I looked down at the smashed glass Christmas bauble and felt hot tears well in my eyes. I knew it was irrational, but the disappointment, exasperation and feelings of failure that had been bubbling away finally made it the surface, and the broken Christmas decoration was the final straw.

It was a present my parents bought in Iceland especially for our newborn baby. I had shown it to my toddler, pointing out the gorgeous painted drawings of little teddies, ducks and giraffes with ‘Baby’s first Christmas’ written in Icelandic on the side. Then the next morning, she had grabbed it from the box on the dining table and carelessly swung it around her finger until inevitably, it fell onto the kitchen tiles and smashed. Was it because it was her new sister’s gift or was it an innocent mistake and entirely my fault for leaving it within her reach?

When people ask what it’s like with two, I usually laugh and say, “It’s tough but I’m getting used to it.” Which is true. Everyone tells you that the journey from one to two kids isn’t easy. Not only are you dealing with a helpless little newborn and all the sleep deprivation, constant crying and sore boobs that goes along with that. But you’re still dealing with the demanding toddler who has become used to 100% of mummy and daddy’s attention for the past few years.

However what has most surprised me is the dual feelings of failure and achievement, almost running side by side. It’s not just double the challenge of raising two small children, it’s double the emotion, both the highs and the lows. I wasn’t prepared for the immense feelings of failure when both children are crying at the same time and I just don’t know who to tend to first. One is increasingly urgent and shrill wanting food that only I can give. The other is more succinct but generally more irrational. She wants water from that cup, “no, the STRIPY CUP MUMMY”…. Where the hell is the stripy cup???

The toddler is more demanding and in your face (often literally) however the baby’s cry transitions from tired to overtired because yet again I missed her sleep queues. It’s much harder to notice jerky legs and tiny little yawns when I’m busy doing toilet runs. When I’m trying to tend to one, the other is neglected and I feel like I’m making a hash of both. Every decision seems like the wrong one; there’s no guidebook for this and even if there was, there would be no time to read it.

However sometimes it’s just a few minutes later and a sense of order is restored. One child is sleeping happily, the other is playing quietly with her dolls and I’m curled up with that long awaited cup of tea feeling a moment of intense achievement. I can do this. I am doing this.  My little girl comes over and hugs me and says “I love you mummy,” and I feel a burst of love and pride. We are doing the best we can and generally, we’re doing alright.

As for that Christmas bauble, my husband found some glass superglue and managed to put it back together. It sits pride of place on our Christmas tree commemorating this season of our lives. Sure, it’s a bit imperfect but then again, aren’t we all?

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2 thoughts on “The contradictions of imperfect parenthood

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