We are being outwitted, outdone and outmanoeuvred by our baby

The job spec of being a new mum has changed again. Now I need to think about finicky things like discipline

Will the woeful wobblers turn into the truly terrible twos? Photograph: iStock

Will the woeful wobblers turn into the truly terrible twos? Photograph: iStock

 

It’s official: we have now entered the wobbler years. We can wave off the bottle steriliser, the baby formula, the night changes. We can use the proper cough mixture now.

But the job spec for parenthood has changed once again. Now, it’s not just about saving them from malnourishment, stopping them bumping into things and changing nappies.

Now I need to think about other sorts of finicky things, such as discipline.

Not building a rod for my own back by being too strict or lenient. Keeping a child sufficiently entertained. Not messing their personality up too much.

Because we are most definitely dealing with one of those now.

A personality.

We are being outwitted, outdone and outmanoeuvred on an hourly basis. The placid, sleeping newborn lulled us into a false sense of security.

She screeches like 17 ancient kettles coming to the boil all at once. She can stare unflinchingly into the eyes of strangers for a good minute

Whether by accident or design, our 12-month-old has the steely determination and defiance of a superhero. If she could read or write (or fiddle with a brown envelope or two) she could very easily run the country. She hasn’t yet learned the word, but everything is now met with a very firm no.

Ask her to move away from the TV stand, and she looks up as if to say, ‘You and whose army, saddo’? Try changing a nappy, and you need the skills of a hostage negotiator who moonlights in Cirque du Soleil. Feed her, brush her teeth – it’s all met with two tiny lips, sealed shut as though sewn together. She has begun making a play for the TV remote control and the smartphone: a battle that probably deserves a column of its own. She screeches like 17 ancient kettles coming to the boil all at once. She can stare unflinchingly into the eyes of strangers for a good minute.

More-than-once bitten

There is devilment there, too: the sort I could never have foreseen when she was a cooing, gurgling newborn. More than once she has bitten into B and I with her five front teeth, which are like tiny swords. We yelp; she smiles, delighted with herself. One morning, I thought she was nuzzling into my breast for a cuddle. Yep, that went well.

Watching her assert herself within our family has been one of the most spectacular things to watch unfold

B and I arrived in last night from a rare evening out. My brother had offered to babysit, and Isola was sound asleep in bed by the time we left. Yet when we turned the key in the door, we found her sitting on her uncle’s lap at 10.45pm, watching The Matrix. It was past her bedtime, and she full well knew it. She smiled up at us, knowing she had managed to bamboozle him into staying up (for his part, the uncle looked a bit shell-shocked). This is her favourite thing, getting to stay up late and hang with the grown-ups. She has worse FOMO than a 14-year-old without access to wifi. Sent to bed on time if there’s someone in the house to entertain, she is inconsolable.

Isola is inquisitive, socially curious and more wilful than we ever could have expected. It’s joyous in some ways, to see this little personality emerge; entertaining even. I love watching her negotiate every social situation and explore the boundaries within her little world. Watching her assert herself within our family has been one of the most spectacular things to watch unfold. But that doesn’t mean that it’s not utterly bloody exhausting.

Parenting styles

I can already feel my grasp on the whole situation slipping: I wonder if she knows it. I’ve begun researching various parenting styles – disciplinarian, permissive, uninvolved, authoritative – and wondering which one will get us through with the least blowback. Permissive parenting, which involves being somewhat loving or indulgent, with few strict guidelines, certainly sounds appealing, but will my determined 12-month-old respond? Or will the woeful wobblers turn into the truly terrible twos? Authoritarian parenting involves lots of rules and occasional punishment. Not sure I can bring myself to go there. Uninvolved parents tend to stay out of the way, while authoritative parents set strict rules and explain the reasons behind them.

The good thing is that I’m more used to facing these small challenges than I was a year ago

Perhaps we’ll go with a little from each column, but online research also indicates that at 12 months, Isola is too young for rules and discipline. And so we will thunder ahead with what we are doing: lots of cuddling and talks and steering her from trying to put her hand in the fire. She’ll get bored with the biting soon. We hope.

I’m only vaguely nostalgic for the months where she was happy enough to go with the flow, and was sufficiently entertained with a round or two of This Little Piggy (these days, you need a routine worthy of Sunday Night at the Palladium to pass muster).

The good thing is that I’m more used to facing these small challenges than I was a year ago. Isola may be wilful and determined, but on that front, I’ve got at least 40 years on her.

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