Yesterday was mother’s day here in the UK. I was indulged with a lie in, a beautiful bunch of spring blooms and two homemade cards that shall be treasured forever and stowed away in my box of precious keepsakes collected along the way.
The run up to mother’s day had me thinking about what motherhood means to me and about my own path as a mother. In the last 6 months I’ve transitioned into a new stage of motherhood – I’ve entered the school years, my children are less dependent on me in many ways, and yet more testing in other ways. No less exhausting but it’s a different kind of exhaustion now to the sleepless nights of the baby years. During this current stage I’m learning how to guide them to make the right choices and how to discipline them consistently and fairly because young children like to test boundaries and work out their place in the world.
I always wanted to be a mother. I played with dolls well past an acceptable age. Becoming an actual mother when I turned thirty fulfilled a longing. I remember the morning we discovered I was pregnant with Raff, there was an overwhelming sense of surprise and fear initially which was soon replaced with excitement and yearning. I had no idea back then what motherhood would be like. I suppose I naively pictured slow days spent snuggling and reading stories, a sweet smelling baby on my hip and not much else beyond. I didn’t think past the baby years into toddlerhood and beyond, I didn’t picture what it would be like to be responsible for shaping and guiding my child. The first year you are consumed with meeting the basic human needs of your baby – keeping them fed, warm, safe and helping establish a rhythm but once they enter the second year of life they start to explore the world around them. There is a fair amount of trial and error in parenting because there is no fixed rule book or way to raise a child. You have to follow your instincts and find your own path, one that works for you and your child(ren).
I thought I’d share five things I’ve learned since becoming a mother, for those of you who may be on another stage of this journey or feeling a little lost.
Trust your instincts
You’ll get tonnes of advice in the first year of your baby’s life, particularly in the first 6 weeks. Some of it is great advice and some of it can leave you bewildered or feeling like you’re failing. Generally I’ve learnt that tuning into and following my own instincts works best for me and the kids. Mother knows best!
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Asking for help does not mean you’re not coping. Motherhood is not easy – it is not all coffees and cake dates with friends while your baby peacefully naps. It is not about resuming your life as it was before you had children while you’re children conveniently slot in and behave impeccably. It is hard work, day in day out and often night in night out too. Previous generations raised their children surrounded by family, with a support network of women around them to lean into when they needed a helping hand. I think the feminist movement has, to a certain extent, left women feeling like they have to prove they can do it all, and do it all alone to show their are strong and capable and yet there is no shame or weakness in asking for support from those around you, friends, family, childminders, baby sitters.
It will pass
When everything seems to be going pear shaped, when you’re children seem to be testing you more than you know how to cope with, have faith that it’s likely just a phase and there will be a shift just around the corner. Children are continually developing, learning and growing and sometimes their brains and bodies can feel exhausted from all that soaking in of information. The periods of unsettled chaos are often accompanied by mad mood swings, tantrums, outbursts or heightened emotions. Have faith and keep breathing – it will pass.
Children are individuals
Each child is unique, there is no cookie cutter approach to parenting. If you have more than one child you will know just how different their personalities and temperaments can be. You need to take time to get to know each child and what works for them and to tailor your approach to their specific needs and characters. Try not to compare your child with your friend’s child of a similar age or even your child with your other child – Rafferty is only just dressing himself whereas Elsie, two years his junior, has already mastered this. They all get there in the end and every child develops in their own way and has their own quirks.
Prioritise one on one time
Spending quality time, one on one, with each child helps them feel special, needed, loved and secure. When one or both of my children are acting out it’s often because life has gotten in the way and I’ve not spent enough time actually engaging with them. When children don’t feel listened to they crave attention and often act out in order to get it. Giving them lots of positive attention in short burts throughout the day will help avoid attention seeking behaviour and can work wonders to help rebalance the family dynamics. Even better is to let your child lead you in play for half an hour allowing them to feel in control and helping them feel you’re letting go and tuning into their imagination.
I hope you all had a wonderful day yesterday and were made to feel special and loved. Whilst we make our children they are often the making of us and although it can be a tough gig, parenting, it is one that feeds the soul and rewards us over and over.
To my own mama, Happy mother’s day, without you I would be so often lost (see my second point above about asking for help!) Here’s a photo of mum at Raff’s age looking uncannily like him. We love you x