Monday 14 September 2015

YOU'RE tired?? 6 steps to responding to exhausted mothers

I planned to write a post about my son starting school last week. In fact, I had a number of ideas of topics to write about. 

But I was just too exhausted. 

I had bitten off more than I could chew.

I hit an all time low in parent-ville. 

I have suddenly had to tackle a whole new life phase; juggling being a 'stay-at-home' mother (until I have more childcare sorted) and a full-time freelancer (which kind of means working during nap times and till around 12am each morning). My ten month old still hasn't mastered the whole sleep thing either and is up at least twice a night and at 6:30am and then we've been dealing with various illnesses, doctors and hospital appointments, not to mention the added dimension of school runs and half days and reading ten flippin' letters that appear in a book bag everyday.... I know, I know, moan moan. It is a lifestyle I have chosen, albeit somewhat blindly; I take full responsibility. I am the master of my own destiny and all that shit - unless you have children, in which case mastering anything is bloody impossible.

Being of a somewhat honest nature I am quite open about being absolutely bloody knackered (can't you tell?!). This does not mean that I regret my children or my career choice, I do not have an ulterior motive when I say I'm exhausted; it simply means that I am tired. No kidding! On good days I am equally as honest about finding life fun, or being thankful for my kids when they are funny, kind or clever. But this time, I am just plain knackered. No, I am not the first mother on the planet to have a child that doesn't sleep through the night, nor am I the first to start a freelance career alongside looking after children, but I am not going to tell you that I'm okay when I'm not. 

Admittedly I need to make some changes so that I don't have a complete-and-utter-frigging-melt-down, but no doubt in a month or so I will be telling you how cute my kids are, or how chuffed I am to win a new client. Thousands of other mothers put on a front that everything is hunky dorey, and I'm not one of them. 

Now maybe I'm stupid to expect people to accept my honesty; to tell me the sleepless nights won't last forever, or to simply give me a god-damn hug. Instead, I am told how someone else's life is harder than mine: "you're knackered? Well I havent had any sleep for the past twelve fucking years, AND I have to walk the dog - do you have a dog?!

No, I don't have a dog. I cannot be tired.

The problem is that this doesn't make either party feel any better about their current life situation - it merely creates a culture of one-up man ship (down-man-ship), leaving every mother thinking that she doesn't have a right to feel tired every now and again, or has to justify it with ridiculous tales of how the one o'clock feed lasted two whole hours, and then the neighbour's car alarm went off and then..... Who gives a shit? You just wanted a hug, right? Or at least for someone to validate you - to tell you that, yes, you are tired, of course you are, this is a frigging impossible stage of life. Besides which, all we're doing is creating a culture where mothers feel they can't be truly honest for fear of being shut down by martyr-mothers. This is not a culture I want to live in. So, if you'd rather not let your parenting struggles make you all bitter and twisted, here are five ways to be kinder to other mothers when they say they are struggling.

Step 1: 
If you are a parent yourself, know that the parent who has just mentioned a state of tiredness is not hinting that you are NOT tired in any way shape or form (unless they are a little bit psychotic). They are not telling you that their life is worse than yours, you DO NOT have to justify yourself. 

Step 2: 
Conjure up in your mind all the times you have felt bloody exhausted (like, close to death itself) and now speak to this mother with as much compassion as you would perhaps like in those situations. Do not mention your dog.

Step 3: 
Acknowledge her. Do not say "me too" - if you have a good friendship then there will be plenty of opportunity for you to raise your own woes of tiredness/explosive poos/the time you locked yourself in the bathroom this week because you were scared of your two year old. If you do not have a good friendship then don't be surprised if she puts her tired fist into your unsympathetic face (okay, slightly harsh, but I wouldn't put anything past a mother suffering from extreme exhaustion). Sure, she may only have one kid and you have three but you have no idea what else is going on in her life. Acknowledge that life might just be a little tough for her just now.

Step 4: 
Encourage her - tell her that it won't be the same forever, give her some hope; something to look forward to. Tell her she's doing a good job, or, if you don't think so, say nothing and just hug her instead. Don't tell her to 'cheer up' or 'count her blessings' or you may have to take another hit.

Step 5: 
Offer help. How can you make life easier for her? If you're scared she'll ask you to look after her unruly children for her, offer specific things you can help with, like taking her out for a drink or bringing round a takeaway, or just offering her a cup of tea. 

Step 6: 
Check up on her. Ask her in a week if things have got any better. It doesn't take much but you may have lifted her spirits in amongst the chaos of life, knowing that you're there for her. Having little sleep means more susceptibility to illnesses and depression, so make sure she's okay.

I try to do these things when a parent-friend expresses that she or he is finding things a little tough. It's all too easy to compare ourselves – to play the martyr or think we have to prove that we've got it worse than anybody else. Parenting is pretty tough. Kindness goes a long way. So if you're feeling pretty tired today, you have a right to feel exhausted; you are doing the best you can. Hang in there, it won't be forever. But right now you have a choice; to let it make you bitter the next time someone else tells you they're tired, or to respond with kindness instead.

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