process of house hunting – stressful at the best of times but when you have a firm deadline of needing to move before giving birth in a few months it really does lose its excitement, particularly when pregnant and exhausted. Fast forward a few months and we were desperately trying to get the ramshackle 30s monstrosity we had bought into a liveable condition (nothing fancy, just working electrics, floors, a kitchen…) before I gave birth. Even then we didn’t lose our optimism, hoping all would be ready in time for me to have a home birth.
In April Frida was born – not quite the home birth we had been planning, but an incredible and empowering experience regardless that I will never forget. And then life changed, absolutely and wonderfully. She is the best thing. It is usual to say that one cannot remember life before having children, but that’s not the case for me. Life without Frida was great. We travelled, saw lots of our friends, watched films, read books, went for walks, listened to the radio (oh sweet bliss), slept, cooked. I knew what was on the news, I drank wine, we threw dinner parties. It was wonderful. But it was definitely missing something. Having a child has brought a deep sense of calm and fulfilment, clarity and purpose to my life, which I really didn’t ever think would be possible. I can remember life without her very well, it just wasn’t anywhere near as good as life is with her. Nothing quite compares.
In December my husband and I got married, which was moving and beautiful and felt very right. I didn’t think it would make me feel any differently – after all we were very committed to one another – but I was wrong. Making a public commitment has further cemented us as a family unit, and has made me feel at peace in a way that the cynical side of me was absolutely not expecting.
So it has been quite a year, and I am excited for what the new one has to bring. I have stopped setting myself ridiculous resolutions, setting myself up for failure before the new year has even begun. I feel that the middle of winter when we are cold and it is dark outside is hardly the time to switch to a diet of salad (much as I love a good salad) or for radically changing our lives, rather it should be a time for consolidating, for resting, for good books and bad TV, warm food and blankets.
Rather, there are some things I am constantly striving for at the moment, and I hope that 2016 allows me to keep working on them. They include:
- Remaining respectful in my parenting. Treating children respectfully and empathetically sounds like a no-brainer, but I think it’s something that we fail at as a society. Things like snatching things from babies and children, trying to shoehorn them into routines which don’t suit them (like imposing a strict bedtime), forcing them to kiss or hug relatives, talking about them rather than to them, shaming them for their emotions… I could go on. I do try and be mindful but I do sometimes catch me removing an object from her without asking her, or picking her up without telling her, or telling her “it’s ok” rather than empathising when she cries because she’s bumped her head or can’t reach a toy she wants. One of my favourite bloggers Lucy Aitkenread writes about this a lot on her amazing blog Lulastic, for example here and here and here.
- Being careful of the language that I use with Frida. We are Alfie Kohn fans in this house, with Unconditional Parenting being referred to jokingly as “the orange book”. It really deserves a whole post so I won’t go into it too much now, but one of the things which really struck us is how language can reinforce conditional parenting, for example saying “good girl” or “well done” or “that’s naughty” rather than “You tidied your toys and now the room looks really neat” or “You just said “Daddy” so clearly” or “instead of trying to draw on the sofa why don’t I give you some paper”. This stuff is so ingrained that it can be very hard to stop doing it, but I am trying. I think this will be something I have to constantly work on.
- Getting outside as much as possible. My god this makes such a difference to how I feel, physically and emotionally. I’ve been a bit slack recently at letting Frida play outside on the grass – not the same as being pushed on a swing or carried around in a sling, and miles better than soft-play horrors! As she’s getting a bit more mobile she will get so much out of this now. Must try harder.
- Laughing and relaxing more (and stressing less). Sleep deprivation and lack of time thanks to a very demanding small person can see me turning mole hills into insurmountable mountains. Usually these are housework or chore related mountains, which is ridiculous as in the grand scheme of things who cares if the dishwasher is stacked incorrectly (ugh) or if the laundry is put away tomorrow instead of today? But when I am tired and everything is a bit harder, it’s so easy to get bogged down in trying to ensure the household is running super smoothly and losing sight of the bigger picture. Trying to let go a bit and relax would make me happier, and would certainly make my husband happier too as he bears the brunt of my grumpiness. I can be exacting and a bit of a task-master, and I need to work harder at letting that go.
Although 2016 will see my baby turning into a toddler which is a little bit sad as the newborn days are most definitely behind us, I am feeling positive and calm about the year to come.