Tips for the parenthood-rollercoaster ride

(Sponsored post by Waterwipes)

What a rollercoaster parenthood is! However, a quick scroll through social media would often have us believe that we’re the only ones sitting on this hair-raising ride. It seems like comparison is king and we often feel like we’re the only ones winging it. I’m going to share my top parenting tips, both as a Psychotherapist and as mum of three.

In May, I was honoured to be asked to host and talk at a parents breakfast organised by WaterWipes for its new #ThisIsParenthood global project. Not only have I used WaterWipes’ super pure wipes for all three of my children (bye cotton wool and water), but I was really touched by the #ThisIsParenthood documentary, produced by the talented BAFTA nominated Lucy Cohen. Have you watched it? Here’s the link if you haven’t – grab a cuppa and a spare 15 minutes. The documentary shows a rare and candid insight into the realities of family life with a newborn, detailing some of the challenges that punctuate this crazy, special and map-less time. When WaterWipes showed us parents the footage during the breakfast, there wasn’t a single dry eye…I think due to the fact that, ultimately, we are all just trying to do our best! Sometimes we feel like we are scrambling around in the dark, sometimes we’re winging it, sometimes we’re smashing it (momentarily for me at least), but #ThisisParenthood.

WaterWipes yearns to shift the conversation around parenthood by encouraging us parents to be more open about the highs and lows that come with it. As a Psychotherapist, I am hugely supportive of this initiative as openness and honesty are the turning points to every single one of my clients’ stories.

A global study by WaterWipes revealed:

  • 55% of parents feel like they are failing within the first year (British parents being the second highest country (62%)
  • Almost a quarter (24%) feel like film, TV and advertising contribute to this
  • Nearly half (42%) of UK parents feel the pressure to be a ‘perfect parent’ on social media
  • Nearly half (41%) of UK parents feel they can’t be honest about their struggles due to fear of judgment
  • A huge 50% of parents admit to putting a brave face on rather than being honest about their experience
  • UK mums are twice more likely than dads to feel pressure to be a perfect parent from social media (51% vs 27%)
  • 49% of UK parents feel as though they cannot relate to the parenting images they see on social media
  • Across the world. 68% of parents wish there were more honest representations of parenting on social media

If only these results could shock me…but sadly, they didn’t. I receive messages on social media from 200-400 parents a day who feel like they are failing, or like they are alone in their struggles. Like WaterWipes, I am desperate for us to call a truce on this whole pretence. Yes, of course we will continue to share the highs, the smiles and the cute snaps. However, in order to shift this culture of toxic comparison, we all need to be a little more mindful that what we see, isn’t all there is.

Working with WaterWipes for #ThisIsParenthood was such a pleasure, and for those of you who couldn’t join us on the Instagram live, I thought I’d share the words I spoke:

 

My story

After my textbook pregnancy, birth and then newborn experience with my first little boy, I enjoyed the coffees and the relatively calm play dates. We laughed about our incessant Googling (ps. Dr Google is NOT your friend) and shared our thoughts on routines, and our moans about lack of sleep.

However, my experience with my second was vastly different. He came hurtling into the world wailing, and didn’t stop for a solid nine months. Undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue-tie, and less sleep at night than a nocturnal mouse – I fell into a messy post-natal depression. As a therapist myself, it challenged me greatly that despite all of my training, I couldn’t seem to find the strength to pull myself out of the black hole. It was at this time, during our largely wakeful nights, that I downloaded Instagram. I scrolled mindlessly through images of happy mothers, seemingly thriving newborns with scrumptious chubby legs. I compared their lives to my grey eyed, constantly crying (him and me), chronically sleep deprived (him and me) existence, and the sense of failure felt even greater. With my first, I felt like I was winging it. With my second, I felt like I couldn’t put a single, faltering step right.

I made it through, and the key to that was the moment that I couldn’t hold up the pretence any longer. It was the moment I put my hands up and said #ThisIsParenthood for me. This is MY parenthood. And I found that my openness inspired the openness of others, and suddenly, I wasn’t alone anymore. And that changed everything.

So, I’ll share the words I shared at the breakfast. Why do we often feel like we’re failing? And what do we do about it?

 

Why?

Why do we often feel like we’re not enough? Why do we get so drawn into the half-stories of other people’s portrayal of their parenting experiences and feel led to believe that in comparison, we’re not doing quite so well?

From the conversations we had around the breakfast table at the brunch, I was so reminded of the truth that we’re all just trying to do our best at this parenthood lark, yet we all feel like we’re failing. Why? Expressions like ‘I hated myself for working’, ‘mum guilt’, ‘mummy fail’, ‘helpless’ were thrown around under pictures of our plates of pancakes and greek yogurt, as if they were permanent fixtures of our vocabulary. Are we really failing? Or are we just trying our best but being insanely hard on ourselves?

We are hardwired to compare ourselves with what we see in others. If we don’t have an inbuilt belief that we are ‘enough’ as parents, then we will naturally look outside of ourselves to get a measure of how we are doing. The issue is, what we see around us is often isn’t the full truth. We compare our behind the scenes, with what other people curate and share of their lives. If I compare my wobbly morning with someone’s #blessed photo of a serene breakfast with spotless kids, of course I’m going to find myself lacking. We so easily see other people’s snapshots and assume that that’s how their life is.

I remember that during one of my hardest parenting times, I strolled down the street pushing a double buggy towards a playgroup, wearing super-sized sunglasses in the blazing July heat. Any onlooker might have thought ‘Wow, look at that mum of two small children. She’s smashing it!’ The reality was that my glasses hid my tear-stained eyes, and nobody witnessed the conversation I’d had with my husband moments before. As I sat on my kitchen floor with two screaming children, I told him that ‘I can’t do this’. I meant it.

If we’re all in the same boat, how can we make sure that we stop feeling like we’re sailing alone? I’m going to share three tips that could shift this for ourselves. Because, really #ThisIsParenthood. It’s brilliant, and hard, and messy and wonderful.

 

What now?

Openness

Openness inspires openness. I remember meeting with my antenatal friends. The first time someone said that they were finding it hard, or arguing with their husbands over night feeds, or finding the bonding a struggle…it opened up a conversation. Sometimes there was an actual visible air of relief as people started to talk about the not-so-fun, challenging parts of parenting. One person’s disclosure gave the rest of us permission to share our true experiences.

Take little risks of openness. Be the conversation starter if you can. I always encourage my therapy clients to engage with at least two friends, family members or professionals who understand the reality of their circumstances. Talk to those who have a history of being kind and understanding towards you. It can feel challenging to start the conversation at first, but it gets easier, and often it inspires others to open up too.

 

So often, we fear that if we portray anything other than the highlights, we’d become a burden to people. Think of how honoured and how much closer to someone you feel when they open up to you! It’s an acceptance of love and friendship, and you’re just as worthy of the support of others as they are of yours.

 

Accepting support

Ask for help where you need it. Whether it’s practical, emotional, professional, online, offline, paid, unpaid. Asking for and accepting support is a statement of worth. You have to believe that you’re worth the support of others, which is why I encourage people to take little steps with this. It gets easier. It’s vital to thriving. Sometimes it really does take a village.

 

Self-care

Self-care is important. It’s not always about the huge gestures – the manicures, the long workouts, the massages. It’s also about attending to and meeting your basic needs. Listen to your body, look after it when you’re hungry. Drink water, get an early night when you can. It’s the little gestures that build up your self-worth. You wouldn’t let your child go hungry or thirsty, because you value their needs. You also need to value yours.

Self-care isn’t selfish. It’s about fuelling the car and respecting that it can’t function if it’s empty. Neither can you. I used to feel that self-care was indulgent and I didn’t feel worth it. Now I can clearly see how my family fully benefits from me not being burnt out and resentful of anyone who gets to pee alone!

 

So.

#ThisIsParenthood: it’s a wild ride, but we’re in it together. We really are. Sometimes it might feel like we aren’t and it might look like we’re the only ones covered in baby goo, with bags under our eyes, but we are not alone. The more shoulders we find to lean on, people that we can share the highs and the lows with regardless of how different their experience may be, and the more we talk openly about the realities of OUR parenthood journey, the more we will start feeling part of something bigger.

I’ve shared my #ThisIsParenthood story on Instagram. Have a search of the hashtag on Facebook and Instagram, and join in the project!

“I don’t want a boy” – The secret shame of gender preference

I met a girl in the park on a lunch-break walk one day during my first pregnancy. I was feeling the wrath of the hormones and was wrapped up in a straining coat. She was pushing a double buggy, looking a bit knackered around the edges. She made some friendly small talk. ‘When are you due? Is it your first? Are you hoping for a boy or a girl?’

‘I don’t want a boy’. My mood stripped me of the ability to spit out a more socially acceptable response. Her eyes widened and I held my breath in shock of what I’d just said. We chatted awkwardly and then parted ways. How dare I want a girl, when so many people don’t even get a baby at all?

Whether you were or are hoping for a certain gender like me, or didn’t mind at all, gender disappointment is common. A quick Internet search reveals anonymous forum threads on the ‘secret shame’ of gender preference, and even sonographers and midwives will admit they’ve seen tears shed over gender reveals.

I’m so aware of the devastating stories of friends who have lost babies. So, of course, a healthy baby is what we yearn for above all else, right? However, this often means that any hint of gender preference get cast as ‘selfish and shameful’. It’s good to seek perspective, but it’s not good to silence feelings with comparison because then they will never be understood. It’s far more useful to explore where feelings of gender disappointment are rooted, as they are attached to real stories and explanations.

As a Psychotherapist with a passion for tacking taboo topics around motherhood, I made it a mission to get to the bottom of this shameful gender preference I felt. I wanted to understand why I had this aching desire for a girl. If I’m honest, many of my close male family relationships have been somewhat dysfunctional. I think I had a deep-seated fear that if I were to have a son, there would be a painful disconnection and that when he grew old enough, he would reject me too. In addition, my relationship with my mum has been one of the most positive ones in my life. So, I feared that I would fail to relate to a boy in the way that I would a girl.

I realised that in my mind, I had assumed that a daughter would enjoy the same things I did. But when glancing back at my childhood, I recall how my sister played ‘army’ with my brother in the woods, dressed in my Uncle’s old military camouflage, Meanwhile I played with dolls and covered the carpet with glitter glue in the company of Mum. Perhaps my heart yearned for a mini-me, but no girl would replicate the relationship I had with my mum.

Weeks later I went for my scan to be told that we were having a boy! We watched his little thumb sucking, alien like form. My heart sunk into my flip-flops with a huge, guilty kerplunk. I stuck on a smile, you know the one where your eyes don’t quite get the memo? I wanted to prove to the sonographer and my husband that I was a good, happy Mum. Slowly, my disappointment ebbed away and I began to daydream again, with a cheeky boy in place of the girl I’d longed for. By the time I swept Oscar out of the birthing pool, the sense of disappointment felt nothing but a shameful memory, replaced by adoration.

The second time around, crippling morning sickness led everyone to proclaim ‘it must be a girl this time’. However, back in the sonographer’s room covered in cold jelly, she pointed out the very clear boy parts. We laughed so much in shock that she struggled to continue her checks. I grinned at the joy of another healthy baby, but on arriving at a friend’s house, she gave me a huge hug and my eyes welled up. I flicked the tears away and stole a look in the mirror to ensure no mascara trail would give away that flash of grief. I may never have a daughter.

So now I have my two boys and my house is littered with miniature drills and footballs. I thought I knew what I wanted, but I got what I needed. These budding relationships have been healing in ways they will never understand

If you have a gender preference, consider the assumptions or fears that you might be harbouring as it helps so much to acknowledge them. Sometimes it’s necessary to have a grieving process for what may not be. This is okay and it is healthy! We can live out a life in our mind, projecting ourselves ahead to certain scenarios, painting an elaborate picture coloured with a desire to relive a past we loved, or a wish to do something differently to our own childhood experience.

Often, gender disappointment fades away quickly, at first sight of your wrinkled tot, or maybe as bonding deepens. But if there are continuing feelings that would benefit from some further thinking, then do so in therapy or with someone supportive. It might just be that you need to do a little more gentle exploration of the root cause of these feelings (like I did) in order to break free from that unnecessary feeling of shame or guilt.

Before I finish, I want to highlight in neon orange streaks the fact that it’s normal to have a gender preference. It’s the silence and the taboo that balloon it into a guilty secret. We all have our stories, histories and reasons, and some of them just take a little more making sense of than others. You’re not bad or mad you’re normal.

And you know what the funny thing is? As I write this, I’m currently pregnant with a girl! I was fully expecting to be a mum of boys. That’s my comfort zone now! I’m heading into unknown territory!

Contemplating pregnancy after PND

I have recently announced my third pregnancy! I am due in the middle of February next year. From the outside, it looks like we’re just completing our little family, but those who’ve followed my Instagram account and blog, will know that the decision to try for a third child, wouldn’t have been an easy one to make.

Since my announcement, I have had many a request for a blog post on pregnancy after PND. So here’s a blog article for those who’ve experienced post natal depression, and whilst their heart would like another, their head is filled with anxiety about feeling like ‘that’ again. It’s a long one, but it’s jam-packed with tips and insights.

 

My experience

When I first became pregnant, I had a history of depression, and a number of years of therapy and Psychotherapy training under my belt. I guess my medical records were a reflag for risk of postnatal depression as I was automatically allocated a Mental Health Midwife. She was sweet, but pregnancy and the early hazy months passed with little more than a hint of the baby blues and some overtired meltdowns. I coped, I socialised, I drank coffee at softplay and chatted sleep issues with buddies. ‘I’ve got this’, I thought. ‘I was made for this’. I was quickly discharged from the mental health oversight team.

I was pregnant by Oscar’s first birthday. I had an inkling as he blew his candles out on his homemade (slightly wonky) monkey cake, that next year he might be celebrating with a younger sibling. I was right.

My second pregnancy was different, not that it contributed to PND, but it wasn’t an easy start. Acute morning sickness made parenting hard as I warmed retch-inducing wheatabix for Oscar between rushing to the loo to be sick. I also had appendicitis which required emergency surgery and a truck load of drugs into my incubating body (cue the maternal guilt already kicking in).

Charlie came into the world in the very same pool as Oscar. Another long labour with a short and sharp ending. Textbook.

In a nutshell, we experienced undiagnosed silent reflux, tongue tie (twice…it can regrow, who knew?!), chronic sleep deprivation, horrendous feeding issues that I stubbornly battled through despite family begging me to stop (I felt it was the only single thing I could do for Charlie and I couldn’t bear to let it go). Meanwhile we were enduring a long-drawn out house move that wasn’t happening, a smashed up car, and other things I like to forget! All these things formed a perfect foundation upon which PND could thrive.

I rebuffed all offers for help and support, of cooked meals and the opportunity to nap. I’M FINE. I felt like a failure, and people offering innocent help gave me the incorrect impression that they too, thought I was failing. I felt my baby hated me, I hated me. I didn’t deserve him, or anything else good. I could barely string a sentence together, I stopped being able to hide my sore, red-eyes, and the terrified, weeping phone calls to my husband at work became a common occurrence. I went from thinking I could cope, to pretending I could cope, to believing I never could (here’s an article I wrote in my dark days)

On my 31st Birthday, I threw my hands up in surrender. You know what? I haven’t ‘got this’ at all. I went to my GP and wept as he asked about my bond with my baby.

I don’t need to go into vast detail of my post natal depression as this blog article is more about helping the future look a little more hopeful and less about the suffocating debilitation that post natal depression can grip you with. If you’re reading this article, it’s oh so likely you know that feeling, and for that, I give you the warmest and most compassionate hug. You made it. You might have dragged yourself through with faltering steps, but you made it mama.

In time, things changed. The sun slowly came through.

 

What helped me

There were three predominant factors to my recovery from PND:

1 – I forced myself to be open to a select few (namely a couple of close friends, my husband, my mum, my health visitor and my GP) about how I was feeling. ‘Forced’ seems like a strong word. But I really did have to battle against the fibres of my being, in order to open up. I knew something had to change. I was scared. Most of them, who’d seen me slowly unravel, weren’t at all surprised. In fact they seemed more relieved that the dropping of my weak façade meant that they would finally be able to step in, instead of watching helplessly from the sidelines. It wasn’t easy, but once I started talking, the words tumbled out in relief and slowly the shame ebbed away.

2- I started to accept that I am simply not created to do motherhood myself. Nobody is. Nor are you. I seemed to think I was an exception to the rule. I began to believe that seeking and accepting support of any form (be it practical, emotional, mental, physical) was not personal failure, but was in fact VITAL to good mental health. Letting friends be friends and family be family. Letting those who love me, love me in the way that I love them. Taking steps to learn to say ‘yes please’ instead of ‘I’m fine thanks’.

3 – I worked relentlessly at my cruel, bullying internal voice that was keeping me in that dark place like a millstone settling in the bottom of a lake. The voice that told me I was useless, hopeless, worthless. I did what I train others to do as a day-job! I started to challenge this voice with kinder and compassionate words that felt like lies at first, but slowly began to gain volume and power. These words are now stronger for me than my inner critic, and that, well that has changed everything. That has changed my life.

We moved house, Charlie’s reflux was medicated and improving, sleep was more plentiful, life became more do-able. I was in the swing of parenting two and working part-time in a job that I adore. So what next?

 

The ‘Shall we have another?’ question

As time went on, and as Charlie’s first birthday rolled around, the topic of trying for a third child kept cropping up. We’d always dreamed of having three kids. Tarun was one of three, I was one of three. Despite losing my sister to cancer before her seventh birthday, despite the fact I’ve lived through more of my life without her than with her, I still feel like one of three.

But this topic was loaded with abject fear. How would I ever cope? What if we had another reflux baby? What if the baby blues weren’t a fleeting tear filled couple of days, but months of deep dark blackness? I was scared of tipping my very new life balance that was filling me with purpose and contentment. For a long while, both my husband and I agreed that I was still healing from the trauma of that long, dark year, and that I needed more time.

I can’t say I ever got to a point where I proclaimed ‘Right. I’m READYYY. Let’s do this!’. And neither may you.

Charlie was nearing his second birthday, when I realised that the ground I’d covered had changed me. I was much better at seeking and accepting support, stronger at saying ‘yes please’ and ‘no thank you’ without fearing what people thought. I had become more naturally open, and my friendships more two-way streets (rather than me gladly offering support but refusing theirs). I had grown used to the concept of childcare and comfortable with utilising nursery. I realised that self-care habits had become an ingrained part of my life instead of a vicious internal battle. Little realisations like this, that the things I’d tried so hard to instil, had become a comfortable new normal for me, reassured me that whatever might lie ahead, I was more equipped with support than ever before.

So now, I’m pregnant. Nervousness and trepidation are woven through my excitement, but that is okay. That is to be expected.

This time my determination is more ‘I’m ready to do what I need to do to make it through’. Not in terms of expending every single ounce of my waning energy to battle through alone, but to call in the reinforcements, to go out and find the support I need, and to accept the support I have. It takes a village, and I am not a village no matter how capable I feel after a large coffee and a good night’s sleep.

 

My advice to you

So, here is my advice to you as you read these words with your own journey sitting heavily on your chest:

1 – Think about how you are now. How are you coping? How do you feel? Do you have residual or active depression that has not been properly addressed? Perhaps you need to invest in some personal therapy via your GP, or via the Find a Therapist page of the Counselling Directory. If you’re often feeling low, you deserve to address this sooner rather than later. And if you’ve experienced any level of trauma whatsoever, from what you’ve been through, please seek therapy in order to safely address this and enable you some freedom.

2 – Ask yourself how you feel and what you need. It’s likely that this has been a challenge for you. It is a challenge to any mum who’s focus is on the needs and feelings of their children, but if you’re going to be attending more closely to your emotional, practical, mental and physical needs, you need to ask yourself what they are. Get familiar with your needs, wants and feelings so that you can begin to act on them.

3 – Practice asking for and accepting help. Be it the offer of childcare for an hour so you can get some jobs done, or asking for a glass of water at your friend’s house when she’s forgotten to offer. Grow confident in stepping out to get your needs met. This is a hugely vital tool in the armour to fight PND. It’s not a comfortable task, but as your confidence increases and your needs are more likely met, you’ll find it easier I promise. This is so important.

4 – Carefully review your support network. Who’s there on standby, who’s standing in the wings? Who are the friends or family members that offer support? Does your hospital have a mental health midwifery service you can access? What did you struggle most with in your postnatal phase? What support might you have benefitted from had you been in a place to ask for and accept it? Have you found good online support? Is there a nice friendly network of baby groups and classes locally? What is around you already and what might you have to seek out?

5 – Take steps to speak with close friends or family members who you trust (if you aren’t already). Start letting them know how you feel in the little, day-to-day ways. The ups, the downs, the frustrations. If your usual response is to ‘keep calm and carry on’, this isn’t going to serve you well, just as it didn’t last time. Vulnerability is uncomfortable at first but entirely necessary for good mental health. Entirely necessary. Those first faltering words I spoke to a close friend, felt like shards in my throat, but now I speak more freely about my feelings. It gets easier as you get the kind and compassionate response that you’ve been denying yourself.

6 – Address your internal dialogue. If your internal voice is critical and strict, you need to really start trying to introduce a more compassionate dialogue over time. That critical and strict voice is the kind of cruel that will hit a girl when she’s down, and you certainly don’t need that. No matter what you think you deserve, you don’t deserve a little bully on your shoulder berating you and throwing petrol on the embers of mum guilt. You have to speak back to this voice. It might feel like a relentless argument at first, but imagine you were speaking those critical words to someone you loved. They need to be challenged because they are damaging. Retorting with a kind response (in the way you would to someone you love), feels unnatural and a little ridiculous, but never underestimate the power of doing this. In time, with work, the critical voice will be chipped away at and will slowly lose power. You need self-compassion. It’s a very powerful tool in the battle against PND.

7 – Consider practicalities and timing. There is rarely a ‘right time’, to try for another child but there can be ‘better times’. For example, Charlie has just turned two and is going to be starting our local nursery with Oscar next month. Therefore, I will be able to climb back into bed with the baby after doing the nursery drop off. I will be able to get cosy in my dressing gown and put on a box set, and recoup some energy. Last time I had a busy 19 month old and never once got to luxuriate on the sofa, but was instead rushing out to playgroups and feeding on plastic chairs in cold halls. What timing might be kind for your family and enable you best to get snippets of rest?

8 – Be kind to yourself. Take the pressure off. If the conversation of having another child fills you with fear, make a decision to leave that conversation on standby for a few months (we left it for six months), and instead, focus on implementing some of these points instead. Regardless of what decision you make and when, you’ll benefit from investing in these things.

8 – Talk this through with your partner. You need to be in this together. You need to be able to lean on them a little, and get used to leaning. Ideally your partner would form part of this support network, and keeping them in the loop about your true feelings and thoughts around another baby, better enables them to do this. 

Final words

I hope this helps you. There is still so much more I could say. I feel a podcast coming on (I’ve never done one before so you’d have to bare with).

Whilst I feel a little anxious about experiencing PND again, I know that having learnt to be more open, both about how I’m feeling, and in accepting support, my next postnatal stage simply cannot be the same as my last one, and that I am confident of.

You’re worth investing in these things. Regardless of whether you believe that to be true.

Anna xx

Ps – Feel free to drop me a line to book a coaching session where we can chat about this in further depth. Or, you might benefit from my Nice Girls course where many of these qualities are worked upon.

 

 

Am I a real mum or not?

Last year, after a morning of hasty Christmas shopping, we sat down at a hectic, over full Wagamama table. The four of us, dogeared, whining and hangry. In walked a Boden advert. A family of four, with children a similar age to ours, dressed impeccably in Breton stripes and polo shirts. The mum and the oldest boy were even wearing WHITE jeans. WHITE I tell you! We gazed at them in disbelief as their children behaved as neatly as they were dressed. ‘Well, they aren’t even real’ I uttered, and delved into my Katsu, before dropping soy drenched rice on my grubby trousers.

I’ve become increasingly aware of the use of the word ‘real’ and there has been a unease simmering in my tummy. I’ve used it tons of times and have never given it a second thought, but I’ve started seeing it used in contexts that make me think a little bit more about what we actually mean by:

Real mum

Real mum body

You’re real

Usually it alludes to the fact that someone is being open about the messier aspects of life: the tantrum induced rage, the depression, the postnatal stitches and constipation, the vomit, the arguments, the unwashed hair, the softer body bits, the mum guilt, the anxiety, the mundaneness. Perhaps the ‘real mum’ photos that litter social media aren’t all smiles and clean floors, but are punctuated with grey eye bags and pen scrawled on living room walls.

So maybe I AM real because I talk about mum rage and share my cry-face.

But maybe I’m NOT real because I’m usually wearing makeup and I love the gym.

But maybe I AM real because I talk about my anxiety and PND.

But maybe I’m NOT real because I didn’t have stretch-marks and could fit into my pre babe wardrobe (why do I actually feel embarrassed to write this?).

But maybe I AM real because my life is just a series of me falling from one awkward scenario and utterance to the next.

But maybe I’m NOT real because my house is always tidy (read this)

(Don’t start me on ‘real mum body’ because that just makes me mad sad. If you’re a mum, and you have a body, you have a real mum body. Whether you’re a gym-honed size 8 or a curvy size 32, whether you’re enhanced with silicon or go makeup-free. Whether you are decorated head to toe with tattoos or have a story of scars, you have a real mum bod. End. Of. Story)

When we glorify and cheer-lead only the ‘real mum’s, what category are we putting everyone else into?

Real vs Not Real. Of course, it’s NEVER that black and white. But words are powerful.

You see a size 6, toned mum pushing an immaculate baby through the street? Or the mum of newborn twins smiling and proclaiming that they sleep brilliantly and she just ‘adores motherhood’. What about the mum who’s kids have never consumed plates of beige 3 days in a row, or the mum who’s freezer doesn’t boast a bounty of fish fingers like mine. What about those who’s kids are screen-free, homework-completing and toddler yoga-ing all whilst feasting on quinoa bites?

Well, that’s not real is it? If it’s not real, what is it? And why do we feel the need to grade something as real or not just by looking at a snapshot of their day, or a small part of their whole?

Yes, those ARE real bits, they just aren’t ALL of the real bits

It is another form of comparison against something that is different to me. Different parenting, different resources, different life experience, different hidden things, different coping mechanisms, different insecurities. It’s a fixation on one part of a bigger picture that we will never see, used to either invalidate or validate our experience of motherhood and how we are doing. It creates distance between people. Between mothers. 

‘I’m not like her, I’m rougher around the edges. My kids tantrum and I feed them freezer food a little too much. I never do ‘crafts’ and I HATE glitter’. We write people off as different because in the light of what we see, we see ourselves as lacking. However, we are being inadvertently judgemental by creating this ‘real mum’ divide.

Let me tell you. Being ‘real’ in the sense of showing my rough edges has taken me years. And, it’s still not always comfortable (I say things that sometimes make me feel somewhat sick and scared as to how it will be received…like this post!) To able to be open about some of the tougher, uglier, harder to hear, complex to say, less palatable stuff has been a hard and valuable journey of vulnerability. Years of therapy, years of repeating to myself the message that I’m still loveable regardless of who I am, what I look like, what I’ve been through, what people have told me, and what people think. I’ve spent years challenging the relentless perfectionist desire to portray something that hides my mess because my entrenched message to myself is that what people think of me is exactly what I’m worth – their opinions of me are truths. You might as well have walked up to me and stuck a price label on my arm.

I remember walking down the street, getting used to life as a mum of two. I would have looked in control, happy kids, well-dressed, lippy on, huge sunglasses. Was I fake?

If I’d have taken off my sunnies, you’d have seen red, swollen, bloodshot eyes of all the tears I’d cried that morning, and the wet rims of the ocean of tears that threatened. Would that have made me real if you’d have seen?

To have the confidence to put your shit out there, you need to have a level of internal self-assuredness that says ‘if people don’t like/agree/want my mess, then I’m okay. I’m still okay. I still have value. I’m still worth something. Vulnerability is risky. As soon as you speak out the harder stuff, which of it’s very nature is tinged with personal intimacy, you put yourself out there for people to ‘think things’ about you.

Some people choose not to take this risk. Some people can’t. Some people have had their vulnerability abused or misunderstood and thus their confidence to share, kicked in the nuts. Some people hide inevitable mess as a coping mechanism – the lynch pin that stops it from all falling apart (like my lipstick! It sounds stupid but during my horrible times, makeup was the one of those needed things that kept people relating to me like I wasn’t a ticking time bomb of tears). Some people choose to share this stuff in the intimacy of close friendships and relationships and not in instagram squares or toddler groups.

They are still real.

I’m not denying that when people share the sparkly bits it can feed the insecurities of others and can idealise and glorify certain elements of life, which of course, can cast shadow onto our own truthfully messy existence.

But..

It’s our responsibility  to recognise that we NEVER see the full picture no matter how much we see. We don’t need to be victim to how other people choose to portray their lives. I share ALOT with you guys, but never everything.

If you know that you are vulnerable to being pulled into the belief that people’s lives are actually how you see them to be, and yours is rubbish in comparison, then limit your exposure. Limit who you follow, what you watch and what you read until you’ve built some more of the internal self-confidence that says you’re doing just fine regardless of who’s next to you in a coffee queue or above you on an insta-feed.

So, my love.

Whoever you are. Whatever you do. However you do it. However tidy your home is. However your kids behave. However your freezer is stocked. However you find it to talk about the messy stuff. Whatever you’ve been through. Whatever you hide. Whatever you look like. Whatever you believe. Whatever you weight. Whatever you wear. Whatever you choose to share. Whatever you choose not to share. For whatever reasons…

You are REAL.

 

 

I can’t carry on like this

IMG_2233Vicious cycles are just that, vicious.

You get used to the rhythms of your life and mental health. You know the things you do to make yourself feel better and give you a spring back into your step be it momentary, and you know the things that take you down or set you off into a spiral. Or maybe you don’t even know what they are, but you know that sometimes life just feels like an exhausting rollercoaster. Even if it does have the ups amidst the downs, you know that what you’d really like is a little more consistency and a little less stomach churning variety.

Yes, I’d quite like to get off now.

I have a couple of these cycles in my life. I’ve grown to know them, to predict them, to see the affect that they have on those I love around me. But that isn’t always enough to do the things required to enable me to hop off the bloody rollercoaster because those things often require energy and effort, whereas on the rollercoaster, you’re a little more passive I guess. I don’t mean to speak in riddles, but metaphors are the way my mind works.

Here are my cycles –

Drivenness and perfectionism….

Get inspired. Work. Get enjoyment from what I do. Work harder. Lose balance. Feel like I’m spread too thinly. Half heartedly try to find balance. Instilling logistics required for balance is time consuming. Carry on regardless. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly-strung heap. Get sick or run down because I’ve ignored the warnings to slow down. Be forced to stop. Take step back. Gain perspective. Rest…………Get inspired. Work…..(and thus the cycle begins again)

Self sufficiency…

Cope well. Feel like I have all the resources. Get tired. Feel like I should be coping. Feel like I should have the resources. Judge myself for not coping and not having all of the resources. Get tireder and worse at telling myself to reach out. Get a little rude and defensive to the voice that says I’m not made to do it alone. Continue to try to do it alone. Feel like a failure for not being able to. Fall into an emotional, confused, highly strung heap of supposed failure. Reach out for help. Tell people how I feel. Feel better and normalised. Wish I had spoken about it earlier……Cope well. Feel like have all the resources (and thus the cycle begins again).

I bet you have cycles too. Your own little rollercoasters that you know the ups and downs of, they are familiar and sometimes, even in a dysfunctional way, that’s what keeps us on them. We know what it feels like, the drop in the stomach, the same old same old internal battles. The world is an unfamiliar place, and even if the feelings are hard and we hate the predictability, that in itself can be a comforting certainty. They work for us whilst also working against us. I mean, I’m pretty damn great when I’m inspired and feeling like I have all the resources…but that’s not a sustainable feeling, and it’s not okay just to plough everything into what feels like your truth at that time. You’re not a machine. You’re a human being with needs and feelings and resources that run out – all of which need to be attended to with care! Not rinsed for their benefits and hung out to dry.

BUT……

We are worth more than these consistent cycles that keep you swimming in the same spot of stagnant water. Like being on a treadmill, you feel like you’re going somewhere when actually you’re not experiencing anything new, just the same old walls and windows. You’re really just getting knackered and going nowhere.

Yesterday I messaged a friend and said ‘I just feel like I should be feeling more content. I feel unbalanced and highly strung and I’m sick of it’. I mean, there are many problems with that phrase. Who ‘should’ be feeling anything in particular? We feel what we feel and as soon as we start to tell ourselves that it’s not acceptable, we cause problems. And as for contentment, that’s often something we feel in special snapshots rather than a continued state. But…what I was saying really, if I think about it, is that I’m tired. I’m tired of this rollercoaster. I’m tired of the familiar dysfunction. I’m tired of doing the same thing over and over and getting the same damned result.

And then, a lightbulb moment. I wouldn’t say it was a rock bottom, but that one was perhaps in sight, and that I’d hit a few mini ones in quick succession. I guess I was at the end of both of my destructive cycles at exactly the same time – feeling a bit worthless and a lotta bit highly strung. I decided that I was just going to do something different. I suddenly experienced some wind in my sails as I lit a candle, dug out a journal, unrolled my yoga mat for the next morning and planned in some exercise.  I’m going to carve some new habits. All of these things work to increase seretonin (happy hormone) and re-anchor and re-engage. I’m going to do things that break these cycles rather than feed them. I’m going to dare to believe that i’m worth more than just treading the same old same old paths. Because I am. And you are too.

I’ve been resistant to the concept of new years resolutions. A little scathing about them perhaps. I think it’s because I wasn’t ready to make changes, I wanted to move away from all of the buzz, the forgoing and the fresh starts. It sounded like a lot of hard work and I didn’t have the energy to even consider it. But now I am up for it – because I have even less energy, but that’s the point. These things make us tired, and we don’t like change when we are tired. And on it goes, until one day you’re sick enough of it all to be too impatient to wait until you have energy to make changes. I’m a few days late, but it’s not really about the date. It’s really just a collective ‘hey, let’s make changes that stop the cycles that suck the life out of us. Let’s drink less, move more, be kinder to ourselves and others, do more of the things that re-invest, re-engage, re-ground’

So, what you going to do? Are you going to wait until you get to some messy sort of rock bottom, or until all your cycles come to their tricky end at some sort of incredibly uncomfortable but heaven-sent, change-inspiring moment? Or are you just going to take the risk in starting to act like you’re worth stepping off the treadmill, even if you don’t believe you are…yet. Because trust me, make some tweaks and some changes, and then, in time, you’ll believe that you’re worth all the positive, life affirming changes you can ever make.

This feels like a brain dump really. But I’m hoping that some of my words might resound for others. Here goes…

Ax