My mum is not one to hold back her true feelings, so when she recently pulled me aside to weigh in on the way my husband and I parent our daughter, I cringed a little. Turns out, my mum, who raised three of her own children, was going to surprise me with a huge compliment. “You guys are just so…chill,” she said. And was quick to follow up, “Not in a bad way! You’re on top of things. Just very relaxed about it.”
While the praise was very much appreciated, I also felt validated when she said it. Because our blend of “chill” and “on top of it” has actually been criticised by others.
We never did the co-sleeping thing or even owned a bassinet. I wanted to slowly build a routine that would lead to successful sleeping for everyone down the line. So, when my daughter came home from the hospital, she was placed in her cot from night one. Some called me militant and unloving, others shrugged and wondered what the big deal was. One annoying friend-of-a-mum-friend gave me one of those condescending, “Wow! I admire your confidence; I would worry way too much about her in her room by herself.”
And on it went for months, and it still happens all the time. At two years old, my daughter is both babied and trusted. I’ve always been this way with her. A loving, cuddly mum who pays attention to what’s going on, but creates some space for the kid to breathe, too. I don’t follow her from room to room all the time; if we’re eating dinner and she wants to play with her toys in the next room over, I just pop my head in every few minutes to check on her. I let her go down the slide on her own when I knew she was ready. I don’t smother her with hand sanitiser constantly, but I’m careful not to take her to certain activities or playgrounds when I hear there’s something going around. You know, life.
I never really thought about what “kind” of mum I wanted to be. It was only once I got pregnant and started reading everything in sight that I realised we all were supposed to subscribe to a parenting style (or at least it felt like we did). But though I tried a little bit in the beginning to do things the way other people suggested I should, it only took about a month for me to step into my own and realise that I had to mother the way I do everything in life — like me.
I am a person who does not bolt across the street as the light is about to change but would rather wait through the whole cycle and cross when it’s safer to do so. I make to-do lists and I double-check doors to ensure I’ve locked them. I listen to rules and don’t interrupt others when they’re speaking. I like order. But, I’m also incredibly spontaneous. I go with the flow, hate wearing bras, and love nothing more than to sit around with nothing on the agenda but making some art or doing some yoga (now, I do these things with my daughter).
My hubby and I are a lot alike in both of these aspects. We have logged some serious hours just driving around together, looking at cool sights and stopping for food when we feel like it. But we also run a small business together on top of his full-time job, my part-time job, and parenting our daughter; so again, both organised, but both pretty relaxed.
After we got the hang of the whole parenting thing, my husband and I realised that it’s okay — more than okay — to parent the way that feels natural to us. We’re both protective when it comes to the big stuff, but pretty loose and relaxed about the rest.
When babysitters come over, we don’t give them a strict schedule and couldn’t care less if they aren’t able to get her to sleep on time. We can correct the schedule tomorrow; life will go on. When I take her to playgroups or toddler classes, I make sure she’s comfortable with the other kids but don’t follow her around like a bodyguard; I’m happy to sit on the sidelines a while and enjoy my coffee while she explores her boundaries.
Free-range parenting isn’t exactly our jam; as she grows up, I’ll need to know where she is and that an adult is nearby. But I also don’t want to protect her to the point where I’m pushing down her adventurous spirit, stubbing out her creativity and curiosity. As a child, I loved nothing more than sitting at the desk in my room writing stories as my siblings got into mischief. Looking back, I am so grateful that my parents allowed me some time on my own in my room to be creative. I don’t know if I would have ever believed in my dream to become a writer if they hadn’t.
I want my daughter to have what I had — parents who love her by allowing her to be herself. Sometimes that will mean she has friends I wouldn’t have chosen for her, takes paths I hadn’t planned for her to. We’ll face challenges I haven’t dreamed of yet, and one day I may eat my words. But this much I know: for me, what feels natural as a mum is to be, as my own mum put it, chill. On top of things, but chill. Build her roots, furnish her wings, and let her know that the bottom line, and the only thing that really matters, is this: you are loved.