Let’s be honest…

I initially wrote this in May after a couple of rough months with Tyler due to his reflux and general digestive discomfort making it difficult for him to sleep. A few days ago, I heard a mother at school say that she had told her daughter to shut up after she just would not stop whining and she felt really ashamed to share this. I then remembered this post…..

Recently I have been blessed to come into contact with a few mothers whose babies are the same age as Tyler. As we have gently opened up to each other the truth has unfolded about how each of us is struggling in our own ways. I am not scared to be  honest as I believe it allows others to be honest. While I have to be honest with myself that it is difficult to face possible judgement I also know that when I am honest as a mother it is usually for my own benefit and seems to help those I am sharing with too. For the most part other mothers like to know that they are not alone and they are normal. I noticed this during pregnancy as well. I was very nauseous through a great deal of the pregnancy and the constant feeling of being ill often caused me to feel down. It is very difficult when people exclaim how excited you must be and you actually just feel so yuck that the excitement is overshadowed. I was definitely a little depressed in the first trimester of both my pregnancies and lost lots of weight as I couldn’t eat a thing. I just felt miserable.  I opened up about this to other pregnant moms and I was told by one in particular how grateful she was to know she was not abnormal to feel that way.

Another aspect of this is that I have recently met three mothers who are just not ready, and don’t know if they will ever be ready, for baby number two due to the what most of them refer to as the ‘trauma’ of the first time experience. It’s damn hard and it can be very traumatic if your expectations are different because people have painted this beautiful picture and your baby never seems to be happy and always niggles and never sleeps, and you, the child’s mother who ‘should’ be able to comfort that child, can’t do it.

So here goes – to all those mothers who are expecting, who have babies, and who are too scared to go through it all over again:

If you have shouted at your baby to JUST GO TO SLEEP or to SHUT UP you are not alone;
If your gradual, gentle rocking has become rough and angry you are not alone;
If you have thought about throwing your baby you are not alone;
If you actually have dropped/thrown your baby down onto the bed you are not alone
If you have looked at your baby with tears streaming down your face feeling absolutely powerless and overwhelmed you are not alone
If you have felt numb and battled to find that joy that you had felt when your baby first came into your life you are not alone
If you have left your baby crying in the cot/on the bed and walked away for fear of hurting him/her, you are not alone
If you have felt like you must be the worst mother in the world because ‘how could you feel this way?’ you are not alone
If you wish you didn’t have a baby again just for a little while you are not alone
If you feel like you are going to be stuck in this overwhelming helplessness forever you are not alone
If you have simply just sat and stared at your crying baby and felt like giving up completely you are not alone
If you have been thrilled about the opportunity to leave your baby with someone else for a while you are not alone

If you have felt any of these things please know that you are not alone and there are MANY mothers out there who have felt the same. Most mothers go through a stage or stages when it is really, really hard.

While I am saying you are not alone that does not mean that you, and the many like you who feel like this, should have to continue feeling this way for months on end. If you feel like this all the time why not consider seeking counselling and/or medication. And, please trust me on this, you are really not alone in reaching out for this kind of support. If you feel suicidal definitely seek help. If you feel numb, irritable, overwhelmed constantly; and very rarely or never find any joy then seek help. If you really feel like this experience is not shifting and you are battling to find any joy in being a mother it does not have to be that way and can be shifted by trying medication – even homeopathy (this worked wonders for me with my second baby but does depend on severity e.g. not if suicidal) and please remember that YOU ARE NOT ALONE and there are countless other mothers who also have sought help and treatment.

We used to parent in communities – all the women would assist each other and you didn’t have to be the only one feeding, comforting and waking up countless times a night. It was possible to leave your child with someone else and find time for you. it was possible for all the other women to know how you were feeling and what you were going through and to step in when necessary. This doesn’t happen now. We feel bad asking others to help as they too are busy – especially our partners who are often still needing to work while we may not be (particularly in the first months). It’s really not that surprising that mothers feel they tip over the edge every now and then, or even more often than that,  given the circumstances in which we now rear children.

But please trust me on this –

You WILL find the light at the end of the tunnel
You WILL get to the point when you can sit with your child’s head resting on your shoulder fast asleep and feel the greatest joy and peace, and this will happen more and more often
You WILL be able to hold your crying/screaming child with compassion and love without feeling overwhelming helplessness
You WILL want to sit and stare at this little person and breathe in their loveliness and wonder how it could have been so damn hard
You WILL get through the darker times. It always does pass and will pass far faster if you can be vulnerable and honest and seek help and talk to others.

We owe that to ourselves as parents and we owe it to other parents to help them to know they are completely normal in feeling these things, and not alone.

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16 November: The Art of knowing when to let go.

When I was a chid we were told we couldn’t leave the table until we were finished. If I tell Jocelyn to eat her supper and she won’t leave the table until she is done we will be there until midnight and beyond. Lately, as my three year old is determining her autonomy and power in the world I have been very aware of how much I fight and when to just let go. It is also something that has been discussed by so many other mothers I know and not only those with feisty, know-it-all three-year olds. Basically, it has been about realising that how we think we should parent is not necessarily what our children need or is best for our children.

How we think we should parent is based upon our own experiences of being children, the beliefs we have formed while growing up and of course, at the heart of it we parent in a way that best matches our personalities. It would be pointless for me to have a completely laissez faire parenting style – really laid back and chilled. That is just not me… It would be inauthentic and cause me to be completely at odds with myself, probably making me anxious and affecting my children. However, if I had to allow my oft-present perfectionism and need to control to determine my parenting style I would really battle with my daughter and I would strip her of self-efficacy and self-esteem.

I have learned that if Jocelyn does not want to wash her hands for dinner RIGHT NOW as she is finishing a puzzle that it is actually not the end of the world to let her just finish  her puzzle and then wash her hands. That way when I say it’s time to wash hands she happily skips off to do that and then finishes her food without fuss. If I force  her to wash her hands NOW she gets upset, I get upset, she doesn’t eat her food, I get upset etc (I’m sure most parents will recognise this spiral of misery!) I have had to learn that If Jocelyn doesn’t want to eat all her vegetables she can have some fruit instead. If eating meat balls makes her gag then there really is no point forcing her to eat them and she can have some bread and peanut butter instead (in fact peanut butter is a primary source of protein in our household!).

When I was pregnant I had very set ideas about what my children would eat and how they would eat. I have really had to let that go. I now give Jocelyn a choice for dinner and the only rule is she has to at least try it once before leaving it. The result….the other night Jocelyn thanked me for giving her broccolli. Yes, she THANKED me (well actually said ‘sank you’) for giving her broccolli. This giving of choices and negotiation is really how I parent her most of the time in most situations.

I know my child well and when I force her she will say no on principle. She has a (very) healthy willpower and I don’t want to break her willpower and give her the message that her opinion doesn’t count. I know this will trigger fear for many and still causes little flare ups of fear for me too around beliefs like “it will just set a precedent” and “then my child knows that she can get away with anything”. In fact fear is another huge component of our parenting style and this tends to be fear that we will lose control.

I do agree that boundaries are important. In fact, I will never forget a client whose parents were extremely lax with him being the ‘laat lammetjie’ in the family. He told me he used to have repetitive dreams of being in space and just drifting further and further with nothing to stop him. Boundaries provide a vital sense of security for children and provide something to push up against to know where they stand.

So it’s really quite an art learning to find  the balance between when to enforce control and boundaries and when to let go. The no-brainer is around safety. Jocelyn knows that if it involves safety and I lose my temper and tell who what to do and how to do it that I am being serious and she must listen to me. It’s a bit more tricky with the smaller things like when to leave a play date, washing hands before dinner, getting into the bath, getting out the car…you know… all those things that feel like a fight each and every day! (which is often complicated by the fact we don’t have all day available to us to allow our little pride and joy to rule the world!) Yet, when I respect Jocelyn and allow her to have her say, to do it her way and to try things out, then she respects when I say no. This goes even further in terms of activities like potty training and a friend recently shared with me how she was battling so much with potty training until she just let it go and let her daughter get on it with in her own time. After three difficult days of continued accidents her daughter just ‘got it’ and started to tell her mother when she wanted to go to the toilet! We need to trust our little people…..

The truth is that I am human and that when I am tired, in a hurry, and frustrated I then start trying to control Jocelyn and set limits with even the small things. Unfortunately, we usually both end up angry and resentful and nowhere. When I negotiate with her, give her choices and step back a little she is actually often very compliant and easy…..and even thanks me for brocolli! We both end up happy and she feels validated and respected yet will also listen to me when I do set boundaries (well for the most part anyway… we still have to have some fights so she can help me to grow!)