Sally MacLeod lives in Brighton with her husband and son, and is part of the Mummyshock team. Here she shares some more of her own experiences as a new Mum...
I should probably say right at the beginning that this is written in a haze of sleep deprivation (turns out toddlers and heat don’t add up to a good night’s sleep!) I thought it might be helpful to share some of the thoughts that have gone through my mind since my little boy was born 2 and half years ago, in the hope that it might be reassuring to know that there is at least 1 other mum who has thought similar things to you, that you aren’t alone and that there is no need to feel guilty…
I MISS MY OLD LIFE…OR WHAT HAVE I DONE?!? (OR Can I give him back now??)
In the early days this was a re-recurring thought; when I was faced with the contrast between what I expected motherhood to be and the reality of life with a new-born. And if I’m honest there are moments even now when I’ve spent the day with a tantrum throwing (sometimes object throwing) toddler.
And I think it’s OK to have these kind of thoughts, to feel like being a mum isn’t all you thought it would be and to miss the freedom of your pre-parenthood life. I read a great blog-post (if I can find it I will share the link) about grieving the loss of your life before baby, and that it is not only normal but really important to go through the process of letting go. Because yes you gain lots as a mother, I touched on that in my previous post, but there are definitely losses as well – in every area of life (not to sound too dramatic.)
And even though I still have those thoughts, usually after cleaning up the 100th knocked over contents of a potty (!?!?!?!) they are less frequent. As I adjust and find my feet in this new world of motherhood I realise that what felt like heavy loss in the early days was just part of that cycle of change that Mummyshock groups talk so brilliantly about. That I don’t need to feel guilty about missing my old life because it’s just part of a process of letting go, in order to make room for the life I have now – which in lots of ways is so much fuller than before.
OTHER MUMS SEEM TO HAVE IT ALL SORTED
I always think this, even now when I leave the house in a whirlwind of chaos, of a sweary mother and an often screaming toddler. I often think I am the least sorted mum I know, but having talked to other mums I’ve realised that we’re ALL thinking it!!
I can remember turning up to Mummyshock with my little boy; feeling like a total wreck and crying my whole way through the check-in, sharing how hard I was finding it, convinced I was the only one (almost every week!) And then hearing the other mums in the groups saying similar things and I was so surprised…and relieved!
In the first year of motherhood I learned a great phrase, “Fake it till you make it!” And I think to a certain extent that’s what we all do in the early years of parenting. One of the baby books a friend gave me, a week by week book said “If your baby is still not sleeping for long at night you may consider lying about it to friends and family!” It made me laugh so much, I think they advised you do that to avoid being inundated with bits of advice, or maybe to avoid feeling judged…but it did make me see the whole “being sorted” in a different light. I really want one of those SELFISH MOTHER sweaters that says, “WINGING IT” – in fact I think all mums should be given one in those bloody Bounty bags you get given at the hospital!
There are some days I’m able to fake it quite successfully, and there are days when I really can’t and it’s obvious to all that I am totally winging it! But the days when I’m honest with a friend about how un-sorted I am as a mum are the days I feel most supported, and often have the privilege of hearing my friend share how hard they are finding it. And instead of holding each other up on some “they are sorted” platform, we’re able to stand a bit more shoulder to shoulder in the thick of how tough parenting can be.
(Something that’s really helped me not to dwell on this kind of thought is following people like Constance Hall, The Unmumsy Mum, Scummy Mummies and Mother Pukka who are all great at telling it how it is for parents and finding the humour in how un-sorted we all are!)
I CAN’T DO THIS
I’ve talked about this thought before I think, probably because it is my default thought when things are challenging. Most recently I thought this when I got a full force head-butt to the temple while in the library which brought me to tears (it was a good moment!) But like I’ve said before, I’m really trying to lean in to those times when I’ve thought I couldn’t do it…and did do it, when I kept going through the day even when I felt like a total sleep-deprived zombie or when I did manage to stay calm in the face of yet another tantrum, and find some strength in that.
I’ve also realised that with this kind of thought it’s quite helpful to share it with someone, to find the courage to say, “I feel like I can’t do this parenting thing at the moment.” It’s amazing how many offers of support you get from friends once they know that you are having a hard day or week – for a long time I just thought you had to struggle through those periods on your own.
We are also expecting another baby, which I know for most of you who are part of Mummyshock will probably feel like a lifetime away from even being a thought of a thought, so I’m currently thinking “I can’t do all of this…again!” A member of one of the Mummyshock groups said once that, “Resilience is sometimes about finding resources and support to help you,” (or words to that effect) which I just thought was brilliant and something I’ve found really helpful to hold on to. So I’m trying to be pro-active in building up support networks for myself so that when I’m in the thick of life with a new-born and a toddler I can find the strength to say to myself, “I can do this…with help!”
AM I RAISING A PSYCHO???
This is a bit tongue in cheek and is more something I think now about my little boy. One of the challenges of this new phase of mothering a toddler is how destructive he can be. As someone who is really sensitive and tries to have empathy for others (including animals) I find my son’s behaviour hard to fathom sometimes. Whether it’s lashing out at someone, grabbing a baby’s hair, stamping on a snail or trying to strangle a cat…it feels pretty full on. I know that because I am a sensitive person I can take things personally, and it’s the same with his behaviour – I can feel like it says something about my parenting, or that he’s doing it intentionally.
The whole, “Is my child a psycho?” thinking is something I said as a joke to some friends once (after previously mentioned cat strangling incident!) But it’s because I remember reading The Wasp Factory at school, and our English teacher told us that psychopaths lack empathy and are often cruel to animals…you can start to see where the thought came from!! But I’ve talked to other mums of older boys particularly and been reassured that a lot of them do similar things at this stage. So I’m starting to think this less (I really want to emphasise that I don’t really think my child is a psychopath...please don’t cancel any play dates with us!!)
And my point here is that I think there will always be things about our child’s behaviour that confuses, worries or angers us…I guess it’s part of parenting. So you may not have the exact thought as me on this, but there might be something about your child’s behaviour that makes you worry and I think that it’s pretty normal – especially in these early years when we’re all just trying to find our feet.
I also read something helpful about toddler’s behaviour (it’s definitely worth doing a bit or reading to understand where your toddler is developmentally) which really helped de-personalise it for me. It said that you should try not puTting any morality to their actions; they aren’t acting “badly” as they haven’t learned the difference between good/bad. That toddlers are like little scientists and that a lot of what they do are experiments in cause and effect, “If I do this (wrap hands around cat’s neck) what happens next…” even when those experiments can seem quite shocking to us adults. And that toddlers are all about impulsive actions because they haven’t always got the language to communicate their need.
And all of that has helped me to stop thinking, “My child is a psychopath…” and helped me to take a step back from the situation, not always but I’m learning slowly, to see that his behaviour is about him finding his way of responding to the world around him.
As always I could keep sharing other thoughts that have popped into my head as I’ve been writing but I think I’ll leave it there. I really hope it helps to know that you’re not alone in the things you think as a mother (even as I’ve been typing this I’ve been thinking, “Argh I hope I’m not the only one who has thought this!!”) And whether you’ve had similar thoughts to me, or completely different thoughts, know that there is grace for all of us as we figure out what this mothering thing looks like.