I seem to have spent a lot of time this year well, navel gazing really. For some this may seem indulgent or egotistical, but, it’s just where I am, mentally. I won’t apologise for it. It is what it is. I have often felt out of place, out of sync, out of myself. Unsure about what my purpose is. Not ‘in the world’ but simply ‘in my family’ or ‘in my community’. Where am I? What am I? Who the hell cares? Existential angst if you will. Yes. I am a child of the seventies who came of age in the nineties. Classic Generation X problems.
Thank heavens for my daughter. Even when she drives me up the wall, she grounds me. Today, we were perfectly in sync with each other. I dropped her off at playgroup – she always asks if I am staying today, but never a fuss when I leave, just a happy ‘see you later!’. We both need this time apart and when I return, it is with much happiness, as she shares her artwork and tells me what snack she’s eaten. So this was no different to usual, but afterwards, lunch, cosy cartoon cuddles on the sofa (ahem, slight snooze might have been had), crafting, doing something quietly with our hands, more lazy cuddles as she sat on my knee scoffing malted milk biscuits and drinking milk. Milky biscuity cuddles as we sat curled together in the chair that I nursed her in. I alternately rested my head back in the chair and closed my eyes, and let it rest forward on hers, inhaling her sweaty curls, like puppy dog ears. All day was like this. Our energies seemed to ebb and flow at the same times. We rode those waves together. All was harmonious from the calmness of holding each other quietly, to the energetic delights of dizzy-dancing together in the kitchen.
Do all mothers have this feeling when the house is empty? Mister is away and girl-child is at her Grandad’s and I have this empty house and all these hours. I knew it was coming and I’d thought of all the brilliant child-free things I was going to do: knitting, writing, cleaning, baking, studying, crafting, meditating, yoga, Pilates. But now I feel panicked by what to do first. All these things I dream of doing when I don’t have time to do them (well maybe I don’t dream of cleaning ha) and now I have the time, I don’t know where to begin.
Last night when I went to bed, I thought how strange it was not to hear the distant rumble of Mister watching a film downstairs. I went into girl-childs room and closed the curtains, looked at her bed, her things, wondered if she was asleep yet. In the night I awoke a couple of times thinking I could hear her sleepy sighs through the baby monitor.
I’ve always known that I like to be alone. I need to be. At times, I crave it so much it drives me mad to not just have it. So it’s a bit of a mind-boggler to find that when I am alone, I just miss them.
I read a post this morning which inspired me to write this. Beth’s honest post on why it’s okay if you don’t enjoy every minute of being a parent mainly focuses on the newborn phase, but I think it’s still relevant in this toddler phase. Every stage of being a parent has it’s challenges, at that moment that I opened the link, it just made me feel like I was not alone.
Mostly on this blog, I write about, and photograph the snippets of life that bring me joy. I sometimes write about parenthood and occasionally about Mum. Lately I’ve mainly being writing up my Happy Things lists and my instagram account reflects the same ethos. Why? Partially because we no longer have nap times and I’m too knackered in the evening to even think about anything else. But also, because I have to. I need to remind myself of those things because right now, I’m depressed. There. I said it*
Looking back on that first year of motherhood I can’t help experience a pang of regret. About all the ways I believe I failed my daughter, all the things I did wrong, the expectations I’d set for myself that were not achieved, the tears, the endless days at home alone, depressed, but unable to put it into words. I feel guilty about not enjoying it more (you *should* enjoy it, right?) I feel guilty about not being able to see the positives so clearly, because when I scan the photo library for evidence, there were some really fun times (albeit with unkempt hair and unwashed clothes). I began writing this blog (and simultaneously wearing red lipstick) as a catharsis, as a way to motivate myself to have things to write about (i.e. get out of the house), and as a way to have something positive to look back on. I wish I had started it much sooner, because, those early posts offer me some concrete evidence that it wasn’t all bad. Indeed, things got much better.
When I’m feeling low, I find it extremely difficult to write about anything apart from how rubbish I feel. So I blanket censor all of that stuff, because I worry about how family or friends might feel. I worry about the girl-child reading it one day and feeling upset or to blame. Frequently (daily), I wonder who my own mother really was – did she have these experiences? Is that why I get like this? Am I going to pass this on to my daughter? When I was about 8 years old, I saw my Mum through a crack in a door, crying. My Grandma was sat beside her, comforting her. I’d never seen my Mum cry before. To my knowledge she was the life and soul of the party, always encouraging me to get involved and make the most of life. As an adult, I miss her in every possible way. I miss her stories and I crave to know more about her. One of the reasons I began to write was to cope with losing my Mum in those early months. One of the reasons I kept writing was in case I died young and left any future children clueless as to what their mother thought, felt and experienced in life. So, I am going to try harder to write more honestly. I think it’s important for myself, my daughter, and for any struggling parent who (like I once did) stumbles across a blog post looking for some hope, some solidarity.
We are not alone.
*It’s like Voldemort. He whose name shall not be mentioned. Only the more I say it, the better I feel. Duh. Obvs, innit.
This has been a tough fortnight. For the first week, we decided on decorating our living room, which meant 8 days of us shift-swapping childcare / DIY during the daytime, and working together until 11pm every night. This is what stripping painted wallpaper off ancient plaster walls and not being able to find a plasterer in Easter week will drive you to. Hashtag Polyfilla. Amen to Grandad who stepped in with additional childcare over a few days too. Although they were long, hard days, I kind of enjoyed the task we were both working towards and the shared sense of achievement as we cracked open a beer at the end of the day.
Queen of all she survey’s
This amazing girl child of ours is fully immersed in the emotional rollercoaster of toddlerhood. Strong impulses, desires and really big feelings she doesn’t yet understand. It hasn’t been easy for her to have her main play area totally out of bounds. One day, as we headed back from the park, she began to cry uncontrollably. When I stopped and kneeled beside her to ask her what the matter was, she gasped between sobs that she didn’t want to go home because “the room is all messy and I want my toys back!” I felt awful. We always assumed she loved being outdoors above all, but it really brought home how much she valued our home as a safe place to play. It seems so obvious now I am writing it out.
Pretty scraps of vintage wallpaper – like buried treasure.
As well as the full on week of DIY-hell, the Easter holidays bring a relaxation of the usual daily rhythms. Having afforded myself additional chill-out tokens after the redecorating, I have not prioritised things like running, meditation, time outdoors or writing. While it’s nice at first to just go with the flow and chill out (especially after the week of DIY mayhem – did I mention it?) I know that without these activities my stress levels have gradually crept up to the point where I no longer have room for my own big feelings, nevermind my daughter’s. In the last week I’ve cried several times, shouted and snapped at my family, and had to retreat to my room twice. I feel like I am failing her when she needs me most.
And so begins the negative self-talk. The pessimistic chatterbox sitting on my shoulder commenting on all my failings, reinforcing all my insecurities and undermining any attempts to turn the day around or look on the bright side of life. If I’ve learned anything this last two years, it’s how to recognise that little blighter sooner rather than later. And that sleep is King. On Saturday, Mister took the reins and I retreated to my room. I bathed and then I slept. Then I went to bed early and slept some more. I awoke feeling stronger again. More able to brush that little demon off my shoulder. Not perfect, but trying to be more compassionate to myself and to others. And accepting that whatever I’m doing, I’m doing my best, in this moment. And on the way to making our home nice, we might get our hands dirty and drop a few other balls along the way.
Juicy blossoms .
So we begin the week with a new resolve to nurture ourselves (it isn’t just me feeling the pressure, obvs), with our weekly groups to look forward to, and maybe a wee camping trip next weekend. Onwards and ever upwards.
How do you find holidays affect your family’s mojo? Which ways have you found to cope with your child’s toddlerhood? Are you looking forward to next weekend already?! Please leave a comment below – I’d love to hear from you!
(For tomorrow, of course… Don’t anybody say I’m not ahead of the game, oh no!)
For years I bucked against Mothers Day (and Father’s Day and Valentines Day et al) on the grounds that it was just an over-comercialised money making opportunity for fat cats. Then I became a mother, and now I get it. What it really means. (Also, how bad was that of me to not get it before. Sorry Mum and Dad.) I don’t mean I get how lovely it is to get cards and flowers and stuff, or that I wasn’t grateful before. But now I really get how important it is to feel that all the dirty mothering you do, the daily grind, all that being a mother involves – literally, the blood sweat and tears, is recognised.
In the spirit of self-love I want to celebrate this part of myself which although I found incredibly difficult to settle into. I want to celebrate the fact that, yes, I am doing a pretty good job. It’s no underestimation to say, I think it’s been the making of me (who’d have though it?)
Mothering Sunday is traditionally a Christian celebration which began around the 17th Century. It was the second Sunday in Lent and it was an opportunity to celebrate the “mother church” and for families to come together to be with their families. It had also been known as Simnel Sunday or Refreshment Sunday in recognition of the traditional Easter cake which may have been baked, and a lessening of lenten austerity in celebration of fellowship and family. My favourite alternative name though, is Rose Sunday, for the posies of wild flowers that would have been collected by people as they travelled home and then presented to all women in the church congregation. I can just imagine the churches festooned with beautiful spring flowers. I love that the flowers would have been given to all the women in the congregation too. You don’t need to have birthed a baby to be able to Mother somebody. Sisters, aunties, friends and neighbours all contribute to childcare in communities here and around the world. And what adult woman has not cried upon the shoulder of a friend when their own mother was far away or no longer with them?
Finally, I’ve been feeling recently, that all the residual teenage cynicism has left me feeling a bit bereft of celebrations in life and I intend to change that! So, any festival that is essentially based on family, cakes and flowers has got to have a big thumbs up from now on!
Thank you to all the Mums who have mothered me. You know who you are, you beautiful bosomed creatures! X
I’d love to know if you celebrate Mother’s Day, and if so, how will you express your thanks this weekend? Do you celebrate your just own mother or “other mothers” who have been a big part of your life? Leave comments below!
As soon as you become pregnant, you are faced with a raft of choices. Home birth or Hospital? Breastfeeding or formula? Babywearing or souped-up buggy? Cloth nappies or disposable? Schedule or no-schedule? Puree or baby led weaning? Cry-it-out or rock all night long (not in the pre-baby sense of the phrase, sadly….) You know of what I speak, friends. It’s a ‘expert’ driven parenting jungle out there. I reckon most parents I know use the Jumble Method*, where all choices exist on a spectrum, and are a compromise between ideals and what works in reality for each family’s unique circumstances. In other words – you pick and choose the bits that work for you and your baby. Like our parents did I suppose, only they had fewer books and ‘experts’ so they instinctively knew that they were the experts when it came to their own children.
When I was younger, I felt like when my time came, I would be a hippy kind of a mother, though I’m quite sure I had no idea what that entailed apart from breastfeeding. When I became pregnant my main focus was the birth, but with regards to parenting, I was fairly open minded. I wanted to breastfeed. I wanted to cloth nappy. I wanted to make home made food for my baby (I didn’t even know what baby led weaning was…). But I wasn’t going to kill myself trying. Everything else was flexible. I’d heard about attachment parenting at pregnancy yoga classes, but if I’m honest, at the time I thought it all sounded a bit TOO hippy and self-sacrificial. I had no idea how I would feel about a schedule, or sleep training or anything, but I was prepared to try anything once. Even leaving my baby to cry all night if that was what was going to work.
After the first few weeks, I was desperate for sleep, so I ordered the Baby Whisperer and spoke to my friend, who told me to establish a bedtime routine as soon as possible, which we did. It went quite well, and we never even needed to leave her to cry, and I was convinced the baby whisperer was a magic formula. (Also, I’m a sucker for both non-fiction and being the member of a club. Weird, I know. I’d like to make badges, like the ones I made for my Strawberry Shortcake club, 1985. I was Strawb. Obvs.) Then she hit 12 weeks, and she woke once, then twice, then eventually she was waking hourly. The health visitor had warned us about co-sleeping, so we didn’t tell her that we let her fall asleep on my chest, with me propped up on loads of pillows. I was obsessed with what she ‘should be doing’ according to the baby whisperer, babycentre, all-and-sundry.
This “sleep regression” (thanks, Interweb) went on for about two months, during which time, I set myself the end-point of her 6 month birthday, where ‘They’ assured me she would start sleeping straight through. Like magic. I knew it sounded too good to be true, so gradually I think I stopped trying to control it all. In that time, my Dad said to me “adults couldn’t go thought the pain they have to endure as babies, and they can’t even tell you what’s wrong” as I sat sobbing in desperation while his partner rocked the little one to sleep upstairs. That was when the penny really dropped, that whatever I did, I was her Mum, so it was going to be okay. That sometimes, all she really needed was cuddles. 6 months came and went, and I knew I was in a much better place mentally and emotionally, even though she was still waking several times a night, sometimes spending most of the night next to me in the bed, sometimes being breastfed back to sleep. When she’s sleeping badly or I’m tired and everything seems hideous, I just think to myself “I’m 36 and I would still like a cuddle from my Mum when I’m stressed” and the thought that one day she might not need the cuddles, or that I might not be here to cuddle her is the extra bit of rope I need to get me out of hideous and into compassion again.
Through reading blogs mainly, I have learned that much of what I eventually arrived at instinctively is called gentle parenting. I would like to read more about gentle / attachment / natural parenting to get the full scoop on the benefits and historical perspectives. But equally, I’m a bit wary of all parenting books and so-called experts now. It only takes a few words to convince you that either you are superior or a failure, and neither of those states are healthy for the parent child-relationship. I kind of don’t even want to label myself ‘gentle parent’ – I’d be setting myself up in all sorts of ways, if further down the line, circumstances change. Being the obstinate mule that I am, I’d not want to follow my instinct, for fear of letting down ‘the club’. Besides, if my birth plan taught me anything, it’s that life sometimes bowls you a massive googly, but as long as you all end up healthy and happy then it doesn’t really matter how you choose to play it.
What are your thoughts on parenting methods / experts etc.? Did you find them helpful or not?
*It’s my title, okay. I coined it. Let that be on the record. Mainly cos jumble is my favourite word of the moment. JUMBLE! JUMBLE! So many happy connotations and memories, don’t you think?!
“… a mother’s journey [is] a ‘letting go’ process. But in a sense, she never really let’s go, and can never quite return to the woman she was. Once she opens herself to her child, something within her stays open. She has changed profoundly and for her whole life.”
People who know me, know that I can rant. My anger at things usually comes out as a rant, a door slamming. Or I internalise it (more than is probably healthy), because I know it’s not socially acceptable to behave like a demented teenager.
The last couple of weeks, I’ve felt more angry than I should, because of an off-the-cuff comment from an old friend, who told me her little one napped for 3 hours every day. I laughed it off, and of course, I know my friend is lucky, and I’m not angry with her. But I still felt livid inside, and it seethed – yes, seethed – all day. Every time I thought about it for the next few days, I got really cross about it. Why can’t my baby sleep? I wasn’t even that fussed about the nap thing before that. I was quite stoical – unusual for me, but I was just dealing with it. Accepting it for what it was. A temporary situation that will end. Eventually.
We are advocates of gentle parenting styles – not because we planned it. We tried other things, but the things that we felt most comfortable with, and that worked for our family – well, it turns out, they had a name (of course…) So I try to be empathic towards her, I try to show her that Mummy can meet her upsets with kindness and patience, so that she learns kindness and patience. But lets keep this thing real. Obviously our home is not constantly bathed in the golden light of harmonious happenings. I get cross and frustrated, it’s just part of my character, but being empathic certainly helps to reduce that. But today. I was so cross that she would not nap in her cot. So I put her in the pram and pushed her up the road until she fell asleep. And as I stomped, I was angry with everything and everyone. I cursed the puddles. I had imaginary arguments with innocent passers by. I threw the groceries into the basket as if they were to blame. I dared everybody – ANYBODY – to cross me. Please, just cross me, and then I can shout at you. I can swear at you. I just want to release this vitriol onto anybody as long as it isn’t somebody I love. Nobody crossed me. I was met only with manners and patience today. So I cried instead. And wished for a hug from my Mum. And that’s what made me stop being angry. What always stops me. This baby girl just needs a hug from her Mum too.
Watching: Breaking Bad, Season Two. Why doesn’t he just accept the help offered by the old grey matter friends. He thinks he’s doing the right thing by his family but really they will be very very cross when they find out. Irritating but compulsive and darkly funny.
Enjoying: Getting to bed at a reasonable hour and reading. Going for walks with my girl. Its still the only time she would nap, so I have seized it and downloaded run keeper. Plus it’s been really crisp and sunny, and it makes me feel good. Harder to do the last few days though, what with these extra wakings making me feel… Ugh!
Reading: Toddlercalm and River Cottage Baby and Toddler Cookbook. Look, I’m no fool. I know there’s no magic solution to the trials of parenthood, but that’s what I’m enjoying about this book. It’s about adjusting your expectations rather than trying to fight nature. One of the early chapters, on sleep (the holy grail of parenting books, surely?) in essence is saying, “this is what the majority of babies do. It’s normal.” I can stop asking myself what it is I’m doing wrong, and just try to understand it. Hey, whatever works for each family, right? As for River Cottage – I ordered this to give me some inspiration for family meals we could all enjoy, but to be honest I was a bit disappointed with the recipes, especially after all the reviews on Amazon. But the chapters preceding the recipes are really interesting, so I’m keeping it.
Not enjoying quite so much: The additional wake up calls! After my last sleep post, she did settle down but now she’s started to wake again. I used to breastfeed her at around 4am but now that doesn’t settle her and she jolts awake whenever I go to put her in the cot. The last three nights we’ve been awake for 2 hours straight with constant crying. She’s had cuddles, rocking, pacing, night lights on, night lights off, singing, warm milk, calpol, repeated bedtime routine, our bed, the nursing chair. All fails – she just seems to eventually fall asleep wherever she is (usually in my arms though), after about 2hours of crying. Today she is totally pooped (as am I) and grouchy. And no, she still isn’t napping.
Making it lovely: The bedroom. I finally ‘archived’ the pile of boxes in the bedroom and gave it a tidy up (read: shoved everything into the eaves cupboards. Out of sight…). I also replaced the really manky bedspread with a new one from Sainsburys. It’s not as big but was very warm *sweaty face*. It also makes going to bed earlier feel like a treat instead of just that place we dump our adult shit and crash out.
Eating: Healthier this week. I’m trying to set a positive example to D, so that means healthy snacks or no snacks and eating with her at lunchtimes. It’s certainly a good motivator but still hard to keep from snaffling the odd digestive or jammy toast when I’m feeling tired or cold. Ah… cosy comfort!
Over and out! Off to push the child out in the horrid rainy day of awfulness now, in the hope she will sleep. Zeds.