When my eldest child was born 15 years ago, I was what I like to refer to as a "book expert". In order to make up for the fact that I had never held a baby before, let alone having a clue what to do with one, I read every book I could get my hands on.
It should have been a tip-off that just about no two books agreed on anything, but I voraciously consumed them anyway, filing away info on how to teach baby to sleep, eat solids, potty train, fold origami cranes, and make their first million before starting kindy.
The worst part was I thought I knew it all. (I'd like to take this opportunity to formally apologise to everyone I gave advice to in those first few years of parenting – I was clearly talking out of my behind.)
What I have learned about parenting is that the more you know, the more you realise you have no idea. This is especially true when it comes to other people's children, but I have even found this to also apply to my own.
I am now a mother of three, and the way I parent my youngest is nothing like how I parented my eldest.
My youngest daughter is now seven, and is enjoying a more relaxed style of parenting. ("Relaxed" being code for free-range – as in, I'm going to go and lie on the couch while you raise yourself for a while.)
Here are four things I have done with my youngest that I would never have done with my eldest:
With my eldest I was all about controlled crying, and "teaching" him to sleep on his own. It was a couple of months of pain for years of blissful routine, where he slept 7pm to 7am every night. By the time my third rolled around, I was way too tired to be bothered with all of that.
She had awful colic in the first year of her life and was so high-maintenance on the sleep front that if I had insisted on putting her to bed in her cot, I would have clocked up around 45 minutes of sleep in her first year. Add to that the fact I had two other kids who wanted stories and baths and – weird – love and attention, and I was falling into bed along with my baby every night. It wasn't so much a choice as just what was happening.
Left her in the car while I paid for petrol
I read all the horror stories with my first about what can go wrong if you leave your child in the car while you walk 10 metres away to pay for your petrol, so I would wake him up every single time I was running close to empty.
But I'm pleased to report that with my third, although I regularly left her in the car while I spent two minutes in the servo, she wasn't abducted by car jackers, nor did a stray bowser leak petrol all over my car and blow it up, and I never accidentally locked the keys in the car. Phew!
Pandered to a fussy eater
"Feed them a wide array of foods early, and they'll eat everything" the books said, so that's what I did with my eldest. And I offered no alternatives – you either eat the dinner put in front of you or you starve.
He was a delight to feed – curious about new foods and willing to eat just about anything I put in front of him. Oddly, I took the same approach with my third and all she would eat was raw capsicum, roast chicken and any form of potato.
I tried the "eat what's in front of you or starve" approach but I swear that kid would starve herself just to spite me, rather than put a cooked vegetable anywhere near her face. She has defeated me – I still have a range of her favourites in the fridge at all times. My life is more peaceful that way, and I'm so tired.
Threw routine out the window
If you'd asked me to come over for a visit during the afternoon for the first few years of my eldest child's life, I would have laughed in your face. "That's nap time," I would have guffawed, "we never go out then."
By the time my third came along, I had places to be and way less opportunity to "sleep when the baby sleeps" anyway, so there was no motivation to stay home. My daughter came with me everywhere, strapped to my body for the first year or so. We had school runs to do, groceries to buy, daycare to get to on my work days. And I figured, if she misses a nap during the day, maybe we'll all get a decent sleep at night. (It never worked but I'm an eternal optimist.)
I'm pleased to report that the more relaxed approach has had a trickle-up effect, with the more laissez-faire approach now also being enjoyed by my eldest child. I can't say for sure which approach is best for the child, but I know this one is way better for me – and with three children in the house, I no longer have time to read parenting books anyway.