I was 19-years old and he had the most amazing blue eyes I had ever seen. Oh my god, he was dreamy! He didn’t say much, but it was okay, I managed to do the talking for both of us. Every single one of his features were just perfect and he smelled divine. Immediately, I was head over heels in love and planning the rest of our life together; where we would go, what we would do, what we would see. Ours was a love fated to last forever. And then…he threw up on me.
My son is eight years old now and I told him I was writing about him this week. Why?, he asked me, and I said, it’s because he is the one thing I love more than anything. That’s a bit disgusting Mum, he replied. He asked if I’d use his real name in the article, and I said no, not if you don’t want me to, and he told me he’d like to be known as Darth Vader.
So Darth Vader has taught me the meaning of unconditional love. Basically, when someone can vomit on you ad nauseam (literally) and you still think they are the most incredible thing you’ve ever seen, well, you’ve got it bad. But what you don’t learn when you’re reading all of those ‘What to Expect While You’re Expecting’ books, are the truly unexpected surprises that parenthood brings.
“Our generation will really take our own spin on parenting and we will make it our own.”
Perhaps parenthood is something lurking in the future for you, Trespass readers, or maybe you’ve just taken the plunge. Either way it’s something new that our generation should take the time to put our own spin on. Recently my Gen-Y friends have started having a sprinkle of babies here and there and since I’ve been doing this motherhood gig for a while now, they sometimes ask my advice. The truth is there is no formula for parenthood. There is such a wealth of information out there and it’s all so conflicting that it feels like everyone has their fingers in your baby pie, which feels just as violating as it sounds! Strangers will accost you in the street and tell you what you’re doing wrong. Parenting books will list every single worst-case scenario so suddenly, staying inside and swaddling your child in bubble wrap seems like a great idea. And then there’s the endless celebrity yummy-mummy brigade with their flat stomachs and shiny hair not encrusted with someone else’s breakfast. More often than not, we will feel like we are failing at parenthood even if we’re getting it right for the most part. An entire mythology and industry has been built around what you should and shouldn’t be doing as a parent, and I want to debunk the hell out of it.
1. The Greatest Love of All
It is true that you will love your children more than you could ever imagine. They will push your heart to leaping, stratospheric places you never knew possible. People will say things like, “I never knew what love was until I became a parent” etc. Sure. But here’s something we never ever talk about. Sometimes you won’t like your children. At all. With the very best also comes the very worst. They also take you to your darkest, most hideous places where you turn into an unrecognisable evil dragon creature. And that’s okay. I know that I personally have felt so much irrational guilt because I have sometimes found myself acting like a fire-breathing monster. “Good mothers aren’t supposed to breathe fire!” I’ve thought, kicking myself for failing at parenting again. But why feel guilty? There is no such thing as failing at parenting if you have happy and safe, and well-loved kids. As long as your children don’t have third-degree burns after throwing a few flames, it’s okay. They’ll love you unconditionally too, let’s not forget. Darth Vader tests my patience at times, but nothing compares to when he wraps his arms around me and gives me a squishy hug.
2. Yummy Mummies for Dummies
Since I was very young when I had Darth Vader, people always said things like, “You’re young, all the baby weight will fall right off you”. Well, hello, eight years later I’m still waiting for the last of it to disappear! But that doesn’t matter either, does it? Increasingly, there has been a real pressure on new mothers to look better than they did pre-birth, just like the glossy photos of new celebrity mums leaving hospitals looking like they’ve been at an urban spa instead of a bloody 24-hour gruelling labour. On top of that, new mothers are also supposed to, overnight, become the epitome of a woman once they push their little tyke out. We’re supposed to suddenly understand things, ranging from how to be a wise nurturing maternal figure, whether cloth or disposable nappies are best, or which schools we’re going to send our kids to. You grow up as a parent as your child does, and it’s alright if we haven’t got all the answers straight away. And don’t kill yourself if you don’t look like a supermodel. I honestly believe I look so much better post Darth Vader than I did before him – stretch marks and all. We don’t need to get mumsy and buy mum jeans either, it’s all about taking who you are already and adding a small dribbling creature to your outfit.
“Your kids want to know you as much as you want to know them.”
3. Oh no, my life is over!
I waddled around Sydney University with water retention, had morning sickness mid-tutorial, and never got drunk. I honestly thought I was just another statistic; nineteen, barefoot and pregnant, and that my life was over. In fact, I was so embarrassed about being pigeon-holed as a teenage mother that once Darth Vader was born, I sometimes kept him a secret from new acquaintances (shame on me). I did that because I didn’t want them to see me as any less smart/assertive/free, or think that my life was actually over – how very wrong I was!
Someone once said to me that children are the ones that come into your life, they don’t need to totally take over yours. Yes, for a while, they demand a lot from you, but there is no reason for you to give up on your dreams and ambitions. In 2006, Darth Vader and I moved from Sydney to Paris and we truly have a magical life. I’m happy and pursuing goals I had always set for myself, and Darth Vader has a strange little idyllic French childhood playing under the Eiffel Tower at recess. Your life will not be over when you become a parent, even if you don’t move to Paris. There’s no reason for you to let go of who you are or think that this is the end of your social life. And it’s better for your kids if you never ever stop striving for the things that you want. I know a lot of new dads and mums who worry that children equals being tied down. But children are more like helium balloons – they’ll lift you up and make you see everything from a perspective you hadn’t seen before.
“And sometimes when I feel like I’ve been fumbling around in the dark not knowing what the hell I am doing, Darth Vader does something remarkable…”
4. Required Reading?
There is a plethora of data about how to be a parent out there; your own parents, books, websites, old ladies on the street who want to tell you what they think. This is great. Make informed decisions and read widely and listen to what people tell you. But also remember that parenthood isn’t about cramming for an exam, and getting it right or wrong. Nobody is grading you. Your children will have personalities of their own and you will know them better than anyone. What they need and what they get is in your hands, but don’t feel pressured to do things “by the book”. Our generation will really take our own spin on parenting and we will make it our own. We are and will be bringing up children in a new era where we (and they) have access to so much information at our fingertips.
I recently read a book called Nurtureshock: New Thinking About Children, which basically outlines ways in which traditional parenting guides have created a mythology about childhood development that is actually backfiring. Things that seem instinctive might actually not be the best things to do for our kids. Praising children and calling them clever doesn’t create more confident kids, in fact, it has the reverse effect – praising their efforts is apparently much better for their self-esteem. There are chapters on the importance of sleep, why kids lie, and how “Baby Einstein” DVDs etc. aren’t really increasing baby brain capacities at all. I’d recommend this book to any parent, old or new, but like anything in the realm of parenthood, take it with a pinch of salt. It’s all about keeping your mind open, finding out as much as you can, and making your own choices.
Darth Vader truly is the love of my life and the most rewarding, complicated (and longest!) relationship I’ve ever had. We have grown up together and are still growing. I learn something new about him every day and he is always learning about me too. And sometimes when I feel like I’ve been fumbling around in the dark not knowing what the hell I am doing, Darth Vader does something remarkable, like builds Lego meant for 14 year olds or learns a poem by Victor Hugo off by heart – and that makes me feel like I’m not in the dark at all. Parenting is challenging, complex, stressful and full of small pressures but honestly, it’s not so bad. Just don’t let yourself get lost amongst the toys, Wiggles DVDs and tiny pairs of socks. Your kids want to know you as much as you want to know them.