How My Parenting Style Has Changed After Ten Years as a Mumby Emma Longden
The first time I found out I was pregnant, I was just twenty years old. In my third year of a university degree and single, I was hardly in the perfect position to raise a child, but for me I couldn’t imagine not going through with the pregnancy and keeping my baby. So I found myself, a few months after my twenty-first birthday, starting back for my final year with a week old baby. It was a fairly tough time, and I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my mum and nan, who helped me by looking after my son Cameron for me whilst I went to lectures and worked on assignments, or my close friend Abi, who I was living with, who kept me sane and stayed in watching films and boxsets with me whilst our classmates went out clubbing.
Although Cameron’s dad has always seen him once a week, and has been really supportive both financially and emotionally for us both, it was still lonely being a young, single mum. I felt too old to join the groups aimed at young mothers, but also didn’t fit in with the women in their late twenties and early thirties either. I spent a lot of time with my mum and, as a result, Cameron has an extremely strong bond with her. Whilst I am always grateful for the help she has given me, I do worry that I leant on her a little too much over that first year, and that the bond I have with Cameron was affected by this.
As a first time mum, also suffering from postnatal depression, I was unsure of myself. I had no real experience of looking after anybody before, and I remember getting paranoid about everything. I would go online to talk to other women in forums, checking things were normal, and I would spend a lot of time at my local doctor's surgery every time Cameron developed a cold or had a slight temperature.
I started breastfeeding, but found it hard to feed during the night when I needed to get up early for lectures. I combi-fed Cameron for a few months before deciding to go exclusively to formula to make things easier for both of us and our schedule at the time. I did feel a little sad I hadn’t managed to keep up breastfeeding, but I also knew I needed to feel strong enough to look after both of us.
By the time I had my daughter, I was a couple of years older and wiser. I felt stronger mentally and physically, and this time round I was in a relationship and felt I wasn’t being judged as much by others, especially when Carly’s dad proposed to me six months into the pregnancy and I had a ring on my finger. Still, I didn’t really know what I was doing when it came to babies (I don’t think we ever really do, as each child is different). The best decision I ever made was to attend antenatal classes, despite being told by my midwife that it wasn’t necessary as I wasn’t a first-time mum.
At those classes, I met four other women who went on to become amazing friends, and we still meet up to this day, despite our children going to different schools. It has been speaking to these women which has made me more confident in my ability to parent. I know that it is completely normal to worry about everything in those early days, and to feel like you aren’t coping, when in fact you really are. I have leant on these women, just as they have leant on me, and I am so grateful to all of them for their support over the years.
I always wanted a close age gap for my children, but having two under three was a challenge. When I first had Carly, Cameron was just over two and still in nappies. They were both very dependant on me, and I found it a little isolating being at home all day everyday with both of them and no adult communication.
When Carly was just about to turn two years old, I went to work full time and loved having my independence back. I also felt it helped me to be a better mum in a way, at the time, as I didn’t feel resentful about being stuck at home, and was able to really enjoy the quality time I had with the children in the evenings and at the weekend.
By the time I had my youngest son, Benjamin, I was twenty-seven. I was in a stable and loving relationship with my now-husband, and, despite a rocky pregnancy which started on antidepressants, I was feeling emotionally strong and sure of myself and my parenting style. I have always tried to be a fair mum, I don’t like to be too strict and if I do need to tell the children off, I always try and make sure they understand why and comfort them afterwards. I am quite an empathetic person, and I don’t like to see the children upset or hurt in any way. I have a fantastic relationship with my own mum, and I hope that one day the children will be able to say that about me as well.
Having the experience of becoming a mum at three different ages over the past decade, I am able to look back and see how my parenting style has changed as I have aged and matured. I think the main difference is my confidence in myself. I wish I could go back and let that scared and ensure twenty-year-old know that everything would be ok and that she could do it because she was stronger than she thought.