Let’s share the love

My sister and cousin have both had babies recently,  so there’s a lot of baby talk going on. Feeding, sleeping, hormones, boobs, vaginas, it’s all out there. It’s been almost three years since I was living the newborn rollercoaster, and now seeing it close up from a new perspective, I’m realising all over again just how much pressure there is on new parents.

I mean obviously there’s pressure, your life is flipped overnight and you’re given full responsibility for a human. But the external pressure. The clinicians, the groups, the online posts, the relatives. They all have things to tell you, things that you or your baby ‘should’ be doing, and quite frankly it’s all a bit bullshit.

I think we need to change the language we use when talking about how we look after babies, and children generally, and ease off parents a bit. That word ‘should’ is just the worst!

If you’ve ever seen Room 101 (it’s still on!), my subject of choice would be ‘other people’s rules about raising kids’. Frank Skinner would be all over this one.

First in my bin would be that old favourite, ‘you’re making a rod for your own back’. As the proud owner of a non sleeping child, I’ve heard this one a good few times, and every time it made me feel like crap, and like I was making a mistake. I was doing what I could to ensure my daughter went to sleep happy with cuddles, not screaming because she’d been left alone in her dark, scary room, but apparently I was doing it wrong. If no one is being harmed, who are we to tell anyone else their parenting choice isn’t the ‘right’ one?

We should be supporting each other, whether we agree or not. If what your friend is doing is safe, tell her she’s doing a grand job. She needs to hear that. If you’re dead against dummies but she’s using one straight away, who really cares? It’s making life easier for her, that’s what you should focus on. Parenting is hard enough, and we are all wonderfully efficient self critics, we don’t need more of that to contend with.

Here’s another I heard a few weeks ago – ‘See? You were worrying over nothing’. Now this isn’t harmful, but it’s also really not helpful. When you’re up in the middle of the night, desperately trying to find the answer to why they won’t stop screaming, you’re sleep deprived and in need of a shower and a decent meal, then it really does feel like ‘something’.

Telling parents they look tired is another (not so) great one. I was told this so often I had to ask people to stop saying it after I had Millie. Being tired comes with the territory after producing a human, it’s an obvious one! Plus, when you’re congratulating yourself for actually making it out of the house with brushed hair and stain free clothing for once, being told you look knackered is just the kick you need!

Finally for this blog – there are loads of these phrases but we’ve not got all day – is the classic ‘shouldn’t they be doing xxxx by now?!’. It happens around every milestone age, because we’re all taught to believe kids should develop at similar rates, and they just don’t. Millie’s still in nappies, and will try the toilet if she fancies it but mostly she just doesn’t, and I’m good with that. She’ll know when she’s ready.

Now I’m not saying stop giving advice – parents definitely need advice as we all do! But they don’t need judgement; there’s enough of that shit going around already. They need acceptance. If you’ve resorted to ready meals all week because life is busy – your kids are being fed, you’re doing it right. If you are co sleeping and it’s a bit cramped but you are all getting sleep – you’re doing it right. If everyone’s telling you breast is best but you’re just more comfortable using formula – you’re doing it right. We all have different ways of managing, so we can’t all be judged by the same standards. Are your children loved, healthy and happy? You’re definitely doing it right.

We need to stop accepting things as just so, and question more. Sometimes the advice you’re given works. Great! But that won’t always be the case, even from professionals, and you don’t need to just take things you’re told as the only way. I was once told by a health visitor that the crying it out method was the only way to get my daughter to sleep through. I tried it, we were all pretty miserable for a couple of weeks, and even though I persevered and followed my instructions, it didn’t work.

She now sleeps in my room, which is unconventional when she’s nearly three, but it’s good for us. Her bed is next to mine, and she’s down for a full 12 hours or more, every night. We found our own way in the end.

The truth is that there is no right way, in parenting or in life. There’s what worked for the guy sat next to you at work, which is different to what worked for the girl at baby group, and will be different again for you. Who came up with these ‘rules’ that we all need to fall in line with? They may be well meaning, but they’re definitely not right. You know your little one best, and you know yourself, too.

You’re doing an amazing job, you know. Let’s try telling each other that a bit more before assuming we know best, and offering cups of tea and hugs. You’ll definitely be thanked for those 😍

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Confession time

There’s something I feel from time to time, but I’ve not said out loud, because it feels like a complete taboo, so I’m writing it instead. Some days, I don’t want to parent.

In my head this is controversial, but actually I’m fairly sure there will be lots of people out there who feel this. I remember reading something years ago on some online discussion; a comment that said if you don’t want to devote every waking second of your life to your children then you don’t deserve to be a parent. I mean, fuck! Harsh, completely wrong in my opinion, but still it stuck with me.

These kind of ‘one rule for everyone’ comments make your brain start to tick. Shouldn’t we want to be that committed to raising our children? Isn’t that what we are biologically programmed for? Evolution? Well, perhaps, but it’s 2018 now folks, and the world is very different. We have a lot to juggle and it’s bloody hard work, so surely it’s natural to want to take a break, right?

For me this comes under the heading of ‘self care’. There isn’t anything in a person’s life that they could do for every minute of every day. Sometimes you need to prioritise yourselves to reset, refresh and renew, so you can carry on with the energy you need. For some a night out is enough – adult conversation, a few drinks and a laugh (a bottle of prosecco works wonders), and for others they have outlets like exercise or a hobby. Writing does this a little for me, because it’s an activity I love and that I do solely for myself, but for the most part it’s space. Time spent by myself, choosing what I want to do, to eat, to watch. Just time where I can be quiet and alone. That makes me feel much more fresh, more happy, and able to appreciate the time I do spend with my daughter, but also with anyone.

Since giving birth to Millie in 2015 I find myself to be susceptible to stress in a different way. I used to say in job interviews that I thrive under pressure, and I would just keep going and going, which actually isn’t healthy, but the whole ‘growing a person’ process skewed something in my brain. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not just a pile a of mush now, but my coping mechanisms have shifted. When I get to the point of being overwhelmed, I’m forced to take a step back to regroup. Sometimes for just a minute or two, but sometimes I need hours.

Just a quick disclaimer in case my boss is reading this – Tom, I’m still actually pretty awesome under pressure, and crisis comms is still definitely my skill, I’m talking more about life overall. Promise. 🤦🏻‍♀️

So anyway, alone time at home is good – we’ve all got a to do list that it’s helpful to blast through – but alone time out is better. Walking the dog, sitting with a book or my laptop in a cafe, or whatever. As long as I’m alone and don’t have to take care of anyone, I’m loving it.

Time alone is literally like a spa for my brain. It arrives very tired, soft and squidgy, with hairs all out of place, and emerges a while later bright, firm, firing all over the place and ready to go. That’s a weird analogy.

There is a lot of pressure generally on mums to keep things going; be a good parent, cherish every moment of being a parent, go back to work and cope, stay at home and cope, be on social media and look like you’re coping. A lot of this, however, is perceived pressure, that we put on ourselves. You see women everywhere totally bossing motherhood (or appearing to), and then you look at yourself in your pyjamas at 4pm, milk vomit in your hair, third day without a shower and a screaming newborn and you feel like you’re failing.

This is the kind of thing we need to speak up about. I’m putting my hand up and saying that sometimes I put myself first over my own daughter. That I choose to be away from her. Without that she’d lose out overall, because I’d be a miserable cowbag.

A couple of months ago my sister had a baby, and I’d had a really tough few days, at home and at work when he was born. I was withdrawn, grumpy and tough to engage. I went straight from the office to visit my new little nephew and I stayed until Millie was in bed, and it was bliss. My own little bubble away from real life, where I could focus on my sister and cuddling her tiny son, a million miles away from my own responsibilities.

Maybe you don’t feel it, and there’s nothing here you can relate to, which is ok, but equally it’s ok if you do. You can be a bloody awesome parent and still want something for yourself now and again – that makes you human, and also sets an excellent example for your kids. It makes you a more rounded person and a more effective person.

Another disclaimer: I love being a parent, it’s all the wonderful mushy things people tell you it will be. I felt the need to confirm that because this reads a little like I’m not bothered. But a mum is not all I am, or an employee, dog owner, friend, wife etc. Now and again I like to just be me, so I can do all the other things well. Maybe it’s selfish, but I don’t care.

So there you go. Some days I don’t want to parent. And being able to say that actually makes me a really good parent. I might just reward myself. Any excuse!