Attack of the Mama Guilts

Last night I felt guilty because my husband took charge of my tiny lady while I took some time away to write. Yep I felt guilty for leaving her with her loving father. Despite the fact that I could hear giggles and roars of laughter the guilt took quite a while to subside. But that’s me – guilty of a permanent sense of guilt! I even feel guilty for feeling guilty!

When I was pregnant I never understood the full and overwhelming force of Mummy Guilt. Sure I would feel guilty if I drank (slightly) more than the recommended daily caffeine limit or took some paracetemol for that raging baby back-ache but honestly that guilt was nothing to what I felt when I held that little baby in my arms. Suddenly every decision I made became riddled with the potential for a major attack of the guilts.

As a child my indecisive nature was a great joke amongst my family. They decided I should become a judge when I grew up – oh the joys of a sarcastic family! I was actually quite legendary for sweating over every little decision, getting everyone else’s opinion as if somehow everyone else knew better than me. In my eyes I suppose they did. I had little faith in my own opinion. This has only become worse since I became a mother. There are so many opinions out there and many of them differ from mine – how do I pick which is the best course of action? How do I decide? Nights spent scrolling google do not help with the decision process but that’s what I found myself doing during those endless newborn nights. Should I rock her to sleep? Should I use a soother? Should I teach her to self-soothe? I would forget amidst all the information gathering that as her mother I knew best. What works for one baby possibly won’t work for another.

But with every decision now layered with an undercurrent of guilt I just couldn’t decide what I should do; one wrong decision and I imagined I had sent my daughter hurling down the wrong path, never to return. As I grew more confident in my mummy skills the decision making did become slightly easier but the guilt never really went away.

Needless to say I have had many sleepless nights and I can’t even blame my toddler! The one thing she (usually) does well is sleep. I have a nightly battle to get her to eat her dinner but at least bedtime brings some peace. So those bags under my eyes are all completely self-inflicted. I can spend whole hours tossing and turning over the smallest of decisions. Currently I am wrangling with a pretty big decision – where to send her to school. So you can imagine the bags under my eyes are pretty huge right now.

Before I became a mother, guilt was more of a side-player in my life; only really making a grand appearance over something major like an argument with a friend. Now guilt is pretty much my side-kick; guilt and a giant cup of coffee. And guilt is such a pointless, negative emotion most of the time. Yet it seems to pervade motherhood like a bad smell. We beat ourselves up over everything and feel bad if we don’t achieve perfection. But I realised the other day perfection doesn’t really exist.

I was having a bad afternoon with my little girl – very cranky toddler, very stressed mother – so we went to the shop to get a break from the house. I watched jealously as a mother and her little boy played happily outside, the little boy beaming up at his mummy. Meanwhile my little terror was shooting mutinous looks at me because I had made her sit in her buggy. A while later, finished our shop, we passed the mother and son again. What a difference ten minutes can make. He was now wailing and his mother was trying to talk to him. Finally she huffed, grabbed him and walked off; little legs digging into her side as she went. Perfection, it seems, only exists in the moment. Within seconds it can be lost in tears and tantrums.

I probably won’t ever stop feeling the mum guilt but maybe, just maybe I will give myself a break every now and then. Maybe not every decision needs late night google sessions. Maybe I will make some bad decisions along the way. But that’s okay. Life isn’t perfect; it’s messy, loud and sometimes overwhelming. The trick is to take notice of those little moments when things are going your way, when guilt is taking a coffee break and your little tot is snuggling in for some mummy time. Those are the times that matter.IMG_2194.jpg

Parents: a soft place in a hard world

“You’re too soft on her!”

How many times have I heard this phrase? I imagine if I got paid every time it was said to me that I would be a very rich lady! Instead, the words just irritated me and eventually started to eat away at me.

I worked with children for many years and I was often described as “too soft”. At first it was said in jest then it became a byword for criticising my methods. When I first began to work in the early years sector I realised that, although we are all trained in much the same way, our methods vary widely. So it seemed that, yes, I was one of the ‘soft’ teachers; more likely to offer a cuddle than an admonishment. It is tough to stand by your beliefs when they are judged or held up as less than okay. It became tougher as the years went by. But, to me, it seems that childcare staff stand in for parents when they can’t be there. I tried to act in the way their parents would want their children to be treated.

I have left the sector since but now I have my own little girl. And what do I still hear? You are too soft! Sometimes it is said jokingly, sometimes gently, sometimes irritably. What has changed is my reaction to it. Now I just say so bloody what? Yes I am soft, too right I am soft! My daughter will too often have to deal with a world of hard edges, negativity and judgement. I want to be the one place in the world where she is welcomed and loved just how she is; where she will find praise not criticism, love not hate, warmth not coldness.

I believe in being firm and kind; offering a safe place for a child often works better than cold words of rebuke. When my child is all worn out, after an epic strop, her emotions vastly over-whelming, I offer a cuddle. That doesn’t mean her behaviour is alright but it means I am here for her, no matter how how far her temper flies. I believe it is our job as parents to provide a soft place, a safe haven for our children. This doesn’t mean being overly-permissive or spoiling them. It means showing them understanding when they can’t cope with life, kindness when they have lost their way and a warm hug when that tantrum becomes just too much.

Too often we rush in with harsh words or reprimands because it is seen as spoiling a child if we are too gentle. I have had days where the Tesco temper tantrum causes me to be stern and angry; under pressure from judgemental stares I rush to assure on-lookers that I can deal with this, I am a strong parent. But when did being strong mean you had to be hard as well? There is a quiet kind of strength in being the type of parent who teaches through gentleness, who talks to her child, who listens. Children respond better when they feel understood; don’t we all?

So yes call me soft. I will gladly wear that badge. I will wear it with pride.

Eat Your Greens – Oh Wait You’re A Toddler

img_2387The current trend for eating dinner in my house involves either plain rice, mashed potato (if we’re lucky) or pasta with sauce. The tiny lady will also concede to eating fish fingers or chicken goujons. Anything even remotely resembling a vegetable is considered completely unacceptable. I have been trying all the tricks:

Make interesting shapes out of veg:

I nearly leaped with joy when I discovered a box of spiral-shaped carrots in our local supermarket. I made a big thing of putting them in the trolley. Toddler agreed they looked very interesting and actually talked about eating them. Then they arrived on her plate. ‘I no like that.’ It didn’t stop her playing with them but God forbid they go near her mouth!
We also tried broccoli trees — these made it into her mouth but were spat out again within seconds.

Hide veg underneath sauces, mash etc.

Firstly tiny lady won’t eat any sauce expect plain tomato sauce — or mayonnaise — so this is out. Secondly we did hide various veg in her mashed potato. It was promptly located and spat back out. In fact it may have put her off mashed potato!

Cover veg in grated cheese:

This should have worked brilliantly as toddler loves cheese (even more than I do which is really saying something) but she just picked all the cheese she could off said veg then asked for more. There were then tears and histrionics when no more cheese was forthcoming. Needless to say no veg was consumed either.

Be a good role model:

I have spent all week stuffing my face with various greens watched, slightly pityingly, by my toddler. Despite being a big fan of sharing mummy’s food she has absolutely no interest in being fooled into trying peppers or sweetcorn or cauliflower!

The only thing that keeps me going is that this seems to be a very common phase amongst the toddler set. Perhaps they have secret meetings when they turn two about how to drive their parents nuts — rule 1 there is no toddler club, rule 2 — you must never, ever eat vegetables — this will lead to immediate excommunication.

I think it is to do with their burgeoning sense of independence. They can’t control much in their little world and quite often have to do various things they would rather not — get dressed, go into car-seats, go to the shop etc. (the list is endless). So they decide to instigate a food strike of sorts. Of course this strike only seems to apply to healthy foods — you won’t often catch a toddler refusing chips or a bar of chocolate (see evidence above). No they are far too clever for that.

I have decided to just keep offering veg every day in the hope that one day I will finally wear her down. She may take pity on me and try. Or decide she suddenly loves veg. Either way I’m assuming the strike will end once she hits the teenage years and embarks on the traditional ‘I’m becoming a vegetarian’ phase. Until then more broccoli for me!

The reality behind those picture perfect moments

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We look happy right? A mother and daughter having a lovely family day out. Moments after my husband snapped this photo we were in the midst of an epic meltdown. The cause? Well naturally I have no idea. When you are two you don’t really need a reason now do you? It might be because mama packed away the sandwich you said you ‘no like’ then suddenly decided that you liked very much? It might have been because there was a speck of juice on your shorts. It might even be because the sky was blue and your favourite colour right now is yellow. The list of possibilities is endless.

A few weeks ago I felt like my daughter and I had found our groove. She seemed to have hit the ‘terrible twos’ early so I was hopeful she was moving out of them early too. I thought the storm had passed. I was wrong. Very very wrong. It was simply the eye of the storm, the calm before the thunders of two became stronger than ever.

My tiny lady currently likes to do everything herself. If you offer assistance, even the slightest form of help, you will instantly regret it. There will be a wail, followed by a loud ‘NO’ and you will be treated to the most filthiest of looks. It now takes between five and ten minutes for her to climb into her car-seat and position herself just so. She wants to put on her shoes by herself though she hasn’t yet learned how. Last week she even burst into tears when I patiently tried to explain to her that she was too small to actually drive the car.

As a former Montessori Teacher I know all the theories and all the reasons why we must allow children to take their time and develop these skills at their own rate. Most of the time I have no problem with this. However, when you are late for an appointment and your toddler insists on doing everything (and I mean everything) by her ownself you would need the patience of a saint not to intervene. Theories are all very well but sometimes reality does not allow us to be the ‘best’ mothers we can be am I right? Sometimes it’s okay to just flunk the motherhood exam; put those shoes on yourself and strap that stubborn bundle of cute into her car-seat. Everybody has days like this.

So the next time you see me caught in a picture perfect moment and feel a moment of despair as you battle your toddler to put on his coat/shoes/clothes in general; fear not this moment is merely one tiny part of the day when we are not engaged in a battle of wills. If you stick around you are sure to witness an explosion. Be strong toddler mommies, this too shall pass.

 

The Sweet Art of Imitation

This week a mother shared a sweet photo of her daughter pretending to breastfeed her doll. Her mother breastfed her and as well all know toddlers love to copy their parents. I often catch sight of my tiny lady carefully watching me out of the corner of her eye while I have my dinner then she takes a bite in the exact same way. It is adorable. I’m sure the mother who shared this photo thought it was just as adorable. And it was. However, what I’m sure she didn’t expect was the ‘shock and horror’ brigade who descended to label this child’s pretend play as “weird” and that her mother should be “punched in the face”. Seriously who writes these vile comments? How can anyone call a child imitating her mother “some of the nastiest sh*t of my life”? I was quite taken aback.

Regular readers will know that I am big on encouraging and supporting bottle-feeding mothers. But this is due to the fact that I think it’s an area we fall down in and a lot of mothers feel guilty for making that choice. However, I believe every mama has the right to feed her baby as she so wishes and that mothers who breastfeed deserve our support and respect too. This nasty outburst at a photo of a child who is just copying a very normal and natural act is reprehensible. As a number of commenters pointed out there would have been no uproar if the child had been using a bottle.

What strikes me as kind of amusing here (amusing in a bad way though) is that women are nearly afraid to put up photographs of themselves bottle-feeding their babies. They fear the onslaught of questions and judgement. Yet a photo of a child using a toy bottle is fine. On the other side of it we have a woman who posted an image of a child pretending to breastfeed and there is a rush of negativity while a woman pictured breastfeeding her own child at a wedding was met with (mainly) applause. WTF? What is with the hypocrisy? Either you support breastfeeding or you don’t and if you do then what is so shocking about a child pretending to do it? It’s like a child pretending to give her/his dolls a bath or put them to bed. It’s preparing them to be good parents.

So what’s the deal people? If we are to help normalise breastfeeding in our society (which would go a long way towards helping mothers feel comfortable doing it) then a child imitating what she sees on a daily basis should be praised. As a former early years teacher I saw this happen quite frequently with children whose mothers were breastfeeding. We never made a big deal out of it; why would we? I know that some of the parents were a little embarrassed but only because they feared they (and their child) would be judged as this child was. I was always quick to assure them that it was perfectly normal for children to imitate what they see at home and there was absolutely nothing to be embarrassed about. Let’s move on and recognise this picture for what it is; a sweet moment of child imitating life.

Toddlers & Bra Fittings

It was that time of year again. My bras were beginning to let the team down and showing serious signs of wear and tear. So I bravely faced the Annual Bra Fitting. I decided to wait until I was visiting my parents as I could rope in my own mother to help mind the tiny lady. She has been quite calm these days (for a toddler) and I didn’t really expect any bother but still it would be foolish not to plan ahead for contingencies (toddler meltdown caused by tiredness, hunger, general just-being-a-toddler).

Typically she did not nap that day and was hyper as only a toddler on very little sleep can be. There were no tears, however, just a lot of high-pitched shouting and giggles. Then we walked into the shop. The change was immediate and loud! Two of my mother’s friends came over to see her…oh she is the image of you….suddenly the smiles disappeared, the whimpers turned into wails and the women were quick to make their excuses and disappear. The small body strained against the straps of her buggy angrily. We let her out. She made straight for the escalator. The sight of this magical, moving stair-case cheered her right up and the tears dried on her cheeks. She was enchanted…not enchanted enough to actually step on to it herself, however, I had to carry her. The problem arose when we got off and again, again, again! Suddenly the stairs was ‘broken’ (yes I do frequently – far too frequently – lie to my toddler), there were some tears but she was soon distracted by a mirror (a source of endless fascination for your average toddler).

This left me facing my own mirror along with my inner demons. The sales assistant had advised me to take off my top and wait in a fitting room. The sweats began. I really, really can’t explain the levels of anxiety this whole fitting debacle induces in me. It seems I would have been far more comfortable in the Jane Austen era of modesty than our current era where even lingerie has been revived as outerwear. I tried hard to ignore my slightly wobbly belly in the mirror facing me as I waited for the fitting to actually begin. This is often the worst part; faced with a body you generally don’t spend too long gazing at in the harsh light of a fitting room. Then my assistant appeared, measuring tape in hand. She appeared unconcerned; she probably does this at least ten times a day. I immediately tensed up. This fitting business involves far too much close contact for my liking. On second thoughts the actual measurement is probably the worst part. Then comes the actual trying on of bras – black, white, multicoloured, under-wired, padded; the choices are endless and far too many. I try to narrow it down as quickly as I can. There are only so many times I can stand there in my bra and jeans discussing the merits of each piece of underwear. I am just struggling into choice number two when it happens. The tiny lady saves me.

Up until now she had been perfectly content to peep into empty fitting rooms and wave at herself in the mirror. Then she discovered mama was behind one such door and there was no pleasing her until she was up in my arms. Feigning an annoyance I was far from feeling I threw my top back on, grabbed two bras and suggested I return another day. The assistant was sympathetic and suggested I leave the tags on and return them if they were unsuitable. Relief! I could try them on at home.

But, unfortunately, the story doesn’t quite end there. I’d had a niggling feeling all along that she had measured me incorrectly. So when I got home naturally the bras were not a good fit. So now I have to return to go through the whole rigamarole again. Who knows what will happen this time but I’ll be making sure to bring my toddler along for an easy escape should it prove necessary. Toddlers; sometimes they can actually be quite useful!

Writing in Toddlerdom

I am currently attempting to find other outlets, beyond my blog, to write for; online or in print and have been lucky to find some publications that have given me some wonderful opportunities. I am delighted but finding the time to write has been hard. My tiny lady used to nap for about two hours in total (including the time it took to fall asleep and wake up properly). This was ideal as it gave me time to work on my blog as well as my other pieces. However, lately she has cut this time in two and is only asleep for about an hour so the most I can stretch nap time to has been an hour and a half (as now she is falling asleep almost immediately instead of after a half hour of chat!). Today she decided not to nap at all!

I am aware that as she gets older she will need less and less sleep (and then – oh the horrors – no day-time sleep at all) but I figured I had a while to go before she would need any less than the two hours. But I could be wrong. She could just drop the naps all of a sudden. And I have to be prepared!

So what to do? I can either work in the evenings (when I find it hard to stay awake past nine o’clock much less produce coherent work) or I can learn to work while she is awake. Hmm…me thinks this will be quite the learning curve! Since I started this post (about half an hour ago) I have been asked to find a doll, locate her teddy, fix a train track and play tea parties. I’ve tried to explain about mummy working but it kinda breaks my heart to turn her down so I’ve played for a few minutes then jumped back to the laptop. I guess it will take us both some time to get used to. I can’t resist that smile and she loves having play-time with mummy. It’s something I enjoy about being at home with her too; I have time to enjoy really being with her.

Perhaps I may have to set my alarm clock -which hasn’t been set once since she was born as babies are mother nature’s alarm clocks! – and wake up a little earlier so that I can combine the life of a writer with the life of a mother.

It’s my party…and I’ll cry if I want to!

It seems like a very long while since my last post and while I have been absent from the blogsphere I have been busy, in real life, getting ready for the tiny lady’s second birthday party. I can feel the lump in my throat even typing this – my baby is two! She is officially no longer a baby in the eyes of the world although in my eyes she will be stuck with the baby label no matter how big she gets.

The party itself went really well but all the planning and organising it took was nearly worse than my wedding. There was a cake to be ordered, catering to be delivered (catering mind you for a two year old’s party) and decorations to be bought and then artfully arranged. My husband and I also had the ‘fantastic’ idea of making our own birthday card – thanks CBeebies for that! It seemed like such a nice thing to do and I had visions of us sitting there maybe with a glass of wine, making the card while reminiscing about the last two years. Naturally this did not happen. My husband took over the designing and spent the best part of three hours sweating over the computer and printer to produce Bing and Sula along with a photo of my daughter and various other bits including a rainbow and flowers!

I then had the ‘joy’ of cutting all of this crap out…and I am seriously bad at cutting. There were quite a few near misses with Bing’s hands and Sula’s trunk. Finally I stuck all the bits and pieces onto our giant A2 card. It was worth it, it looked really, really good. That is until the glue dried. All the paper images turned an ugly shade of green so it looked as if we were zombifying not only our beautiful daughter but her favourite TV characters as well. We decided it would not be displayed at the party.

We spent all last week in a similar fluster between cakes and decorations and planning until finally the day of the party dawned and I felt shattered. Cups of coffee and coke kept me going but between the stress of hosting (I do not enjoy hosting occasions) and a lack of sleep the night before I was ready for bed before my little girl.

At the end of it all I thought back to my own tiny birthday parties. There would be a few treats, a cake (of course) and myself, my sister and my cousin. We each took turns blowing out the candles (this still rankles it was my birthday after all) and then would eat a few treats before going off to play. Simple, easy and no stress or sweat involved. But these days even a simple home party like ours turns into a circus. It’s as if we are afraid our children won’t feel loved enough if we don’t celebrate with due style. I am just grateful she hasn’t started school yet – I can well imagine those parties are tough on both your mental health and your pocket!

Still it was a very lovely day despite all of that and I would do it again in a heartbeat.

The practical side of parenting

Since my daughter’s birth nearly two years ago (TWO yikes!) I have been constantly confronted by the notion that I am completely unprepared as a mother. It started in the hospital. I arrived with 0 to 3 month clothes having been convinced she wouldn’t fit into the teeny newborn items. In my defence at my last scan she had measured 7.5. This was a few days before the birth so I figured she would have grown a little by the time she actually arrived. But wouldn’t you know it she was a tiddler. So she spent her first day swimming around in the outfit I had spent ages picking out for her. Pink and perfect and much too big. Relatives were duly dispatched to nearby shops. Oh and could you also bring some cot sheets, more blankets, mittens and chocolate (that last was for me – not a fan of hospital food). Thanks so much! I was woefully unprepared despite the two bags I’d lugged into the hospital that first day.

Since then things have pretty much been the same. In my first few weeks as a new mother I was constantly forgetting some must need item from the nappy bag from actual nappies to muslins to bibs. Each time it happened I vowed to make a ‘nappy bag list’. This list was never written .

I’d like to tell you things have changed since those early weeks…but that would be a big fat lie. Only the other week out for a shopping trip with a friend I forgot to pack a spare pair of clothes for my daughter. Obviously the tiny lady then had to go and spill juice all over herself. “But she rarely needs a change!” I wailed! My friend wisely said nothing.

Only a few weeks before this fateful trip my husband and I had brought the tiny lady out for a picnic…and forgot to pack a nappy. She did the biggest poop ever….then went down a slide and mushed it all up her back. That was one long stinky drive home!

Today the long promised heat wave hit. What was my daughter wearing? A long sleeved vest, long sleeved top, a skirt and tights! Yes tights! I realised her summer wardrobe consists of two t shirts and both were in the wash. One frantic trip to tesco later and there she was in shorts and a sleeveless t shirt (for a wonder we actually did have short sleeve vests).

As we drove home I thought about how utterly useless I am at the practical side of parenting. I just don’t seem to be clued into it at all. She can go at least a week without me remembering to cut her nails and don’t get me started on the onerous task of ear cleaning! I can’t even excuse myself on the grounds that I hate these tasks I just genuinely don’t think of them! What does that say about me??

All I can hope is that she knows she is very much loved despite my devil may care attitude to the more practical side of life!

Hunger Strike in Toddlerdom

Is there anything more soul destroying than a toddler hunger strike? Our tiny lady is currently on a dinner strike. She will not touch anything resembling dinner with the one exception being pasta in tomato sauce with cheese on top. Clearly she can’t eat this everyday though for the sake of two very tired and worried parents she probably gets it more often than she should!

We are worn out with trying different tactics. Distraction. Bribery. Coercion. Encouragement. Stern faces. Happy faces. Mama eating it. Teddy eating it. Nothing works. Nothing. No amount of cajoling or threatening or pleading is getting that child to eat. I confess I’m slightly impressed by her willpower! I wish I could apply the same to my love of junk food.

I’m thinking that this is life’s way of playing a little joke on me. Hey remember how fussy an eater you used to be? Remember all the times your poor mother tried to get you to eat even a banana and you wouldn’t? Well ha ha this is exactly how she felt. Kharma at its very best. I remember, as a three or four year old, hiding behind our sofa because my mother was trying to get me to taste jam! Ugh, I thought, it’s so sticky and weird looking, no way am I eating that. My mum offered to allow both my sister and I an ice-cream if I just took a little taste. I think she was hoping the guilt of depriving my sibling as well as myself might work. She didn’t count on sister solidarity. My sister joined me behind the couch and assured me it was okay; she could live without the ice-cream!

It may seem odd that my mum was getting so worked up about jam which isn’t even the healthiest of lunch options but this poor woman was at her wit’s end. I was an absolutely terrible eater and she was running out of things to feed me. She probably thought jam would be something nice I could have in a sandwich. She didn’t count on me being so stubborn. I still don’t like jam today despite having actually tried it. And guess what? My daughter doesn’t care for it much either!

I am guessing I will just have to accept that my girl takes after me in more than just looks. She can be stubborn to the point of pigheadedness when it comes to making a stand about something. Sometimes it is like arguing with myself.

So I’ve just had to live with the idea that this is the way things are for now. She clearly isn’t starving. She hasn’t lost a dramatic amount of weight.  She eats quite well at other meal times. She has just decided to wield some power when it comes to her dinner time. Toddlers don’t have a lot of power in their little worlds so I’m willing to allow that she might want to have some say in her day to day routine and this is where she has decided to stick her oar in. I don’t think it will last forever (despite it feeling like forever now) and I’m sure it will pass. By then we will have moved onto some other toddler power play. I look forward to it…really I do!*    *wipes sweat from face!