Wednesday 28 May 2014

Unrequited love

There are times when I look at my little boy and I wonder how I could love him any more than I do. Admittedly there are also times when I wonder how I can find anyone more frustrating, especially when it's taken 30 minutes to get him up the stairs to bed because he's decided to do it like a jumping frog and banged his head twice in the process. Twenty more minutes and he's calmed down again and after bedtime stories (and banging his head another three times) he's tucked up under the covers, peacefully sleeping. They're always lovely when they're sleeping aren't they?! They lull you into a false sense of security that you actually enjoyed cleaning the marker pen off the table, wiping dog poo from their shoes and pinning them down mid-tantrum in the supermarket isle today. Sleeping children make you feel like life is just perfect.

As the years have gone by, though, there are actually more occasions that I feel like this when he's awake too. Yes, really. There's not a day that goes by when I'm not desperate to squeeze him, or stroke his velvet hair, or kiss his soft rosy cheeks. Ive turned into one of those irritating people that just goes on about their kids all the time because they're Just. So. Great. I find him incredibly funny and clever and sweet. I love spending time with him. I want to hang out with him more.

This is all good and well until you realise that your child is never going to look at you and want to squeeze your rosy cheeks, or tell you he wants to hang out with you over his best friend George, or tell you how great you are at cleaning poo. Sure, he likes me some days (mainly the times when I have food on offer) but he will one day leave home and do his own thing and won't think twice. I'm sure he'll still love me, miss me even, but, let's face it, I doubt he will choose to join me for tea over drinks with his mates down the pub. If he did I'd probably be a little worried.

As a parent you have to hold your children with open hands - hold them any tighter and they will suffocate. There are times when I try to hug him and he pushes me away. It doesn't mean he doesn't love me, it just means he needs some space. His little hand in mine is slowly slipping away - he wants to walk by himself, to be independent, his own person. I should feel proud that I've given him the ability to do this, but I can't help feeling a little sad.

I remember once telling my Dad that he 'loved me too much'. My Dad was appalled at such a comment and it's only now that I can understand why my Dad protected me in the way that he did, and why he found it so hurtful. I think the context of this comment was after getting home thirty minutes late from school because I'd been to the library (yes, the library) and he was anxious. I was sixteen. He told me it was because he loved me. I told him that the likelihood of me getting abducted in a busy market town at 4pm was slim. I remember continually feeling claustrophobic, like I had no space to make my own mistakes - my parents always anxious about my choices and my whereabouts. They didn't want me to get hurt.

I still consider them with the choices I make today, though I'm thirty three and live forty miles away. I still don't want to hurt them and I don't want them to worry about me. And as much as they love me and have the best intentions for me, I would like Albie to have more freedom to be able to let go of my hand every now and again and explore the world for himself; to learn to make mistakes. Because mistakes aren't all bad, they're the basis for building firm foundations. They're the things that make us. I wish I had made more of them. Maybe not the big, life changing ones, but the little everyday ones that shape you a little. Now I'm scared to make any at all.

My son will never look at me in the same way as I do at him; he will never feel the pride I feel for him; he will never know how deep my love goes, but the closest he will get to knowing it will be if I give it as a gift - a gift to see him make his own paths. A gift to be himself, to have freedom to make mistakes, to explore and create and to live life without the fear of other's opinions, even mine. A gift doesn't expect anything in return. That's tough. It doesn't mean it's unrequited or unappreciated though, it just means it empowers someone to be who God created them to be, rather than who you want them to be.

Wednesday 21 May 2014

Bloomin' part-timers: maintaining a 'work-life' balance.

I am currently sat in the garden, in the sun. It's a Wednesday. The post man has just come and slated me for being lazy and joked about how 'some of us have to work hard for a living'. I looked at him and smiled. Of course he doesn't know I was working until 9pm last night, but lets face it, mothers get a bad rap for getting too much 'free time'; watching daytime TV; going out for coffee and sunning themselves in the garden.

I could have afforded to work part-time before I had my son but that would have been ridiculous, right? Try asking your boss for less hours when you have no real reason whatsoever, other than the fact you'd like to have a more balanced life. Besides which, it never really crossed my mind that I would do that because I had already bought into the 'rat-race' mentality, working my way up the 'career ladder'. Once I'd had my little boy I was suddenly given the option to cut down my hours and this made sense to me, both in terms of spending time with my son and not having to bust a gut to have the life I wanted. It's not that I'm not a career minded person, it's just that I feel ten times better at my job when I'm not stressed; when I'm able to recharge my batteries a little; when I can get creative inspiration from other things.

Unfortunately being home with a child is far from a recharge of batteries. Treasured moments of sitting in the sun are few and far between and I'm torn between building lego bricks, cooking fish fingers and checking work emails. My life is far from 'balanced', just busy. I 'work' three days a week, look after my little boy the rest of the time and then do freelance projects on evenings. I also write and create illustrations and try to sell my work. Personally, I think I'm entitled to a lunchtime cocktail every now and again. It got me thinking how different my life would have looked if I had worked part time in the first place.

But part-timers will always be told that they're not working hard enough; they will always be looked at oddly if they turn down extra hours. We have developed a culture where it is looked down upon to sit in the sun on your lunch break, or to work less. People ask me if I'm busy and if I say 'yes', they say 'good'; because that's what we all want; to be busy, right?

The problem lies when you are actually serious about your ambitions; when you do take your career very seriously. People make you feel like you can't be committed if you decide to have children, or work part time (despite the fact that I feel I do more work in a week than I ever did when I worked full time). The preconceptions of others can be extremely limiting. Admittedly, I was very lucky that I could afford to go back to work part time and I had that choice - I don't take that for granted, but a lot of people are often too quick to conclude that they can't afford to do something when actually they can. I've had to cut down on shopping and nights out; I've had to be more cautious with choosing holidays. My work-life balance does not come without sacrifice, but I wanted to treasure the time with my little boy and not work all the hours God sends, is that okay? Besides which, I certainly don't feel like a 'part-timer', I just work extremely hard on lots of different things. Those different things may or may not make me money but they are important to me, I don't see why I should be penalised for that. So call me a 'bloomin' part-timer' all you want, I wish to sip my lunchtime Pimms and Lemonade in peace, thank you very much ;)

Are you a 'part-timer'? I'd love to know your thoughts on work-life balance, especially if you have to juggle looking after a family too.

Wednesday 14 May 2014

"Isn't she doing well??" A note to new mums.

Isn't she doing well? She gave birth 5 hours ago and now she's back home cooking tea.
Isn't she doing well? She's still breastfeeding at six months.
Isn't she doing well? She's sent out 100 thank you cards for her baby gifts within a week of being out of hospital (home made, of course).

You hear that phrase a lot - the 'doing well' analysis of new mums, as though there are a hidden list of rules somewhere that dictate what good parenting is. Of course, there are definite rules for bad parenting, but I'm presuming that if you're reading this then you will most likely be up for doing the best for your child. It's funny then, that despite most mums trying their utter best, there is still certain criteria for 'doing well'. People told me I was 'doing well' too because I showed signs of 'successful' parenting (according to the hidden parenting rule book, whoever wrote it). These well wishers, who probably only wanted to encourage, sometimes failed to realise the stereotypes they were creating as to what 'doing well' actually meant. I was told I was 'doing well' for persevering with breastfeeding, for example, despite being in horrendous pain and practically house-bound for around three months. What should have been an encouragement, in reality, made me feel like I was a phoney - like I was not doing well at all but couldn't give up. I wanted to 'do well' for my baby despite making my whole family miserable. Looking back I'd have done well to give up.

What about the mother with post natal depression, who may struggle to even get out of bed? What about the mother who opted for a c-section to avoid birth trauma, or the mother who chose to bottle feed because it gave her more freedom and made her a nicer person to be around? Do we have to put on a brave face to be doing well, or can we have a total melt down, feel a crap parent and still be 'doing well' because we made it through the day and we're all still alive?

Well, I'm here to tell you that you're doing well.

You're doing well because you chose the methods of parenting that worked best for you and your family - and everyone's happier because of it. I'm here to tell you you're doing well, despite feeling like you sometimes can't cope. I'm here to tell you that you're doing well because wearing pyjamas at three o'clock in the afternoon is just fine. I'm here to tell you you're doing well, though you may feel like a failure today, because your baby is getting cared for. You're doing well despite those moments where you wonder if you've even made the right choice to become a parent. You have, and you will be great. You're doing well if you need no pain relief in childbirth, or if you had the lot. You're doing well if you love breastfeeding, or if you prefer the bottle. You're doing well if you co-sleep with your baby or if you leave them to cry it out a bit.

The only criteria for 'doing well' is that you love your child. End of. We all need helpful advice, but there will be no one else more equipped than you in knowing how to do things 'well' because no one will ever love your child like you do. Aren't you doing well? Yes, amazing, actually.

Monday 12 May 2014

The honest truth

When I first started writing my blog I wanted to be brutally honest about my experiences as a new mother. The reality, though, soon became talking about things I never dreamt of sharing; the reality soon became vulnerability (aka humiliation). Now, I'm all for being open - it's like I can't help it, as though I've swallowed an honesty pill or something. The problem is, it doesn't make it any easier to talk about things that are painful or embarrassing, it's just something I set out to do at the start of my journey and the longer I continued the more raw the honesty became. Some of the things I wrote I cringed about posting because it meant that people knew that little bit too much; people I'd barely call acquaintances would tell me they'd read my blog and joke about my addiction to gas and air or my formula feeding woes. I started to wish I'd never begun. But for me, writing is my therapy and I want to cut through the crap that some mothers are made to feel. The only way to do that is to be vulnerable.

With only three followers (thanks), I figured people weren't reading this anyway and I came to the point where I thought I'd give up writing - or, I would still write but just for myself, save the trouble of meeting someone at the post office who would ask me how my cracked nipples were healing. I felt like everyone was thinking, 'here she goes, another blog post - TMI, go tell it to someone who cares'.

Oh, that'll be three people then.

Just as I was about to give up on baring my soul to the world I started to receive emails and anonymous messages from various mums who told me that my blog had really helped them. The things I wrote about were things that seemed to be unspoken, an accumulation of parenting taboos - the very things that leave mothers feeling isolated. Although these mums didn't feel able to publicly comment on my blog, people were reading it and it was helping mums to feel like they were not alone, and better still, encouraged.

So, as hard as this is for me (because there are plenty more embarrassing and brutally honest things I have to say), I shall keep on writing. I write for those hand-full of mums who feel that the world tells them they've failed because they didn't follow the 'norm' of parenting, whatever the hell that is. I write for the people who admit they find it tough sometimes; who admit they haven't got it all together (because Lord knows, I haven't). And I'll tell you all about it; the highs and the lows; warts an' all. Why? So you can laugh at me the next time you see me in the post office? Not really, but I don't blame you. I write so we can be a little more genuine with one another about how we're feeling about another sleepless night, another crayon mark on the wall, or another day of feeling you can't face leaving the house. I write so we can be a little more united and a little more helpful than the mothers who make you feel like you're a crap parent if you're not enjoying being one 100% of the time. Bollocks. You're chuffing awesome because you got through breakfast this morning without throwing their Weetabix over their heads (and if you didn't quite manage that today then, well, there's tomorrow, or the next day and the next). And I'm here to tell you how brilliant it can be too - to bring some kind of hope of the silver linings; the sloppy kisses, the crazy chaos, and learning from their beautiful freedom.

So, thank you if you're still reading this. It means a lot. Because I feel like a complete and utter plonker sometimes, but I do it for you. Thanks for reading. xx