As a researcher I spend a lot of time interviewing mums about their lives, their experiences, their worries and dreams. As a mother I interact with mums everyday, on the school run, in the soft play, online. One thing I see everywhere I look is this: anxiety and guilt.
Crisis of confidence, over thinking, excessive researching, helicopter parenting. It is evident we all treat motherhood like a career, and I really worry about the effect this is having on our experience of motherhood, our mental well being and what we will pass on down to the next generation of mums, our daughters. We continually look for the ‘right way to do things’, the new version of this and that, new techniques, courses, books, routines, always seeking to find the thing that’s ‘best for baby’.
But I’m not sure any of that stuff is ever ‘best for mum’.
I think we will look back at ourselves as a generation of parents who felt empowered – access to so much information that its unfathomable (bit like watching Interstellar at the IMAX until your brain hurts). We know what the issues are before they’ve even struck, we’re ready for the next stage before the previous one is over. But I cant help observe and wonder: Are modern mums’ brains set permanently to ‘fix and improve’ mode? Because despite all this information, we still don’t seem to feel like we’re ever doing good enough. It’s incredibly rare to hear a mum feeling really confident, especially a first time mum, there is always something. You could argue that’s just the baggage that comes with having kids, that it improves once the child gets older or once there is a second or third child then she becomes a pro, but I’m not entirely convinced. Modern mums seem more likely to be riddled with guilt, anxiety, questions, uncertainty. And so ironically, despite feeling so empowered, I also think we will look back at ourselves as a generation who could have just lived and loved in the moment a bit more, enjoyed the now, and trusted our instincts more.
I love technology, I love social media, I love information. I’m a bloody researcher for gods sake, I made a career out of finding out stuff! But I don’t love any of it more than my own brain, than my opinion, my feelings, my instincts and it’s not something I overly got into when I first became a mum. When I had Phoenix nearly 5 years ago we didn’t really have any friends with babies, we headed into this unbeknown world with few people around us who could empathise or understand what the stresses and strains of having a new born is really like. Initially I found this hard. I didn’t feel like I a had a point of reference, a confident, a benchmark or just anyone nearby whose boobs were also leaking like a couple of burst pipes. But very quickly I decided to approach the whole thing intuitively, as a team with Ben, determined, confident and hey, why the hell not, with a little bit of Emma flair in doing things my own way.
I didn’t know what I was doing, I made tonnes of mistakes, but I learnt quickly. There were some hairy moments and some very late night trawls around the block and 3am moments of ‘oh my god what the hell have we done?’, but I have to say I did feel confident. I did feel in control. I still do. I know I am a good mother, I know I have my shit together. Our life is busy, packed and at times a little fly by the seat of your pants, but it does work, our kids are awesome.
So I want to say this: I know what I’m doing and its working. And I say this because not enough of us do. It seems to have become more normal that we talk about how we’ve failed, we even have a hashtag dedicated to it – #mumfail, (although it does come in handy when you do stuff like send your child to nursery dressed as an astronaut when its ‘Victorian Day’). We should be nicer to ourselves and each other, it will help us all, and even better probably help our kids even more.
When you have your first baby its entirely normal to panic. There is nothing that can prepare you, its a relentless treadmill of ‘firsts and ‘oh fucks’. It is very normal to think you’re getting it wrong, that you’re messing it up, the overwhelming urge to ‘get it right’ is strong. I had moments of this but it didn’t linger, I didn’t let it stick around. And even though Phoenix had tongue tie which wasn’t really picked up until 6 months until after I finished breastfeeding, (yeah thanks for that docs), I did have a good time. I did enjoy it all, I felt like I was living and not just surviving. The most successful bits of parenting I’ve done have been done through having a calm, positive outlook and a deep connection with my kids which is rooted in intuition and understanding. It’s never come from a book, app or a website.
I decided to give up all the ‘mummy media’ pretty quickly, (although there was no instagram then!). I visited sites when something was up but the thing is, once you stop looking, once you stop ‘naming something’ its funny how phases can just go away . For me, real life outside of the baby bubble was and still is far more interesting and less worrying. From 4 weeks I went to mums groups, 6 weeks I was in a regular baby circuits routine and I have to say I kind of put first what I wanted to do and where I wanted us to go, rather than adhering to any kind of strict routine and crazy schedule that my babies demanded. I always wanted more than anything for my kids to be flexible, adaptable. I never wanted to be that mum who had to leave a party on the dot for a scheduled nap, whose kid couldn’t sleep in the buggy or on a pile of coats, adaptability is one of the best goals you can have for pre schoolers and it comes from being relaxed, confident and just rolling with it (and a little bit of luck with the baby you get served up come splash down 🙂
Ben and I had an interesting discussion the other night about what kind of parents we would be if we were just having kids now, 5 years older and wiser. And we concluded that it would be quite different. Although the isolation of being the only ones with kids at the time felt hard, in retro spec there was something quite magical about the great unknown, about being on this solo mission blurring the boundaries of baby life with the pre baby days. And of course we were much younger. Now I’m more of a grown up (apparently), I think I would probably approach the whole parenting thing a bit more ‘professionally’, I would likely be less spontaneous, generally more academic about the whole thing. I’d definitely take more time off work, something which although I’d have loved to have done more of, especially second time around with Indy, I can now also clearly see how setting up the business helped me to have other things to think and be passionate about, which in turn had a positive effect on my relationship with my kids.
Of course every baby is different, every experience is unique, there are many factors you can’t control. But I do believe that the key to ‘fixing’ a baby or child, if thats how we modern mums have been wired to think, is actually not to fix them. Kids are mirrors, sponges, little emotional plug holes who drink up our spirit, feelings and emotions, we need to look after ourselves before we can look after them.
I’m not really sure how to end this post, I don’t have a list of advice, I’m not actually entirely sure what I’m saying, just that there is no need for so much anxiety and guilt amongst us all, so I’ll just say this, however you do it, just get your shit together. As someone who lived with guilt for a long time and who proactively just ‘gave it up’ two years ago, life on the flip side is much brighter. So don’t waste your energies trying to ‘fix’ when you could be using them to ‘build’.
…..(nothing like ending a post with a Bob the Builder analogy, that is true motherhood through and through)