The doctor tells you one thing. Your mother-in-law tells you another. A friend of a friend says you must read this book. Even the cashier (who has 16 grandchildren and must, therefore, know everything) lets you know what she thinks about tantrums. And breastfeeding. And discipline. And the state of your hair. You meet some attachment parenting mums. Finally some kindred spirits. But wait, they seem as strict about the rules as the non-attachment-parenting mums and you can't keep up with what is required to be part of that club. So you read another book. And make another friend. And have another conversation that makes you think you've got it all wrong.
You try to be Zen but you end up shouting. You meditate for a while but you can't stop thinking about the shopping list. Avocados. Carrots. Loo rolls. You try routine but nobody's happy. You try no routine. That doesn't work either. Maybe the next book will hold the answer to it all. You're aiming for inner peace, how did everything on the outside get so, um, not-peaceful?
These days, there is so. much. advice. And some of it is fantastic and life-saving - I have spent many hours reading books about parenting and have found confidence and strength in the pages. But from the moment you become pregnant, it is as if everybody thinks they have a say and it gets so overwhelming. Where will they sleep? Which school are you signing them up for? Oh, you'll be so tired. But it will go by in a flash so you absolutely must make the most of every single minute.
Um, that bit is possibly the most confusing of all. Enjoy every single minute? Are you serious? No pressure or anything. Just create a whole human, look after human 24 hours a day for a very, very long time and, while you're at it, enjoy every single minute. They'll grow up so fast.
Yep. Thanks. As if there wasn't enough pressure already to keep human alive at all times and learn a lot very, very fast. I'm also supposed to smile all the time? And enjoy every minute? AND be nice to other adults?
And this is the thing. In a time when there is so much information, so much wisdom, you kind of need to reach the point where your head explodes with it all. Read the books, yes. Absorb the wisdom, definitely. Gain confidence as you go and find your path in amongst it all. But also let your head explode. Because once this happens, you are left with the enormous and overwhelming experience of love, sweetness and sacredness and your heart can finally take over.
You can ditch the books (except for the ones in the bathroom that truly nurture and centre you and return you to your own innate wisdom while you are pretending to be on the toilet so that you can actually sit down) and go back to where it all begins: your connection with your child.
And that you can't find in any book. Or on any workshop. Or on any free teleconference. Or in any parenting philosophy, movement or group, however well-meaning.
That you will find by looking deep into your children's eyes, or by sitting with them once they have fallen asleep and your souls can spend some time together.
That's where the real source of wisdom is. Anyone who tries to lead you away from that and replace yours with theirs, seriously, just smile your weary, open-hearted smile, and say 'thank you'. And go inside and listen for the voice. The one that is kind, strong and gentle. Connect with your children. Cuddle them fiercely, listen to even the tiniest of worries they want to share, smell their hair, learn to sit still and to let them be. And you'll find you start to trust yourself (and them) a little bit more each day. You'll find that you DO know what everyone needs. You'll come up with wonder solutions probably never written in any book ever. ('Oh, if we just walk into the next room, everyone calms down.' 'If I sing the same song at bath-time, that struggle disappears.')
The answers are within. You can trust your soul-parent voice. And if you get it wrong a few times, seriously, you'll be forgiven. Over and over again, by the people who adore you more than anything else in the world. Because what they will experience is not the mistakes and the grumbles and the shouty days and the hiccups; what they feel is the connection between their heart and yours. And that, at the end of all the long, looong days, which will fly by so fast, is what counts.