Here at the Minimise Project, we want to reduce the abortion rate, and we think building a pro-life culture, where pregnancy and babies are expected and accommodated, are a big part of that. Building that culture involves policy changes, which we highlight and advocate for, but it also involves building general awareness of what it’s actually like to live through pregnancy and parenting. So many pro-life people want to help out parents and families, but don’t really know what the particular struggles of parenting are like, and a vague offer of “help” can feel a bit limp. So in this blog, rather than giving a list of ways you can help parents of young kids, I thought I’d try to outline what parents of young kids need you to know (rather than let you know what they may want or need you to do).
We are not getting as much sleep as we’d like
In fact, almost every parent of young kids is not getting enough sleep at all. We are not getting the recommended minimum hours of sleep per night, and what sleep we do get is broken up into chunks, the duration of which is determined by a little person who won’t, you know, sleep. But even those parents who are lucky enough to have kids who sleep through from a young age aren’t getting as much sleep as they’d like. We never get to lie in if we’ve been out late. We never get to have a pyjama day if we’re feeling sick. Every evening invitation is a trade off between a few hours of fun that night and a follow-up day or two of being extra exhausted (as opposed to the constant, low level exhaustion that’s a regular feature of our lives).
As Emily Writes put it in an unbelievably relatable post, if you don’t sleep, it’s all you think about. It affects everything you do. It colours everything. It makes you feel basically useless for about two (or four, or eleven) years. You won’t understand sleep deprivation until you’ve lived through it. Your friends are probably living through it. They’re not functioning like they used to. They don’t expect you to understand it, but knowing that people know, even if they don’t understand, can help.
We have more than enough input on our infant feeding choices and we don’t need yours (unless we ask for it)
Human infants can survive and thrive on breastmilk, either from the infant’s mother or from another woman, on formula, or on some combination of the two. The optimal combination of the two is a decision that should be made by the child’s parents, and no one else.
Most women in Ireland do not meet their own personal breastfeeding goals. This can be a source of upset and guilt for many parents. There is no shortage of friends, family, healthcare professionals and strangers offering their opinions on our infant feeding choices, and no matter what those choices are, we will face judgement and stigma at some point. Please don’t add to the problem. Many parents are delighted to discuss their infant feeding choices, in which case talk away, and ask any questions you’d like to, but please don’t offer unsolicited advice. If we want your opinion, we’ll ask for it.
We love talking about our kids
As a counterpoint to the above, generally, we really like talking about our kids! Telling funny stories about the hilarious thing they said the other day, showing off photos or listing off their milestones is a true source of joy for us. Lots of the time we don’t want to monopolise the conversation by going on and on about our kids, but if someone asks questions, we’re almost always happy to chat about our little ones. So go ahead and ask us!
Apologies in advance if we end up repeating stories you’ve already heard. Our brains don’t work quite like they used to.
We love seeing other people have positive interactions with our kids
I find this one surprises people who don’t have kids themselves yet, but it’s true that seeing someone else have positive interactions with our kids is one of the nicest things about being a parent. It just feels so wonderful to see our kids bringing someone else joy and happiness, even if it’s only for a second. I don’t mean in a semi-negative, “I suppose they’re worth all the effort because look how happy they’re making someone” kind of way; rather in a completely joyful way, where we just love witnessing how our tiny little people make the world a better place. Taking the time to interact positively with someone else’s child can make a huge difference, and can turn a stressed out parent’s challenging day into a memorable and happy one.
We need to plan stuff quite far in advance
We’ve all had that dawning realisation that we’ve double-booked ourselves, or just completely forgotten something we were supposed to do. It can be hard for even the most organised of us to keep on top of everything that fits in a busy modern schedule. But it’s quite a bit harder for parents of young kids. If you think about it, it’s obvious – given how hard it is to keep one person’s schedule in order, imagine how hard it would be to keep several people’s schedules in order. And then imagine how much harder it is when most of those people can never be left without adult supervision. And then consider the extra complications if at least one of those people needs to sleep at a particular time, and often in a particular place, during the day, every day. And they may also need to eat more regularly than you or me. Skipping a meal is not an option.
Given all the above, our schedules are way, way harder to plan than a non-parent’s schedule. We just have to know what’s happening as far in advance as possible. We also tend to be available at odd times. We’re really sorry, but brunch is generally not really an option (unless it’s in our place) because it’s almost guaranteed to clash with nap time. Meeting up for an 11am coffee is also usually a terrible idea. 9am coffee meet ups need to become a thing, that’s all I’m saying.
Having a friend who’s available at short notice can be very helpful
Related to the above, if you have the kind of job or lifestyle that means you can be available at short notice, that can be super helpful for a parent of young children. They may never call on you, but knowing that there’s someone who could potentially pop over if there’s some sort of (mild) emergency can provide great peace of mind. No one expects you to be available at short notice, but if you are happy to be called on occasionally, let your parent-friends know!
We never get to the bottom of the laundry
There is absolutely no point to this item. There’s nothing anyone else can do about our laundry and no earthly reason to mention it. It just felt wrong to fail to acknowledge laundry in a post about parenting young kids because it has been my constant companion for a few years now and I don’t want to hurt its feelings.
We need – yes, need – adult conversations
Adult conversations are amazing. They have a beginning, a middle, and an end. They lead logically from one thing to another. They allow you the ridiculous luxury of getting to finish your thought – forget your sentence, just your flipping thought.
Parenting young children, on the other hand, can be summarised as a constant, never-ending stream of interruptions.
“My favourite colour is yellow. Please get your shoes”.
“No, Grandma won’t be a baby when you’re an old lady. Would you like to finish your pasta?”.
“Please stop eating my pen. Yes, I used to go to school”.
Honestly, it feels like an adult brain that never engages in adult conversation probably eventually just breaks. We need to have actual adult conversations on a regular basis if we don’t want to lose the ability to do so indefinitely. It’s why we try to stay up late and talk to other adults even though we should probably just go to bed at 7pm with our kids. If you’re not the kind of person who feels equipped to look after your friend’s young kids, can you try to facilitate some adult conversation sometime? Just come over in the evening after the kids are in bed and chat for an hour or two. Bonus points obviously if you can do both – come over in the late afternoon, play with the kids for a few hours, and then stick around after they’re in bed and facilitate some adult conversation. But if you can only do one, don’t underestimate the joy an adult conversation can bring.
We’re low-level stressed pretty much all the time
This last point applies to mothers in particular. I have been stopped by total strangers to comment on my parenting choices on more than one occasion. I’ve had strangers comment on my toddler’s footwear, my choice of suncream and the fact that my kids had gone around the corner ahead of me. This has never happened to my husband and I suspect it never will, but women are fair game, it seems. Mothers are constantly judged on their parenting choices. No matter what you do, someone somewhere thinks it’s wrong, and more often than we’d like, they’ll tell you so.
I keep this photo saved on my phone and send it to my friends whenever they ask me whether they’re letting their child eat too much sugar, or watch too much TV, or play with the right toys, or the right people, or the wrong people, or whether they’re doing the bedtime routine right, or whether the chewable vitamins really are absorbed less well than the ones that come with a dropper, etc. There are just so many things to stress about as a parent, and most of them are modern inventions.
Three weeks ago during my son’s health check the nurse announced that he’d gone from the 50th percentile in height to the 0.4th percentile. I was low-level stressed about this for two weeks until the follow-up appointment with the doctor, which found he’s actually in the 25th percentile. So no problem, after all. I have no idea how that happened. I’m trying not to stress about it.
Parenting is stressful. There’s always more to be done. There’s always the possibility that you’ve forgotten something. There’s always something going wrong. There’s always noise – always, always noise. And then there’s the stress of trying to look after yourself on top of it all – am I eating too much rubbish? When can I find time to exercise? How on earth are we going to cope during reporting season at work next month?
Having friends who make allowances for us, and give us space to process the multiple stresses that are always bubbling just underneath the surface, is simply invaluable. Having friends who realise that right now, it needs to be about us just a little more often than it’s about you, is a true gift.
We’ll pay you back when you have your own kids, I promise.