Take everything others try to tell you about life as parents of young children with an enormous pinch of salt. I’ve been given a lot of well-meaning advice as a parent of young children – everything from how the baby should eat or sleep to how I should eat or sleep – and I’ve stuck to my guns, responding to all advice with the words: “I know best”.
No one knows your child the way you do (with the possible exception of the other parent) and no one else can truly understand what life with your children is really like. Sweeping statements such as “you can take a baby anywhere” – just because your little bundle of joy happens to lie mesmerised by their pram toy for hours on end – are like saying that the moon landings never happened because you never witnessed them with your own eyes.
Yelled his way through every night for more than two years because of ear problems.
Having said all that, I do have some survival tips to share with you. Please note that this is not general advice (which we’ve agreed is useless), but tactics that worked for me and my husband.
So if you’re in a similar position to me – living in a committed relationship with two kids of whom Number One had colic and Number Two yelled his way through every night for more than two years because of ear problems – you may find this handy.
1. Breed with a feminist
This is really important. I know that gender equality tends to go out the window when kids come in through the door, no matter how enthusiastically you both embraced feminism in the old days. But I highly recommend breeding with someone who’s at least willing to attempt to share the responsibility with you after your waters break.
A no-divorce pact until your child’s second birthday.
In countries such as Sweden, where parents with young children are able to share parental leave equally, this is absolutely the best solution for their relationship and their offspring. It’s all too easy to end up in a situation where one parent knows more about the child than the other and the gulf only gets wider from then on. Suddenly, there’s one parent (let’s face it, the woman) who has to mastermind all child-related issues and activities while simultaneously keeping track of all her in-laws’ birthdays.
2. No divorce in the first two years
Once we realised that our first child was never going to stop crying, we were given an invaluable piece of advice by a pal who’d also lived with a colicky baby: make a no-divorce pact until your child is two years old. Sleep deprivation does strange things to you. I’m not talking about “whoops, I sat up too late and only got five hours’ sleep”, I’m talking about sleep deprivation. The she’s-screamed-for-six-hours-a-night-for-three-weeks-and-I-no-longer-know-what-I’m-doing kind.
This kind of sleep deprivation is mind altering. It brings out a dark side you never knew you had. Take me, for example: I grew insanely begrudging and envious of my husband, who could “escape” to work and leave me to cope with all the crying and the worry alone. So it’s a huge relief to know that anything said in the heat of the moment is ‘privileged communication’ that won’t inevitably lead to separation (and the ensuing nightmare of dividing up your assets and house hunting). That’s one less thing to worry about amid the chaos.
3. Separate bedrooms
“How bad can it really be to live with a child that never sleeps?” you may wonder. Just let me go all Game of Thrones here and say in an icy voice: You know nothing, Jon Snow. You can’t possibly know what it’s like unless you’ve been there yourself. The worst part for me was having no end to the misery in sight.
Sleep’s more important than intimacy.
With our younger son Ben, it lasted until he was 2½ years old. Reader, it was horrendous! I lost it at work, sobbed in client meetings, fell asleep under my desk, felt engulfed by despair and worried incessantly… Anyway, my hubby and I soon decided to sleep in separate bedrooms. One of us was on duty while the other put in earplugs and went to sleep. This gave us a theoretical shot at sleeping for a few nights a week.
4. Sex – an optional extra
Clearly, everyone should be having as much consensual sex as they possibly can. But sex has been so far down on our list of priorities that my hymen will soon grow back. Sleep and the logistics of sleeplessness take precedence over intimacy. And that’s fine! Ignore everyone who tells you that sex is the ‘glue that holds relationships together’. You know best! It’s also thrilling when your mutual attraction returns with a vengeance. Mmm, I wonder what my guy even looks like with no clothes these days?
Text: Maria Hellbjörn
Age: 36 years
Family: Husband and two children, Ben, three, and Bo, six
Lives: Hisingen in Gothenburg, Sweden
Maria on her mission as a parent:
“I keep telling my kids that they can be whoever they want to be, as long as they’re kind. The most important thing for me and my husband is to avoid making any assumptions about our kids’ characters or interests based on norms or our own backgrounds. Our dream is for our kids to grow up as – and into – open-minded, curious and generous individuals who are as unfettered by norms or shame as possible.”