I have two children; a boy and a girl. I always felt blessed that we were bestowed this family of both genders, the chance to bring up one of each. Having a daughter is a gift; a slightly surreal experience in seeing your younger self but in a whole new generation, with a whole new persona. Daily, I have to remind myself that she is not me. I have always considered her an extension of myself – when she was a baby, if I felt cold, I was convinced that she would feel cold too.
There is something about your firstborn; you produce this little human and sometimes it’s hard to see where you end and they begin. I also read that as a mother, you have the most complex relationship with your firstborn child, irrespective of gender, because they take you to a place you never imagined you could go. Certainly in some of those sleep-deprived, early days (nights) I did wonder how this little bundle could have caused my life to free-fall so dramatically. I know categorically now that the baby stage was not my finest hour! Nowadays I am a much more well-adjusted mother; but it did take years to get here.
As for my son; the sheer simplicity of having a boy is also a gift. Sons love their mothers – and seven year old sons are full of sticky hugs and questions about outer space and what seems like endless love. Of course as the time ticks by he grows and I see that he is becoming his own person, developing charming quirks that his sister never would have. She is like the trailblazer, being the eldest she forges ahead and on the whole, life has been easy for her. She has her moments, but under that 11 year old exterior (blonde ponytail, super-fit, skinny-jean’d, converse-shoe’d) she is deceptively strong and competent. He is too but his need to keep up with her has shaped him and he strives much harder than she did and equally, feels disappointment much more keenly than her.
I make decisions for them every day and as a mother there are times where I think I am so adept at these choices that I no longer question if they are right or wrong. Unlike the baby stage: has he had enough milk? 7 ounces, 9 ounces? Is there a draft near the cot? Should she wear a vest under her baby-grow? Shouldn’t he be crawling/talking/eating finger-food by now? The decisions now are so much wider (reminding me again that babyhood is frankly, a drop in the ocean of parenthood). Now it’s all about experiences, making sure they get exposed to enough of life for them to grow up happy and robust, with a worldliness that will equip them for later on.
What I feel so keenly is the desire not to mess it up. It can feel overwhelming, trying to navigate through things. We try to give them the best we can, as everyone does, but I admit I get a creep of doubt when I wonder why I want what we consider to be ‘best’ for them. Why do I want them to be selected for school teams? Why do I want them to excel academically? Why does it matter to me that they get on well with their friends? Why am I so proud when they show gratitude or empathy or charity? I have to catch myself and wonder the extent to which I project forward my own values and my own missed chances onto their childhood?
How do I know if it’s right or wrong?!