Earlier this week on Instagram and Facebook, I mentioned the lovely farmer who bought The New Mum’s Notebook for his wife, whilst on his tractor harvesting (it’s now on Amazon for a ludicrous £8). As well as the couple with the four month old baby, who I sat with in the pub on Sunday. Both examples of couples showing support and consideration towards one another, during the most challenging time of their lives. Parenthood. Eight years, three kids and one less husband on, I was totally impressed by this. So I thought I’d write something about being a kick a*** parenting team. (You can, of course, ignore this and think, ‘Well, what does she possibly know?’ She doesn’t even have a husband. But I hope you don’t and instead find it helpful.) **Not just for new parents. May also be useful if you’re older parents who have lost their way**
Be kind to one another. This tops the list every time, for me. It’s simple. It’s important. It can make up for a multitude of ‘sins’. To be honest? It doesn’t really matter if your other half never takes out the bin and always forgets to empty the dishwasher. If they tell you often that you’re doing a good job and they couldn’t do what you do, that’s enough, in my book. Partners, I’m not saying it’s easy for you, either. I know we can become a bit insane when we have babies. We’re really tired, not always sure what we’re doing and often, this baby lark is REALLY f*cking dull and relentless (yes, new mums, it’s totally ok to admit that). If you let us make it all about us for a while, when that baby comes along, if you remind us you love us and we’re awesome, I promise you, we’ll remember it. For the rest of time. Also, thanks for going to work and bringing the odd bag of giant chocolate buttons home.
Take out the bin. OK, so I lied a bit above. But it’s just really thoughtful when someone does something that you don’t then have to do. It’s always the little things, right?
Have sex. I don’t mean immediately. Obviously. Wait until you’ve left the hospital at least (joke). Seriously though, whilst you both need to feel ready, if you wait until your ‘baby’ is at university, you’ve waited too long. Sex connects. It’s what got you into this mess in the first place, remember? (PS some couples notice a direct correlation between the amount of times the bin gets put out and the amount of times they put out. Just saying.)
Don’t compete. Oldest parenting cliche in the book. But probably the most played out. Don’t. Go. There. You’re both tired. You’re both frazzled. You both dislike one another a bit (a lot) of the time. There are no winners here. It’s just a really crap game that makes you both feel lousy. Get out the Scrabble instead, if you really need to do something competitive.
Diffuse everything with laughter. Tricky, this one. Especially when you’re finding it hard to find anything funny. But laughing is up there with sex. It connects. Don’t take it all too seriously. Parenthood won’t always be this hard or intense.
Be on each other’s side. No one else is ever going to get your child like you both do. There is no one else who will love your child as much as you both do. Trust me. So bond over how much you love him or her. Bond over how much you wish they’d just go to flipping sleep, already. Bond over how irritating it is that they’ve just had a meltdown in the middle of Tescos. But be on each other’s side. Never blame one another. You made this person together. There IS no one else to blame. (Sorry to break that to you.)
Use banter carefully. If you’re a couple who liked to banter BC (before children), this can seriously backfire when you’ve had a baby. New (and old, tired) mums can be really sensitive and sometimes, we don’t get the ‘jokes’. They feel more like digs.
Go out. I’m not even going to say the phrase, ‘Date night’. It makes me want to hurl. BUT. Going out together is important. Don’t be that couple who wake up one day, realise that their kids are teenagers and they invested so little time in each other, they don’t have anything to talk about. I have friends with kids in very happy relationships because they always make time for one another and it shows. It really, really shows. If you don’t want to go out/don’t have a babysitter, have dinner indoors together. Bottle of wine, conversation and no TV or phones. Oh and don’t wait for the perfect time, or you’ll be waiting forever. You deserve to put each other first every once in a while. Partners often need this more than mums (from what they’ve told me) – to remember that they still mean something and to have their other half to themselves, for a change. No one said it has to be ALL about babies now, just because you’re parents.
Remember why you liked one another. Assuming that you did, of course and didn’t just create a life after twelve pints, four bottles of wine and 10 jagermeisters. No judgement. Focusing on that time before kids is a really good way of seeing yourselves through the challenging times. Go one better, and remember the little gestures you did for one another and reinstate them, occasionally.
Get a bit drunk together. It’s fun. It releases tension. Unless you get so drunk that you do no. 3 and get up the duff again. Oops.
Love the hell out of each other. No explanation needed. Most, if not all, of my friends have struggled at some point in their relationships post kids. But pretty much all of them are still together, because they love each other. Over and above everything else.
Do share this with your partner, new parents or anyone else who could do with a helping hand. There’s a whole chapter in The New Mum’s Notebook on relationships, as well as eleven other months (chapters) to see you through that first year of parenthood. On offer on Amazon now for £8 (usually £16.99).
The other day, my NCT girls, who I have known for eight years, gave me a present for my 40th birthday. It was a beautiful framed print. ‘She believed she could. So she did.‘ A phrase that many of us will be familiar with. It’s meant as much to me as anything could, at this stage in my life. Because it’s how I’ve slowly started to live in the past year and how I intend to approach the next 10. That said, whilst self-belief is something we can (and should) have more of, the belief in you from others, alongside your own self-belief, cannot be underestimated. Having friends and family by your side, and all the love they encompass, makes your ability to ‘believe’ in yourself a real possibility.
Keeping the magic.
When we are really small, the concept of believing largely relies on magic.
In Father Christmas. In (unreliable, often gin-soaked) Tooth Fairies. In the Easter Bunny (who often eats all the chocolate several times before Easter Sunday actually arrives).
In fact, from the moment we are born, ‘believing’ is instinctive. Like breathing. We don’t question it. Then, somewhere along the line, we discover ‘the truth.’ Father Christmas doesn’t exist. Our parents were the Tooth Fairy (when they remembered). And the Easter Bunny was a big, giant fraud too.
Suddenly, that magic is gone. And often, in the process, our natural instinct to believe.
As we grow, we are told, continually, to believe in ourselves. It’s certainly a buzz phrase, these days. BELIEVE.
Yet, at this point, most of us don’t even know ourselves. We don’t know who we are, what we value, what we desire. ‘Believe in yourself‘ can feel like empty words.
They don’t make a difference to the bills that need paying, the relationship that isn’t working or the job that isn’t progressing as we’d hoped.
Or do they?
Doubt or Believe.
Then. One day. The s*** hits the fan. Maybe, we lose someone we loved. Our job. Our home. Our relationship. Our security. And we are as naked as the day we were born.
We’re presented with a choice. Sink or swim. Doubt or believe.
Suddenly, there is no fear in daring to believe. We are at our most vulnerable. What can be worse than this? And, what if, just what if, there is something to believe in, after all?
What if WE are the thing we were supposed to believe in, all along.
ME. YOU. US. EACH OTHER.
On good days and bad.
If you’re lucky, you might reach this point, without something huge happening to you. But I doubt it’s the case for most.
I can’t describe the exact moment it happened to me. It happened very gradually after my separation. An evening doing a mood board with two good friends about how we wanted our lives to look (a mood board, which has already manifested several, pretty amazing things). Another friend, unintentionally, taking me under her wing and showing me what can happen when you just choose to believe.
And that is pretty much how I live now. Every, single day. I choose to believe. ALWAYS. In everything around me. In myself. In the love extended to me so generously by friends and family. Even when things feel rubbish (which they still occasionally do, of course). I have decided that I can just trust in ALL of it. In the Universe.
That thing that is SO much bigger than me.
The power of human connection.
But. I am no fool. I know how I am here. And it is not down to me, alone.
I look at the people around me now and I know they are a big part of it. That it is down to the brilliant friends, real and virtual, who said, ‘It’s going to be ok. You’re going to figure this s*** out. Good things are coming. We believe in you. And we have your back.’ The brilliant friends that made me believe I could dare to believe in myself.
And my 40th birthday has humbled me, way beyond the celebrations and champagne. The love and thoughtfulness from others has been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. On Monday, a beautiful friend left balloons attached to my letterbox with a card, ‘In case you’re feeling flat after your many days of celebrating, I love you.’
So, yes. ‘She believed she could. So she did.‘ But, that’s not the whole story. We can totally believe in ourselves. And we absolutely should. But we must also believe in one another. Connect with one another. And radiate that positivity and faith that we all have within us, even if we haven’t seen it for a while.
Because, what greater gift can you give someone else than helping them believe that they can dare to believe in themselves?
(From experience, I can tell you. There is none.)
All the love to each of you wonderful human beings.
Tonight, I had the most invigorating run I can remember having in a long time. The wind was howling, the trees were reaching out to one another far above my head and the sky felt big. So big and vast and dominant. The rain was falling lightly and the combination of all these sensations made me feel alive. Properly alive. It was one of those rare moments of pure and utter joy that you can feel in every cell of your body. That make you realise how often you’re sleeping through the rest of your life.
In the wake of tragedies like Saturday’s terror attack at London Bridge, on the street I used to work on and walk every day, it is totally normal to feel desperately sad, confused, scared, reflective and out of sorts. It hit me as much as ever, perhaps more so, knowing the area intimately and being just up the road having drinks in Soho when it happened.
But this is not a post about terror. Or fear. Or death. It is a post about being alive. And breathing life into our own lives. Not only in the days that follow, when we are so grateful for everything we have, before it becomes a memory and we resume our lives again, because we can.
But in ALL the days of our lives.
Every single, precious one.
In two weeks’ time, I turn 40.
This is a milestone I was afraid of a year ago. The thought of getting older and hitting another decade horrified me. How did that even happen?
But that reaction makes no sense. Because getting older is exciting. And we are so fortunate to have the opportunity to do it. To have more experiences under our belts. More wisdom. More days.
Why would we ever resist that in favour of not growing older at all?
Possibility is everywhere.
My life is probably more uncertain, more unmapped at 40 than I’d ever expected it to be. If I’d ever let myself think about turning 40, of course.
Mostly, this doesn’t scare me. The sense of possibility actually invigorates me. But in the wake of Saturday (and the Sunday and Monday that followed), I felt alone. I missed having a strong person by my side. To reassure me that it would be ok. To share, equally, the responsibility of raising three kids in an uncertain world.
Then, this evening, I went for my run. I was alone in the wind, the rain and that expansive, limitless sky, putting one foot in front of the other. My body felt strong. The universe felt stronger. And the sense of loneliness just vanished. I knew right then and there what I needed to do.
Keep putting one foot in front of the other.
Moments of clarity.
If we’re too busy, we can miss these moments of clarity. But they are there, begging us to take notice.
They are in every experience we have. The good. And the not so good. Sometimes, it is the experiences that initially make us feel sad, desperate or that we’ve lost our way, that light our paths the brightest.
Because every experience, good and bad, are ours to own. They are part of one of our precious days. And our stepping stone to the next.
We haven’t lost our way at all.
The way just looks a little different than we’d imagined.
This post is for anyone who’s tired of seeing the hardships before the good. Of struggling with fluctuating moods or a persistent level of anxiety. This may just help you to feel happy, every day.
The past few weeks have been a bit strange. In a good way.
It began a few Tuesdays ago. The kids were at school and nursery. I had done all the things that usually make me happy. A run. A nice coffee. Some work and writing. And yet, I felt utterly miserable and teary. I couldn’t blame hormones – as I so often do – it was supposed to be my ‘good’ couple of weeks. There was no tangible reason at all.
That Tuesday turned out to be the climax of a year that has, so far, largely been dominated by anxious thoughts.
And I had had enough.
No one to blame but myself.
Living your life with frequent feelings of lack and anxiety is joyless and frustrating.
Having so much to be thankful and happy for and yet completely missing that abundance is such a waste of time and energy. And it makes you feel sad. Especially when it feels you have no control over it.
That was the place I had found myself in, despite all my CBT practice. That Tuesday proved it. What could I attribute my misery to? What external influences could I blame? There were none. There was only one thing I could hold accountable.
Keep on swimming.
So, there and then, on that precious child free Tuesday, I decided to change it. Anxiety and feeling low have stolen enough of my days. They’re not getting any more.
I decided to plough on regardless of the fact I felt rubbish and just wanted to curl up on the sofa and watch Gilmore Girls. I worked. I tried to be creative. I did my best to create opportunities. So at least if I got to the end of the day and I still felt awful, I wouldn’t also feel guilty for wasting those precious hours.
Of course, by the end of the day, I didn’t feel awful. I felt much better.
And I felt a real sense of achievement for pushing on through.
The law of attraction.
That day taught me a valuable lesson. It taught me that I can choose to be happy. That I can attract happiness, even if I’m not initially feeling it. That I can flip my mood and choose to look at things differently and, in doing so, override those low moments and the anxious thoughts.
I have that power.
After all, if the anxious and negative thoughts can feed off each other, why can’t the happy ones?
So I have decided to try it, every day. To commit to the happy, positive thoughts and the feeling that everything will be ok, in the end.
I have always believed this, ultimately. I like the idea of destiny (in the sense that you can influence it and shape it if you listen to your instincts, not that you’re entitled to it). I’d just lost my connection with it and in that void the anxious thoughts had had room to grow.
The thought that you attract whatever you think about isn’t really a crazy one. It’s like those days we label as bad, where one thing goes wrong after another. It’s only us who call it bad. If we choose to reframe it after we’ve spilt the milk, missed the train and broke our heel on the escalator, is it a bad day or does that day suddenly become defined by something else? The nice conversation we had, that we wouldn’t have had if we’d missed our train. It’s what CBT calls ‘challenging unhelpful thoughts.’ And it works.
Listening to our instincts (our inner beings) isn’t an alien concept either. As mothers, it’s how we raise our kids. Our instincts are strong and any mother who’s ever gone against them (and paid the price) knows what good guides they always are.
After a while, you start to do both without even thinking about it.
It really will be ok.
Since choosing to see the good as often as I can and simply being aware of the direction in which my thoughts are taking me, the anxious thoughts are at bay.
I’m in the most anxious part of my monthly cycle and still there is nothing on the horizon. I am able to refocus myself in a way I never have been before.
And it’s a much happier way to live.
Can we really think ourselves happy?
Surely, there are flaws? What about those having a really hard time? Those that are seriously ill? Those that are lonely or jobless or homeless. The list goes on. Do they just think happy thoughts and ta-dah! But those that have the desire or the ability, actually manage to do it.
We see them every day. They are those amazing people who are experiencing huge challenges that the rest of us marvel at and say, ‘How on earth do you find the strength?‘ But do they really have a unique strength waiting to be sourced? Or do they make a choice to be positive, often amidst no choice at all?
And maybe at the most basic level, that’s the difference between happy people and unhappy people. Making a choice. Making a commitment to finding peace and happiness wherever you can, whilst really getting to know yourself, your inner being and trusting your instincts, no matter what.
We must also have a realistic interpretation of the word, ‘happy.’ Because choosing to be happy doesn’t mean we will be all of the time. Or that we will be miraculously immune to pain. The Buddha’s teachings tell us that suffering is a part of life, that we must all acknowledge. And find our peace with. That’s the challenge, right there.
But it’s like anything you practice. The more you do it, the more natural it becomes.
And being happy feels pretty, blooming good.
Note: This post isn’t meant to make anyone feel bad or less validated in whatever they’re feeling. If you’re going through a hard/dark/sad time seeing positives will be hard right now. We all have to get places in our own time. Also? If you’re suffering from any sort of clinical anxiety/depression, this will seem insurmountable. I know that feeling first hand. But one day, it will all seem more doable, believe me. There’s lots more on the blog about living your life happily, CBT and the devil that is anxiety. Put ‘anxiety’ in the search box and more posts will come up. You can also follow the Facebook page and find me on Instagram.
If you’re reading this, then you have probably doubted yourself, at one time or another. Who hasn’t? Maybe you’re doing it right now. Doubting yourself doesn’t feel good, does it? It feels uncertain. But not only is it normal, it’s healthy. Usually. Because it means we’re questioning ourselves, which comes only from the desire to do right by our children. Yes, Doubt (just like its good buddy, Guilt) is also love, in disguise. LOVE.
Doubt is wanting the best for our children. But not always knowing how to provide it. Every parenting stage is new and challenging. Getting our babies to sleep. Helping them start school. Supporting them as they grow physically and emotionally. The phases come and go. And we’ve just got to learn on the job. No parent is completely confident in their abilities. There’s always that niggle in the back of our minds, ‘What if I get it wrong?‘
And we will get it wrong. Many times over. We haven’t done this before. We’re dealing with human beings, not a maths equation. But the best thing about parenting? We always get another chance to do it again. Better. Differently. And every time we do, the doubt passes and that’s another phase mastered. For now, anyway. We’ve learned something new and, in the process, given our children the greatest gift of all. We’ve showed them that making mistakes is not something to be scared of. That it’s a crucial part of getting it right. Eventually. That they never have to be perfect. (Amen to that.)
Sometimes, however, doubting ourselves as a parent isn’t healthy. It’s a negative emotion. And that’s when the doubt doesn’t come from us but from someone else. Other people start to sew seeds of doubt the minute we start this parenting journey. And they won’t stop. Sometimes it will be an innocent, throw away comment. Other times it will be more loaded than that and come from a place of insecurity where they need our decisions to reflect their own. So they can make peace with them. In short, it’s about them, not us.
We can’t stop the seed being sewn. But we can prevent it from growing. Let them plant it in their garden, not ours. If it isn’t constructive. If it doesn’t sit right with us or leave us feeling inspired. If it leaves us with that lurching feeling in our gut and asking, ‘Why did they say that?‘ it’s not a doubt that will ever serve us well or move us into a better place. It will grow weeds not flowers.
It’s hard to rise above it, especially when you’re a new parent. But as we become more experienced, as we get to know ourselves better as parents, we learn to ignore idle criticism. Because we have more confidence. And we realise that any sort of judgement is born out of insecurity and, very often, boredom. It has no truth. And if we choose not to listen to it, then it also has no audience. So, never get drawn into judging someone else’s parenting style, their choices or even their kids. It will only make you feel bad.
Finally, when you lose faith in yourself or your child. When you wonder if you can do this. When you lie awake at night feeling anxious. Look at how far you’ve already come. At what you’ve already achieved and mastered. You can do this better than you think.
Being a parent. Getting older. Facing up to the idea of our own mortality. None of these things are easy. Some days life is serious and leaves us feeling really vulnerable. And anxious. It’s a lonely place. But actually? Most of us feel like this at some time or another (or often). And there’s great comfort in that.
It’s about balance.
This year, I’ve been feeling anxious, on and off. Sometimes for no reason. Despite being predisposed to anxiety, it still always catches me by surprise.
I mostly have no reason to feel this way. And that’s the thing about anxiety, it doesn’t always make sense. Good things are happening. I am happy. Yet, ironically, this unnerves me almost as much as if bad things were.
‘I feel like something is going to happen, to counteract all the good,‘ I found myself saying to a friend yesterday. ‘No,’ she said. ‘It doesn’t work like that. It’s about balance. There are good times. And bad times. And then good again. I think you’ve had your share of the bad. For now.’
Even writing this makes me nervous. Crazy, eh? Because as positive as we all know how to be, sometimes it can be just as scary having faith in the good.
It’s like the Sex and the City film where Charlotte says to Carrie, ‘I feel like something bad is going to happen. Because no one gets everything they want,‘ when she finally falls pregnant. ‘Erm, you’ve sh*t your pants this year,’ Carrie says. ‘I think you’re done.’
FEAR: False Evidence Appearing Real.
Our natural reaction to anxiety is to feel fear. FEAR. False Evidence Appearing Real. Which is basically what anxiety is. Something that probably isn’t going to happen, except in our minds.
The fear brings on all those unpleasant physical symptoms. The dizziness. The nausea. The general state of feeling unwell. Which further convinces us that something must be really wrong.
On a primitive level, this is the fight or flight response but rarely are we actually in this situation where our lives are in immediate danger. So, in our modern lives, where we aren’t running around in loin cloths being chased by lions, we have to learn how to manage this.
To be able to figure out what’s real and what’s not.
Waiting for the thoughts to pass.
Anxious thoughts always pass. This I have learned. Usually once you’ve accepted them and allowed your brain to rationalise them, rather than fighting against them, increasing the fear and that fight or flight response.
Health anxiety for example, which plagues so many (especially us mums whose greatest fear is not being around to see our kids grow up), is particularly receptive to rationale. Thankfully. The headache you’ve got. The dizziness. The exhaustion. What if it’s something serious? Or, more likely, what if it’s because you’re dehydrated, tired and stretched, you forgot to eat (again) and you’re just not looking after yourself as well as you should be. The moment you build up that very rational list in your head, the relief washes over you and the physical symptoms you’re feeling start to fade.
We can teach our brains not to be so scared of the anxious thoughts, to be more tolerant of them and instead wait for them to pass.
One day at a time.
We only have today. That’s our only guarantee. And concentrating on living today makes it much harder to worry about what might happen tomorrow.
It’s not easy to do but we can choose to make the effort to take one day at a time. And to make that day pleasurable in some small way, every single day. Whether it’s going for a walk in the fresh air. Getting a nice drink or coffee. Watching an episode from a cracking box set on Netflix. We have the power to make sure every day is worth concentrating on, in some small way. Because those pleasurable moments lift the mood, increase the serotonin levels and prevent the anxious thoughts from seeping in.
Of course, they will still find a way. And accepting this is part of the process, of not being surprised by their sudden appearance. Anxious thoughts, although unpleasant, are very normal. Even that confident person who you think is rocking life is having the wobbly moments that you are. But it is scary, nevertheless. And I know that some days it’s really, really tough to see the positive. To ditch those thoughts you didn’t invite in and have faith in the good.
And on those days, all I can say is, you’re not alone. Ever. We’re all just trying to remember to take one day at a time. And there is great comfort in doing that together.
Much love to you.
Look after yourself and never think you are the only person with all the crazy thoughts. More posts about anxiety and depression below:
Today is Time To Talk Day. Another important opportunity in the calendar to keep the mental health conversation going. And whilst I have no desire to become that broken record, ‘When I had PND…‘ (YAWN), actually? The conversation mustn’t go away just because the illness has. For this morning, there is someone (and a million more ‘someones’) waking up feeling desperate. And we, those that are well today, have a responsibility to make it ok for them to speak up and seek whatever help they need and deserve. This extract about PND is from The New Mum’s Notebook, the sanity saving journal for all new mums, no matter what round she’s on. There’s 10% off today with the code TIMETOTALK17.
Don’t be scared.
Around the four month motherhood mark, some new mums may be thriving. Others, not so much.
Some might even be feeling beside themselves and that can often be an indication that things aren’t quite right. So, let’s talk a little bit about post-natal depression (PND). Because it shouldn’t be something we’re scared of, or afraid to mention. It does happen unfortunately, to one in seven of us, but it can be treated very effectively and the sooner it’s diagnosed, the better.
All new mums deserve to understand what to look out for because it can be difficult to know, especially when you’re a mum for the very first time. How are you supposed to feel?
‘What is PND?’
PND is very different to the baby blues, which most, if not all, women experience in the first couple of weeks after birth, as their hormones literally crash. It is also more than feeling tired or occasionally low.
PND is different for everyone but typical symptoms include frequent tearfulness, anxiety of any form (health anxiety is common), panic (may include panic attacks), insomnia, extreme lethargy, trouble bonding with your baby (or detaching yourself from any other children) and a sense of doom or hopelessness. It can also manifest itself very physically with muscle aches, headaches and a general state of feeling unwell, leading new mums to think it must be something serious (that’s usually the health anxiety talking). Because what a lot of people don’t know is that when you’re very depressed, you can actually feel it. Another common factor is an overwhelming feeling that you just can’t cope. With things that never fathomed you before. It might be getting up in the morning. Dressing yourself and your baby. Doing the nursery/school run, if you have other children.
You just can’t seem to manage it.
‘How do I know?’
One of the cruellest things about PND is that when you’re in it, you can’t really see you’re in it.
You know you’re in a fog. You know you feel the worst you’ve ever felt. ‘But I’ve got a baby,’ you reason, ‘I’m not going to feel amazing, am I?’ Well, actually, yes you have got a baby but no, you shouldn’t feel like that. At this point, the support of someone who knows you really well is helpful.
Someone you can turn to and say, ‘I’m really, really struggling. Do you think I’m struggling?’
You can do this.
I’m not ashamed PND happened to me after my third baby. It was nothing I did. And it’s nothing you’ve done, either.
With a combination of antidepressants and CBT counselling, I now have coping mechanisms I never would have developed without it. PND isn’t a pleasant experience but the good news is you do get through it, once you get help. If you suspect you may have PND, speak to your doctor (ask them to do a full blood count to rule out any other cause). They can discuss treatment with you, which may take the form of counselling or a combination of counselling and medication. Don’t be afraid of medication, if this is recommended to you. You haven’t failed. It isn’t your fault. Sometimes after birth, the hormones are a bit wonky and your body fails to produce enough of the happy hormone, serotonin, so you need a little help. Either way, things won’t improve overnight but a few weeks in, you’ll start to feel a bit more like you.
Be patient with yourself. Recovery does take time. But you WILL get better.
If you’re struggling, pick up the phone today. Make that call. To a friend. To your doctor. To someone you trust. But don’t suffer in silence. The moment you take that step and open up, you’ll literally be falling over yourself when you realise just how many of us struggle post birth. And those women, the ones who really, really understand what it’s like to be ill, will have your back most of all. That, I promise you.
This morning I posted a picture on my Facebook page with some words about the importance of finding mum friends. Your #mummassive, I called them. I was having a moment, remembering my NCT friends and how I couldn’t have survived the first year of motherhood without them. One mum commented that in an ideal world we’d all have that massive but a lot don’t, despite best effort. Motherhood can be lonely, she said (I know this, first hand). A lot of other mums liked her comment. And it made me wonder, am I being naive? Are there more mums out there alone than together, even though they’ve tried their best not to be? Are we spouting words about ‘finding mum friends’ that are just unrealistic and impossible to follow because some days we’re struggling to remember who we even are?
‘She’s having a baby!’
The first line I ever wrote when I started writing The New Mum’s Notebook was this. ‘Having a baby is wonderful. It can also be overwhelming.‘ I couldn’t think of any other way to say it. And if I had to sum up becoming a mum again, right now, this is what I would still say. I would say it every time a woman has a baby, no matter how many she has.
Having a baby is overwhelming.
(Let’s cut straight to the chase.)
Hanging on for dear life.
Before we become mums, we say stuff like, ‘A baby won’t change me. I’m still going to be me and not lose my sense of self.‘
I remember feeling this. I was petrified of losing my identity when I became a mum. So petrified that, when my first daughter was five months old, I wrote that list with 17 things on that I was going to do to be a good mum and STILL be myself. I also had an actual five year plan with things like ‘having a variety of hobbies,’ ‘learning new skills,’ and ‘playing the piano.’ What on earth did I think motherhood was going to be? I am now two years past that five year plan and I can tell you, I haven’t so much as touched a piano. And the hobbies? Well, I almost went to Zumba, once.
Does that count?
Who am I now?
So, despite our best intentions, motherhood shakes us to our cores.
It changes us. It makes us doubt ourselves. It makes us lose our confidence and forget how to interact with the rest of the world. I have friends who had huge careers and social lives before having kids that, some seven years on, are only just starting to find their feet again. And put on a nice pair of shoes.
I think this is why Instagram is so full of mums doing (great) stuff. To support their families, yes. To find a way of flexible working, yes. But more than anything? To hang onto themselves and some sense of who they were. Who they are.
And who they will be in the future.
I remember feeling lost.
So, when at times we’re struggling with our own sense of identity, I can see why me suggesting mums go out there and forge new friendships, when they’re often at their most vulnerable, sounds a bit idyllic and as overwhelming as the task of motherhood itself.
And it’s easy for me to write it, as I emerge from the baby bubble, now that baby no. 3 is almost two and a half. (It’s probably why I’m becoming one of those really irritating people feeling all nostalgic about it. If I ever write, ‘Enjoy them while they’re young,’ or ‘You’ll miss it when they’re older,’ please report me to Facebook. Or just go ahead and shoot me.)
But could I have done it when I was in the thick of it? Could I have put myself out there when I was feeling that intense sense of loneliness? When I was feeling forgotten. When I was feeling like I didn’t really have anything to say.
Possibly not. But I still believe we must try.
We are (probably) all in the same boat.
Mums have often said to me that groups they have tried to infiltrate are cliquey. And yes, there are some groups and women that may appear ‘cliquey.’ But the majority of women are not like this. The majority of women, of mums (new and old), are like me. And you. Feeling a bit shy or vulnerable or desperately trying to find those feet they once walked on.
Many of the new friends I’ve made since having kids have been in my lowest moments, when I wasn’t in a state to worry about what someone else might think. The mum I barely knew whose shoulder I cried (snotted) on. The mum who could see I was struggling and reached out. The mum who was warm and kind when I needed it. I hope I’ve done the same for others. These friendships might last a year or they might last forever, it doesn’t matter.
What matters is that we open up. If we can. And reach out to one another. Otherwise, how do we ever know what boat someone else is really in? How do we know if they’re standoffish, painfully shy or just worrying they’re messing the whole thing up? It takes courage, which you might not think you have. But you have it, you do. And if you do open up and it comes to nothing, don’t give up. Move on. Try again. Your effort is never in vain.
Because, even if it seems they weren’t ready to receive it, to someone else, you have just been that mum who was warm and kind when they needed it.
And they’ll remember that forever, believe me.
Sorry for the mush. Sorry for the idyllic thoughts. But being a bit of an oversharer, I’ve learned that good things come when we talk to one another. I know we’re not all like this (thank god haha) and I’d love to hear your experiences. Tell me I’m wrong and idyllic (and possibly had too much sherry), I don’t mind at all! In the meantime, lots of love to ALL of you mums out there. You’re doing an amazing job and one day it won’t feel quite so suffocating, I promise.
A while ago, I wrote a post with some advice for my daughters. Aside from NOT plucking their eyebrows (all tweezers have since been removed from the house), I talked about never trying to fit in. I said that if they’re ever feeling this, then it’s because the people they’re trying to befriend aren’t their people. Then I realised this feeling, of wanting to fit in, probably never really goes away. It’s the thing that leads us to doubt ourselves, compare ourselves and do ourselves the biggest disservice of all. Lose faith in who we are. Here’s why it’s you. Just as YOU are.
‘Just the way you are.’
Remember that bit in Bridget Jones where Mark Darcy told Bridge he liked her ‘just the way you are,’ and we all gasped, then sobbed before loving him a little bit more.
When Mark Darcy said this, Bridget wasn’t ‘cool’. Perfect. At the top of her career. Or even good at making soup that wasn’t blue. She was sliding down fire poles with her knickers up her bum. And yet, to him, she was utterly perfect.
Just the way she was.
Find your tribe.
I’m not actually talking about love here, by the way (though that was one of my pieces of advice too). I’m trying to demonstrate the importance of finding your person, your people, your tribe. The people that get you, that you don’t have to try with, that don’t make you feel anything less than brilliant when you leave their company. Even if you serve up blue soup.
Of course, friendships and relationships have their ups and downs, but they shouldn’t leave you feeling inadequate or down on yourself.
They should leave you feeling invigorated.
(With a slightly weaker pelvic floor.)
‘Comparison is the thief of joy.’
I don’t want to go into a social media rant here because we all know the perils of it. But, let’s just say, the world of social media doesn’t always allow us to love ourselves, just as we are. Its ability to give us joy and, in the very next moment, take it away is a malfunction of its very genius.
Because social media, whilst uniting us, also pits us against one another. Constantly. Our looks. Our lifestyles. Our achievements. If you’re a parent, the way you’re raising your child. It’s all there to be observed. Critiqued. Misunderstood. Are we representing ourselves in a real, distorted or exaggerated way – who the bloody hell knows?
It’s so much easier to compare ourselves constantly. And it doesn’t matter how many times someone tells us not to do it, we won’t stop doing it.
But we can remind ourselves, in the moment, to stop it right now.
Step away from the tweezers.
Because, like anything, when we’re aware we’re doing it, actually aware, we can notice it and nip it in the bud before we let it steal our joy.
We can remind ourselves that we might not be the prettiest, the coolest, the brightest, the best cake-maker, the calmest parent, the greatest writer and then ask ourselves, who is? Do you think the most amazing person you know or follow, doesn’t think there is someone else more amazing than them? In other words, our ideal of perfection that we convince ourselves exists, doesn’t exist at all. It’s a perception. Our perception. And it’s probably a bit skewed.
So. Put those tweezers down. Get together with your tribe. And love yourself.
Just the way you are.
(Because you are pretty blooming awesome. And you must never lose sight of that.)
Thanks for reading. Do share if you think it will help someone remember how awesome they are. Much love to you.
The summer holidays are a marathon, not a sprint. If, like me, you stupidly started off on day one on an actual day trip, you’ll be realising this. Right. About. Now. Somewhere around Tuesday, I hit the summer holiday wall. And I could feel it all starting to implode. Three kids. Work stuff. House stuff. Not a productive combination in anyone’s eyes. Here’s how to get across the finish line. In one piece. (Sort of.)
Have a minor meltdown. Meltdowns are good and an important part of the imploding process. The key here is to keep the meltdown in check. A rant to a friend rather than a full on breakdown in Sainsbury’s is preferable. Ranting to a friend is good because, assuming you’ve picked the right friend, they will be feeling as destitute as you and together you can lament how rubbish parenthood/adulthood/life is and know neither of you really mean it. (Yeah right.)
Do ONE thing on your to-do list. It’s the school holidays. It’s chaos. You’re not going to be on top of everything right now. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be on top of anything. Do ONE thing each day to make yourself feel better. Mop the bathroom floor. Put a load of washing on. Take 15 minutes to go through your emails. It will make you feel better. More in control. And like you’ve achieved something in this never ending sea of feeding kids and mediating squabbles.
Breathe. You’ll know if you completely stop breathing because, well, you’ll know. But I bet you’re sort of holding your breath right now. In that tense, slightly anxious, ‘I’m at the mercy of a small army of mini Hitlers, what are they going to do next?‘ way. Go into a quiet room, shut the door and take THREE DEEP BREATHS. You can precede this with several hundred, ‘FFS,’ if you like. No judgement here.
Sleep on it. If everything’s getting on top of you, write the day off. Take your kids to a park so they can run and you can hide. Then get them to bed EARLY. Get yourself to bed EARLY. And tackle stuff tomorrow. I was never a great believer in this but it actually does work. Things look much better first thing in the morning when you’ve had some decent sleep (and a caffeine hit). For at least 30 minutes anyway.
Believe it will all be ok. This week I have been tasked with keeping my kids alive, keeping myself sane(ish), arranging delivery of a shipment of 3000 copies of The New Mum’s Notebook and packing for a two week holiday. On Tuesday this seemed pretty insurmountable. By today, I’ve waded my way through much of it (with a healthy dose of shouting). And whilst the house is covered in ‘DO NOT TOUCH!’ holiday piles of clothes, which my kids insist on rummaging through and re-wearing so that I can have the joy of washing them AGAIN. And my book delivery is apparently the biggest that the shipping company have delivered to a domestic address EVER (2.5 tonnes, basically the weight of a small elephant) and am I quite sure I don’t want it delivered somewhere else? AND it’s coming whilst I’m on holiday so I’m not even going to be here to oversee it (marvellous). I’m still here to write this post. I guess that means it’s all ok, right?
You can do it (because you ARE doing it). This week someone kindly commented that my work looks pretty tireless. The timing was ironic because I couldn’t have felt more tired, jaded and out of sync when they said it. But it got me thinking. That what all of us parents are doing day in, day out is tireless. Because although we often feel exhausted and frazzled, we keep on going. We keep doing what we’re doing. And that’s pretty amazing in itself, isn’t it? (So what if the house is about to collapse under a pile of plastic junk and we haven’t brushed our hair in days.)
Keep your eye on the goal. We’re 75% of the way through. And I know it doesn’t feel like it (except it probably really, really does feel like it), but this is nearly over. And yes, one week into school, we will be moaning about crazy, stressful mornings, the dreaded school run, all the class emails, the dressing up days and those blooming phonics. The grass is ALWAYS greener. But that’s our glorious prerogative. And that’s the law of parenting.
All the love.
Keep going! We’re almost there. Share with a #summerholiday parent who might need some encouragement. For the next two weeks I’ll be posting from the sunny shores of Turkey. You can watch us try to survive the plane journey and see our holiday exploits (chaos) over on Facebook and Instagram.