Parenting is perfectly imperfect, spread the word.

Before I conceived my first child, I had a picture of how my family might look. You imagine the sweet baby, the chubby toddler and calm family meals where everyone laughs. Don’t get me wrong – I fiercely adore being a mum to my four boys, but the reality is different, (and much, much noisier) to the preconceived notions I initially had.

From the moment we conceive a baby the expectations or ideas about how that might look and who they might be are in our heads and hearts.

 I vividly remember planning my family. I was going to have a boy and a girl who were best friends. I’d pick them up from school and make their afternoon tea from scratch, before talking about their day together, calming, without talking over the top of each other.

You can imagine my shock when I had two boys close together. One screamed relentlessly for 24 months, sick with allergies and reflux, and my toddler would run away from me, push kids off the top of the slide at the park and then bite anyone – even my close friends.

Once, after spending all morning making a birthday cake, I’d spent twenty minutes trying to get everyone into the car to go to my other child’s birthday. As we were leaving the house, one of my boys kicked a ball, which smashed a family heirloom vase into a million pieces, which fell on top of the cake I’d spent all morning making.

 What was so confusing in this experience was that I was not the mother I had so wanted to be in the first few years of becoming a parent, and I had to grieve for the loss in the difference between perception and reality.

Yet I did myself a major disservice because I was afraid to talk about it in case people thought I was ungrateful or I didn’t love my boys.

Therefore I am asking every new parent, to allow themselves time to grieve the loss of any preconceived notions of parenting. When a new mother says “I really didn’t picture birth would be quite as traumatic, or “my baby cries all the time” don’t say “ah but at least you have a healthy baby”. Just listen and agree that parenting is tough, and some moments in parenting are gut-wrenchingly hard.

 As a society we need to get over being uncomfortable with sadness. We need to embrace vulnerability and offer empathy to other parents, because chances are they are all going through the same experiences.

When we welcome and allow the grieving process we begin to let go of a vision of reality that isn’t serving us, or our child. The result is we can begin to create a new vision that will inevitably lead to more peace.

 According to Dr Ken Moses who works with parents after their child is diagnosed with Autism “Parents generate core level dreams for their children even before the child is born. Grieving is the process whereby parents separate from those shattered dreams and begin creating new dreams.”

 If you are struggling in your parenting it is likely that one of the tension points is the vision you had of your child has turned out different to the reality. If so, here five tips to allow grief to turn into acceptance:

  1. Allow the sadness and the anger. Welcome them all in as they have a job to do. Some days are tough and it’s hard to feel grateful or upbeat about it all. This is not only an ok thing, its healthy.
  2. Talk about it. Unspoken grief becomes shame and it festers. Find one person you can really be honest with about the grief that can be accepting the child or the parent you are. This does not make you a bad parent.
  3. Be kind to yourself. No matter where you are in your parenting journey – this is the first time you’ve ever dealt with this part. Give yourself the compassion you would give a good friend, tell yourself you are doing the best you can.
  4. Get in close and connect with your child. Sometimes the only thing you can do on a really hard day is just pull your beautiful human close and hug them hard. Hugs are healing.
  5. TAKE BREAKS. Parenting is 24/7 we never get to switch this stuff off. However the people that go the best with it all are the best at (you guessed it) taking breaks. These breaks need to be fun for you - so develop your hobby, take up a sport, or binge on Netflix but taking time out will make you a parent that goes much, much better on the really tricky days where family life and parent-life just isn’t panning out like you pictured.

Sometimes it is when our child behaves in a way that brings us to our knees, we have a moment of connection.

In a moment we thought we could ‘never survive’ in parenting like when our child gets a diagnosis of something that is going to affect them physically or mentally, a moment we dread is actually the moment we are finally able to understand and accept our child in a new light.

Or when a special outing we planned for our kids just doesn’t work like we hoped we turn to our partner and laugh. Sometimes these moments are kind of the worst and the best – all in one.

Parenting is perfectly imperfect, spread the word.

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