Real Talk: Parents’ Challenges In The Early Years
Anyone who’s been a parent will know that the first four years of a child’s life are the craziest, full of amazing moments that leave you speechless—or wanting to pull your hair out. But somehow you make it through. Before you know it, that little baby is potty-trained, eating by herself, and heading off to school. You don’t know whether to be surprised at how you made it this far or pat yourself on the back for your achievement.
The Swaddle chatted with some moms and dads to ask them – honestly – what those early years were like. Ankush Jain is a lawyer, with a 3-year-old son, Vivek. Sonali Sharma is a working mom to 6-year-old Shreya. Mitali and Ajay Shah, a full-time mom and an entrepreneur, talk about their 4-year-old daughter Vrinda. And Hemant and Simone Brar, a wealth coach and professor, reflect on raising Krish, 5, and Zain, 2.
The Swaddle (TS): What were some of the challenges you and your partner faced in the early years?
Hemant: Our older son is autistic, so that has been quite a challenge. The main difficulty with autism is that the child is unable to communicate or express himself in words, so when he wants to say something he resorts to shouting. To cope with that there’s speech therapy where the child is coaxed to speak. The other thing that happens is all physical sensation is exaggerated for autistic children, so that needs to be taken care of too, and occupational therapy helps with that. Both kinds of therapy are pretty long-term, so working around your schedules to take your child to the therapist, to ensure that he does his exercise, that’s the tough part. And with therapy it’s also a financial drain, so that’s a challenge too.
Sonali: The main challenge was giving our daughter enough time. We’re both working parents so we would leave her at a crèche during the day and meet her only in the evenings. She also fell sick often, so we would get pretty worried about her health.
Ankush: My son was born abroad, so when we moved back to India, adjusting here was quite a challenge.
Mitali: As Vrinda grows up she’s taking more of my time and she’s now a whole other person, not just a little child. You can’t just plan out things for her and how she’s going to spend her day. She has her own ideas about things. It’s as good as a new adult moving in with you. The entire dynamic of the family changes, and that’s a big challenge. And I think for women the question of whether to stay at home with your child or get back to work is always a challenge. You’re constantly questioning if you’re doing the right thing.
TS: How did you get through the tough times?
Mitali: Having my parents around really helped because Vrinda has really warmed up to them. We’ve been one lucky couple in that sense. We hear of kids who live in a joint family, but still won’t stay with their grandparents without the parents around. We live separately, but Vrinda is really attached to my mom, and very happy to stay over at her grandparents’. Her personality has really helped us get through the tough times. She’s really understood me and knows that I’m a moody person and doesn’t take offense when I’m angry.
Hemant: When Zain was born, Karan had someone his own age to interact with, so that has helped quite a bit. I think as a parent to an autistic child and, perhaps, even as a parent in general, being patient is really important. But, since we’re human beings that’s not always easy. (Simone, his wife, laughs.) But I think what helps is an understanding between you and your partner, when one notices that the other is losing patience, he or she steps in. As long as you can take turns at being patient, it’s all good.
TS: What advice would you give to parents-to-be?
Hemant: Expect the unexpected. Be ready to grow with your child. There are a lot of things you can learn from observing your child—so much you can learn about human behaviour. Being a parent is really a learning experience.
Sonali: Take it one day at a time. You have to handle every situation as it comes. There’s no rulebook; it’s all about doing what’s right for your child at the time. And you can never be fully prepared, so don’t attempt it. And while I know it’s easier said than done, I’d say, have kids only when you know you’re ready to be a parent.
Ankush: Don’t over-think things and overdo the research. There’s too much information available now, so it’s easy to be overwhelmed. Know that you’re not the first people in the world who are having children. It’s been happening for centuries! So, take it as it comes.
Mitali: Go with the flow, don’t be too uptight about getting everything right and doing things a certain way. Every mistake is okay, every day is okay and, eventually, everything is okay. Just let things be and don’t unnecessarily pressurize yourself. Enjoy what you have, because the time really does fly, and don’t try to turn your kid’s progress into an achievement.
TS: What has surprised you most about your child?
Mitali: Vrinda has a really wonderful and understanding personality. Even when she was a baby, she would wake up earlier than us and play quietly by herself. It’s really surprised me how she has learnt to work around us and understand us as people.
Simone: Sometimes Karan’s powers of observation really surprise me. He has a fantastic memory, too!
Hemant: Well, boys start early. (Laughs.) If my son is interacting with a couple, he’d always rather be carried by the woman than the man. I hadn’t expected that!
TS: If your kid could describe you in three adjectives, what would they be?
Mitali: Vrinda says, “Mummy, you’re a sweetie. You’re really pretty.” And when she says thank you, it’s a really heartfelt thank you, and you know she’s really happy!
Hemant: We force Karan to do a lot of exercises [to help with his autism], so I think he looks at us as disciplinarians and people who constantly say no to him.
Ajay: I don’t really want to say because she says some really sweet things, and it’s a bit embarrassing. (After some coaxing) She calls me sweetie, handsome, and awesome, sometimes.
Names have been changed to protect privacy.
Real Talk is a sometimes-series that shares real stories directly from real parents. So you know – whatever crazy, happy, awful, weird, funny parenting experience has happened to you today – you’re not alone! If you would like to share your parenting experiences with us, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.