Yes, young children require a lot of looking after. Yes there are nappies to change, bottoms and noses to wipe, drinks and meals to make and washing to be done. There are tantrums to be handled, morals and values to instil, lessons to teach. There are stories to read and hurts to kiss and minds to nurture. But within this mammoth and important task, there is, or there should be, time each and every day, for Mama to look after herself. To nurture all of who she is – not just the part of her that is ‘mummy’. Because by doing so, all of the above is sweetened.
It is far more important (and far easier), than you think.
Who are you supposed to put the oxygen mask on first if the plane is in trouble? Yourself. Why? Because unless you look after yourself you can’t look after anyone else properly. Ultimately, if you are happy, your kids are happy. So why are mothers ignoring their own needs and finding child rearing so hard and exhausting and burdensome?
I’m giving that word it’s own line, as it is the trendy blog thing to do. But mainly to illustrate its (poisonous) significance.
“But I feel so guilty!” comes the standard response when a mum is asked why she has cbeebies on for her 8 week old instead of This Morning, or whatever else she fancies watching. Or why she hasn’t ignored the washing up and curled up for a nap mid afternoon after a long night awake with a teething baby. Firstly, guilt is daft and secondly, unless you are harming your child, guilt is utterly pointless.
If this is your first baby there is some inevitable adapting going on. This is your new job and it’s (very) different from your previous post. You may well be working nights for a start. Your tiny baby is just as likely to thank you for your consideration of his televisual needs or laundry situation as he is to berate you for being so selfish as to hog the remote control or have a sleep. His only understanding is how your mood and interactions with him make him feel. He couldn’t give a monkeys whether his babygros are washed, or the kitchen is spotless. All he cares about is you – because you are him and he is you at first.
You’ve swapped the office for your own sitting room and it’s all a bit weird. Your fella is out at work, hanging out with people who can talk and use the toilet by themselves. Maybe the resentment is towards him more than the kid. But the day is yours for the taking Mama; the rule is that there are no rules! You can do whatever you want! If you feel lonesome – go to that playgroup down the road, but only if you met some great mums there last week and loved it. (Your baby doesn’t care where she is.) Or if playgroup isn’t your bag and you prefer your own company then head to the coffee shop for cake and hot chocolate if you fancy. Stroll around a museum or visit somewhere new – use your maternity leave to do all the things you’ve always meant to do. (Slings are your friend.) Do what makes you happy. Get your nails done. Visit an elderly person and make their day. Hang out with your mates. Or just stay at home and watch telly. Read a book. Start writing your life story, knit, make a cushion – anything! Do something to make yourself smile because your happiness matters. You’ll be a better mum for it. Feel guilty? Think you’re being selfish?! Guilt Shmilt. Doing something for yourself is actually the opposite of selfish. Your mood hugely affects your child’s – so if you think about it, it’s actually your duty to make yourself happy. (If nothing else it will take your mind off all the over thinking/worrying and analysing you are probably doing over this tiny new person in your life.)
Maybe the new baby bit is behind you, and you’re now in the land of Peppa Pig and engineered naps. It may feel like your whole purpose is to keep your child from all harm. It can be nerve wracking when your toddler is bumbling about all over the place, but curb those panics – don’t hover. It makes them nervous too and sends out the message that they are incapable. Each bump increases their physical awareness. (There have been two head bashes since I have been at the computer. Both children are fine). Be there, but get on with your own stuff while they potter. And chill Mama, you’ve baby proofed your house to within an inch of it’s life so relax. Save your worries for actual bad things like not being able to find your kid in the park and losing the remote control for the telly.
When you do stuff with the kids, do stuff you love. Don’t do things because you think it’s what good mothers should do. No use making rockets out of cardboard boxes if it makes you want to eat your own head. No use baking muffins with them if you bloody hate baking. You’ll be miserable and so the kids will too – they’re not stupid. If you love arts and crafts, do that. If you love kicking balls about, kick them. If you love reading – read to them. Leave the other stuff that you hate doing, they can do that at nursery and school. You cannot possibly be a chef, craftsman, sportswoman and artist all in one. You can offer them who and what you are. There are other people around them to offer the rest. Takes a village after all. (We shouldn’t be so up ourselves anyway, most of the time kids learn plenty without any intervention from us at all.)
Know that you don’t have to play with them all the time. In fact the experts say that playing with your children is stupid and ridiculous; (a) they take learn nothing from it because you always abide by their rules ruining the point of play which is to acquire social skills and (b) you are crap at it – your brain is not developing as theirs is, you do not think as they do, so you make a poor playmate. You are not a bad mother because you find playing doctor’s surgeries with your child dull. Unless you are four, it is dull. Far better to leave them to play with their siblings or peers. Supervised does not have to mean involved. The harsh reality is that they’ll have a much better time without you!
So now ask yourself why your ‘me time’ needs to be away from the children. Children do not need to be entertained as much as we think they do.
“Three kids! I don’t know how you do it!” People say to me.
‘Do what?’ I think. What do they think I’m doing? Potato printing whilst singing nursery rhymes and teaching them Latin? More often than not, the boys are wrestling together on the floor, the baby is playing with her fingers and toes at my feet, and I am messing about on the computer or texting. (I love texting and it is important to me to get the emoticons and emojis right.) Not that I don’t adore my kids with every fibre of my being – I do – they are excellent and I am fascinated by them and want to eat each one whole. I love being with them, but I don’t believe I should be interacting with them all the time. No one likes a kid who thinks the world revolves around them. So don’t revolve! Let them be. Please yourself for a bit. Kids are blessed with imaginations for a reason. Plus what are all their zillions of toys for if not for playing with?
There will be times when it’s tough. Kids get sick, have tantrums, make messes and break stuff. They can be incredibly loud and annoying. Money may be tight, you may have health problems, you may be a single parent, and everything sucks when you’re tired. All the more important to make yourself happy. Be responsible for getting what you need because it makes everything better – once you’ve had a coffee and read a chapter or two of your book, you don’t mind putting all the clean pants and socks away and playing hide and seek (again).
Lean on your mates, that’s what they’re there for. Scratch her back and I’ll bet she scratches yours. And if you are tired then for goodness sake go to bed when the baby sleeps or hand him over to someone else while you get some shut eye – might make you anxious at first but once your little one learns that when you leave you come back again they’ll be happy as a pig in mud to go to others. Don’t be tempted to use this time for admin or housework – even if you’re OCD – wait until bedtime! Tidying up before 7pm is just walking up the escalator backwards.
Rope your fella in at the weekends for some alone time if that’s what you need. Make him aware of the psychology behind your going for a run, or your need to stay in bed on Sunday morning with all the papers/Sky Living. It can take some explaining if up until now you’ve been the family slave. So sit him down and explain. You need time to yourself. Time to yourself will make you a happier mum. A happier mum is a better mum. The end. Repeat as necessary. (When I spent the first two weeks of my third baby’s life in bed with just her, the remote control and the biscuit tin, Mr G needed the odd recap – and once you’re both on the same wavelength everyone is happier.)
So the next time you find yourself sighing and feeling crotchety about motherhood – do something for yourself. Something relaxing and fun. Whether your children are asleep or not. Whether the house is tidy or a mess. Whether you have a long to do list or not. Don’t be a martyr – invest in yourself – your happiness matters. If Mama is not ok then all the wheels fall off the wagon. So be good to yourselves ladies!
God, aren’t I bossy.
Right! Off to have a bath.