There’s too much comparison in parenting. Way too much judgement. And not enough acknowledgement of the fact that sometimes we all have it hard.
This morning, as I was brushing my daughter’s hair before school, I spotted a wriggly little companion embedded within. Every parent of school aged children dreads such a discovery. I sighed as I contemplated brushing my daughter’s thick, curly tresses with that tiny comb, rang the school to say she was going to be late and reached for the head lice treatment (always a spare bottle in the cupboard).
An hour later she was treated, showered and ready to be delivered to school. The whole episode got me thinking – what if I had needed to go to work this morning? What if I had an important meeting or a non-negotiable deadline? Would I have sent my daughter to school and spent the day at work envisioning her scratching her head, while feeling acutely guilty about it? Or would I kill the lice and be late for work – having to deal with the wrath of my boss and the extra strain placed on the day by my tardiness? A head lice crisis is just one of the two million unexpected disasters working parents have to juggle with their jobs.
So today I felt lucky. Lucky to be at home and able to deal swiftly with the little blighters in my kid’s hair. And, as I so often do, I felt a deep surge of respect for working mums.
In fact, I was doubly lucky today. My husband, who works shifts, was off and able to entertain our toddler while I deloused his sister. Having my husband on hand to deal with a poonami, prevent my son from trying to lick the splashes of oily head lice treatment off the floor and keep him from throwing toy soldiers at my daughter’s sodden head was a real bonus.
Today I didn’t have it hard at all.
But sometimes my husband’s shift work is hard. Like when he has to work on Christmas Day. Or when one of the kids falls ill in the middle of the night while he’s on shift and I don’t know what to do.
Sometimes I find being a stay at home mum hard. Sometimes the monotony and isolation can be depressing. Some days I long for adult conversation and the career I almost had. I crave to be more than I am- to be valued, to contribute financially. Granted, I don’t always feel that way. Most days, I love my role.
But sometimes it’s hard.
Assumption circulates us all like vultures. You may look at me and my family and think I have it all. Indeed I am very blessed, but things haven’t always been easy. You wouldn’t know how I started my parenting journey as a single parent. Or that I should actually have three children in my arms, but there is one missing because she only lived for a day.
It saddens me when I see working mums and stay at home mums pitch against each other. Or when I hear breast feeders and formula feeders clash. Our parenting journeys – be they paved with our choices, our necessities or both – are unique to each one of us. These tapestries can only be fully understood by the people weaving them. At times we feel invincible. And sometimes we feel failure, guilt and shame. However rosy things may look from the outside, it always comes down to that.
Sometimes we all have it hard. When we glance sideways at another parent, all we really need to know is that sometimes they struggle too. Anything more is assumption, which in turn can lead to comparison and unfair judgement.
Sometimes, as soon as your eyes spring open, you just know you’re going to have a rubbish day. A little black cloud forms above you and follows you round relentlessly, showering you with irritating drizzle. Your patience didn’t wake up with you, but short temper and that feeling of being one step away from snapping certainly did.
The kids’ voices seem to be a few octaves higher than usual. The baby just refuses to nap. Everyone wants a piece of you (as is always the case but today, for some reason, it just gets to you). Nobody listens to a word you say. You feel invisible and frustrated. For some reason, it’s all grating on you far more than normal.
Parenting dark days. They happen to us all.
When I have one of these days I attempt to take the following steps to get through it:
Remind Yourself It’s A Bad Day, Not A Bad Life
Believe me, I know the ‘I’ve had enough of this shit!’ feeling very well. My poor husband has heard about it often enough too.
However, I always try to remind myself that it’s just a bad day and every single human being from Beyonce to Barack Obama has them. Like every other day, it consists of 24 hours and they will eventually pass.
Nothing is permanent – good days, bad days, happiness and unhappiness. It’s an ongoing cycle. Since I’ve been able to step back and observe this cycle rather than get all het up about the bad days, I’m more able to cope with them.
Try And Laugh Through It
On crap days, I often call my husband at work and sing Adam Sandler’s song from The Wedding Singer down the phone at him. The one where he sings, ‘I’m on my knees, pretty, pretty please, put a bullet in my head!’ Never heard it? Listen to it here.
Laughter is a wonderful healing force. When you’re being pulled in a hundred different directions, dodging tantrums and explosive nappies galore you’ve just got to laugh. It really helps, I promise.
Hug Someone You Love
Hugging releases oxytocin (often called the ‘bonding’ hormone. That same one that made you feel amazing just after giving birth). This helps lift your mood, reduces stress and anxiety and lowers your heart rate. Which, let’s face it, is all you want when in the thick of a bad day.
It doesn’t matter who you hug, as long as it’s someone you love – your kids, your partner or even a pet. According to research, the hug needs to last at least 20 seconds to have a benefit to your health and emotions.
Also, hugging a bar or chocolate or a bottle of wine doesn’t count. Sorry.
Phone A Friend
Rant. Cry. Just let it out. Speak to someone who understands and who has been there. Mum friends are great for this. And they won’t mind, because the chances are tomorrow they’ll be the one calling you in tears.
Have Something To Look Forward To
I find having something to look forward to enormously helpful when I just need to make it through the day. Even something small like a glass of wine, a bar of chocolate or a long bath and a nap. It propels me forward, enabling me to greet the end of a bad day with a grateful sigh and then just let it go.
Towards the end of a very bad day a few weeks ago, my son decided to throw his dinner all over the floor. Followed by his drink. What had been couscous was now a gloopy mess all over the floor, waiting for me to clean up. To be fair, this kind of thing happens most mealtimes but on this particular day I was not equipped to deal with it.
The whole day of tantrums, whinging and demands from both children had been building up to this point – a crescendo of frustration and internal anger. I just lost my shit. He cried. I cried. Then I felt like a mega bitch.
I had to remind myself, as I snuggled him extra close and said sorry, I’m only human and sometimes I lose my temper. Sometimes it all gets too much. Beating myself with a large stick about it isn’t going to help anyone.
If a friend rang me and told me that exact same story, would I say, ‘Crikey, you’re a rubbish mum aren’t you?’ No of course not. I wouldn’t even think it because I’d understand exactly how she felt.
Sometimes we just need to forgive ourselves, let it go and move on.
Tomorrow is another day. Every now and then we just have to be thankful for that.
You’ve been an intruder in my head for almost eight years now. Lurking in the darkest corners of my mind, you were wholly uninvited. Yet there you fester, spewing out your spiteful taunts as you grow on a diet of my own self-loathing. You drip feed me your poison until you’ve clouded my judgement and I’m unable to think straight.
And if you’re not whispering, you’re flinging your insults at me in full audio with surround sound. I can bloody hear you ok? There’s no need to shout.
I’ve tried to ignore you for long enough. I thought not responding to you would eventually make you go away. But I can see now that’s never going to happen.
I’ll let you in on a little secret – your cruel words and jibes often keep me awake at night. You’ve made me cry more often than I care to admit (I bet you love that, don’t you?) If causing me to criticise and loathe myself if your objective, let me tell you, you were succeeding.
See I’ve decided that if we are to share this bustling and somewhat cluttered mind of mine, we need to find a way to co-exist peacefully. I didn’t invite you in but you seem to have pulled up a chair at the table nonetheless.
Perhaps we can become friends of sorts? Whatever happens, I’m going to stand up to you from now on.
It’s time we talked.
In the interests of friendship, you can call me Aims and I’ll call you MG. Seeing as you have done most of the talking so far, it’s my turn. Friendship is a two way street after all.
So listen up MG, here’s the deal…
I’m only human
Perhaps you made a mistake when you invaded my headspace. Were you aiming for a robot, a machine or a superhero perhaps? Was your GPS was slightly skewed the day you selected my head as your new residence?
I appreciate your desire for me to be perfect, but please know that I am not Super Woman. I’m just a human. In case you don’t know much about us humans let me enlighten you on a couple of things. We breathe. And we make mistakes. Both are necessary and inevitable for us.
I’m learning, but it would help enormously if you refrained from doling out the criticism quite so often.
Yes, I just yelled again. They’re experts at pushing my buttons those kids. Thank you for bringing it to my attention and don’t worry, I do feel bad about it. I am trying not to yell. But sometimes it happens because, you guessed it, I’m not a machine. I can’t just programme myself to behave in a certain way, no matter how much I wish I could.
If you see me making the same mistakes over and over then feel free to call me out. Otherwise, zip it.
I’m doing my best
Parenting is an ongoing learning process and there’s no right way to do it. I’m doing my best ok? My best may not be perfect but it’s all I’ve got. Are you with me, MG?
I have feelings and needs too. I need to look after and nurture myself in order to do the same for my kids (haven’t you ever been on a plane? Don’t you know what they tell you about the oxygen masks??)
So if you see me sitting down to read a book while the kids entertain themselves for a while, do me a favour and just leave me to it will you? Thanks.
I appreciate your concern
Truly I do. Your presence in my head reinforces the fact that I care. I love. And I just want to raise happy, well-balanced kids. So I’m going to be gracious and thank you for that.
I’ll admit it – sometimes the things you say to me are justified and I’m grateful to you for giving me the opportunity to change and grow.
However, for the most part your guilt-baiting is wholly unnecessary. It all seems to be a big game to you with my self-destruction being your main prize. That’s not very nice is it MG?
Can you please try to tone it down a bit and not sweat the small stuff?
Since you shacked up in my head you delight in divulging what you think I’m doing wrong. You’re not shy about expressing your opinion are you?
Well let me tell you something dear MG, I’m also doing a whole heap of stuff right. And from now on I’m going to stand up for myself and shout back. You may think it’s amusing to point out all the stuff you think I suck at, but from now on I’ll be ready to fire back my successes to you. You’ve bullied me for long enough MG.
The kids are fine you see. I love them and they know that. It’s just you who doesn’t.
I no longer do the comparison thing
If you’re heading down Comparison Road, you may as well do a u-turn because I don’t go there anymore. So stop telling me about what everyone else is doing and why they’re better parents than me. I’m not interested.
These days the only person I compare myself with is myself. I’m my own yardstick.
So I take your Facebook and your Pinterest and I raise you one. Let me tell you a secret. It’s not real. There, I hope you feel happier now.
A little perspective, if you please
Yes the kids are watching TV. Let’s have a little perspective check shall we? Are they watching Freddy Kreuger? No. Have they been watching it all day? Also no. So just calm down will you?
Yes the kids have just enjoyed a sugary treat. Am I spoon feeding them sugar from the packet all day? No I am not.
I mean the other day you had me feeling bad about the fact most of the batteries in my son’s toys don’t work. This is a first world problem MG. He doesn’t even care and I doubt he’ll be calling up a therapist about it when he’s older.
Sometimes I need to work when the kids are around. That’s ok, they’ll live through it I’m sure. It may even do them some good to see me perched in front of my laptop, working on other things.
I’m not sure if you know anything about friendship so let me enlighten you. Friendship is a two way street with honesty at its core.
So there you have it MG, my truth.
I’m sorry if my resolve to finally stand up for myself has caused you some discomfort. You seem a little bewildered. If you feel the need to leave I won’t stop you.
But if you stay and actually listen to what I have to say, perhaps we can work together in creating a more productive headspace? Less clutter and more work flows, that kind of thing?
There are fussy eaters and then there are FUSSY EATERS. My daughter is off the scale when it comes to fussiness and this has led to years of worry, frustration, tears (mine and hers) and wine drinking (mine not hers). If your child is also a FUSSY EATER then you will likely recognise all of the following:
1 You spend a large part of your day boiling pasta
Beige food is always a winner. Colourful food is not well received. Unless it’s tomato ketchup of course.
2 Bread is the answer to everything
Unless you have the actual audacity to add butter and a filling to it, therefore attempting to create a vile and evil object with one terrifying purpose: the torture of your child (this is also known as a sandwich).
3 You’re used to the confused look you get from the staff at McDonalds when you ask for a burger without the burger
‘Yes, you heard right, just the bun’.
4 When someone starts telling you they know a recipe ‘all kids will love’, you stop them mid-sentence
Does this wonder recipe have a sauce? It does? Then you are WRONG my friend.
5 You’ve had a major breakdown at the kitchen table at least once
In our house, this incident is referred to as ‘tuna-pasta-gate’ and we can laugh about it now (honest).
6 You do a Mexican wave with your partner, the baby, the cat and the goldfish when your child tries something new and doesn’t spit it out in disgust
7 When your child proclaims that a meal you made ‘tastes good’, you consider applying for Masterchef
8 The most well-fed person in your house is the kitchen bin
9 You promised yourself (and your mother-in-law) that you would never cook different meals for different family members
Because, according to MIL in her rose-tinted haze of perfection, her seven children diligently ate whatever they were given without one word of complaint. She can’t understand where you went wrong (but she’ll damn well try).
In any case, you end up cooking three different dishes at every mealtime anyway – just for an easy life.
10 Chips count as one of your child’s Five-A-Day
Potatoes are indeed vegetables after all.
11 You’ve eaten out at the same restaurant since your child started weaning
You never need to look at the menu, and you as you step in the door the chef has already started cooking your meals.
12 You dread going on play-dates when the host has offered to make lunch or tea
Before attending said play date, the host makes suggestions as to what she could cook for the kids. After the 23rd ‘No she won’t eat that,’ you settle on pizza.
In the end this is rejected by your child anyway because ‘the cheese tastes weird’. Your child then informs the host that her food is ‘disgusting’. You realise that you will never be invited over there again.
13 You are at a loss to understand why school baked beans are happily accepted, yet Heinz (or any other brand available to you at home) are not
What the hell are they putting in their beans and where can I get some?
14 You smile and nod when another mum brags about how little Toby eats ‘anything and everything placed in front of him’
But really, you just want to punch her in the face.
15 In the end, you don’t care what they eat as long as they eat it
16 You stress, worry and berate yourself for years over your child’s limited diet
Then one day you remember Sarah from school who ate nothing but beans-on-toast and pizza for seven years. She’s still alive and kicking. Reassuring.
From that minute onwards, whenever your child declares that your cooking is revolting you just shrug and pour another glass of wine.
When you have children you shed your old skin like a snake and Motherhood is woven into the new one. While your role is to care for, teach and nurture your children, you realise you have become a student again too.
Motherhood’s lessons can be brutal – she takes no prisoners. It’s not for sissies, that’s for sure. But after a while, when Motherhood has held your hand through all the joys, stresses and frustrations she has brought you, you begin to realise just how much you’ve learned and how thankful you are that Motherhood was the teacher.
Here are ten things I have learned since becoming a mum:
1 Who I Really Am
When I look back to my pre-children days, I can now see that I had no idea who I was and what I wanted from life. I went with the flow, my strengths and weaknesses were never truly tested in the way they are when Motherhood has her finger on the pulse.
Motherhood appeared on the scene like a full length mirror. She said, ‘Have a good look. This is who you really are, like it or not’. In all honesty, I didn’t much like a lot of what I saw. But thanks to Motherhood’s patience and determination I was able to change and start transforming into the person my kids deserve me to be.
I’m not perfect, I never will be. Who is? Motherhood has highlighted my imperfections and allowed be to accept and forgive them and then most importantly – work with them.
2. To Appreciate the Small Things
I always thought the defining moments in life were the big ones. Graduating, landing a good job, buying a house, going on a dream holiday and so on. I was never really present before I had kids, my mind always racing ahead to covet the next big prize.
Motherhood has taught me that the most joy can be found in the everyday moments. Moments you don’t plan and work towards. Moments such as my kids laughing and playing in the paddling pool. Or watching my husband piggy back them around the garden before they all collapse in laughter. A sleeping baby snuggled on my chest. The sound of my toddler saying, ‘Wuv woo Mummy!’ Singing and dancing around the kitchen to questionable 90s music. That sort of thing.
Life is a tapestry woven together by moments like these. The thread interlacing each moment is thin and delicate. If you’re not careful, if your mind is somewhere else, you can blink and miss these beautiful moments altogether.
3. To Appreciate ‘Me-Time’
Before children, I didn’t really have any concept of what ‘me-time’ was. Yes there was work of course but there were also weekend lie-ins, holidays, long baths, pamper days and lazy times spent doing what I wanted to do. Motherhood claimed all that with a cheeky grin and a knowing wink. For some time it is gone.
What she has given back instead, is a deep appreciation and gratitude for any limited amount of me-time I am offered. This can be something as ridiculous as a trip to Tesco alone. If I ever have a spare hour to go to Costa and read my book, I savour every second in the same way I’d savour each mouthful of a decadent chocolate cake.
Not a moment of me-time is wasted nowadays; each one being deeply appreciated.
4. Love Never Dies
My second daughter died at one day old. I worried for a long time that as time ticked on I would lose my limited memories of her, that my feelings would fade because our time together was so short. I can honestly say this hasn’t happened. If I close my eyes now, more than four years after her birth and passing, I can still see her little face, smell her hair and feel her tiny body in my arms. The love that passed between us is still as strong and fierce today as it was during the hours she lived.
Motherhood teaches you that love is eternal. It never fades. It leaves an imprint and shapes your soul. However painful that love may have been it stays forever, reaching out to you in your darkest hours like a candle which can never be blown out.
When you become a mum, you need to grow some patience and fast. This may be fine if you were a patient person to begin with but if, like me, you are naturally impatient it can be quite a task.
I’m not going to lie, I still struggle with patience but it has become much easier as the years chug on.
6. A New Relationship With Failure
I used to do anything to avoid failure. This often involved never trying in the first place. However, within motherhood failure is a daily given. I make daily mistakes and yes, I do fail as I learn. But my love for my kids makes the failures worthwhile.
Motherhood has taught me that when you truly love something (or in this case someone) you can accept the failures as you progress on your journey. Failure and success are intertwined; they are part of the same big picture. Failure is nothing to be scared of. It’s part of life.
By forgiveness, I mean the ability to forgive myself for my flaws and mistakes. Motherhood digs them up and exposes them in the most ruthless manner. You must learn the art of self-forgiveness if you want to survive.
We all make parenting mistakes, that’s a daily given. Discovering the art of learning from them, forgiving yourself and moving on is crucial.
8. To Give Up The Quest For Balance
Forget balance. It’s just not possible. Motherhood has taught me that. Furthermore, in trying to achieve it you just make yourself more miserable.
We all have too many balls in the air at any given point. Motherhood often whispers in my ear, ‘Just drop one. It’s ok. You can pick it up tomorrow.’
You know what? She’s right. I can’t maintain all the balls I’m juggling all the time. Trying to do so is a waste of time and energy. Instead, I’ll just do my best in the knowledge that my best is all I can do.
9. Silence is Golden
Motherhood is loud. If it’s not irritating singing toys with flashing lights or children crying, shouting and screaming, it’s the Peppa Pig theme tune rampaging unchecked through your head.
Someone’s always talking to you, vomiting on you or fighting with their sibling. Peace, quiet and calm quickly become extinct and it’s not until that happens you realise how much you miss them.
Motherhood makes you appreciate the old adage, ‘silence is golden’. And when the toys have temporarily stopped beeping and the only sound escaping from the kids is the gentle sound of their sleepy chests rising and falling, you bask in the silence as if it were golden rays of sunshine. Bliss.
Soak it up and reel it in; when you’re a mother silence is the new black.
There’s no initiation to motherhood and certainly no easing you in gently. From day one your strength is tested to the limit. How much sleep deprivation can you handle? Can you cope with the hormones and changes to your body while looking after a new and fully dependant being?
And as they grow older it doesn’t let up. Toddler tantrums, potty training nightmares, eating issues, bedtime refusals – motherhood is one big strength and endurance test.
My emotional strength was called upon during my second pregnancy, when I knew from 20 weeks onwards that my baby wasn’t likely to make it. The deep, powerful love that motherhood triggers, helped me find the strength to carry her and carry on after she died.
Until I became a mother I didn’t know I had it in me. I’m sure all mums feel the same. We should be proud of ourselves for rocking the strength thing.
Undoubtedly, we all learn hundreds of new things every day from motherhood. The lessons can be fun, harsh and downright crazy. There really is no teacher as persistent and testing as Motherhood.