I saw a picture on Instagram recently of a mum in bed with two sick children clinging to her. In the caption, she said she was knackered, and that, while it was nice to have a cuddle, she just wanted to go to sleep. The response was overwhelmingly that this poor exhausted mum should be treasuring the hell out of that moment, because one day her little ones would be all grown up and she would miss her babies.
Most mums will have experienced something similar when daring to vocalise any complaints about their kids. Comments such as: “You don’t know how lucky you are”, “You should treasure these moments”, “Don’t wish this time away” or the simple but wounding blow of “You should be grateful”. We’re all guilty of saying or thinking those things from time to time. Our children grow up too quickly, it’s true. When we see a picture of a mum with a little baby, even when she says that she’s having a hard time, we think: our children aren’t that small anymore, don’t cuddle us like that anymore, don’t need us like that. We want to go back to that moment, to hold on tight to that little bundle, to put the rest of our life on hold for one more warm snuggle. It’s easy to look back with rose-tinted glasses, remembering only the warmth of those tiny bodies, and forgetting what it feels like to be so sleep deprived you want to jam forks in your eyes.
In the last few years, the once left-field trio of gratitude, mindfulness and positive manifestations has entered mainstream consciousness, and found its spiritual home on social media. While this feels like a positive mental shift, the prevailing version of this on social media is overly simplified and often judgmental, only accepting positive thoughts and squashing the existence of real-life struggles. Nowhere is that felt more keenly than on Instagram, with its many filters shining a flattering light on the #blessed lives of the beautiful few. It’s giving that mum, who already feels like she’s failing, yet another thing to worry about. Now, not only is she failing at getting her baby to sleep while all the other mums she knows are already WhatsApping each other pictures of their post-bedtime wine, but she’s also failing to be grateful for that extra time with her baby!
Yes, developing a positive mental attitude can be life changing, but, taken to the extreme, it can also mess with our ability to have a moan or recognise that it’s normal to feel overwhelmed sometimes. With everyone else feeling #blessed and exuding #gratitude from every pore, it’s easy to feel like you’re the only one struggling and knackered, the only one crying real tears because your child won’t eat a piece of bloody toast.
Since becoming a mum, I’ve learnt that it’s perfectly possible to be fed up and grateful at the same time. Part of being a mother is always loving your child, so deeply, so truly, even while you’re begging for them to go to sleep because you’re so bloody knackered, or you’re rushing home for nursery pick up while your colleagues are all heading for a well-deserved drink, or you’re comforting a crying child and wishing that someone would look after you for a change.
I’m grateful for my son, for his slobbery kisses, and the times when he allows me to hold his chubby hand. I’m grateful for his love, for his unwavering acceptance of me, for his daddy teaching him to say “wow Mummy, you look beautiful today” on a regular basis. But I also miss my old life sometimes, with all the freedoms I took for granted before I became a parent. So I’m also grateful for silence when it finally comes at the end of a busy day, for those times when my son goes to bed on time and without a fuss. I’m grateful when I can go to the loo without him hammering on the door, when I take a bus on my own and I can just stare out of the window, or when he calls for his daddy in the middle of the night rather than me. I notice the small moments of happiness while also acknowledging that life with children is sometimes challenging, frustrating and boring.
So, next time we see a mum struggling, rather than telling her how lucky she is, or how grateful she should be, let’s agree to tell her that her feelings are perfectly normal, then give her a hug and offer to help, or even just listen, without judgement.