A Realistic Guide To Parenting

A Realistic Guide To Parenting

Many parenting books advise us of challenges a new-born will bring.  They emphasise the delirious exhaustion it brings and the rejigging of a previously carefree life.  We are shoved into debates about breast vs formula,  sleeping rituals or how best to bond.  But once that precious newborn smell starts to fade and the nappies turn to training pants, we are left, without warning, with a small person who wants to navigate the world their way.  Sounds exciting right? Well actually, it can be really really hard and you may feel, at times, like you are going mad. The terrible twos is real, except it starts around 18 months and ends at about 4 years (if you’re lucky).  

After a ghastly nights sleep (if you can call it that) I’ve necked my coffee and have decided that there is categorically no solutions to parenting.  All children are different, the crappy times are unavoidable and therefore we may as well have a laugh about it. I’ve written my own, more realistic, guide to parenting below. 

1)      Tantrums

Tantrums have no limits. I kid you not, some tantrums were/are so out of control that I get a ringing sensation in my ears for days. Once, she threw her shoes in the road as we were walking into nursery, another time she threw her shoe at my head as I drove, and the worse was when she laid on the floor of Tesco kicking and screaming.  This was made more stressful when Brenda who was surfing the fruit aisle for some bananas decided to tut at me. Children may be small, but they put up a good fight, so come armed with supplies. I usually find a hip flask of wine and the ability to pick your child up and run quickly back to the car can help a public tantrum. Genuinely though, do not give in; let them scream it out.  Learn to play an episode of friends in your head and ignore the shrieking. Alternatively you may just go deaf which I guess can be considered a win.

2)      Users

Don’t expect unconditional love from a toddler. My children cheered when I suggested snuggling up to watch a movie together only to be told they weren’t interested when the only snack I had was fruit. They were cheering for the sweets and popcorn they assumed they would get, not me. Whilst we’re on the subject of children being users, expect to only hear you’re the ‘best mummy in the world’, after buying both a kinder egg and a magazine. You must then also expect to be told you’re the ‘worst mummy’, 6 minutes later when you won’t let them play on your phone.

3)      Bedtime

Before I had kids, I imagined bedtime to be wonderful. Me and my child sat arm in arm whilst I read them their favourite book and giggled at the funny parts. They would kiss my cheek and tell me they loved me as I left the room and they drifted off into 10 full hours of sleep. Last night, in protest of going to bed, my daughter slept under her bed. She was so pissed off that she ripped a page of her book, threw it at me and then climbed underneath. And no, I wasn’t alarmed, I was so fucking happy she was asleep I simply slid her out from the bed and tucked her in. She can fall asleep in the airing cupboard for all I care, as long as shes actually going to sleep.

4)      Bedtime Part 2  

Just a word of caution, a child’s bed is magic.  When children get into them, they suddenly remember their need to hydrate or empty their bladders. They also realise they have to tidy their room, need to say goodnight to everyone including the next door neighbour, like light, hate light, hate dark, they’re scared, they’re sad, they’re poorly, they need a poo, they need a wee, they’re going to be sick, they need to wash their hands, their eyebrows hurt, THEY NEED TO CHECK THE TINY PEICE OF FLUFF IS STILL IN THEIR SHOE. Basically, come armed with a bucket of water, install a toilet in their room and don’t expect to be out of there before midnight.

5)      Hair Brushing

If your child has long hair, you should anticipate them turning into the grim reaper if you so much as comb the tiniest knot. The other day, to test the authenticity of said reaction, I merely brushed the air next to my daughters hair she, in turn, held her head and SCREAMED ‘ow’. Fake it until you make it hey?

6)      Disappearing Socks

Children’s socks are not like adult socks. Like beds, children’s socks are magic. They can escape, hide and disappear. I once put a sock on my child and two minutes later it had runaway, never to be seen again. Another time, I wrapped a few pairs and put them in my child’s stocking but when the present was opened, they had gone. The socks had escaped. Socks will leave, you will buy more and they too, will leave. They will never match, and you will spend every day of your parenting life looking for a clean pair of socks for your child. You will eventually need to re-mortgage your property to afford the cost of new socks. Alternatively, it may be an idea to make contacts at a sock making factory.

7)      Toilet Flushing

Your children will be fascinated by flushing the loo for the first 3 times they use it and then they will never bother to flush it again.

8)      Home Décor

If you must choose a colour of carpet suitable for children, then I would suggest the colour ‘it doesn’t exist’. The best advice is to not bother with floor. Maybe you could put some newspaper down, if you’re feeling fancy, but no floor is the best bet. Same with furniture. Don’t bother getting any, before you know it will look like you had a break in, and your furniture was vandalised.

9)      Timekeeping

Astonishingly, none of the parenting books I have read have ever mentioned the fact that children are unable to understand you until you have repeated yourself 53 times.  If you ask them something the poor little soles cannot register it until you have actually lost your voice getting the message across.  If you want them to get ready for school on time, it’s worth waking them at 4am and starting the requests then, as they may have heard you by 7am. Also, all children are born with a defect that causes them to automatically slow down when you are in a rush. This again, is strangely not mentioned in parenting books.

10)   Extra Senses

They say children can see ghosts and their senses don’t just stop there.  They have all sorts of additional powers.  One is knowing what a food tastes like before trying it.  For instance, they know that a chicken dish you’ve spent an hour cooking tastes horrible, but only need to hear the word ‘ice cream’ to know it tastes amazing. Other additional senses include; hearing you eat no matter how hard you try to hide it, sudden ability to adhere to all rules if chocolate is mentioned and the instant hunger they are hit with once they are near a cake.

To summarise, parenting can be so hard and were all blagging it.  And yes, that includes tutting Brenda in the fruit aisle.

When Two Become Three

When Two Become Three

So many times I have heard people say they ‘don’t want their child to be an only child’. Many assume they will have more than one child if they can, myself included. When deciding on having another child the worries are commonly based around money, logistics and space. So when discussing having two children with my partner, there was understandably a lot of emphasis on the practical side, whereas the emotional side was left on the side lines, only revisiting it when I was physically living the unexpected feelings I felt after giving birth for a second time.

I was 25 when I fell pregnant with my son. It was unplanned and I had only been with his dad a short time. From the start I was sure I was going to have a girl. I pictured myself braiding my daughters hair and getting mummy and me manicures together. I would naturally navigate towards the pink and girlie products in Mothercare – cute dresses and ballet pumps made my heart explode. It was gender stereotyping on steroids. By the time I went to my twenty-week scan I had convinced myself I was carrying a girl. I excitedly laid down on the hospital bed and said I wanted to know the sex of my baby (even though I already knew). The sonographer replied to let me know the baby was lying in an awkward position so she couldn’t yet decipher its sex. But I could. Staring me directly in the face on the screen was a clearer than day outline of ‘boy bits’. I pointed it out on the screen and she looked at me delighted and confirmed that I was correct; I was having a little boy.

I was going to be a single mum, and to a BOY. How? I had never understood boys, I didn’t even talk to my own brother anymore, yet I was expected to singlehandedly raise a boy?

Five months later I became a mum to a little boy. MY little boy, Theo.

He was huge and resembled a chubby ET, but I thought he was just beautiful, all 10lb 7oz of him (yes it was a vaginal birth-lucky me). Instantly, when I held him in my arms, any consideration that I was having a girl melted away.  This was my baby. This was always supposed to be my baby.

We navigated life together as a little family. He was settled and calm and had the loveliest nature. He was so big that he outgrew his Moses basket within 5 weeks.  I couldn’t sleep if he wasn’t in the room with me and I spent countless hours just staring at him as he slept peacefully. I couldn’t believe he was mine.

Life raising Theo was relatively chilled and really happy. He started football at 3 years old and I would sit in the cold and watch him. I never would have willingly watched football (I mean, there was a time where I would’ve assumed Robin Van Persie was a famous actor) but I could watch Theo all day. Every time he scored a goal he would run over and shout to me to check I had seen. When I watched him in his school plays (usually singing – which he hated) he would look to me and I would give him a thumbs up, he would smile and sing that little bit louder. Everyday, when he would come out of preschool and run into my arms. He would even get upset if I was to I go to the shops, making me promise I wouldn’t be too long.

We regularly had movie days, just the two of us. We would make a bed in the living room out of quilts and eat snacks whilst we watched film after film. At just 3 years old he would sit snuggling me, watching each film intently and giggling with me at the silly parts. I distinctly remember taking Theo to a museum when he was about 3. We spent the whole day exploring together, laughing and joking about which animal we looked like most and enjoyed tea and cake in the café. No tantrums and no boredom, he was my little angel, literally, and I was so proud to be his mummy.

So when I then fell pregnant, I assumed it would be the same all over again but double the affection, love and jokes. Right? Plus, Theo was so excited.  He would kiss my belly every time I picked him up or dropped him off anywhere. In the evenings he’d show my bump his favourite toys and rest them on it; his idea of sharing. It was too adorable for words. I was so excited (and to be honest unaware) of what was to come.

I gave birth to Phoebe in August 2016. When I first held her in my arms, the happiness I thought I would feel was overridden by guilt. Lying here in this hospital room holding my new baby with my partner by my side felt wrong. It was as if my heart wasn’t in the room; it was happily playing at nursery instead. All I could think about was Theo. I kept asking when I could see him, counting down the minutes until Tom went to collect him. I was so excited to just give him a cuddle and introduce him to his sister.  I told myself I would be fine once he saw her and if was just natural waves of postnatal hormones.

When he turned up I was desperate to squeeze him. I held my arms out, and to my horror he refused to cuddle me. In fact, he wouldn’t even look at me.   I gave him a playful poke and he pushed my hand off.  He looked at her, expressionless, told us he didn’t want to hold her, then sat in the corner and said he wanted to go home.  Despite my efforts he refused to talk to me and eventually Tom took him home. I felt disheartened, but also considered just how overwhelming it may have been for him. I told myself once we were home it would be fine; maybe the hospital was the wrong setting for introductions.

Once home, I quickly learned that the setting was not the issue. The baby was. Theo was feeling weird and I could tell. He was desperately trying to get everybody’s attention, even if it meant being naughty and making a scene. I hated anyone commenting on his behaviour.  I wouldn’t let Tom tell him off. I would go mad if anybody didn’t respond to his questions in 0.4 seconds.  The guilt I felt was overwhelming, and it was coming out irrationally by attacking anybody who didn’t walk in and give him their undying attention. I just wanted him to be ok, to the point where I started to spoil him. I would buy him sweets if he wanted some. I would buy him little toys he saw, clothes he liked, I even bought him a pink sparkly top that was 4 sizes too big because he said he really wanted it. I was desperate to make him feel better.

He was acting out.  Our previously unbreakable bond felt more than broken, it felt like it was smashed to pieces.  I had no idea how to help him, it was like putting shattered glass back together.  I followed all the advice I could find, the most common one to pop up was to spend time alone with him. I arranged to take him to the cinema and I was optimistic that it would finally feel like old times again. But he wouldn’t even talk to me, afterwards I suggested a McDonalds. He declined and added that he thought the movie was rubbish. I felt completely defeated.

In the meantime, all this energy spent feeling guilty about Theo had started to turn into a constant feeling that everything was wrong and not as it should be. The guilt turned to unease and I started to feel like something bad was going to happen. I would wake up 3 times a night to check all the doors were locked. I had phoebe sleep in my room to check she was ok and constantly went from room to room checking they were both breathing. I started to walk everywhere rather than drive so as to prevent an accident. I was absolutely exhausted and my weight dropped lower than it had ever been.

Furthermore, all this had stopped me bonding with Phoebe. I felt like I was betraying my son by doing so and I had an eerie feeling when I looked at her, as if she wasn’t mine. The difference in my experience after having Theo to after having phoebe was a complete contrast. I started to feel like I was a bystander watching myself play house. I was in complete emotional turmoil and worried constantly that I had ruined our relationship. I felt constantly confused. My mind felt overcrowded and busy.

I’m aware now that I was experiencing severe postnatal depression. And I’m certain it was sparked by the complete lack of awareness of how much my life would change and how badly Theo would react. I was completely naive. What’s more, early on I confided in a health visitor who told me I just needed a good tramadol to calm me down. After her response, I was convinced my feelings and behaviour were all normal and I was simply overreacting.

I couldn’t go on feeling how I was so I eventually went to the doctors. She immediately prescribed me anti depressants and referred me to an online CBT programme as the wait for a therapist was lengthy. It took a lot of hard work and persistance to feel better, and as my mood improved so did Theo’s, largely because phoebe was getting older and they could sometimes play together.

Over time he settled into the role of big brother. They would play for hours, laughing (sometimes fighting). When Theo would go to his dads, Phoebe was like a lost puppy for the weekend. They really are the best of friends. Now, nearly four years down the line I can’t remember it being any other way. I tried so hard to make things ‘normal’ for Theo when she came along, completely unaware that eventually, having a sister would be his normal. Spending time alone with them is a great tip, but ultimately, it just needs time, and the understanding that it’s all temporary and no child ever grew up with PTSD from the birth of their sibling. Theo and I are also back to being as close as we were before. We have fun together, movie nights and days out still, except now with a little added bonus; his sister.

It took around a year to truly feel bonded with Phoebe. I absolutely adore her. She has the craziest character and is pretty much a miniature version of myself. I never thought it would be possible to love any child as much as I loved Theo but I am living proof that it most definitely is.

Having a second baby was nothing like I imagined and it took a lot of adjusting. Not everyone feels it’s a struggle of course, I am just sharing my experience.

Most days, after collecting Theo from preschool, he would ask me when Phoebe was ‘going back’. Every time I explained that we were her family and she needed to live with us at home. One day, when Theo asked this I replied jokingly and said we were dropping her off on the way home. He protested and said it just wouldn’t be the same without his sister.  I knew then that it was all going to be ok.

To The Girl I Used To Be

To The Girl I Used To Be

Sometimes I feel completely overwhelmed with balancing life, relationships, work and being a good Mother to my two children. Imagine trying to carry six bags full of Tesco shopping, whilst walking a tightrope and reciting the 8 times tables backwards; that’s how I feel most days.  I often think back to my younger self and compare her to who I am now. I view myself then and myself now as two entirely different people, sometimes wishing I could be more like her again even though when I was, I wasn’t too fond of her.

I remember my Mum saying to me when I was a teenager that she had a dream that she was free.  She had no ties or responsibility and the feeling was amazing and one that she had forgotten.  It stuck with me because I had no idea what she meant at the time. Now, I understand just how possible it can sometimes be to miss that freedom from responsibility.

People used to say (before children) that I was selfish…and I was, because I could be.  Don’t get me wrong, if a friend or family member needed me, I would of course be there for them, but if I wanted to do something then I did it; regardless of consequences. If my parents asked me to babysit my younger brother on the same night of a huge party, then I would be politely declining. I used to put my own needs first, sometimes to a fault. I’m not bitter about the fact I can no longer do that anymore (I couldn’t think of anything worse than gracing a nightclub until the early hours) and being a mother is my biggest achievement to date, but how do I be a good mum and partner AND look after myself at the same time? That is the bit I find difficult. And where along the way did I lose my ability to be even remotely selfish? 

The love I have for my little family is too strong to not prioritise them, I want them all to be happy first and foremost. Consequently, self-care falls by the wayside. I truly find it to be one of the most challenging parts of parenting. When is it ok to put yourself first? Are you even supposed to ever again?

I used to tell myself that I needed to be less selfish, but I always ended up making the decision that suited me best. People would pull me up on it; ‘You must think about others Hayley’, ‘It isn’t all about you,’ ‘Here she goes, talking about herself again’, were things I heard often. At the time, I was always really miffed when someone mentioned just how self-absorbed I could be.  I would instantly jump to my own defence and justify myself into continuing to put myself first. In hindsight, I’m glad I did. And if I could go back, I would tell myself that from the age of 30 I won’t be able to be selfish, so it’s worth enjoying it. A quality I used to think was my weakness I now miss and wish I still had to a degree as it is now engrained in my mind that I MUST do it all, so my selfish side, or the ability to prioritise my wellbeing, always takes a back seat.

The issue is that my brain thinks I am failing as a mum if everyone else is not happy, fed, clean and clothed; it just seems that I don’t fit into that equation. I am sometimes so focussed on making my children and partner happy; making sure their lunch is made and clothes are washed, only to realise I have no clean clothes and I forgot to make my own lunch.  

My partner works very long hours, so without hesitation I will sit up with the children if they won’t sleep, same story if they get up early, I always insist on giving up my lay in even when he hasn’t had a long shift.  Whether this is habit I do not know, but it is the only way I feel I’m doing my job properly. Just for the record, my partner asks to take over all the time and is more than willing to do his share. This issue lies with me, and the fact that ever since I became a mum, I seem to accumulate an immense amount of guilt if I accept a hand and don’t complete everything myself, even if I don’t want to. My capacity to allow others to take the reins appears to have been left in my hospital room the day I brought my son home.

Maybe the way I feel is a common feeling amongst mothers, or maybe it is a consequence of my own experiences. Either way, I do sometimes wonder if the traditional ‘man/woman’ role is more engrained in us than we are aware.  Maybe, as women, we subconsciously think it is our job alone to satisfy everyone else’s needs. The trouble is, times have changed and commonly, women now contribute financially, me included.  Despite this, there still seems to be an immense societal pressure for women to take on the majority of the household and childcare duties.  I know of at least seven other mothers who feel the same way. I know of a few who also don’t of course, but it appears to be more common than not, when talking with others mums.   I am not saying it is the fault of husbands or partners at all, and this isn’t a feminist debate, I am simply stating that I think women feel as though need to do it all and end up feeling guilty if they don’t, even when help is offered. 

I’ve previously confided to my partner about how I feel which makes him frustrated. He asks why I do not just let him take over sometimes and why I decline his help. And he is right. How can I be so stressed and in need of a helping hand, whilst insisting I’m completely fine and don’t need said helping hand? It isn’t fair on him and it isn’t fair on me. I want to say ‘yes please do it this time’, but I just can’t seem to allow myself.

A natural progression in life is to mature, and with that comes responsibility. I don’t miss living recklessly and partying in Ibiza; in fact I don’t miss that at all. What I do miss is how much I cared for me.

There are plenty of qualities I have accumulated over the years as I have grown up which I am truly thankful for. For one, I am far wiser and a lot calmer in a crisis, but the thing I miss most is the raw ability to not care what anyone thinks. I used to speak my mind, shout my opinions and not let anyone walk over me. I rejected a lot of people’s opinions and justified that I was who I was and if someone thought I was odd or had said something unkind about me then that was their issue. I laughed at myself and I laughed at the negative opinions’ others may have had of me. Now, one negative opinion can ruin my week, and I don’t know why. I am so conscious of other people since becoming a parent, and I don’t like it. 

I feel remorseful for sometimes wanting to sit in a room on my own and read a book when my little boy wants me to watch him play a game or my daughter wants to show me a new dance, and I assume this is quite a natural feeling, but it is also one I should be listening  to. You only have to look at the conflicting messages society gives to mums to understand why it can be so confusing.  

Have a break/Don’t miss the special moments. Look after and have time for yourself/ You will have plenty of time to yourself later 

I just need a little moment to myself. It’s the little moments with your children that you will remember.

 It becomes exhausting.

If I sit down and start to relax I can guarantee I will suddenly remember an article I read which told me the years ‘fly by’ and how before I know it I will be a lonely old woman sat at home crying because my children won’t come around for tea. I am then unable and completely unwilling to have a bit of time to myself. 

Usually, I’d conclude my writing with some advice. But this time I have none. Prioritising myself is a work in progress. I need to retrain my mind so that I can reach a happy medium; a bit of my younger selves’ attitude would not be a bad thing and I hope to meet that girl again soon and come to a nice compromise.

I can only speak for myself and my situation and I am utterly blessed to have my two children; I wouldn’t change it for the world. But sometimes I do miss the old me. I sometimes grieve the girl I used to be.

This article is why I named this blog ‘Who’s Looking After Mum’.  Because sometimes I wonder, who is? 

Fertility

Fertility

One minute you’re 20 years old taking the contraceptive pill religiously, praying that your partying days aren’t over; and the next you’re counting your fertile days, peeing on ovulation sticks and jumping on your partner every spare second you get in the hope that this month is THE month. For many women, that positive test comes quickly, but for many others the waiting game is tough and soul destroying.

We tried for 4 years before I fell pregnant and they were the toughest 4 years of my life. I cried, I laughed, I spent a lot of money on a lot of shit to help me fall pregnant. I pressured my husband in to sex day in day out and I prayed, (something I’d never done before). I was a woman on a mission. Wanting a baby and not getting pregnant is a lonely place. It consumes you and you can only really understand it if you’ve been through it. It’s strange how the second you decide to try for a baby, every one else in the world becomes pregnant. Beatrice from school who I hadn’t seen for 20 years popped up on my Facebook announcing “surprise we’re having a baby” everywhere I looked there were bumps, baby showers and baby reveals, just to make me feel a little bit worse and remind me that I was most definetly not pregnant.

Pregnancy tests became the enemy…an expensive enemy. I got almost used to looking at a stick praying that there would be two lines. I’d even sometimes see a line that wasn’t there, desperately standing by my bedroom window turning the test in the light to see if the result was different….of course it wasn’t it was just a big fat negative each time.

I decided to come off the pill at 33 (looking back I am so glad I did). I told Matt it would take us at least a year to get pregnant so it was best we started trying now, even though I never believed that would be true. Little did I know that the journey would be a lot longer than anticipated.

The first month off the pill, I convinced myself that I in fact was pregnant. I was adamant I could feel the symptoms they say you get once the egg has implanted. I was a little smug and thought to myself that I was obviously just one of those extremely “fertile Freddie’s” the ones that don’t even have to actually have sex and get pregnant (god I wish I could go back and slap my then self).

I need to also point out at this time that my journey is by far not the worse that I’ve heard of during my time of trying for a baby. I came across women and stories that made me cry myself to sleep. Some of the things people have been through to have a baby are crazy and I have so much respect for the strength and determination of any couple fighting for their dream to have a child, especially when it’s such a simple dream and something you take for granted until it doesn’t happen.

So I came off the pill. We tried for just under a year and nothing happened so we decided to go and see a doctor who was great and said that we would get to the bottom of what was wrong. Two and a bit years later we didn’t have any answers. We had sperm tests, a HSG

(which checks your tubes) and numerous blood tests under our belts and everything looked perfect (annoyingly perfect) which to be honest was even more frustrating. They checked my ovulation which came back showing that some months I skipped ovulation and others I didn’t so they decided to start me on clomid for 6 months which did nothing apart from make me bloated and grumpy. I was then told there was nothing more they could do, that the next steps would be IVF and I was sent on my way.

After much deliberation we decided to go down the route of IVF although just before we did we found out we were pregnant naturally. Unfortunately, that pregnancy ended at 6 weeks and again the painful process of accepting this wasn’t our baby began.

Eventually we did get pregnant naturally after nearly 4 years. I still remember the morning so clearly that I sat down to do a wee and take a random pregnancy test. When the 2nd line came up I was in disbelief, I was tired of it all and I remember not feeling excited because I associated pregnancy with sadness and disappointment and didn’t really believe that it was real or that it would actually last this time.

My fertility journey is something I want to talk about in more detail and something I probably can’t cover in one blog post. As I sit here writing I can see my little boy next to me smiling and it still makes me feel like the luckiest Mum in the world.

I think the main thing I have to take from all of the years of trying is that now I appreciate more than ever my little boy. I count myself so blessed even through the sleepless nights.

It’s hard when you are trying and not getting pregnant. At times I really believed it would probably never happen for us. I know it’s easy for me to say now but people going through something similar need to be kind to themselves and honestly don’t give up, know that it will happen and that sometimes the best things come from the toughest situations.