Sleep, precious sleep…

It’s safe to say that when I was pregnant with our first child I was expecting a bit of sleep disruption.

Yes, there’d be sleepless nights but it would be manageable, I thought. After all, I was the kind of person who was up by 7am at weekends. I’d always been a morning person. It would be fine. And babies slept through at around six months, right?

Then I had a child and realised that the sleep deprivation thing was so much harder than I imagined. There was the day when an all-night feeding frenzy meant I had an hour’s sleep. That day is burned into my brain. It was so hard to function that I wanted to weep.

Our son woke at least five times a night until he was 17 months. I was exhausted and it felt as though I’d never get a good night’s sleep again. He’d also get up at 5.30am every day, something he still does at the age of five.

But then, as though by magic, he grew out of the frequent night waking. By two he was sleeping through pretty consistently and I felt human again. There were a few months of disruption when he moved from a cot to a bed but then he settled down.

When it came to having our daughter eight months later, I felt more equipped with what to expect. And although the early weeks were incredibly hard and exhausting, by 10 weeks she learned to suck her thumb and started to sleep through.

A baby who slept! Suddenly I realised why I’d get odd looks from other parents when I said our son was not sleeping because our daughter did it as if by magic. 

And, until a few months ago, we’d rarely hear anything from her when she’d gone to sleep at night. I’m not going to lie –  it was awesome. Having been through months of sleep deprivation with our son, I was very aware of how lucky we were.

Then, the dreaded thing happened. She learned to escape her cot. We had no choice to put her into a toddler bed instead. I worried it would disturb her sleep.

The early days were tough. We spent hours every evening sitting by her bedroom door and ferrying her back to her bed.

After a few weeks, I cracked and insisted on putting a stairgate on her bedroom door. That way she could play safely in her room without roaming around.

It worked a treat. Until she figured out how to climb over the stairgate and how to remove it from her bedroom door.

So we’re now a fortnight in to very late bedtimes. On a good night she’s sleeping by 9.15pm, on a bad night it’s 10.20pm. I usually crash out not long after. 

And she’s still up bright and early each morning.

We’ve tried putting her back to bed and trying to get her to fall asleep in ours. We have tried reward charts, new night lights and bedtime stories. We have tried taking her for a walk in her pram too.

Our latest approach is to bring her back downstairs after bath time and try to carry on with our evening as normally as we can. It meant she was watching Eurovision with us until 9.45pm last night.

Two weeks in, we’re exhausted. We look after her in shifts to make sure we each have a little bit of time to do what we want such as go to the gym, but we don’t get much down time together while we’re contending with this.

So, fellow parents of non-sleepers, you have my upmost sympathy.

And if you have any bright ideas for techniques and tactics to break this habit, I’d love to hear from you!

Navigating the terrible twos

Yesterday my daughter had a dreaded accident at a soft play centre. As I changed her clothes in the toilet, her screaming was so loud staff knocked the door to ask if everything was okay. “Yes. Just changing my daughter!” I replied as sweetly as I could.

At two and a half, she is fiercely independent, brilliantly confident and fearless. And that’s awesome, but challenging to parent. 

As she’s our second child, I’m finding navigating the toddler tantrums a little easier to navigate than they were with our eldest. 

So here are the three tips I’m clinging on to while navigating the toddler years.

1. Try to see the funny side It’s easy to lose your sense of humour after trying to get your toddler to put their socks on for the umpteenth time. But trying to see the funny side of their requests does help. This morning my daughter was crying because she couldn’t eat her breakfast in a high chair. We don’t own one anymore so there was little I could do to meet her demands. 

2. Pick your battles This is one I try hard to focus on when I’m negotiating. Does it really matter if they wear wellies and a party dress? This morning I spent 10 minutes trying to dress her in a matching outfit, but she was insistent on a pyjama top. So I let her wear it.

3. Put your pride aside. I’m a firm believer that any pride you had before becoming a parent is left firmly behind in the delivery room. I really struggled with this as a first time parent. I was mortified about what people would think of my child’s behaviour. But I try to park my pride during toddler meltdowns and support them through them. 

How do you manage toddler meltdowns? I’d love to hear your tips.

An ode to mumsĀ 

Happy Mother’s Day to all the mums out there. 

To the ones who miss sleep for feeds and cuddles.

To those who pack lunches, fill in permission slips and do everything in their power to find or make costumes for World Book Day and seasonal concerts.

To those who have watched their babies turn to teenagers and make their way into the world. And to those who have stayed up until 3am until they hear the key in the front door as their child returns from a night out.

To those who kiss away tears and scrapes and bruises. To those who say no when it would be so much easier to say yes.

To those who pack swimming kits and organise schedules like a pro. To those who agree to read just one more bedtime story.

To those who keep their cool during the most dramatic tantrums. And to those who always have wet wipes wherever they go.

To those who’ve persisted in teaching their child to read and ride a bike and to master the potty.

To those who watch their teenagers fall in and out of love and are there to deal with the fall out.

To those who chauffeur their wards to ballet, piano and gymnastics.

To those who are now grandma as well as mum and look after their grandchildren as though they were their own.

To those who get their toddler to agree to wearing shoes.

To those who wade through washing to make sure the uniforms are clean for the next day and that socks are paired.

To those who have sewn labels into jumpers, coats and hats.

To those who are doing it alone being mum and dad rolled into one.

To those who have an encyclopaedic knowledge of their kids’ medical history and are quicker at spotting an illness 

And to those who are no longer here but will be forever remembered for everything they did and were.

I salute you all.

My morning

This morning I almost lost it. It was 7.40am and I was trying to get the children ready for school and day nursery. My son was a darling, ready and waiting in 10 minutes. But my toddler was a different story.

She didn’t want to wee, wear clothes or shoes. She would have preferred to leave the house in her knickers and her Frozen pyjama top. And she made her views known in the best way she can at her age – a monumental tantrum.

I’m talking rolling on the floor, hitting and kicking me in the face and gnashing her teeth on her clothes as I tried to dress this tiny person filled with rage. She also smeared her snotty nose all over my work trousers.

After 27 minutes, she gave in and had a cuddle before agreeing on getting dressed. And 31 minutes later, we left the house late. I was sweaty and still wearing snot-stained clothes as I had no time to change.

I’ve now successfully dropped them both off to school and nursery and a day of work awaits.

And I’m shattered. So today I’ll be mainlining tea and chocolate. Sigh.

The dinnertime blues

Today I made a pasta bake for dinner. Tomato, cheese and child-friendly pasta bows with a side of garlic bread. Nothing fancy or inoffensive (or so I had hoped).

My five-year-old took one look at it and declared: “I don’t want you to make it ever again”.

And as much as I tried to stay positive and smile inside I was screaming: “Just eat your dinner, please!”.

The dinnertime battles are becoming a familiar scene in our home. Before Christmas we had fallen into a routine of eating the same set meals as, admittedly, I just couldn’t face the teatime showdowns.

But I started the year determined to mix things up and to try new meals. (Not that I’d consider a pasta bake a culinary adventure).

I’ve dug out the slow cooker and made more from scratch only to be greeted with disdain by the children who’d rather eat waffles and fish fingers. I have had many plates pushed away with a sneer only to be asked for a dessert two minutes later.

It’s exhausting but I want to stick to my plan. I don’t want us to be making different meals for everyone. I want us to sit together around our dining room table and share a meal and our stories from the day. And I want our children to grow up enjoying a variety of foods. 

I’ll just need patience and determination to get there.
Now, who’s helping me with the dishes?

What are your tips for family friendly dinners? What are your fail safe recipes? I’d love to know.

Parenting as an introvert

Since I was small, I’ve savoured time on my own. Some of my clearest and happiest memories are of the hours I spent devouring books (or writing my own versions using coloured paper, pencils and glitter glue) or playing alone in my room.

That’s not to say I didn’t love being around people and playing with my friends. I most definitely did. But after playing outside for hours or play dates, I’d need a bit of quiet time to recharge.

Similarly, before having the children, as an adult I enjoyed time alone. I’d often take a day off work and spend it pottering in the garden and relaxing in the house alone. Again, it’s not that I didn’t want to spend time with my husband, friends or loved ones – I just needed a bit of alone time.

Suffice to say, alone time (rightly) becomes scarce when you’re a parent of a young child or children. When I had my son five years ago, I didn’t fully understand that this need for quiet and space was part of how I was wired. 

When I was on maternity leave, I filled our days with play dates and playgroups and spent time with my lovely new network of mum friends. My ideal scenario was going out for a few hours and a well-timed nap afterwards so I could recharge, drink a warm cuppa and catch up around the house. Jackpot!

But on the days on which that nap didn’t happen (which were the majority, let’s be honest), boy was I exhausted. Now some of that was down to my son waking at least five times a night for 17 months and still getting up anywhere between 4am and 5.30am. But the other thing that played a part was not having that bit of quiet time to rebuild my energy.

When my son was one and I was back in work at a new job, we were lucky enough to have a talented colleague who was trained in analysing Myers Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) preferences. Her project saw her working with every team member to agree their MBTI profile and then to map each individual and team after we all agreed to sharing our preferences with each other.

I struggled with it at the time but going through this process has been incredibly helpful to me in and outside of work. Before then, I’d never given deep thought to what my preferences were. Surely everyone got tired after spending lots of time with people? And everyone prefers an email over a phone call, right? No.

It gave me a better understanding other people’s preferences and how to work with and communicate with each other. But it’s also given me a much better understanding of what I need.

Now I have got better at telling my husband when I need a bit of space after a full on day with our lovely, boisterous and chatty children. It’s not that I’m being rude, I just need a bit of time – sometimes only 10 minutes – to recharge. It can’t always happen of course, but I do my best to get the time, quiet and space I need to be the best mum, wife, colleague, friend, daughter and sister I can be.

Are you a fellow introvert parent? How do you get the alone time you need? 

To my son on his fifth birthday

I am not quite sure how, but my son turned five today. Weighing 7lbs 10.5ozs, he arrived with such a knowing look on his face as he took in the world and changed our lives forever. Those five years have gone so quickly just like everyone said they would. 

At five, he is learning to read, write and swim. He loves books, colouring and tearing around with his friends. His favourite programmes are Lego Star Wars and sometimes he is cheekier than he should be. 

He is thoughtful and loyal and kind to his younger sister. At the weekend, he had pocket money for being well-behaved and he counted it out and split it between his money box and hers. We didn’t ask him to, it’s just what he did. Seeing him trying to comfort his sister or make her laugh when she is sad is one of the most heart-melting things I have ever witnessed. 

He is as stubborn as me and can while away hours writing stories and drawing his favourite things. His smile lights up his face and I could listen to his laugh all day.

So happy birthday son. You have filled our days with fun, laughter, and pride. 5 years gone in a flash.