When you decide that you’re ready to have a baby, whether it’s your first or not, you’re filled with excitement, picturing a lovely month or two of reckless abandon in the bedroom, followed by a joyful pregnancy filled with yoga and kale smoothies, and a new little baby in your arms within the year. The reality is, however, slightly different…
Life is on hold. Wouldn’t it be lovely if you could just order a baby to arrive at a time that’s convenient for you? Instead, when you decide to start trying to get pregnant, you go through months, or even years, of uncertainty, during which time you don’t want to apply for new jobs, sign up to courses or commit yourself to events too far in the future, just in case this is the month you finally see that line on the pregnancy test. But at the same time…
You don’t want to tell anyone that you’re trying for a baby. The last thing you want is ongoing questions about whether you’re pregnant yet or not. And what if it doesn’t happen for you? You don’t want anyone at work to know in case you start getting passed over for interesting projects or promotions. You also don’t want to put the image of you having sex in anyone’s head, because, you know, no-one needs that.
You tell yourself you’re not going to be one of those crazy ladies who obsesses about getting pregnant and then promptly download five different apps for tracking ovulation and spend endless hours on Google searching for things like ‘food that can help you get pregnant’ and ‘early signs of pregnancy’.
Your attitude to sex changes. You might be in the mood for it, and then realise that your app told you that there’s a low chance of getting pregnant today, and decide to go to bed with a good book instead.
You remember all of the times when you were younger that you worried about getting pregnant and laugh at that poor naive girl who didn’t know how bloody hard it is to make a baby!
Every month you think you’re pregnant. Right up to the second your period starts, you think you’ve definitely done it this time. You feel a bit pregnant… you’re hormonal and your boobs hurt slightly. Oh no, that’s just your period. And then because you’re feeling hormonal anyway, you have a bit of a cry about it.
Or, you could just be one of those annoying people who ‘aren’t NOT trying, if you see what I mean‘. Although, that said, I think they may have it all sussed out…
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.
My son is going through a bit of a tricky phase at the moment. Whether it’s the cough he’s had for the last few weeks, the fact that my working routine has changed and I’m not around quite so much, or because he’s worried about our upcoming house move, he’s not been himself of late. He’s being difficult at mealtimes, acting up when we’re out of the house, refusing to go to bed and calling out for us several times in the night. While I’m not worried, and know that this phase will pass like so many other difficult phases before, the immediate impact on our day-to-day lives is an issue. For me, I’m tired, sluggish and feeling run down. But, as a working mum, I still have a job to go to and work to get done.
So here are some coping strategies I’ve learned in the past few weeks. Hopefully they will help you too if you’re ever in the same position. (PS this is all about getting YOU through your working day, and not about getting your child back on track. That’s a whole other blog post and requires a better parent than me to write it (guest post anyone..?)!)
Cut yourself some slack. As I sit here writing this, I was supposed to be out for a run. But I’m tired. Yes, maybe my jeans will feel a bit tighter next week as depleted energy levels have resulting in my eating more and exercising less. But that’s ok. It has to be ok. I’ve reminded myself several times over the last few weeks that the size of my bum is not the most important thing right now…
Focus on your to-do list. Now, more than ever, you need to prioritise. Ditch Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, email, Slack (seriously, how do we ever get any work done??) and just concentrate on the task in hand. Focus on the three things you need to do in a given day, and don’t let yourself be distracted by anything else until you have those things done. You could try setting a timer, e.g. 20 minutes, to get your head down on a single task without distraction, and then 5 mins to have a little walk (and a PEEK at Instagram) and then back to 20 mins of concentrated work again.
Ask for help. Now is the time to post that melodramatic Facebook status you would normally mock. An example: “FML. Srsly not coping. Need help.” Then reply to everyone who comments: “Will PM you babes”. The offers will come flooding in (…OK, a few people might unfriend you, but you don’t have time for all of those friends anyway).
Tag team with your other half. When your little one is going through a difficult phase, it can trigger a massive working mum guilt attack. But the world doesn’t stop because your child isn’t sleeping, and you still have work to do. If you have a partner, remember that your child is his/her responsibility too, and you need to hand over the reins from time to time, for your own sanity. If they’re not being helpful, then please do feel free to use their credit card to…
Throw money at the situation. Order your grocery shopping online and pay for same day delivery so you don’t have to go to the shops. Order takeout when you haven’t got the energy to cook. Get a taxi to work so you can have a few more minutes in bed. Do what it takes and allow yourself to spend that money. Just ask yourself ‘What would fellow down-to-earth working mum Beyoncé do?’ And do that.
Eat sensibly. When you’re tired, the temptation is to eat lots of sugary foods and drink coffee by the bucketful. However, it’s more important than ever to pay attention to your diet, and avoid getting caught in the sugar crash cycle (she says through a mouthful of Malteasers… will try harder tomorrow).
Prioritise rest. If you’re behind on work, it is so tempting to stay up late to catch up, but this will only make you more tired the next day, which will make you fall further behind. Give yourself a bedtime, and stick to it religiously. And, in order to get a good night’s sleep…
Say no to the vino. That’s you, not me, btw.
Throw out the rulebook. Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures. When you’re tired and just need a break, consider letting your child do things you wouldn’t normally let them do, such as have breakfast in front of Cbeebies if it gives you time to fire off a couple of emails. Give them the iPad in bed in the morning if means you can snooze a bit longer. It’s all about survival ladies! Principles can wait until you’ve had a bit more sleep.
Take time off work. If the situation gets really bad, and you’re exhausted, take a day off work to catch up on some rest. No working mum I know ever wants to take a day off for anything child-related in fear of being judged, but, reality check, you ARE a mum, and there’s no getting away from it. If you really don’t want to admit that you’re struggling at home, fake a colonic and no-one will ask questions.
I would love to hear any other tips you might have that could help poor exhausted working mums like me! Please share them in the comments below x
Since our son was born three years ago, I can count on one hand the number of times I have been out in the evening with my other half. Are you shocked? I probably would have been, if someone had told me this when I was pregnant and telling everyone who would listen that our lives weren’t going to change one bit when the tiny human came into our lives. I even booked gig tickets for the two of us for a few weeks after my due date, thinking blithely that I would be able to find someone to look after the baby so we could pop out for a few hours. I hadn’t counted on the non-stop breastfeeding, the sleep-deprivation and the feeling of panic if I hadn’t clapped eyes on my newborn for a while. Needless to say, we didn’t go to the gig. In the months, and then years, that followed, we didn’t ever go to another gig, and we rarely asked anyone to look after our son in the evening so we could go out together.
As parents, it can be tough to find time to yourselves. This is especially true in a two-freelancer relationship, where evenings and weekends are often given over to work. Friends, and social media, tell us that we need a ‘date night’. That we should take the evening off from parenting, get dressed up, let our hair down, find a bar, and get really really drunk.
While that sounds like great fun, the reality is that we had already stopped doing that before having a child. We had replaced nights out with evenings in, and while we still packed away our fair share of booze, we didn’t feel the need to do it while being squeezed into the latest trendy bar. We also did other things together, like go on long walks, play squash and watch Coronation Street! As we were both self-employed, we could theoretically spend time together whenever we wanted to, and so we never felt the need to organise elaborate date nights.
However, the truth of the matter – because what’s the point if I’m not being honest? – is that I didn’t always prioritise time with him because I was so busy running a business. I was addicted to work and sat in front of my computer well into the evening and usually over the weekend too. I made time to see my friends from time to time, but my other half often dropped to the bottom of the to-do list.
Now we’re parents, things are different. Even though I’m once again running a business, and I have a child to look after too, I really want to make time for my partner in parenthood. And so I do. We meet for brunch or lunch during playgroup hours, and sometimes even linger longer than we should. He sometimes walks me to the tube if I have a meeting in town. We still watch TV together in the evenings (although it’s no longer Coronation Street), drink wine and sit side by side. We chat on the phone during the day when we’re both out at work, and it’s not always about childcare logistics! We have started to make time for each other, and appreciate every opportunity, no matter how small. Sometimes the 10-minute ‘micro-date’, downing scalding hot tea before playgroup pickup, is the best one.
More recently, we’ve been planning a wedding. As a result, we’ve needed to scope out venues, sort out endless details, have meetings with wedding coordinators and ring designers and go shopping for outfits and supplies. As none of those things are particularly child-friendly, we’ve been calling upon friends and family to help out while we do our ‘wedmin’ or we’ve been meeting up to get things done while our son is at playgroup. And it’s been great! The highlight was our tasting session in which we got to cosy up in a beautiful pub in the countryside, drink wine, eat amazing food and just talk.
In our former life, the pre-child one, we could do whatever we wanted whenever we wanted and so we didn’t make the effort. We weren’t quite so happy, and we certainly didn’t decide to get married. Since our child came along, we have found something that is better, bigger and deeper. We have battled through a long and messy childbirth, through sleepless nights and exhaustion, where accusations fly and tears are hot and angry, through neverending nappy changes, illnesses, and dinner time battles. We have come out the other side with a newfound respect and appreciation for one another, and a desire to make time for one another in our busy lives.
Before, we didn’t go on date nights because we felt like we could make time for each other whenever we wanted. Now, we don’t need date nights because we do make time for each other on a regular basis. We’re making the effort, finding new ways of spending time together, embracing the micro-date, and spending much more time together than we did before becoming parents. And we’re in a pretty good place in our relationship as a result.
This post has been written in collaboration with bubble babysitting app, as part of their #datelikeaparent campaign. I would love it if you could take 5 minutes to comment below, or head on over to Twitter or Instagram and let us know how you find childfree time to hang out with your other half!
When I tell other mums that my partner and I share the responsibility of childcare, I am often met with an envious ‘lucky you’. This was particularly true in the early days when many of my new mum friends wouldn’t see much of their partners from Monday to Friday and would mostly have to figure out how to look after a tiny baby all by themselves. So yes, in some respects, lucky me. But it’s not always a walk in the park. Taking equal responsibility for childcare, and managing that division of labour, certainly comes with its own unique challenges, and can be a real strain for a relationship.
Here are some of the issues I have encountered along the way:
The logistics of trying to organise the workload of two freelancers around a child are a nightmare, and a recipe for rows and hurt feelings. There is the inevitable argument of whose job is more important, or at least the most important that day. It puts enormous strain on a relationship.
I have had to slowly – and painfully – learn to let go of the idea that I am not the only one who knows how to look after my child and gets to decide what is best for him. Several of my mum friends have partners who wouldn’t have an opinion on which potty-training method to try, or when to make the transition from a cot to a ‘big boy’ bed, because it mostly doesn’t affect them, whereas my OH is working in the field, elbow deep in nappies, and it’s every bit as much his decision as it is mine (*she says through gritted teeth…*)
In the early days (i.e. the first 6 months), my son was exclusively breastfed, which meant that I was the only one who could actually do anything when he woke up in the night, and it also meant that I couldn’t leave him for more than a couple of hours at a time. I felt (unfairly) resentful that my OH could just leave the house when he wanted, could stay away for the night, and was not losing nearly as much sleep as I was. It didn’t feel like the ‘fair’ divide we had agreed on. Not his fault I know, but sleep deprivation’s a bitch.
There is an expectation, from several corners, that I should be grateful for his ‘help’. He’s not helping me. Childcare is not my ‘job’. It’s a shared responsibility and no-one expects him to be grateful to me for getting up in the night or changing nappies. This doesn’t mean that I’m ‘ungrateful’. I’m certainly grateful to have him in my life, but I don’t think he’s doing me a favour by sharing childcare duties.
Quite simply, my OH doesn’t do things the way I would do them. He doesn’t prioritise the same types of activity, and doesn’t see screentime as such a bad thing. In the past, if I was out for a whole day, I would be worried that my son would not be getting enough stimulation, fresh air, or the general over-the-top attention he would be getting from me. I used to think it would be easier to pay a childcare professional so I could make sure they were doing things my way. I know, total cow. I’m over that now, and realise that we both just offer very different things to my son, which is great. (And I have also very much relaxed my own attitude to screentime!)
Total strangers (often grannies in cafes) feel the need to remark on what a good dad my OH is, and it makes my blood boil. Not because he’s not a good dad, because I really know that he is (despite my whining), but because nobody is thinking what a good mum I am for doing the exact same things!
Childcare actually isn’t split down the middle. Even when you try really hard, there are still some things that one of you does more than the other, and those things change all the time as your child grows. For a long time, I still considered myself to be the ‘primary parent’, particularly during the first year, but I think we’re slowly finding a better balance.
For all of the above, there are enormous advantages to having a hands-on partner. Like the close bond between my son and his dad, which is amazing to see. I know that I can leave them together without a long list of instructions, and I can now swan out of the house without a care (like I longed to do so much in the early days). I don’t participate in the gentle ‘dad-bashing’ I see from some mums, who occasionally laugh at the ineptitude of their other halves when it comes to changing nappies or dealing with toddler tantrums. He’s actually better at lots of it than I am (but don’t tell him I said so…)