When a woman is pregnant, or has a newborn, a toddler or a preschooler, the amount of information and advice on offer is completely overwhelming. You can't avoid conversations around breastfeeding, starting solids, sleep training, choosing daycare, developmental milestones, toddler tantrums, starting school and more. The list is never ending. Whether you want it or not, there is advice for everything.
Then, it stops. I noticed it when my daughter turned seven years old. I had some concerns and we ended up seeing an occupational therapist and school counsellor. It was resolved quickly, however I distinctly remember feeling incredibly overwhelmed and scared and, if I'm honest, guilty. No one was talking about issues with their children, so I blamed myself. She is my child, I raised her so I must have done something wrong along the way. Maybe I fussed too much when she was a baby, or I wasn't spending enough one-on-one time with her. Had I been putting too much pressure on her?
What I didn't know at the time is that there were six other children in the class who were engaging with the counsellor. Some also had specialist appointments and other interventions. I had no idea, because no one talked about it. I could have avoided a lot of guilt.
One year on, and my daughter is eight. Why did no one tell me about eight-year-old girls? I have been completely blindsided. The emotional outbursts, eye rolls, door slamming, and almost constant swinging between snuggly adorableness and rage at the injustice of whatever rule I have enforced. I feel like I am walking on eggshells most days. Again, I assumed I had done something to mess this parenting gig up. Maybe I wasn't strict enough - or I was too strict, and she was rebelling. No way this was normal behaviour, right? Of course it was. I only discovered this when I asked other friends with girls the same age, and was met with exclamations of joy that they weren't alone. The only people who weren't surprised were the parents who had older kids. They generally smirk and say something unhelpful like "Oh yeah, it starts at eight and gets worse from there. Wait until they are teenagers". Gee, thanks.
What I have learnt is that every single parent is facing some kind of challenge with their child at any point in time, whether it's behavioural issues, developmental delays, food allergies, medical issues or attitude problems. Unfortunately, no one is sharing. Why? Plenty of reasons. We are ashamed, we feel guilty, we think we messed up, we simply don't have time because we are all juggling a million things and, most of all, these problems are completely overwhelming. What I would give for my biggest challenge to be a baby that doesn't sleep through the night.
Some of you will read this and feel grateful that you aren't in this phase yet, while some of you will have teenagers and miss these years. Hopefully, some of you will read this and feel relief that you aren't alone.
- Christy Kidner is an editorial assistant at The Canberra Times.