I’m more relaxed with my third child and that makes me a better mum - and a worse one

Image: Shutterstock
Image: Shutterstock 

When I had my first baby, I was like a lot of first-time mums: clueless. I didn't know anybody else who had kids back then, and I was just doing my best to make sense of this tiny alien that had come to live in my house and rob me of all my sleep.

My way of coping was to read. I read every parenting book I could get my hands on, chose my favourites and followed them to the letter. I held on super tight to routines and discipline because that was all I knew how to do.

And I had the time.

I had nothing but time. You know that saying people tell you when you've had a baby: "The days are long, but the years are short"? Never has there been a truer truth.

My days felt endless. So I focused on raising this incredible child, following the advice of the experts.

I taught my daughter to sleep 12 hours a night, I didn't allow screens, I taught her baby signs and basic Spanish, we went to swimming lessons and gymbaroo, we did story time at the local library, and I made sure she got a decent amount of tummy time every day.

Just typing that now makes me feel exhausted.

Now let's cut to the arrival of my third child, when I realised my days of intentional parenting were well and truly over. It was on the evening of my eldest child's eighth birthday, I remember holding my two-day-old daughter in a sling, while reading my two-year-old son a book about diggers and decorating a cake for my daughter's birthday party the following day. 

Welcome to the world of three children, I remember thinking. Chaos is the new normal.

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And so it has been. My children are now 14, eight and six – and as my youngest navigates her way through year 1 at school, I finally have the opportunity to exhale and take stock.

The past six years have been a special brand of bedlam. 

There have been no routines for my youngest. No foreign language classes and no baby signs. She napped on the go most of the time. And she didn't like the water for the first few years of her life, so I didn't make her go to swimming lessons until she was four. 

She didn't sleep through until she was four, and when she'd cry in the night I'd bring her straight into bed with me.

I don't remember ever worrying about tummy time.

The fact is, my third child has had to slot into the family, rather than us all bending to fit around her. I haven't parented with as much intention, rather, I've held on and tried to enjoy the ride.

With my third child I've been more relaxed, more spontaneous, and less concerned about the details.

But I've also been more experienced, trusting my gut rather than referring to the experts. And I was less concerned about how every decision I made would impact her life for years to come.

Which method of parenting worked better? The jury is still out. 

My eldest child is smart, affectionate and messy.

My youngest child is funny, articulate and neat.

What I realise, though, from 14 years of parenting, is that they probably would have been that way regardless of how I parented.

My job is to love my children and give them the discipline, self-belief and space they need to grow into the people they are destined to be. Routines and books matter little – I'm just a support act in this show