I’m writing this blog laid on a sun lounger in Ibiza. Ted is asleep, George and Esme are playing harmoniously in the villa and I have some peace and quiet after having a decent nights sleep; its easy to lay back and think how wonderful and stress free life is! And most of the time it is! Most of the time we are ok! Most of the time I go to bed thanking my lucky stars for the 3 little miracles that I’ve just kissed goodnight! But some nights, some nights I countdown the minutes to bedtime and pray to those lucky stars that tomorrow will be better! And if not better, easier! And if not easier, quicker!
A couple of weeks ago I was going out on a Saturday night. OUT out! With grown ups and heels and nice clothes! There were going to be cocktails and food (which I’d be able to eat hot with a knife AND a fork) and completed conversations! We’d had a rough run! Teething had meant no more than 2 hours uninterrupted sleep in one shift for the last 2 months and we were all shattered and grumpy from completing Georges first school year and my return to work. I was very much looking forward to some ‘time off’ where I would very probably talk about the kids and show people pictures on my phone but still… I had a shower, put my pyjamas on to get ready in so I wouldn’t get questionable stains on the one outfit I felt comfortable in with my post baby figure and set about applying actual make up and drying AND straightening my hair (All of it, not just the fringe!)
I was due out at 7 but knew I’d be a bit late- that was fine I reasoned- it was still OUT out even if it was a bit behind everyone else! I fed Ted who would normally have that last feed and go straight to sleep. Sod’s law had it that he was still awake so I passed him to Jon and got myself dressed. At 7.20 I was about to leave the house when I decided to take Ted into his room and try to feed him one last time in peace and quiet so he’d go to sleep and I could go out knowing he was settled. I fed him and was just about to put him into his cot fast asleep when he started coughing which in turn caused him to projectile vomit all over me! Not just a little sticky burp- it was in my hair, all over my top and skirt and there were undigested grape quarters sat in a vomit pool in my bra!
I’m not ashamed to say that I stood there and cried and then had a proper tantrum! There may have been actual feet stamping! It wasn’t so much the partially digested fruit sat in my bra that made me turn into a petulant teenager… it was what those grape quarters represented; The relentlessness of it all!
A few weeks ago I decided to take George with us to a wholesome family singing class that I take the smallest 2 to in term time. It’s the kind of class that you pay a couple of quid for, the kids can eat their own weight in fruit and snacks; you join in with some lovely nursery rhymes and action songs and leave feeling like the world might not be quite as bad as the Daily Mail would have you believe!
But this morning was not fun or wholesome. It was one massive stress from the second they woke up with every simple act of getting ready being greeted by an obstacle or some drama or a tantrum. By the time I had got all 3 kids out of the house and strapped in the car I was unable to drive as I thought I was having an actual heart attack! I even googled ‘could I be having a cardiac arrest?’ (I didn’t want to cause a fuss or ring anyone- I am British after all!) I sat in the car on the drive, wiping the tears off my cheeks, trying to calm down while the kids asked why we weren’t going anywhere!
People talk a lot about mummy guilt but I feel that being a mum brings a much more prominent and regular emotion. Mummy stress. Mummy Worry. Mummy Anxiety. Call it what you will; but it’s bloody hard to escape!
I’m not a stressy or anxious person. I have a challenging job but I think my colleagues would agree that I generally take challenges in my stride- of course there are days that are hard and I am more frazzled than I’d like but generally I get my head down, face things head on and get the job done.
But being a mummy, especially since there have been three of them, has brought a number of new stresses and worries! It wasn’t as prominent when Ted was first born but I think that’s because new borns lure you into a false sense of security by basically needing feeding occasionally but generally being quite happy sat in a bouncy chair watching the world go by or being asleep! Now he’s on the move and demanding as much attention as the other two (and that’s just to keep him safe) I’ve noticed a definite shift in dynamics and more days where the stress levels threaten to bubble over. And more children mean more to worry about!
I worry about our parenting styles and choices. Do we mollycoddle them too much? Are we too soft on them? Or too hard on them? Do we expect too much of George as the oldest- he always seems to be the one who has to give up his turn or choice to keep the peace. Are Esme’s current ‘lay down on the floor and scream as if I’m being abducted’ tantrums because we’re not dealing with her properly? She seems unable to process being told ‘no’! Have we spoilt her and now are having to lay down the law to undo our rubbish, lax parenting? Why do they seem to be fine with everyone else but constantly push the boundaries with us?? I feel like I am either too harsh and shouty or too bone crushingly tired to put up any resistance and that leads to inconsistency!
I worry that having a third has tipped the balance of time against us (and that brings the extra layer of guilty stress that this sounds awful for poor Ted; as if it’s his fault or he’s unwanted, neither of which could be further from the truth!) I seem to struggle to find time for each of the kids as individuals. Being on holiday with 4 adults has made opportunities to play and talk to each of them on their own that are just not possible when it’s me and three! Three means more ‘things’ that need doing! More washing, more meals to prepare and feed, more clothes to put away, more logistics to organise. More of everything apart from time! Finding time for them as an entity is hard enough!
I stress about the state of our house! I’ve never been particularly obsessive about mess and clutter but at the minute I feel like we’re drowning in toys and dirty clothes and baby paraphernalia! Ted crawling about on the floor only highlights the things that need putting away or the bloody dog hairs on the carpet or the age inappropriate toys scattered everywhere! I feel like I spend hours of my time putting things away and our house is still not tidy. I look at friends and neighbours houses and always feel like we’re the scruffy ones; I appreciate there is a possibility that they frantically tidied up before we arrived but even if I do that it still doesn’t feel enough! And I feel like the time I spend tidying up or washing or putting clothes away is time I should be spending with the kids playing or on homework or talking!
I stress that we’re not doing enough to support George at school; Jon is rarely home before 7pm and generally, the only time we have left to do reading or homework is just before bedtime and George is absolutely shattered…. how on earth will we manage to listen to 3 readers and do all that’s required when they are all at school!!?? And I really worry that we are spread too thinly for their emotional needs. Do we find enough time to just sit and talk to them or see how they are? Everything always feels reactive and not proactive. When I hold Ted at the minute, Esme slowly but firmly tries to nudge her way on to my knee as well. The transition of our new addition seems to have gone smoothly in terms of their reactions but I’m worried that we’ve been that busy managing the day to day that we’ve missed signs of jealousy or worry from them.
I stress that I’m not the parent I thought I’d be. I seem to be shouting and frustrated more than I’m caring and patient (objectively I know that this is not statistically true- but at the end of the day I remember the times I didn’t deal with things properly because I was tired or in a rush or sick of repeating myself!). My list of parenting principles that I’d naively written in my head before we had George have vanished! Eating dinner as a family is just not viable when Jon isn’t home until 7 and the habit of sitting at the breakfast bar watching TV whilst eating fish fingers and very little nutritional content has now been formed! I constantly make promises to myself that today will be the day that I stop trying to do too much, I won’t sacrifice putting the washing away for doing a jigsaw or reading a story; I won’t get stressed at running backwards and forwards bringing them drinks while I try to tidy up and feed a baby and cook dinner at the same time! I will attempt to see the disaster zone of our house as the children ‘making memories!’; I won’t shout or lose my patience when they don’t follow instructions; I won’t book too many things in so it feels like we spend the day running from one thing to the next! Today WILL be the day I’m calm and reasoned!
I stress that I’m wishing time away and then worry that they are growing up so quickly that I feel I’ve missed it! Life seems to be a series of things to ‘get through’… teething, summer holidays, swimming lessons, sleepless nights! We convince ourselves that if only we can survive ‘the next…’ it will all be fine. But I don’t want to survive; I want to enjoy!!
I stress that my pursuit of being a good mum makes me a bad wife or friend or family member or teacher! There is only so much of my time and attention and capacity to go round! I can barely respond to a text these days, let alone send birthday cards on time (that’s unfair actually… I’ve always been shit at that!) or meet friends for dinner!
Yes they are fed! Yes they are clothed (although less so in warm weather! And I hold no responsibility for the combinations of clothing Esme is seen in!) Yes they have a roof over their head and plenty of things to play with and do! But surely this just the basics! The delight that both the big two showed the other day when I said I was going to sit down and eat my sandwich with them at lunch almost made me cry- they were so easily pleased at a simple act of time that it made me realise how little uninterrupted time they actually get! We talked and were silly and made up daft rhymes- I couldn’t remember the last time I’d been ‘funny mummy’ (and in reality its really easy to be funny when you’re dealing with young children! Throw in the occasional ‘poo poo’ and you are hilarious!!)
Most of all I stress about the existence of stress! Children are a gift; Its well documented that we battled for years to get them here and thought on many occasions we would have to build a life without them… why cant I just sit back and enjoy them without all the accompanying worry and stress and panicking that we are in some way screwing them up or letting them down or doing it wrong!?
This is not a cry for help! I know that in reality I cope reasonably well for large proportions of the time. I am not seeking reassurance that I’m doing a good job or asking anyone to stage an intervention! I’m not on the verge of packing my bags and heading off into the sunset yelling ‘I’m free!’ I’m just trying to give myself some space to recognise that sometimes its bloody hard!
There are some things that I need to do differently. I cannot change the level of demand and need that having 3 children places upon us but I can make changes in myself so that I manage my responses better. If I’m honest, the more children I have to take care of, the less well I take care of myself! Its basic maths- having more children means having less time and something has to give! I need to try to claw back a few hours each week for some exercise- I’ve only got a couple of lbs of baby weight still left to get rid of from Ted but I also have 3-4lbs from each of the previous pregnancies lingering as well; I don’t feel good in my clothes and starting the day feeling rubbish doesn’t help you deal with things well! I’ve reached an age were diet alone will not cut it- I need to find exercise that I can tolerate (I’ll never enjoy!) that fits in around the kids. I dabbled with running after Esme and I’ve downloaded a yoga app that gives me something to do each day (the next step is to actually do it! The act of downloading the app has yet to make me thin!) I also need to tackle my diet- I eat badly (or not at all) in the day when I’m at home with the kids and I need to stop working my way through a family sized bag of Malteasers in an evening when the exhaustion munchies kick in!
I’m trying to do little things like start up my kindle and read a bit before bed- I used to read loads but I realised before coming on holiday that I haven’t really read anything since way before Ted was born- sleep always felt like a better option but five minutes of something to help wind down and have a bit of time to myself is a good way of clawing back a bit of something for me. This blog has also helped; it makes me stop and reflect; it makes me recognise where in life things are hard and it forces me to accept that rather than put a brave face on and pretend we’re all #winning and #cherishingeverymoment! And selfishly, its something for me! (I also need to change my mindset that doing something for me is selfish! Working on that!)
I’m trying to make sure that I find some time each day to spend some quality uninterrupted time with each of the kids individually (even if its just snuggling on the sofa and watching a film while talking about their day!) and I’m trying to make sure that every now and again we utilise other people to help out with Ted so we can take the big kids to age appropriate activities on their own and give them our undivided attention. I’ve embarked on a decluttering mission at home- part of the problem with our house is that we simply have too much stuff! Even putting away washing is hampered by over flowing drawers so I’ve tried to reduce the crap and find homes for things! Its a slow process and I suspect will keep going forever but it did help a bit and hopefully will help to keep on top of things!
And finally I’m going to try to just stop stressing! I’m fairly sure they are ok! I’m fairly sure we’re raising pretty well balanced (and definitely entertaining) small humans! I know that life isn’t perfect and there are some days that will have me wishing it was bedtime sooner than others; I know that being a parent doesn’t come with a manual so some degree of uncertainty and worry is to be expected; I definitely know that I am not the calm, impossibly perfect mum from ‘Topsy and Tim’ but neither am I the mean and useless mum from ‘Matilda’!! Maybe a balance between the two is what we should all be striving for!