Shannon Cullen, author of new book I’m Wrecked This is My Journal, reflects on parenting through the generations in this post and how despite us feeling more connected thanks to online life, there’s a middle ground to parenting-the highs with lows and her latest book will help us remember the good too.
Follow Shannon @imwreckedmother on twitter and instagram.
Oh, parenting! Life is already one big juggling act, and we make it even more challenging when we throw children into the mix. And rewarding, of course. As a mother of two I am, like most parents, totally besotted with my children, and couldn’t image life without their entertaining and gorgeous ways. Likewise, there are moments when I’m staring at a poo-covered baby in a café changing room, realising that I left the baby wipes at home, and wondering when it’s time for wine. With the face of parenting seeming to have swung from one of these extremes to the other, isn’t it now time to claim the middle ground – the highs and the lows; the memories and the madness?
When I look back to my own childhood it seems an age away from my own parenting experience.
For the most part it was left to mums to raise the children and, long before the internet and social media were even a speck on the horizon, it seems that there weren’t the opportunities for widely shared experiences. There were no library of books about baby routines, or blogs about what to pack in your hospital bag, but nor were there the online reports about toddler meltdowns in the middle of the street and photos of kitchens covered in pureed carrots. Imagine not hearing how someone was getting on with their baby unless you actually saw them?
It feels to me that parenting was much more contained. Presumably it was quite isolating if your parenting community was limited to the people physically around you, and not one of them was going through the same tricky situation as you. How did parents feel? Traditional baby books asked you to write down your hopes and dreams for your child’s future in amongst a twee pastel watercolour of baby ducklings. (Given how few pages ever got filled in, perhaps it was more chore than cherish?) But where’s the page asking how mum felt?
And then, well, sh** got real. Fast forward some decades and parents – dads included too now, thank goodness – are documenting life in full technicolour.
The tantrums, the vomiting, the tiredness, the wine . . . It’s OK to complain about your kids. It’s OK to say to the world: THIS IS HARD. And even ask: WHY? And: WHERE IS THE GIN?
The pastel watercolours have been swept aside for Instagram filters and milestone cards. We don’t write things down, we photograph and hashtag them. There’s a shared agreement that children can test you to the limits of your patience and your physical abilities. The mess, the moaning, the medicinal wine. But is it really that bad? One thing it definitely is, though, is funny.
There’s a sense of not being alone when you know someone – even on the other side of the world – has a kitchen that looks as chaotic as yours. Or whose kid has just drawn up the wall with permanent marker. Those snapshots into a friend or stranger’s life can make you laugh and feel connected in the middle of the rollercoaster of parenting.
But I’m sensing that modern parenting is increasingly balancing itself. Yes, it’s hard, and I am the first to admit that every Friday (and the odd Saturday to Thursday) is G&T o’clock.
There are moments when I am so tired that even coffee can’t help. When I can’t form sentences, or be bothered to cook (thank you, Deliveroo gods). But then there are the times when everything gels and parenting just flows and everyone goes to bed on time without any complaints. And the Very Big and Best Moments when your baby first smiles at you, or pulls themselves up to stand. Suddenly you’re desperate to hold on to the days when the minutes feel like hours. To savour their super-soft baby skin and try to remember exactly when that first tooth broke through.
But the truth is, we’ve usually forgotten. A survey of my parenting friends suggests that sleep deprivation will steal even the most momentous occasions from your brain. So do we now scroll through our Instagram or Facebook feeds to remember what happened when? And will we recall how we felt as parents, navigating through the maelstrom of raising children?
Pondering this, I decided to create I’m Wrecked, This is My Journal in an attempt to capture that middle ground.
I’d love other parents to design their own parent emoji, or use a milestone page online to call out an SOS for wine. But also tape in a lock of their child’s hair, write a postcard to their future self or record a sentence for the day about what they did or how they felt.
Let’s enjoy writing things down, even if we can all now type faster than we can write and if, as in my case, our handwriting is not as legible as it used to be. Because, as throughout time, there are always highs and lows, magic and mayhem, and we love it so much that many of us do it more than once.
We may be wrecked, but it’s worth it. Now let’s just see if we can find a way to remember it.