Carving out time for Mummy
You didn’t appreciate those little things; the quiet lapping of bubbly water against your skin; driving home from work listening to your favorite music and contemplating what to have for tea; the silence of toilet entertainment: a magazine or a phone perhaps.
You used to think you had worked and played hard enough to deserve that brief nap dribbling against the window of the train. Without thinking on it you knew all these things would forever be a part of life. You were wrong.
Like you, I knew babies changed everything: of course we did. We are not stupid. I, for one, wished every mother out there would stop informing the pregnant me of that fact. . But, well, what I didn’t know is… that, of course, babies change everything!
Five years on- my bottom barely hits the base of the bath. What is the point of bubbles when I am being perfunctory? If you lock the door to use the loo; you will still be seen compromised as you jump from it knickers at the ankles to stop the children on the other side from killing each other to get in.
Of course, all silence has gone. You waited for months for your cooing, crying offspring to speak; assured that life will get easier as they become less frustrated. Now, when they don’t leave a pause in the air between words and your brain throbs from 6am until 10pm from the lack of quiet; you start to wonder whether communication was ever that important.
Obviously, I love every inch of both my children, but I learnt pretty quickly (around the fifth breast feed my daughter had before breakfast) that being a Dad and being a Mum are two different things and you don’t have to breast feed to know that. It is patriarchal... hormonal… societal… it’s just a fact!
It doesn’t matter how old your children are; whether you are working, on maternity leave, home educating or juggling school drops offs. You are guilty of not filling your life with enough of what you want to do… as am I. So here are some tips for you. Please share yours for me in the comments below.
1) Start your day with exercise
This obviously looks different for every family. My daughter was born in the summer, so I would put her in the sling and just walk. Whether I have enough sleep, or not, whatever the exercise, I push through until I can feel the blood rushing around my body revitalising me with its goodness. I like to envisage the fat being broken down; the excess oestrogen being got rid of; the endorphins (happy chemicals) being released and my body thanking me.
When I had two under-fives I would set up activities for them both the night before, like corn flour and water on large trays with cars and jugs, and the next morning leave them to explore while I did my Down Dog yoga. Now, even if I stick on Peppa Blinking Pig for them to watch while eating their cereals my yoga takes priority. Why? Because as soon as I stop to change nappies or feed myself then the rest of my life has taken over and the yoga doesn’t get done and the day creeps away and at 40 years old one day turns into two and my knees, or hips start aching and I start to become old and grumpy. I tried going to classes and using crèches, but finances or time constraints became excuses and with an app I can do as little as 10 minutes or as much as half an hour in my case and I don’t have to pay a thing, or change out of my pyjamas. Win win!
2) Do something that gives your inner child joy everyday
As children we enjoyed things not because we were supposed to, or because they meant something, but because we just did! What did you enjoy when you were a child? Maybe it is something your child enjoys now? Like colouring, bouncing on a trampoline, making dens or playing with Lego and wow isn’t that appealing. Spending one on one time with your child, topping up their love cup, while filling up your own pot. Result. Who doesn’t love a multi-task? Or perhaps it was something you could now do alongside your children like sketching at the soft play or play park; reading to them over lunch; or telling them stories from your own imagination at bedtime (my daughter calls them ‘talk stories’).
Perhaps you just enjoyed shopping games and prefer the real thing now. Well, do it! Sandwich your shopping trips with time at museums with activities for children like The Science museum or The Childhood museum or, local to me, Worthing Museum is great too. There are also shops with toys or crafts to entertain your children while you shop. At Westfield we always pop in to a Lego store, which welcomes play at their tables whether you purchase anything or not. Then, some boutiques like Harmony at home have play tables for your children to use while you shop. Thankfully, some hairdressers do too, and if not they would probably welcome the idea! Also, get into the habit of bringing healthy snacks, or toys that your children don’t see very often out with you, so that you can ‘pull them out the bag’ and silence them at a moment’s notice.
Separate from doing things that just bring you joy in the moment is doing things that fulfil an inner need in yourself. These could be the same things, like drawing or writing. Lucy Aitken Read is a writer who starts every day with writing, even if that means she has to get up ten minutes earlier than her children, or shut herself in the bathroom to do it. Amber Allen feels her conscious life of veganism and minimalism defines who she is, so she wakes each morning to a few minutes, just for her, of quiet contemplation where she admires her sleeping children and thinks on the world and all the things that are important to her.
Perhaps your work defines who you are, but if it doesn’t, or that part of your life is on hold for a moment then what is it about you that makes you you? Are you an artist? A chef? A dancer? A yoga instructor? Determined to make a million pounds before you retire?
If you are unsure then take the next five minutes you have to figure it out: perhaps when travelling alone, when the children are in bed, or with their father. You might want to make a story board through pulling out pictures that appeal to you from a magazine and sticking them onto a collage, or through doing a free write by picking up a pencil and taking a blank page and just writing. Don’t stop to correct it. The grammar, or sentence stricture isn’t important, it is the flow that is, in order to get the creative part of your brain working. When you figure out what you like check in with yourself that it ties in with your values and beliefs and reassess again.
If you see a goal that you want to achieve and haven’t yet, like achieving a certain qualification for example, how are you going to break that down into manageable sub-goals and work towards them, realistically, every day? For example, if you have an idea for a business, you may not be able to set it up today, but you can work towards your goal every day. You can research and link with other businesses and as such get to know the tools needed to promote yourself. You can set up a Twitter or Instagram account for example and figure out how to get the most out of the platform and you can read books like ‘Find your Why’ by Simon Sinek to help you.
I know you are busy, believe me I know. But, this is what YOU want to do. YOU can do it!
TEDtalks or YouTube can either be watched while folding laundry or cleaning the bathroom. Khan academy or Open University can help you gain that knowledge you want. I got my creative writing qualifications through the latter myself while working as a nurse. You can read, write or draw alongside the children doing their work without guilt. Whatever you chose, for yourself, not for them nor for the family, benefits them.
It doesn’t matter whether you are a disciplinarian, an attachment parent, or a radical unschooler. It doesn’t matter if you don’t know what any of those parenting styles are! Self-actualisation is for you. It has been described as a basic human need by Maslow and in the same way as brushing our own teeth and speaking kindly to others we should role model it for our children. If we put our lives on hold for them at best we will begrudge them when hormonal and at worst shout ‘You are so selfish. I gave up everything for you’ and there would be no judgement from me if you did.
If your children look to you and beyond your being their mother can’t see who you are then they have no one to aspire to be like, to respect, or to decide to be different from. I strongly believe that a lack of self-actualisation actually has the potential to completely contradict all the love and kindness you have given them. And that is a lot to think about, but don’t forget to…
4) Appreciate the still moments
So what the laundry is piling up and the email for your boss needs sending? Right now you are washing up. It has to be done. So there are two options.
a) Stick on your favourite track and dance around the kitchen thus also fulfilling the exercising every day tip. Multitasking again! I have fond memories of jumping round the kitchen to Tracy Chapman and Tina Turner with my mother and now I am witness to my creating these same memories, sometimes to the same music, with my children. You only need see the warm caramel goo of love in their eyes to spot this. Or-
b) The children are absorbed in what they are doing and your head is pounding, so enjoy the silence. Stay in the moment. Be at one with the soap suds. What can you hear? What can you feel? Find the sound of your breathing and stay with that. When other thoughts enter your head notice them and let them pass. They are not important right now. This is what is important. Guess what? You are being mindful. Almost meditating.
If you want to find out more about what it is to mediate then test out the Headsapce App and if like me you don’t want to pay anything then swap that for the Insight Timer app. Having used natal hypnotherapy to have my babies from the comfort of my bed-rest I know first-hand the power of the mind. It allowed me to drug free, squeeze a 9lb baby out of a... well, you get the idea.
Yes, it takes a bit of getting used to. But, it is worth it and I find myself having power naps when the baby sleeps that actually have me awakening with MORE energy. I have moments of meditation lying down next to a wriggly child struggling to sleep WITHOUT wishing that I did ‘cry it out’. I would go as far to say as that living ‘in the moment’ was the most helpful thing I discovered in my 30’s. Let me know in the comments if you want to hear more about this, or anything else I have written about, in future blog posts. Perhaps most important of all this leads me onto my last tip… and the one I find the hardest to practise.
5) Forgive yourself
So what you broke down in tears on the bus. So what you shouted at your kid and made them cry. So what you hate playing dolls- It is better not to involve yourself anyway and employ benign neglect for increased learning and better attachment anyway: giving you the double benefit of having more time to exercise and follow your own interests. As you will read in a later blog post.
So, forgive it all. Tomorrow is another day. The page is blank and you get to scribble all over it all over again. Just subscribe to this page and we can be in this parenting malarkey together. Don’t forget to comment and let me know what you do to get through your day to ensure you remain feeling like you.