And Baby Makes Three
Everything changes once you have a baby, from your body to social life to your relationship with your partner and those closest to you. The changes can be both positive and negative and they are propelled by the stresses that come with looking after a newborn. It still amazes me how quickly I went from being the only decision-maker in my life to having this small human, who is 100% dependent on me dictating how I spend each and every moment of the day. The lack of sleep and social interaction was the hardest hurdle for me to jump past, as someone who loves sleeping, I found myself operating on 3-hour sleep and maybe an hour nap if I was lucky. Although my sleep duration decreased dramatically, it was as if the rest of my life became more complicated and demanding. I was trying to balance all my normal relationships, ensuring the flat didn’t look a mess, trying to do some office work and making time to entertain friends. I started to feel numb, drained and beyond exhausted. This constant running of the day seemed to never stop, I would wake up tired, spend my day tired and then go into bed tired. I loved spending time with my little one, but I would always find myself thinking about the things I had to get done, and sadly whether it was me or those around me it always felt like I wasn’t doing such a great job.
I remember reading that research found that first-time fathers feel closer to their partner both as a co-parent and a romantic lover. I found this very interesting and so had to ask other mums that I knew if this was also the case for them. Almost all except one found the contrary to be true. I would argue in my own relationship that going from two to three has brought more challenges than positives. We argue a lot, sometimes due to fatigue, sometimes as the result of our different parenting styles and other times due to the lack of the normal structure he was used to. I would be lying if I didn’t admit that I did have some resentment. Until today it feels to me that his life has not changed whilst mine drastically has. My partner does not seem to have the same worries about our child as I do, his time belongs to him whereas mine no longer my own and yet my son adores. It just all seemed a bit unfair to me.
With time I have realised that as your child grows the challenges associated with parenting also change. The greatest achievement for me was when I sleep trained my son. The first night I got a full night had been feeling like a different person. Everything around me felt different. This has taught me to not underestimate the effect sleep can have on the whole experience. The lack of sleep had affected me in more ways than I knew, it felt another thing I was robbed off and my partner not. I’m all for equality and this experience has evidence of the contrary.
I have learnt so much about myself and my partner during the first 10 months of our child’s life. As I reflect back on the experience, I think about what advice I would give my friends who are getting ready to start a family of their own. The first advice I would share is staying focused on what really matters, this will help you through difficult times. It is important to be flexible with yourself and be vocal when you feel things are unfair.
It also goes without saying be sure to notice when things are going right, praise yourself even in small achievements and make sure to be praising of your partner too.
*extract from The First Years – Now What
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1. All parents have a unique parenting style– When I first became a nanny, I did not know the extent to which the parenting styles for young infants could differ. I quickly learnt that as a nanny I needed to be able to adapt to the priorities of any given family. Whilst some parent’s top priority is for the nanny to ensure that their child is positive and happy, others require that the nanny’s role is to guide the children towards success – often through the use of stricter rules.
2. You have to take initiative every single shift – I had been looking after the children for a few months when a novel situation occurred. After school in the playground, a classmate of the young girl I nannied for was offering out chocolate cake to the class. I did not know how the parents would react to me allowing chocolate cake before dinner time (on a school day) and so I felt conflicted. I did what I thought the parents would appreciate and I kept the cake in my bag so that the parents could make the decision when they returned home. This, in turn, caused a huge tantrum at the time, however, it is never sensible to disrupt the parents trust in you just to keep the kids from shouting. Even though you may think that you have asked the parents all there is to know about the children, there will always be new situations. As a nanny it is your role to make an informed decision based on what you believe the parents would want you to do.
3. You cannot call in sick last minute – Unlike in other job roles such as bar work, calling in sick last minute is far more than a hindrance for your boss. Doing this can put the children in danger and can cause serious confusion and upset for them. Being responsible for children is one of the most important jobs you can have because the truth is, they do need you to survive. Although this can sound daunting, these responsibilities make you a more reliable person; a trait that you will then carry with you throughout the jobs you take on in your lifetime.
4. Your general knowledge will be scrutinised! – I thought I knew why things are the way they are and why words mean what they mean, however, this job taught me I knew less than I thought! Children from 3 years up question absolutely EVERYTHING. And it is your job to try and answer as accurately as you can whilst also encouraging them that being inquisitive is an amazing thing (despite how tiring it can get for you when there is always a “But WHY?” to everything you say).
5. You will have a significant impact on their lives – The infant years are crucial for the development of knowledge, personality and behavioural traits of an individual. This comes with both negative and positives. On the negative side, it means you need to seriously watch what you say and do – for example any phobias that you have must be kept hidden as best as possible to ensure that the children do not develop the same fears. On the positive side, impacting on somebody’s life in this way is extremely rewarding; you will teach them a huge amount of information that will stick with them forever.
6. Attachment can occur on both sides – For me, I enjoyed this aspect of nannying. You form a connection to the children; you enjoy their company and you get excited to see them. Therefore, calling it ‘work’ can (sometimes) feel silly since you would want to see them whether you get paid or not!
7. Looking after the child(ren) can be escapism – Due to how reliant the children are on you, there is not enough time to worry about anything else but them. You may start a shift feeling super stressed about an upcoming university assignment but by the end have forgotten you even attend university! Your attention is fully concentrated on the children and their needs.
8. It is impossible to be perfect – Depending on what the family set up is, sometimes the children’s parents may be in the room next door whilst you are nannying. I struggled with this at first because (whether they were or not) I felt that the parents were listening in to see how I was doing. Whilst the children were being well behaved this was not a problem – it was when they began misbehaving that my worries began. I did not want to be too strict also I did not want to be too lenient. I didn’t want the parents to think I was too harsh on the children but at the same time, I didn’t want to make it seem that I let them get away with anything. With time, through observing how the parents reacted to bad behaviour as well as becoming more comfortable with the whole family, I learnt to have confidence in my response to any behaviour.
9. They grow up – FAST!. – When I started, I would push the 2-year-old boy home from school in the buggy whilst his 4-year-old sister would scoot by the side of us. One year later and they were both biking back from school. With so many roads between the school and home, I had to be fully on the ball to ensure that both children (going at different speeds) were safe. The point here is that you need to be able to support and adjust to the children’s development – even when it makes your life more difficult.
10. The job is surprisingly simple – Despite on the surface being both physically and emotionally draining, at its core being a nanny is surprisingly simple. You need to keep the children alive. It sounds slightly abrupt, however, if you are keeping the children safe from danger, if you are feeding, changing and washing them as frequently as they require and finally if you are teaching them why all of these things are necessary for them to survive, then you are doing just fine!
By Madeleine P – Nanny for over 4 years