Wednesday, 20 July 2016

"I should never have had children"




"I should never have had children," she said to me with anguish in her face. I was shocked that a lady in her nineties could be so filled with regret, not least about the two lives she had created.



"I just couldn't cope," she sighed.

Maybe there was evidence of mental health issues undealt with: Maybe it was being forced to move away from home at a young age to do a profession she didn't want to do. Maybe it was the trauma of witnessing war first hand; of nursing injured patients who'd had limbs blown off. Maybe it was having her husband die of illness and marrying into a second abusive marriage.

"You could understand why he hit her," people would say. 

Maybe she never really wanted children at all. No doubt it was even more taboo to choose not to as a childbearing woman in the 1940s. Society didn't allow for women who wanted to make choices. Society didn't allow for trauma or mental health issues. Many have praised the time as more positive than today: Mental illness didn't exist in our day, they say, we just had to crack on.

And crack on she did. 

She's the same woman who told me I'd always suffer too, that I'd never be able to make a good decision. "It's a curse," she would say to me. And I don't think what she meant was the curse of a bad decision, but the curse of not being able to accept any sort of outcome. Every decision feels like the wrong one: inflicted with the deep rooted perfectionism that has plagued my life too. Perhaps she was right.

"I should never have had children," I found myself saying in my head this week. I suddenly caught the thought and named it for what it was; utterly ridiculous. Of course I'd never say that to anyone else - people would misinterpret that as me wishing my children away, which is an entirely different thing altogether. Perhaps only perfectionists will truly understand that juxtaposition; that feeling of things not being altogether right, and so your brain instantly writes it all off as useless. You fall off your bike and you're reluctant to ever get back on it again. What could I have done differently? Perhaps never have got on a bike in the first place? And you say these things to yourself in a split second; a ridiculous moment of self loathing for not being good enough: you should never have got on a bike in the first place, you say to yourself, despite the fact that of course you will, and the fact that you will have countless more enjoyable bike rides thereafter.

"I should never have had children."



And what that meant was: I'm not a good enough mother. I'd not had time to bake cakes for my son's school like every other parent seemed to. Who am I kidding, I can't even bake. The last time I baked something it welded so hard to the tray you could pass it as kryptonite. Except less edible. I can't bake, I'm not fit to be a mother. Why didn't anyone tell me that baking was a requirement? I arrived to school late again. My 18 month old had had me chasing him round the house waving a pair of Clarkes shoes at him, until I had to pin him down and force them on his deliberately curled up toes. Meanwhile my five year old was not cleaning his teeth as I'd asked, he was instead distracted - stood in the middle of the lego bricks he's left out with his jaw open, gawping at whether the pictures on the wall were straight. See, he has it too. There's only so long before I start to hate my own raised voice amidst the screams and moans and the general chaos. Its only a matter of time before I can't even hear myself think and I feel like screaming so loud that all the universe can hear. I don't, of course. I just crack on.

I find myself longing to be at my work desk, a place of escape. I feel guilty at the pleasure I get from silence, deep down knowing I'll look back with rose tinted glasses at a time when my children curled up their toes to stop me putting their shoes on. I sometimes think about whether I'd have children had I not felt pressure from society. Maybe I wouldn't. I believed it when people told me I was selfish. I loved children, but I found them exhausting. What's wrong with me? Where's this maternal gene I'm supposed to have? I felt like an anomaly, like if I owned up to the truth no one would accept me as a decent human being. But everyone was always on at me: "when are you going to have a baby? When are you going to have a baby? Your body clock is ticking." I got told I was selfish not to want children.

Now I just get told I'm selfish if I don't enjoy every minute.

Or bake scones. 

It seems utterly ridiculous now that I would make a choice simply out of fear of what others thought of me, and that's of course not the main reason I had children. I remember when my husband and I decided to have a baby - It was out of a place of love and trust. We told each other we would be there for one another despite the hardships and the judgements and the sleeplessness. We told each other we would do things differently; that we would shut out the expectations and the need to be perfect. I forgot all about the lack of desire to hang out with kids, and thought about the love I have for people, for relationships, for fun and stupidity, for water fights and silly dancing, and for my man who would make an amazing Dad. I secretly hoped that it would bring me more joy than pain; that it would bring me a new sense of purpose; that I would have a greater capacity for love.

And it did.

But it's been hard. I sometimes feel like I'm not coping. I sometimes wonder whether my kids will grow up to hate me. I've realised that the old lady's regrets are not out of a selfishness, but out of a desire to do things right. Deep down perhaps she knows that she wasn't always there for her children; that she had a lot of other stuff to deal with. I don't for a second think that her regret means she wishes her children don't exist. I don't for a second think that she doesn't love them. I feel a deep sense of empathy for her and I wish I could have helped her before her life got so full of regret; I wish I could have been that friend that told her it's okay to be imperfect. I wish she could have read a blog post that told her it's okay to find things hard sometimes. I wish, amongst the perfect housewife personas, someone could have stood with her and said 'I've got your back.'

So what if I find things hard? So what if I don't match up to the kind of mother society says I should be? I may be imperfect but I love these little people in my life and I want them to know that no matter how screwed up their mother is, she wants them to live lives without regret: lives free of expectation and pressure. She wants them to look at the wonky photos on the wall and find acceptance. She wants them to know that all the shouting and screaming and toe curling in the world won't stop her loving them. May they live lives without regret and without perfection. My life would be less without them, and there's not a day I am not thankful for the lessons that they teach me.

So here's to imperfect mothers everywhere. I've got your back.



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Tuesday, 28 June 2016

How do we respond if our kids choose a different path to us?



I have been very lucky to grow up in a really loving family; a family that loves deeply and cares selflessly. They are good people. My dad can't sit still in my house without finding something to fix for me. My mum scurries round emptying the dishwasher and offering me tea as soon as I've finished the last cup. On arrival at my auntie and uncle's house I am presented with an actual dinner-plate full of cake, all for me, and if I can't eat it all they seem perplexed and ask if I've lost my appetite. My grandma recites silly poems and my nana slips me a tenner to buy sweets (this time for my kids, but I'll be damned if I don't get any cola cubes thrown into the bargain).

They are good people, and I'll defend them to the grave.

Sort of.

Growing up, it was a given that you stuck by your family. Loyalty was of utmost importance – and that didn't just mean favouring them over others – it meant favouring their beliefs too. I wanted to be like them; to impress them; to please them, and so it made sense to believe in everything they said, as I'm sure is the case with most children. Of course, they would never condone dictatorship, nor would they want me to feel under control in any way, but if I ever disputed or questioned anything that came out of any of their lips I was met with dropped jaws and silenced with another dinner-sized portion of cake. It wasn't that they thought me disrespectful, but perhaps they simply hadn't accounted for the fact someone might think slightly differently to them, not least a child in their bloodline. My questions were always met with a defensive argument that never really answered them at all. You don't argue this stuff, this is just how it is.

Growing up in a small town, most people shared similar views about life outside of it. My family never went abroad and they were the first to believe in the scaremongering surrounding visiting other countries. 'Well, I've heard....' they would say, and everybody would lean in intently. Each person would share their own tale of lament about the world; the things that got them angry. They each had a fascinating ability to turn something drab into an epic story that had you either crying with laughter or with utter despair.  I look back on it all with fondness; they left you wanting more of their storytelling and I have taken their love of it into my own life – I love a good story, albeit a fabricated one. And their storytelling talent not only left you amused, but willing yourself to think the same way as them about anything - politics or religion - because there was this feel-good factor in joining in with their side of the debate. It was a lot more fun than the alternative; the tumbleweed of a disagreement or a disputed fact. Is this what loyalty is, I asked myself? Could I still be part of the family and believe something entirely different to them?

Since I left home at nineteen (something that was not the norm for my family and did not come without a challenge) I started to meet people who did not share our point of view. I felt the fight for loyalty rising in me every time someone disagreed with me, like I had to defend my beliefs – my family – to the grave. How could anyone think any differently? Is this not what everyone believes? I wasn't always respectful of other's opinions - sure, I tried to listen, but I always had an agenda. But the more I went on in life, the more some of the things my family believed did not sit right with me. And although those beliefs worked well for them, and although they came from good intentions, they no longer made sense. I had travelled and seen the world (or some of it), I had met people from lots of different backgrounds, I had become good friends with people of different sexuality, race, class and religion. I no longer saw these people as other to me and I didn't see them as people who should be avoided but people I wanted to understand, live life with and learn from.

Of course, I look back and see how my youthful enthusiasm could have come across as naive to the older generations. I hadn't, of course, been through all the things that they had and perhaps I should have listened more instead of trying to find out about life all by myself. I made a lot of mistakes; I trusted people I shouldn't have; I got hurt. But I was exploring life and ideas and I wanted to ask big questions. Sometimes the hurts had to happen to gain full understanding; sometimes I even found myself in the very position of someone I had judged harshly only years earlier. I became a loather of judgemental people, knowing full well that I myself had been one: a recovering critic, humbled by life's events. I learnt that questioning should come before judgement. But whenever I questioned my family's beliefs it felt as though I were sticking a dagger into their hearts; how could I be so cruel as to doubt my own flesh and blood? Do I not trust them? It was easier to go it alone.

So we fast forward fifteen years and I'm faced with a referendum. I explained in simple terms to my five year old what that is and what it means and I asked him for his thoughts on it. He didn't answer but responded with 'what do you think mummy?' I saw the same loyalty in him as I had myself as a kid, desperate to please me with his answer. And with it brings about a challenge: do I just seek to tell him what I believe in order to bring him up with the same beliefs as me (because of course I think they're right, in the same way my family thinks theirs are), or do I present him with options to choose from? And what if he grows up to believe in very different things? How will I respond? Will I defend my view point to the grave? Will I get angry about what I so adamantly believe, or will I swallow my pride and listen before I share my views?

We all have people in our lives that we can't discuss politics or religion with. Perhaps I have been that person myself. As much as we try to have open-minded discussions, opposing views aren't readily welcomed but instead often taken with offence. They are not received as thought-provoking or even challenging, but instead as a means of attack. So we avoid talking about such things in order to avoid an argument and things get left unsaid.

I do not want to be this person when it comes to my own children. I want to be someone they can question without taking offence. This isn't about bringing my kids up to believe that 'anything goes' or not instil any morality or wisdom, what little of it I have. I'm under no illusion that no matter how open minded I try to be, my own beliefs and lifestyle with have a huge influence on them and will largely dictate how they make a lot of their early independent decisions. But should they choose a different path to me, what then? Do I lament over their different choices? Or do I accept that they are very different people to me and cannot possibly think in the exact same way? I hope I can give them space to question my own lifestyle, and in turn earn enough respect to be able to do the same to them. I hope to give them opportunity to debate with me and find out whether my beliefs have depth. Could it be possible to have a healthy banter about the deeper issues in life that can open up more opportunity for truth to reveal itself? Do we need to take ourselves a little less seriously and accept that we can learn things from those younger than us too?

These are challenges I face as a parent – we all do. Perhaps you're a parent of older children reading this and you're rolling your eyes at my idealism; just you wait till your kids are grown. I hear you, but what's the alternative unless we try? We cannot be life long mentors of our children, as much as we would like to be. When a bird flies the nest it does as it pleases. One day they will grow up to be their own independent people, making important choices about life. I hope they still come to me for advice, but that doesn't mean they have to listen to it. It's in these early days that I have the opportunity to shape them and influence them with the things that are important to me; to learn to respect others, to be honest and to be kind. But once they are out on their own in the big wide world, I have no right to inflict my beliefs on them, any more than I do any other adult. I can have open discussions with them or I can choose to shut them down and tell them they are wrong.  

I'm not sure it will ever be easy to hear that our kids have beliefs we don't agree with. And of course, if their belief system has hugely negative implications I hope that I can be outspoken about such things, but this does not mean I can force my way of life upon them in adulthood. Telling someone how they should live is not helpful, but asking questions to glean understanding is on both sides of the relationship.

So, I want to be an encourager of questions. I want to learn to allow mistakes. Most of all, I want to give my children the keys to make good decisions. And what if they still choose things in life differently to me? What if they vote differently or choose a different religion? Then I shall ask them more questions and in turn I hope they do the same. And in the questioning, perhaps there's more chance that truth shall will out for each of us – all, I hope, with good humour, humility, understanding and a dinner-sized portion of cake.


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Wednesday, 8 June 2016

So... just how long does it take to lose the baby weight?


It's taken me a long time to write this post. It's not just because I've been busy or because I couldn't think of the right words, it's simply because showing photographs of your bare belly can make you feel somewhat vulnerable. For me this is hard, not because I'm embarrassed of my body, but because it's not really any of your business how I look in a bikini or whether I have a flat stomach or not. So, why the hell am I showing you my post natal figure then? Good question...

When I had baby number one I literally had no clue as to how my belly would look after birth. I secretly hoped that the celebrities were right - that if I kept fit during pregnancy, if I ate the right things and applied enough stretch mark cream; that if I did all the post natal exercises and burnt all my calories on breastfeeding, that I too could have a flat stomach in no time (really?!). But the reality was that I winced as I looked in the mirror for the first time. Is there another baby in there somewhere?! I thought to myself.

Growing up most of the female role models in my life hated their bodies. Despite being perfectly healthy, they were always poking at bits of their own skin and saying how awful they looked compared to my thirteen year old body. I learnt from an early age that women were supposed to hate themselves unless they looked like they too were thirteen. But at thirteen you don't feel particularly good about your body either - I had chubby thighs and the boys teased me because I didn't have 'big enough tits' (as though that's all a girl should ever wish for in life, right?). But I did't appreciate my stomach when I was thirteen; I didn't appreciate that the rolls of fat I thought I had were actually just healthy weight gain tied up in lovely smooth skin. I wanted my body to be different but I wasn't quite sure how, because every other woman with a different body hated hers just the same. I remember thinking that something didn't quite add up, that women should stop being so mean to themselves.

I, of course, didn't include myself.

So fast forward about twenty years and I'm stood with a huge pot belly in front of a hospital mirror, wearing a big fetching nursing bra and pants big enough to fit in a maternity pad the size of England (but we don't talk about these things do we?). We find ourselves in a state of shock at how our bodies change but we're not allowed to mention it because it's so uncouth, darling, you know. Instead we're told by the media that we need to buy pull in pants for the rest of our lives. We're not sexy anymore; no longer the object of admiration. Hey, wait, but now I have big tits? Oh, no, we don't like that kind - the nurturing kind - and besides which, your belly comes out further - so now you just look like you're stood in the middle of a huge pile of bloody ring doughnuts. Nothing sexy about that, love.

Me blooming with pregnancy? Er, no, me three days after giving birth. Nope, they didn't forget to take him out, I can assure you of that one!

When you find yourself in this situation you realise you need to cut yourself some slack. I've just given birth to baby the size of a watermelon for God's sake, what was I expecting? And that lasts approximately, what, SEVEN DAYS before you start getting really antsy about losing the god damn baby weight, and you start prodding and poking your skin in front of thirteen year old girls and saying oooh, I wish I had a body like yours. And then you start getting invited out to things again and you suddenly realise that you have to interact with strangers who may mistake you for being six months pregnant. A week after I'd given birth a little girl came up to me and asked me why I had such a big tummy if the baby had come out now. I told her I'd eaten the previous child who asked me why I had such a big tummy - oh, and would she pass me the salt.

Just kidding. 

I don't like salt.

So, now we get to the part where I flash my stomach to the world. And why would I do such a thing? Because I'm tired of hearing the crap about how women should look after giving birth. I'm tired of seeing celebrity mums in Heat magazine a month after giving birth with their flat little stomachs. I'm tired of hearing people say to post natal women "you look amazing!", when what they really mean is "you're losing the baby weight sooner than expected." What they should be saying is 'you ARE amazing', because you've just pushed/had torn out of you an actual human being the size of a football and you're still able to chuffing walk. Go you. Who cares how flat your stomach is, you're a bloody legend.

So, here's how my tummy looked and how long it took to go back to normal.*

*normal being the stomach of a thirteen year old girl. Erm, maybe not. 

* Normal being the stomach I had before I got pregnant. Erm, maybe not.

* who am I kidding, it's never gone back to normal, whatever the hell that is.

For the purposes of the blog post I photographed my stomach from my worst side, showing my appendix scar to show it is definitely me - you know - just incase you thought I was Kate Moss or someone. I should also add that I didn't do much planned exercise after my second, because life with two kids is absolutely bloody mental and that was enough for me to cope with. I did however walk to the shops to buy chocolate on several occasions.





I appreciate that maybe some of you may look at my stomach on week one and think that that's you on a good day, and there'll be others who went back to their post natal size in four weeks (cocky sods). I don't intend to make anyone feel bad if they took a lot longer to lose baby weight or indeed if they never have (I certainly have never got back to my pre baby figure). But I think it's important that both men and women have a rough idea of how bodies look after birth. In all honesty I'd say it took about a year to feel like I didn't have to hold my stomach in every time I caught myself in shop window reflections. And how ridiculous that I even felt that way.

My tummy now. 18 months on.


Since having children I feel I deserve to feel good about my body. It's been through a lot, after all. Many people can be very cynical about women's bodies - oh she's let herself go, they say, as though they have any understanding or insight as to what that particular body has even been through. We're all different, aren't we? But I no longer want to be one of those women who speaks badly of her body. I don't want to endorse the culture that says women should hate the way they look, simply for creating life. Is that not a bonus? And sure, I don't have the stomach of a thirteen year old, but my tummy tells a story - every scar and wrinkle is a journey I've been on that I wouldn't take back, so why should I try to hide the evidence of it? As long I am healthy and look after myself what's the point in wanting to change? Will it bring me more happiness to have a celebrity body? Perhaps, for a day. But I can guarantee that behind the scenes most of them will be pulling at their skin and saying to their daughters and nieces, oooh, I wish I had a tummy like yours.

So don't get caught up with trying to regain your old body. That's like trying to fit into your first swimsuit: It's not realistic, it's degrading. You're better than that: you've moved on.

By the way, have you given birth? You are amazing.




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Monday, 30 May 2016

You're a mother: it's all your fault


I remember clearly the second emotion I felt after I met my firstborn for the very first time and it felt nearly as overwhelming as the first. Contrary to popular belief the first emotion I felt was not relief, though that came a close third. The first was love – perhaps an obvious emotion for a new mother to feel – it is both expected and welcomed. Although I know a mother's love is not a given, I feel blessed to have experienced the depths of its emotion. Though somewhat overbearing, I knew love had the ability to transform me into a better person and I knew I was joyfully helpless in it's grasp - it would make me do and feel crazy things for another human being.

Then the second emotion came upon me like a tonne of bricks – as though all this intense love was not enough of a help to care for my newborn.

Guilt.

Am I good enough to raise this precious human? Am I doing everything right? Is my baby getting enough milk? Is he happy? Is he reaching the milestones?

If not, what am I doing wrong?

But the problem is that the culture endorses this guilt-mentality – we all perform this judgement on other parents too, like we have a right to do so. A tragic accident happens (clue's in the name accident) and we suddenly think that accidents are physically impossible. Who is to blame? What did the family do wrong? Let's think of every eventuality where this could have been avoided, further endorsing the culture of blame that will one day turn around and bite us for something we had no intention of doing.

There are a number of things that have saddened me this week: running out of chocolate hobnobs, the washing machine playing up and the fact that my toddler has defaced the walls again with pen when I turned my back for ten seconds. Where he found this pen from is beyond me because I swear I have confiscated every single pen in the entire house, but he still has a crazy ability to trace one down and draw all over my walls. But there are two further things that have saddened me in deeper ways than a lack of sugary treats and defaced walls. I was saddened by two main things:

1. The beautiful Gorilla that was shot in an animal enclosure
2. That this prompted a huge online petition to prosecute the parents.

Before I continue, let me make it perfectly clear that I have been known to roll my eyes at parents being irresponsible whilst looking after their kids. We've all been somewhere where a parent has deliberately overlooked their kid/s running riot at the expense of everyone else's pleasure. God forbid you witness such a scene and it results in an injury. If we are eye witnesses maybe we can call it - maybe we can say those parents were irresponsible, as a matter of observation. But let's say someone else tells of an account where a four year old has got into some sort of trouble. The initial response is always 'where was the mother?' (note, not father). What was she doing? Except that when you dig deeper you find out that the mother had already warned the child and was also trying to look after several other children at the same time. Have you ever tried to look after one four year old? That's no mean feat. Now try multitasking, watching several other kids, all with minds of their own, desperate to explore and exert their independence. And, sure, maybe you need more help, but what if you can't get it? What do we do, put a limit on how many children people can have, saying that all those with more than two offspring are irresponsible parents?

Those of you will know me will know I lean more on the safe side of parenting; I will be that mother who gets told to 'chill out a bit' by others. Let them play. They need to learn. I've tried to rid myself of the anxiety I feel every time my children loosen their grip of my hand, every time I see them stumble and fall. And even I, along with all mothers (and if you say you haven't, you're lying), have experienced the heart-in-the-mouth feeling of where is my child, having turned around for all of three seconds. That's all it takes. A neurotic mother who society endorses for bleeding her kids dry of all the fun in the world has experienced the heart-wrenching fright of not knowing where her kid just disappeared to. Sure, he was right there three seconds ago, and, thank God, he was only ten feet away in the opposite direction, but it happens. What if I'd been in a zoo where, unbeknown to me, the enclosure to a dangerous animal was not secured? What if I'd warned him? What if I had turned away briefly to fend to my other children? What if someone else had spotted him, tried to stop him, but couldn't because he was too fast?

Because all of the above happened when the child fell into the gorilla's enclosure. And sure, who knows, maybe the parents were the type that let their kids run wild. But the fact is that we don't know. We don't know and then we sign petitions telling them to burn the parents - sorry, prosecute them. We have no real idea what actually happened apart from a child fell in with a gorilla and the gorilla was shot. I wonder what percentage of the people that signed the petition against these parents have signed petitions against animal cruelty.  If we cared so much would these animals have even enter our enclosures for people to stare at them whilst they live in small inhibited worlds, away from their natural habitat? Most people don't give a shit about gorillas until a mother is to blame. Do we petition against keeping animals in captivity? No, we petition for the parents to be sued, namely the mother. We care more about blame than we do about protecting these beautiful animals. And although the newspapers will say people are angry at 'the parents', the news stories only show photographs of the mother. The posts shared on social media imply that only 'that lady' is to blame. No one asks where the father was. Because that's what we do: we endorse guilt and shame of mothers. Maybe it makes us feel better about our own failings, but it's only feeding the culture that says you're not a good enough mother, and maybe it's only a matter of time before someone puts the blame on you too.





It's always the mother's fault. So much so that mothers talk about guilt as though it is as normal as making toast. Now don't get me wrong, conviction is not a bad thing: it helps us to make positive changes, it makes us apologise to those we have wronged, it makes us become better people having listened to our consciences. But I would like to suggest that guilt - mother-guilt - is completely and utterly futile. We are not talking about a healthy conscience here, we are talking about guilt that is bred out of anxiety, fear and judgement.

How many times have you heard 'I felt so guilty' from a mother? Perhaps you've said it yourself, maybe for something like your baby wasn't putting on enough weight. Are you seriously telling me you were deliberately withholding food from your infant? Unless you are a psychopath I very much doubt it. Why then is it okay to talk about guilt like that's an acceptable feeling to take onboard? As though we all secretly have something to apologise for?

Your child hasn't learnt to walk yet like his peers.
Maybe it's because you haven't gone outside enough with him, maybe you carried him too much, maybe you needed to buy him better shoes, use better shoe polish...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child isn't eating her vegetables.
Maybe it's the time you didn't heat up her food enough and she resented having to eat luke warm vegetables. Now she associates eating vegetables with below-par food and your lack of attention to detail...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child didn't pass his exams.
Maybe it's because you made him revise too much, didn't make him revise enough, gave him too many Mars bars, played Cluedo instead of Scrabble...
YOUR FAULT.

Your child got herself into danger.
Maybe it's because you didn't make her wear reins till she was ten years old, maybe you forgot to install that little camera into the back of your head, maybe you should have had more sleep so you could concentrate more, or less sleep to make sure you fed/rocked/nurtured your baby enough – but just enough sleep so you can be coherent and focus on your child's every step.

Utterly bloody ridiculous.

Are most mothers not just doing the absolute best they can? And are we not just absolutely exhausted, pulling our hair out trying to think up every eventuality that might happen to avoid an accident? The worst thing I can imagine in the event of such is hearing condemnation for it - do you not think a mother suffers enough at the thought of her child in danger? And if we go the other extreme - of becoming neurotic controlling mothers - we get told we're psychologically damaging our children by mollycoddling them. We're not good mothers if we watch them like hawks in the playground, not giving them their freedom to play and to explore. But if anything happens while they do so? YOUR FAULT.

Here's what we need to do: Get back to the first emotion. It's enough.

Forget the second.

Love helps you to do the best you can with good intentions. Love does not focus on the things you can't. Love is about can. Guilt is about can't. Love helps others; it solves problems. Guilt places blame and does nothing. Take, for example, a healthy eating advert that popped up on my newsfeed the other day - it told me the worst five things I could eat for breakfast (namely my favourite breakfast foods). Did it make me want to stop eating them? No, but now all I feel is guilt when I bite into my slice of toast in a morning. What would have been better is if they'd given me five delicious recipe alternatives for a healthy start to my day. What may have persuaded me to change is by telling me how much more I'd love my life by changing my diet. Guilt is far less successful than love. Besides which, half the time we don't know what we're even guilty of. We're not talking about instances where parents are being deliberately malicious here - we're talking about false guilt.

So, what can we do to support other parents? What can we do to create a culture where there is less blame and more help? What can we do to ensure animals are better protected? That the world is a better place? Let's cut the blame and let's start with ourselves.

Now excuse me while I go and clean my walls of the ink from that one bloody pen I should've spotted.

It's not my fault.


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Sunday, 22 May 2016

The need to stop writing and the need to start again.


I haven't written for a while, four months to be precise. I wrote a few rough drafts and deleted them. I went from writing every week to nothing at all - nothing about motherhood at least. I've had a lot going on, I started a business, I've been working a lot of hours, as well as getting used to life with two kids - which, let's be honest, is absolutely bloody mental. I've been doing school runs and nursery pick ups, learning dance moves with my five year old and chasing my toddler round the house, trying to stop him from drawing on my walls and sucking the kitchen bin. I've been trying to maintain a level of tidiness, so that if anyone calls on me unexpected (cheers), I won't risk being reported to the social services. I'm failing at that (the tidiness part, not the social services, thankfully, though that could well change after this post). I love spending time with my kids, yet I long to be at my work desk, God forbid that I wish the time with my children away. I both adore being a mother and resent it. I am so incredibly glad I made the decision to have children, yet regret it all at the same time. They make me laugh and cry in equal amounts. I have more depth of character because of them, and for that I am thankful.

It may come as no surprise, then, that having the time to focus on writing my blog has been challenging. Besides which, let's face it, my honesty has sometimes been met with disapproval: straight-laced readers who didn't appreciate my honest, sweary posts, lactation activists who didn't like my pro-choice views on feeding and those that thought I was having a complete break-down because I once wrote about how I didn't have any capacity for buying socks. And then there was the apprehension that clients would discover this blog and think of me as unprofessional - you know, because you can't possibly be serious about a career if you have children. Unless you're a man, of course. (And that's not a bitter feminist comment, that's just how it is).

And part of me doesn't want to write about parenting anymore because that's not the only part of who I am. I am bored of blogs about motherhood. I started this one to encourage you other mothers that there's more to you, that you don't have to try to be perfect, that you don't have to fit in with the stereotypes of what a mother is and that it's important to be true to yourselves. But I felt that at the end of the day all I'd done was I create yet another mother blog, harping on about her parenting woes. Who cares. 

So I stopped. I started writing about other stuff and I started creating. I started becoming more of who I am. Finding myself again. Doing what I love. But a few people have responded to this with disbelief - they don't understand how a woman with two kids has other passions and goes out to the pub sometimes. They don't understand how I have a partner who is supportive of the other things in my life outside of parenting, in the same way I am to him. They either think that working for myself is a cover up so I can do a 'little hobby' around being a stay at home mum, or they just think I'm a complete workaholic who has no time for her kids - one of those women who people talk about and say 'I don't know why she bothered having children.' 

But over the years of writing about motherhood, women have contacted me confidentially to say how much they have benefitted from my honesty. In fact, many have said it has helped them get through depression and post traumatic stress. For some it's helped them to have confidence in their decision to stick at one child, and for others it's given them courage to have another child despite previous hurts. It's helped women overcome stuff and in turn find themselves again. It's helped them to be better friends, partners, workers and mothers. And that's been the driving force to get out my laptop and start writing this (Whilst a toddler is chewing at my trouser leg). I'm not done yet, I have a few more things to say. 

But this comes with a warning. I'm still not perfect. I swear sometimes. I get tired. I'm too dependant on a glass of wine at 6 o'clock. I shout at my beautiful kids and feel like a bad parent. I love passionately and I fail awkwardly. And I'm honest, like, really honest. So if I offend you please don't have a go at me. Please go find a blog about the best arts and crafts projects to do with your children or how to knit a hat for a newborn with cutesy rabbit ears. I am not that mother, and this is not that blog.

So, I'm going to write a few more posts. They may not be every week, they may contain swear words and spelling mistakes, I may post them at completely the wrong times to get the best web traffic and I may resort to using shitty clip art, but apparently my honesty helps people; helps them to feel a little freer - a little lighter - and I think that's worth a few more posts at least.

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