Sussex columnist: What I've learned from 10 years of parenting

​Last month, my daughter turned 10 – which means I’ve officially been a parent for a decade.
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That’s 10 years of caring for another small human. It’s a decade of bearing the ultimate responsibility and relishing the most unbridled joy.

But whilst it is incredible to me to think I’m now the parent of a double-digit child, I digress, because the occasion was obviously about my daughter.

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So, that means too much money was spent on buying birthday presents and organising a birthday party for her. For the latter of which, I forgot that party bags were ‘a thing’ until the day before the party and had to hot-foot it to The Range to panic-buy some stuff.

Two days after Katherine gave birth to her first-born. A lot less wrinkles but a lot less wisdom, too!Two days after Katherine gave birth to her first-born. A lot less wrinkles but a lot less wisdom, too!
Two days after Katherine gave birth to her first-born. A lot less wrinkles but a lot less wisdom, too!

There was also a celebratory day in London, and a meal out after school on her actual birthday. Don’t get me wrong, it’s so nice to see the excitement in my children’s faces when they celebrate a birthday, but it sure is a lot to get sorted to get to that place.

The milestone birthday has also made me quite reflective. What have I learned in the past 10 years, and what will I take from that going forward into the next 10?

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Well, for starters, I’ve learned that I was a much better parent before I was actually a parent.

Embarrassingly, I know I used to make judgements on parents before I’d actually had any children of my own.

If children were misbehaving or having a tantrum out in public, I’d assume it was because of bad parenting. No child of mine would ever make such a scene!

Or sitting in a restaurant, when I’d see parents letting their children use phones or tablets while they were eating I’d scoff at how lazy that was and vow I’d never do such a thing. Oh, how naive I was.

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There’s nothing like having your own child to give you a massive dose of reality.

Because, shock horror, parenting isn’t actually that easy, as it turns out.

Sometimes, no matter what you do, children don’t do what you want them to do and it makes life a bit stressful.

And then there’s times where you just need to finish your meal in peace, and so employing a tablet babysitter for five minutes every once in a while isn’t actually the worst thing in the world.

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But, perhaps the biggest life lesson was in those very early days of having a newborn.

Before my daughter was born I’d read a book on caring for a baby recommended to me by a friend, so I thought I’d got it all sorted.

Only, it turns out babies aren’t tiny robots and don’t want to operate in a precisely timed schedule as suggested by Gina Ford.

I can still remember my incredulity on realising that my perfect little baby wasn’t going to nap to the prescribed minute, and that she would very much do her own thing (and, to be fair, she still does!).

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I can vividly remember thinking ‘I can’t believe nobody told me it was this hard’. It’s obvious now why they didn’t, because who wants to crush first-time parents’ dreams by telling them it’s going to be the most exhausting thing they have ever done? And would those blissfully unaware parents-to-be want to hear their life was about to be turned upside down, anyway?!

In those early days, my mum recounted something my dad had said to her after she’d had me, and it’s always stuck with me: “Nobody said it was going to be easy.”

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My dad was totally right, and it applies to parenting ad infinitum. If you approach every tough situation with a deep breath and the reminder of those words in your head, you can survive the toughest of situations.

While the sleepless nights are now few and far between, tricky new parental challenges pop up all the time. But with the hindsight of 10 years of experience, I now know I can weather those storms. Not always with much aplomb, but with the knowledge that pretty much everything ‘is just a phase’ and ‘tomorrow is another day’.

Thankfully, the good days far outweigh the tougher ones. The past decade has been the most incredible journey with the highest of highs.

Getting to experience life with two small people who you created is pretty epic. It might be a cliché, but being a parent, to me, really is the best job in the world.

So, here’s to the next decade of fun, frolics and madness – I can’t wait!

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