Over the last ten days, my life was turned upside down as big changes ensued.
Due to my uncle passing away, and his wishes to be buried in the family cemetery in Jamaica, his daughter, my cousin had a lot of work to do.
However, she also has one-year old baby who couldn’t travel with her and so it was soon clear, as families go, we all have to chip in somehow and that I would have to look after my cousin’s baby.
Enter “Mummy” Wickergirl, then the surprised yet supportive reactions from friends and even other family members came flooding in.
‘She’s only one-years old!’ ‘Have you even got experience with kids?’ ‘Do you want children?’ There were many questions to which I had rebuttals for.
I was scared but I did have experience working in an orphanage in Soweto South Africa in 2009 with babies/children and caring for children some of who had health issues including HIV and where I had to help administer medications. But as it went, I was actually silently scared, terrified in fact of the huge responsibility on the cards.
I made the move to my Uncle’s big old town-house in South London where my Aunty, lives. My Aunty didn’t attend the funeral overseas due to my Uncle’s requests to celebrate his life once he was in buried. My uncle was an artist, a big personality and had his particular and usually valid reasons if you looked in between the lines. He was also a psychic and for some of the things he uttered, you would just have to listen to as more often than not they came true!
The house is decorated by all of his artworks, and I instantly felt at home being surrounded by the eccentric, erotic, phallic, voodoo-esque works hanging and placed in each corner of the house and on every floor.
It’s definitely an inspiring place for any child to grow up in, creaking floorboards, rare vintage Italian tile works that you just wouldn’t see in this time, a selection of old retro cabinets filled with a deluge of glassware’s, crystal, china, marble cup coasters and random silverwares. Old framed pictures and holographic religious framed paintings wrapped in plastic and still hanging from the walls. This is quite a black thing, as my grandparents’ house had a similar exhibition of artworks hanging from the walls and I’ve seen the same in other relative’s homes over the years.
Arriving late on a stormy blustery night from West London, my life was about to transform as I would become the main carer for my cousin’s baby.
Babies are cute, you imagine all the things you can do with them, dress them up, plan creative expeditions, have an unconditional flow of love, trust and adoration. Hold them to your chest and feel that comfort, bathe them in their little bath chair as they splash around enjoying the constant flow of water streaming off their dimpling soft skin like water upon marble. You hear the deep gargling giggle and expression of laughter unexpectedly which makes your eyes squint filling your heart with love.
But there’s also the terrifying. A baby without a routine where you’re faced with harsh conflicts of love and some suffering.
Whilst all of the niceties are still present with the cuteness mentioned above, you can expect a war of wills, an overabundance of tantrums, screaming, shouting and other incomprehensible grating noises which force you into a corner of ‘I hate my life right now, how do I make this stop!’ or ‘I want out!’ This is teamed with practically no sleep and a feeling which leaves you both guilty, filled with rage and dislike for the baby you’re supposed to adore.
And then you realise that all of your feelings of dislike, stress and anger can be picked up by the baby, who then won’t communicate with to you the next day! Yes, babies are so clever, they find ways in their body language and expression to make you feel that you have done wrong and traumatised them just because you laid down rules and said ‘no.’ But you have to remember you’re the adult and this is just a little baby – that’s the hard part.
It made me understand and realise the importance of having a routine in a young baby’s life. It’s the same for most adults, having a routine or rituals at least helps you focus and get along through your day.
There are many theories on the pros and cons of a routine, a simpler one being they’re more ideal for the grown-ups than the children, but everyone has their opinion of what works for their ethos, morality, sanity and ideas of a child’s wellbeing.
I was quickly donned the title of Mary Poppins as I formed project ‘take-over,’ creating a bed time routine for the little one. In a way, it was like producing a shooting schedule/call sheet for some of the films I’ve worked on including my own, so it wasn’t too hard.
And dealing with tantrums, can be like dealing with stroppy crew who aren’t satisfied that there are Danishes instead of a hot breakfast amongst other more technical assets that might not be available due to the budget or decisions made from the executive powers that be.
With a ‘spoonful of sugar makes the medicine go down,’ and other nifty anecdotes and truths devised by yours truly, I have decided to share my top tips and lessons learned for parenting.
- Bedtime routine is key
From early on it’s wise to instil a routine for your baby, because structure is important so that you can understand your babies sleeping pattern and also to help carve that pattern so that your baby gets the rest he/she needs and that you as parents manage to sleep also.
If you’re a single parent, it will be that much harder because you don’t have anyone to tag team with, but you are the boss, so any slacking will make it that much harder if you don’t stick to a routine.
There’s nothing scarier than having a screaming baby all night and you’re all alone in that room. You must lay the law of the land. You’re the parent, they are the child. Babies are clever at tapping into the guilt cortex with their varying cries, some of which will make you feel like you’re a bad parent.
Try not to give into having the baby in the bed with you either, because this will create problems too and further disturbed sleeping patterns for the both of you. It’s also quite dangerous due to SIDS (Sudden Infant Death Syndrome).
If your baby is in the tantrum zone and won’t go to sleep or wakes up consistently, firstly do all of the checks. Is he/she hungry? When last did you do your feed? Check the nappy, is it a case of some extra comforting that’s needed just for a moment? Perhaps your baby is teething, so this could be another reason for restlessness. Finally check the temperature in the ears and under the arms with these useful devices:
You have to rule out whether it’s a behavioural issue which requires discipline or whether your baby is playing you. As harsh as this sounds, this can be a reality.
Once those checks have been done and you’re in the clear and you have figured that it is your baby just wanting his/her own way defiantly in a battle of wills, then you can instigate ‘project ignore.’
You calmly but assertively state and point to your bed and say ‘It is bed time. This is my bed and this is your bed. I am now going to sleep.’ You can repeat it three times if your baby is in tantrum/crying mode.
Then you crawl into bed and go to sleep. Baby might cry, scream, moan or more, BUT you just turn around and try to sleep. Do not engage in any communication. Eventually, your baby will stop crying providing you’ve done the check-over and all is well, and will give up and go to sleep.
It may take a few consecutive agonising nights to do this if you have a particularly defiant baby, but soon after the routine will be understood.
DISCLAIMER: These tips might not work for everyone, as I said make sure you do a check-over if your concerned about any other underlining health issues, even learning difficulties/disabilities, potential trauma due to family circumstances, pre and post-natal depression just to name a few do consult your medical practitioner.
- Baby Handling Caution
If you pick up the baby too much, the baby will grow an unhealthy attachment. An example of this is when you sometimes see babies stumbling around aimlessly with their arms outstretched wanting to be picked up. If this is happening all of the time throughout the day, this is a sign of an unhealthy attachment. And, if they cry and throw a tantrum each time you refuse to pick them up, then it’s likely you have a child with an attachment issue.
It’s not to say that babies don’t need comforting and holding because they do, but be aware of just how much you do it.
- The Baby Massage
I have always been a great believer of massages. The calming and loving touch from one mammal to another. We as humans really need this affection, it is important.
As a child, my mother always used to gently pat my forehead or just hold her warm palm on my head. She sometimes still does it for me when I stay over.
I like to execute the rose geranium and lavender essential oil massage. I usually make a mix with olive oil, with just a few drops of each for a baby. Rose geranium is also good for warding away any evil spirits according to my aunty and that you should always start the massage in the centre of the head (please note that my Aunty is an Aromatherapist).
Gently massaging the head, the shoulders, hands/fingers, chest, belly-rub, thighs, legs and soles of the feet will calm your baby completely especially after a bath. Ensure that you avoid the genital areas.
DISCLAIMER: Always check first with an Aromatherapist and doctor whether this is suitable for your baby especially for allergies and any other existing ailments your baby may have.
These are home from home methods which work for me in both my family and spiritual sense.
If your family are spiritually and alternative well-being inclined, do run this past them first.
- Angel Music/OM Music/Towelling Method
After bath time, wrap your baby in a nice big warm towel (preferably a baby towel with a hood).
The towelling method is when you wrap baby up in the towel. Sit next to your baby on the bed, keep them close to you and gently rub them dry in the towel whilst you embrace them. This creates a nice calm and safe cocoon for them especially at their most vulnerable having come straight out of the bath. Imagine it’s like coming straight out of the womb into the big wide world, all of the senses suddenly change.
Ensure that the lighting in the room is dim and that if you’re playing the angel/OM/ or whichever meditative calming music that you feel like, that there is no blue light beaming from your phone/any other device.
After the towelling method, you can apply the baby massage. Please note that your baby might even be asleep after the towelling method.
You can still do a mini-massage though. Especially on the top of the head and the soles of the feet.
‘OM’ing,’ also helps if your baby is restless, but remember nice and deep from your core whilst cradling them.
Although grandparents are there to spoil the grandchildren/grandbabies, just ensure that they are not undermining the parent’s word.
If the parent has set a rule and precedent, then grandparents shouldn’t go against this rule all the time.
You’ll end up with a conflicted child/baby who’ll throw a temper tantrum if she/he is used to getting something she/he doesn’t at home.
This will cause huge problems in development in the long run. I have seen this first hand where a grandparent felt that her grandchild could do no wrong. She always secretly undid the disciplines her daughter had set for her grandchild. Years down the line, the young girl developed a superiority complex. And, as a result, none of the other kids at school wanted to talk to her and formed other groups ignoring her. The girl then began to suffer from acute anxiety disorder as she didn’t have any friends. This is just one example experienced first-hand so it might not happen to all babies/children, but it’s good to be aware of the possibilities.
6. The Baby Swim
I can’t encourage the baby swim enough. It’s vital for your child to be able to swim and develop a fearless attitude to the world we live in. It’s also a fantastic bonding exercise for any parent and encourages an all-around exercise for you and your baby. I was really surprised to see fathers taking on board the baby-swim. But then again, my dad taught me how to swim imparting the ‘Spartan Method’ (a term donned by my best friend and fellow father Gareth), which is a simulated “Sink or swim” goal-based technique where the child is gradually given farther distances to swim, building confidence using over the top reassurances, things along the lines of, ‘swim these ten inches to me my child and you shall be a god amongst baby-kind!’ What makes these techniques so much better is that they can be introduced by games and play.
Let’s face it, you’d rather have your child safely on terra firma than gobbled up by that foul denizen of the deep, the Kraken, or at least be able to put up a fight and swim to shore in a desperate battle for survival.
7. Expect a change of friends
More often than not, if your friends don’t have children, you will no longer have anything else in common.
Your life has changed hugely and your priorities will differ.
‘I can’t wait to come and see you and the baby!’ or ‘I am coming over soon to see you and baby!’ are just words. Friends without children cannot understand your new reality. It may happen for a time where your friends will visit, but it will more often than not be a trend that fizzles out just as quick as an Alka-Seltzer for a rotten tummy. It’s not to say that the intention isn’t genuine to be part of your new life, it’s just that your lifestyles are now very alien and your schedules won’t match.
Unless you’re a working career mum with a good support network, financial stability, perhaps even a nanny/family members/work at home dad to look after baby or maybe you have a successful job working from home with all of the above support, then it will be difficult to maintain those friendships with your friends who don’t have kids.
Last thoughts on being a mother
In my short time being a mother for a week, I’ve understood the importance of having a family or a support network around you which in some cases people just don’t have access to. It’s also about enjoying the experience of being a mother/parent amongst the struggles that you’ll come across when raising a child. Your time with your baby as a baby will only come around once so it’s precious time to be cherished.
Being a freelancer and a woman, it also made me really think about how difficult it is to be a creative working in an industry and then to have a baby. On the other hand freelancer-creative aside, it’s hard for any working mother to balance a life, well-being, success, career development and financial stability.
The one thing that makes life easier is financial stability, then you can afford a nanny, but even then, that has its own issues. There’s also the importance of grandparents who help immensely, but not everyone has that support.
That is the horror story of it all, yes women do it, but just think of how many women had children because their ‘clocks were ticking’, but couldn’t really return to work or progress in their chosen career because there wasn’t enough support in place to fit work and raising the children.
We are led to believe that having a child if you’re a budding creative or working in the film industry that life is over. And, I’m now wondering if it’s because there really isn’t that support at the very time when women should be having children due to their clocks ticking, is the time where they’re at the prime of their career trying to make it/making it. And, unless you’re wealthy, it would be incredibly difficult to have both and therefore sacrifices are made. Women close off that option and dive head first into their career denying the fact that they really would like both, but for some it’s just impossible.
Finally, being a single parent is hard work. I have seen those close to me do it and I wouldn’t wish it on my enemy.
Be aware that if you are a single parent, that you have a strategy in place to make your life easier in raising as well-balanced child as you can. Simple things like creating structure and not suffocating your baby because you’re all alone and desperately need love yourself.
This thought process is unhealthy and can lead to other psychological issues with your child as they grow older.
If you are single and planning parenthood, think about the reason why you want a child. Ensure that it’s not to fill a void within yourself, because that’s unfair to the child: to soak up all your insecurities and need for love when you should firstly learn to love yourself.
You don’t want to live through your child, it’s important to acknowledge that you have a life of your own too.
For those who are together planning on having a baby, I have one thing to mention again and that is: TAG TEAM and mostly importantly be on the same team. Have a plan of who will do what, create a ritual/routine so that you both have moments of respite.
Thanks for reading my experience and tips. Wishing those of you who are entering planet parenthood an endearing experience as your life changes forever!