Parenting can be challenging, but there’s someone else struggling too

Last night Baby Bu was so restless that I couldn’t leave her room. She usually starts out the night in her cot, and ends up in our bed somewhere between 3-5am. But last night she was restless by 8pm. We’d just settled down to watch a movie and I was looking forward to an evening with Mr Bu. It had been a very, very long week already. 

After about 45 mins of unsuccessful nursing, cuddling, ensuring she was snuggled properly with Chick (her current favourite teddy), I exclaimed out loud with frustration and desperation ‘please, just go to sleep! I’m too tired for this!’. It obviously made not a blind bit of difference, but I was at the end of my tether and venting out loud made me feel slightly better, for a millisecond . She so rarely has nights like this anymore. 

I remember nights when she was around 16 months old, when she would fuss and be restless for HOURS in the middle of the night. Mr Bu found himself decamping to the guest room and I had to learn to sleep with my face in the pillow for fear of being whacked on the nose by a tiny but mighty flying fist. I remember pleading with Baby Bu on one of the worst nights, ‘Why won’t you just go to sleep, for goodness’ sake! Just go to sleep!’. Not exactly a Gentle Parenting response, but in the tough moments it can be challenging to remember who you are (or who you’re learning to be) as a parent. Again, it didn’t help in the slightest and I’m sure it made her feel even less settled. 

Those dark, frustrated moments, the times when you feel alone and unprepared and not strong enough to cope with what’s being thrown at you. Those are the moments when you want to hide under the covers for a day, or walk away and say ‘I give up, someone else do it for a while’, or go out (even just to the supermarket) on your own just to have a few minutes of alone time. 

But this morning I discovered that Baby Bu’s back upper molars are coming through, and it reminded me of something important that often gets lost in all the ‘this is bloody tough on me’. Something that softens the blow of being woken 20 minutes into the night, and again 40 minutes later. Something that makes dealing with their frantic meltdowns or sporadic cluster-feed sessions a little easier and a little gentler. 

This is tough on them, too. 

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They’re struggling. The cries for you in the middle of the night are probably due to teething. Sharp little teeth are tearing through their gums, filling their mouths in strange new ways, giving them jaw ache and stabbing pains in their gums that they can’t possibly understand. I wouldn’t be able to sleep soundly with all that going on, even at 32 years old. 

The meltdown in the supermarket is most likely due to hunger, tiredness or overstimulation in a bright, loud place filled with exciting things that they’re not allowed to touch, let alone eat. Mr Bu can vouch for my snappiness when I’m hungry, and I’m a grown woman. Why should children be able to deal with it better than we can?

The clinging and cluster feeding is probably down to a developmental leap (see The Wonder Weeks) or a physical growth spurt that’s causing them growing pains and uncertainty in their own little bodies. The world can be a scary place when everything keeps changing and you don’t understand why. 

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We can pop a paracetamol if we’re in pain, crack open the fridge door if we’re hungry, book a trip to the spa if we’re feeling a bit run down. We can google our symptoms and understand what’s happening to us. And we can roll over in bed and cuddle our loved ones if we’re feeling a little emotional. 

Little ones feel all the same things we do, but they don’t understand it and they can’t do anything about it except call for us to cuddle them and reassure them, to be patient and calm and make everything feel better. There’s no better cure than the cuddle of a mama. We are their paracetamol, their spa trip, their comfort and happy-place. 

Tonight, I’ve been more prepared and more patient with Baby Bu. I can’t even imagine how uncomfortable and disconcerting teething must feel. She’s woken once already and I cuddled and fed her for 40 or so minutes. All the while, I gazed at my beautiful baby and instead of thinking of the chocolate bar and movie waiting for me downstairs, I reminded myself again, this is tough on them, too. 

2 thoughts on “Parenting can be challenging, but there’s someone else struggling too

  1. great reminder. I was thinking on this recently as I watched a child throw a tantrum. Most of the time it is a lack of being able to communicate their needs that brings these on, something that is perfectly understandable if you think about it

    1. Totally agree, Jeremy. They can’t communicate their needs, and don’t understand fully what’s happening to them. What a daunting world it is for a little one! Teaching sign language from an early age can really help, but it’s still confusing for them when they’re having a tough time.

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