Being Kind to Ourselves

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Our lives are extraordinarily busy. Home. Work. Chores. Responsibilities. And when we become parents, our worlds become consumed with our children, with meeting their wants and needs and ensuring their happiness. They are the centre around which we oscillate, juggling all our other demands, slotting priorities together until our days end up resembling a rough-hewed jigsaw puzzle. But, it seems to me that often when that puzzle is complete, there are some pieces left over which can’t be fitted in – our own wants and hopes which we carelessly discard without a second thought.

 

As we shape our lives around everyone else’s needs, putting our children above all else, followed closely by the rest of the world, we most likely feel that we are doing the right thing. We are fulfilling our role, we are prioritising sensibly, we are getting things done. And often what we are doing is right – especially when it comes to our children. But what I truly believe isn’t right is the way that we may forget about ourselves entirely. Because somewhere at the back of our minds, there could be a niggling desire, a tiny voice squeaking out an aspiration to do something for ourselves: Go for a walk. Have a leisurely bath. Go out for dinner. But how often do we firmly hush that troublemaking voice, thinking: ‘There’s no time for any of that’?

 

Yet in doing so, what example are we setting to our children? What message are we sending out to our tiny, impressionable people if we keep putting ourselves last? If we are willing to forego our own wants in favour of everyone else’s? To me it feels that we could be telling our children that we don’t value ourselves. That we don’t matter. And if our children see us doing this, there is a danger that one day, they won’t value themselves either.

 

Just because we are utterly devoted mothers and fathers does not mean that we cannot still have our own lives, fulfil our own ambitions, enjoy our own interests – be us. Just because we have a host of pressing demands upon us, be it work or chores or family responsibilities, that doesn’t mean that these should be the whole focus of our lives. We all need space and time for us. We need to be kind to ourselves.

 

I was reflecting on this recently when I spent the whole day engaged in tasks – childcare, work, shopping, ironing, cleaning, cooking – and it was 10pm before I sat down. And all the time I was thinking ‘I’d love to just read a book,’ but of course, I ignored this want which would have taken me off track. I shouldn’t have done. I should have stopped. Sat down. Picked up a book. Just stopped. It would have been good for my soul. It would have been the kind thing to do on such a busy day when I was utterly frazzled.

 

And if we are kinder to ourselves, if we are taking care of us, we will have more capacity to be kinder to others. To share a good word. To lend a helping hand. Or, just to give someone a smile, a smile which could give a much-needed lift on a bad day. Being kind is good for everyone’s wellbeing; it makes the person on the receiving end feel valued, and for the one offering the positive reinforcement, they can get a warm feeling from the knowledge that they have made a difference to another human being.

 

Being kind also allows us to role model behaviour for our children as they will see the benefits, and will come to view it as the standard of behaviour, something we ‘just do.’ For me, kindness is more important than many other measures of success as it’s a way of ‘being’ in the world. I remember my sister-in-law being rightly thrilled when she received feedback from her daughter’s teacher that her little girl was ‘kind’ to other children. And I have watched with happiness as my own daughter generously offers to share her meals; admittedly, a half-eaten sandwich isn’t the most attractive prospect but the sentiment behind it is beautiful.

 

Kindness can be magical. It can change moods, increase self-esteem and improve wellbeing. Kindness can make the world a better place. And I’m going to start to be a little kinder, to myself and the rest of the world, so that I can be the example I want to be for my girl.

Posted in Rambles | 4 Comments

The Parenthood Impostor Syndrome

‘I don’t think I’m good enough.’

This sentiment, this sense of lacking in some way, of being deficient in ability or capacity is one that surely many of us feel at some point in our lives, even if we don’t always verbalise it. It’s a feeling of uncertainty, of anxiousness and for me, it was the very real idea of being a fraud in those early weeks of motherhood.

I have experienced that impostor feeling before when I was appointed to a senior position, a step-up from my previous role in which I had felt safe and comfortable and capable. ‘I’m not sure I belong here,’ I’d mused nervously, silently, as I’d sat in my first management meeting. But I did and six years later I attend those same meetings assured of my place at the table.

But, that familiar self-doubt made an unwelcome reappearance after the birth of my daughter. ‘I don’t know what I’m doing,’ I thought as I struggled to work out the logistics of the role – the nappy changing, the feeding, the dressing, the bathing and the soothing at 3am when there seemed to be no rhyme or reason for her screams. ‘Everyone else is better at this than me,’ I told myself as, more and more, I noticed mothers everywhere we went, mothers who all seemed to instinctively be able to identify and respond to their child’s needs. And: ‘I’m not a proper mother,’ I opined once, silently, feeling the weight of my guilt at my – perceived – fraudulent use of the name ‘mummy.’

There was no reason for me to feel like this. I was doing everything I could to meet my daughter’s needs whatever they were and whenever they arose. But I just couldn’t help feeling that I simply wasn’t good enough. I’d look at my daughter for some reassurance and she would stare back at me, blankly. My husband was, as ever, hugely supportive but when I watched him, so calm and cool, I was convinced that he was better at this job than me.

Then, one day a friend was visiting and I was feeling my usual lack of confidence as I tended to my daughter’s needs, and she said to me:

‘You’re doing great.’

I listened to her words and they had an immediate effect, giving me an instant shot of self-belief.

‘You’re doing great.’

To hear that, from another mother, was validation, and just the soul-lifting comment I needed. A little while later, I was with another friend, also a mum, and I said, in jest:

‘I’m hardly the best mum in the world!’

But: ‘To your daughter, you are,’ she replied. ‘To your baby you’re the best in the world. Because your hers.’

And I realised she was right. All this time I’d been worrying that I wasn’t good enough, that I didn’t come up to scratch, and all the time I’d been being the very best mummy I could be to my baby.

When we first become parents, we move into a brand new scary world where we are expected to carry out a role we’ve not been trained for – and we get no feedback from our babies on how well we’re doing. So, it’s no wonder if we feel out of our depth and like an impostor. I am sure there are others who have shared my feelings and that is why I truly believe we need to support other mums and dads with supportive comments and ringing endorsements, just like my friends did. After all, this isn’t a competition.

In time, that feeling of being an impostor has vanished and with experience, my confidence has grown. I am a proper mum, a complete mum.  And this Mother’s Day, when my daughter gave me a keyring bearing the slogan ‘Best Mummy Ever,’ I felt only a momentary sense of being undeserving of the title before I remembered: to my daughter, I am the best mummy ever.

Every day I do my absolute best for my daughter in a hundred different ways. And now I don’t have to search her face for signs of feedback because she tells me just how well I’m doing with a smile or a giggle or by reaching her arms out for me to cuddle her. I don’t feel like an impostor anymore.

I’m good enough.

We all are.

thea-and-me

Dear Bear and Beany
The Pramshed
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When Parenting Reality Kicks In

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‘Baby soft skin.’ At least, that’s what they’re meant to have. Ours didn’t though and at three months old she was diagnosed with eczema.

 

‘Not to worry,’ we thought, unperturbed by such a common ailment and, accordingly, the condition was soon beating a hasty retreat after a brief course of steroid cream.

 

That’s that little problem over and done with then. Only, weeks later, those angry red patches were back. Surely that had been treated? A trip to the doctors’ led to the same diagnosis as before.

 

It went. And then it came back. Infected this time. Our hearts sank as we saw our baby’s skin inflamed and raw. This time, as we were given a course of antibiotics and cream, we were more pessimistic than before.

 

We were right to be. After just a few short weeks, time we spent watching our baby’s skin anxiously, the eczema did, as expected make an unwelcome return. And this time it brought an unpleasant side effect.

 

An itch.

 

‘Don’t scratch darling,’ we’d say, covering her little hands with scratch mitts to stop her burrowing at her skin with her fingernails. ‘Don’t scratch.’

 

She ignored us. Even if she could understand us, I doubt she would have done our bidding. But fortunately we had the scratch mitts to stop her doing herself any harm.

 

And then, one night, she worked out how to pull those mitts off.

 

We got to her before she could do any real damage but her cheeks were still marked with bloody little scratches. If she was in pain though you wouldn’t have known it; in fact, she tried to have another little burrow at her face. We had to hold onto her determined little hands to stop her, much to her fury.

 

As we drove to the doctors’, back from our brief holiday, we started to realise this was a real problem. And even with another course of antibiotics and cream it was a problem which didn’t go away. ‘Don’t scratch, don’t scratch, don’t scratch,’ we’d beg, to no avail. It would break our hearts to see the relief in her eyes if she ever managed to get a sneaky (constantly trimmed) fingernail to a place where the eczema prevailed. It was relentless. Our whole time together seemed to be spent stopping her from scratching. I remember one night coming home from work and looking at my husband, who was staying home with our daughter at the time, and in his eyes I just saw naked desperation. ‘She doesn’t stop scratching.’

 

At last, we got to see a specialist who took one look at our daughter and slathered her in cream. ‘It’s like a thousand bites on her skin a minute,’ she explained about the eczema. I felt myself fall then. My poor, poor baby girl; I hated that she had to endure such discomfort and would have given anything and everything to swap places with her.

 

I also hated the way our darling baby would scream when we applied the latest combination of creams. And I hated the way it took two of us to dress her – one to hold her ever-itch-seeking hands and one to get her into her clothes. I also hated seeing her in the special sleeves she wore at night which, thankfully, stopped her hands escaping for a scratch – but which also stopped her getting access to the thumb she used to soothe her. And I hated the way I always felt the need to explain what the medically prescribed ‘silks’ she wore were to strangers.

 

And then I realised. This was real life. This was the reality of parenting.

 

Up until my daughter had been diagnosed with eczema, our parenting path had been as expected, with sleepless nights and nappy explosions and projectile vomiting and earth-shattering screaming. All standard baby behaviour. But the eczema had caught us off guard.

 

And we weren’t alone. The more parents I spoke to, the more I realised that all of our children had different challenges to face – be it reflux or colic or horrendous sleeping patterns or, like us, eczema. And in some cases, for some poor parents, even worse. The path through babyhood is never smooth – and not as rosy as I might have imagined. At some point, the reality of parenthood kicks in.

 

Thankfully, the eczema has calmed down and our girl only suffers really bad flare-ups when she’s teething. And some days she hardly tries to scratch at all.

 

In an odd way, the eczema has made us stronger. We worked together to tackle it and we remained committed to getting the right treatment for our little girl.

 

And as for our daughter? Well, she’s the bravest person I have ever met, having borne it all with the most beautiful smile and the sweetest demeanour: she’s been my hero.

A Mum Track Mind
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I Didn’t Sleep

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I didn’t sleep.

For the two nights that you spent making your descent into the world, your pushes and shoves becoming more insistent as you drew ever closer to your journey’s end. ‘Mummy,’ your sharp movements told me as you determinedly moved forward. ‘I’m coming. I need you.’ As you made your tricky traverse, your progress felt keenly throughout my body, slumber eluded me. And so I stayed awake, waiting eagerly, to see your face, ready to scoop you into my arms and give you succour and comfort as you transitioned from the dark to the light with an earth-trembling shriek of confusion.

 

I didn’t sleep.

The night we brought you home, your precious, tiny body so small and alien within the four walls of the home that had once only provided shelter for two. Uncertain and anxious, I drifted in and out of slumber constantly, waiting for you to awaken and let me know, with your vociferous cries, that you needed me. I stayed beside you, watching you, a faithful servant, ready to do your bidding, even if I wasn’t quite sure what that might be.

 

I didn’t sleep.

For the six months that you lay beside me in your crib, wrapped in the bedding that I hoped would replicate the warmth of my arms. I woke night after night and watched you breathe, my hand gently hovering above your chest, feeling the soothing rise and fall, and the sweet wisp of your breath on my arms. It gave me peace and comfort, at least, for an hour or two, when I would jump up again to feel that unmistakable movement and allay my constant concern, for a while at least.

 

I didn’t sleep.

When you moved across the landing and into your own room, into a cot that seemed too large for you, so different from the crib in our room that you’d easily outgrown now. How could you be so big and so small all at once? I’d wake in the night and look around for you, panic gripping my heart until I saw your blurry face on the monitor. I’d lie for a while and just watch you, watching the grainy motion of your chest. But it was never enough and I’d tiptoe into your room and stare at your face just to reassure myself that you, magical you, were real.

 

I will not sleep.

When you stay away from us with friends for the very first time. I will fret that you’re remembering to brush your teeth and are being good for your hosts. And I’ll worry too that you’re getting along with the others, that you’re not being teased or bullied in the way that young girls can. I will hope that you’re not awake all night yet my own eyes will struggle to close as I worry for you on your big girl adventure, so grown up but always my little one.

 

I will not sleep.

When you pack your bags and leave for your own home. ‘Finally. Dad and I get the house back,’ I’ll laugh. But inside my tummy will churn and the worries will flurry around my mind like a thousand fireflies flashing across the sky at sunset. Will you have enough to pay your bills? What will you eat? Will you remember to lock the doors? But most of all I’ll think about how much I’ll miss you, the beautiful girl who has been down the landing all these years. I’ll tell you though: ‘It will do you good to be independent,’ and you’ll smile a gorgeous, proud smile as you take this momentous step into your new life.

 

And I will not sleep.

The night that you’re awake waiting for the arrival of your own child, knowing that you’ll be feeling every movement he or she makes as they travel along to meet you, their mum. I will be hoping for you, my girl, to stay safe, and for the new life to arrive quickly, minimising the pain for you. And my heart will burst with pride, knowing how fortunate your precious bundle will be to have you as their mother.

 

And now, at the end of each day, we three seek out slumber; you exhausted by the sheer effort of growing and your daddy and I overcome by the tiredness from the busyness of the hours preceding. But the welcome of sleep is temporary as it’s a bridge that keep us at a distance.  And as I watch you snoozing contentedly, I look forward to when you will rouse again, so I can see your smile, hear your voice, feel your strong little hands grip onto my neck. I feel like a child the night before Christmas, waiting for the glorious gift of the morning when I will wander into your room and scoop you up into my arms and see my world light up once more.

Dear Bear and Beany
Prose for Thought
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Choosing Not To Judge

 

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Long before our little girl was anything more than a beautiful notion, my husband and I agreed that he would take the lead on childcare in the first year. At the time, this would have meant him leaving his job but for a whole host of reasons, this was the right thing for us.

 

And then, something magical happened: the law changed and Shared Parental Leave was introduced. The timing couldn’t have been better, and not only would my husband be able to remain in his job he would be able to receive statutory maternity pay for the period he was taking care of the baby.

 

Excitedly, we made plans. And we shared our plans, to varying responses. Some people thought what we were doing was great, others were incredulous. ‘Really? You’re going back that soon?’ I was asked. And: ‘You’ll change your mind,’ others prophesised.

 

We didn’t. Our beautiful daughter was born and we were engulfed in a tidal wave of all consuming adoration. And, of course, anxiety; here was the most precious person in the world and we were responsible for her. It was the biggest task we had ever been given.

 

We learnt together how to look after her. There were tears – mine, mostly – and fears but each day got a little bit easier than the one before. The worries were still there, and I would often feel teary and overwhelmed.

 

Including on the day I went back to work. As, I’m sure any new parent does. Thank goodness then for the unstinting support of my husband, my little girl’s adoring and brilliant father who was at home taking care of her. With him in our corner, taking care of baby, I could return to work with confidence if not without that ache in my heart at the start.

 

But, even if we thought we had things sussed, even if our plan was panning out as we had hoped, what made me wobble were the frequent, shocked, ‘you’re-doing-what?’ comments. Unlike pre-baby, when I was far more together and far less vulnerable, these really bothered me. Like, for example, the lady attending the first aid for babies class who was appalled when my husband told her that his daughter’s mummy was ‘at work.’ Or a baby group member of staff who told me ‘don’t worry, we’ll help daddy out.’ He doesn’t need help, I thought frustrated, and angry, he’s her father. There’s no-one better to look after our baby than him. And so often we would meet someone who would raise their eyebrows or make an ill thought-out comment when we told them that mummy was back at work and daddy was staying at home for a bit.

 

I know that I shouldn’t have let the views of a stranger bother me (and now, I would probably tell them to get stuffed!) but at the time I was fragile and fearful of letting my daughter down and privately I used to worry that maybe I was letting her down by not staying at home. Maybe I should be the one staying at home and my poor, knackered, frazzled husband be the one going out to work.

 

But of course, I carried on. Because ultimately I knew that we were doing the right thing for my amazing little family. And in my head, all the time I heard this phrase: ‘Why do we judge others for exercising the choices available to them?’

 

Now, a year on, I wouldn’t change a thing. Both my husband and I were fortunate enough to spend some special one-to-one time with our wonderful daughter. Both of us also got to experience the different worlds – the missing-baby-at-work life and the exhausting and bewildering childcare planet. And, we both have our own, special, lovely bonds with our girl.

 

Reflecting now though, I do have some thoughts. The law might have changed but mindsets still need to catch up. We are fortunate in this country to have choice around maternity/paternity leave and we should support and not judge anyone for the options they take. It is not my business if mothers and fathers stay at home, go to work, work part time, work full time, return to work after a fortnight or go back after a year. It’s their choice and more power to them.

 

And, fathers deserve respect and equality. They are just as capable of being a stay at home dad and looking after their offspring. Indeed, my husband is better than me at some parenting tasks; he is the one who always clips our daughter’s fingernails with a steady, tender hand which I just don’t have.

 

My daughter, of course, will never remember who looked after her in her first year. But I will tell her that we shared our care of her. And I will also tell her that she can do what on earth she wants with her life – she has choices and it is down to her to exercise those, regardless of what anyone says or thinks.

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Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

 

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One

How can it be

That a year has gone by

Since you arrived in the world

With a life-grabbing cry.

 

Twelve months, just gone

Flown, in a haze

Of sleep-deprived nights

And jam-packed, full days.

 

So much has changed

Since that incredible day

When you grabbed our hearts

And took our breath away.

 

No longer a baby

Now a little miss

With your own ideas

Upon which you insist.

 

Chomping your food

Pushing our hands away

‘I’ll feed myself, thanks’

You want to say.

 

And ‘Mumma’ and ‘Dadda’

Just roll off your tongue

Your words are so warming

Like rays of the sun.

 

 

Sitting up proudly

Desperate to walk

Staying in one place

Is making you baulk.

 

Swaying your shoulders

When we’re singing a song

Your dancing infectious

So we groove along.

 

At the end of each day

We all curl up tightly

Reading our stories

It’s  our routine nightly.

 

And through the itching

Which you bravely endure

You still wear that smile

We completely adore.

 

A little bit of mummy

And partly daddy too

But mostly you’re just

All fabulous, you.

 

You’re the love of our lives

And all we want to say

Is darling, we wish you

A happy first birthday.

Prose for Thought
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Love is in the ordinary

My darling Sweetpea,

My phone is angry with me, berating me for my abuse of its memory capacity with an angry little warning sign. ‘You must delete some pictures,’ it judgementally chastises me. I never had this difficulty with my phone pre-you my darling, my mobile interaction always generally amicable. But ever since the day you emerged blinking into the light, I have been snapping away, capturing for posterity the milestones and events which have peppered your first months.

 

In a short while, I will pull together those pictures into a book, a catalogue of memories which we will look back on together in years to come. We’ll coo over those images from your very first day, commenting on your tiny size, so small compared to the girl then woman into which you will grow. We’ll laugh at the pictures of you at the swings, and I will tell you what a daredevil you were, wanting to go higher, even though you were just little. And you will probably roll your eyes at me at the pumpkin costume I dressed you in at Halloween, no doubt declaring that I have clearly always been an embarrassing mum.

 

But they are the highlights, the days out, the special events. What you won’t see are the mundanities, the day to day toings and froings which have underpinned your first year. There will be no shots of your dad and I applying the plethora of creams necessary to keep your eczema under control. Nor will you see pictures of your dad, showing a hitherto hidden talent as a manicurist, gently trimming your nails almost daily as part of our concerted effort to stop you hurting yourself when the eczema itchiness overwhelmed you. And, you’ll never see us desperately trying to get you to take your hated calpol, when your teeth were causing you agonising pain and your hurt broke our hearts.

 

And nor would I want you to see those pictures; I’m so grateful that you won’t remember the all-encompassing itchiness of your eczema, or the body-shaking pain of your teething. But what I do hope that stays with you, what I want you to carry through your life is how we made you feel. When times were tough, you dad and I have wrapped you up in a little love bubble, lavishing adoration upon you, utterly devoted to increasing your happiness. And from the look on your face, the way you’ve rested your head upon my shoulder, or relaxed visibly, I think you’ve known that. And that feeling, which can’t be captured in any photo, is what I hope you always carry with you: that feeling of being loved, no matter what.

 

There is a famous quote by Maya Angelou which is: ‘At the end of the day people won’t remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.’ You will never remember these early days but I hope you always remember how we made you feel my darling.

Love, Mumumumumumum xxx

holding hands

Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

 

 

 

 

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You Taught Me

My sweet baby girl

So pure and so new

There are so many things

I want to teach you.

Like how to distinguish

Between right and wrong

And which path is best

To travel along.

 

And darling, I’ll show you

How lovely you are

Giving you esteem

That’ll carry you far.

And sweetpea, I’ll tell you

That bad times won’t last

Your sadness will soon

Be confined to the past.

 

When you get stuck

I’ll be there by your side

Your biggest supporter

Your always there guide.

And with you I’ll share

All that I know

Helping you to learn,

Develop and grow.

 

But the truth is my sweet

You have taught me

To believe in myself

To be all I can be.

You’ve been showing me how

To be your mum

The best version of me

For you I’ve become.

 

And darling, it’s you

Who’s been steering the way

When I’ve doubted myself

My fears you allay.

Those times when I’ve floundered

And felt like I’m failing

You’ve been the rudder

Who’s stopped me from flailing.

 

I never quite thought

At this job I’d succeed

Yet I’ve managed to flourish

With you as my lead.

But above all else, darling

You taught me to behave

With courage by showing me

I could be brave.

Prose for Thought
Two Tiny Hands
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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Family Tie

A gossamer thread

In our lives will embed

Tying us up in a knot

A bond never forgot.

 

An invisible line

An unspoken sign

Of a heritage shared

Of lives duly cared.

 

It links like a vein

Love flows in the chain

And time doesn’t alter

Nor miles ever falter.

 

Not eroded by wear

Or able to tear

And through high and low

It doesn’t let go.

 

It’s there at the start

And the time to depart

Can’t cause it to rupture

It’s not built to fracture.

 

This tie that will bind

Will keep us all twined

Hearts joined together

As family forever.

Prose for Thought
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday
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Run

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It’s just a step

To take

A tiny move

To make

But my toes

Feel like lead

And a deep fear

Looms ahead.

 

I need to make

That lift

Force my heels

To shift

Yet I’m gripped

By paralysis

As I’m trapped in

This stasis.

 

Space must

Be found

Between my sole

And ground

But my feet

Refuse to bend

Despite the signals

That I send.

 

I give myself

A push

A shot of

Adrenaline rush

And my feet

Are finally free

Poised and ready

Now to flee.

 

Then I’m running.

 

Pavement pounding

Footsteps sounding

Breeze blowing

Hair flowing

Legs shaking

Path snaking

Dirt kicking

Heels clicking

Heart pumping

Soul jumping

Steps lengthening

Body strengthening

Lungs inhaling

Mouth exhaling

Dashing

Sprinting

Racing

Running.

 

One step becomes a pair

Two steps become a mile

As over land I hare

All troubles now erstwhile.

 

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