Thursday, 24 September 2015

Mama Guilt

I don’t know if this is the case for most mothers, but I suffer with a constant feeling of complete inadequacy. When I get around to cleaning our house – which, if I’m honest, doesn’t happen as often as it should – I find myself wondering if every other mother on the planet has a cleaner house than mine. Do they all manage to keep their houses immaculate in spite of their mess-creating offspring? I try really hard to keep our house clean and tidy, but sometimes life gets in the way. Sometimes the kids need more attention from me than usual, or something else is going on that precludes me from being able to make cleaning a priority. Sometimes I’m just too fucking tired, and then I go to bed feeling guilty for the two hours I spent sitting on the sofa, staring at the wall with the TV on in the background. I feel like I should have spent those two hours being productive and I get pissed off with myself for wasting them.

 The other thing is that I often feel completely inadequate as a mother. I read a lot on Twitter and blogs and message boards about all of the exciting adventures that mums have been on with their kids, or the crafty stuff that they spent an afternoon doing (most likely without almost coming out in hives over the mess), or even just the little walk they took... and I compare myself to these women and my kids’ lives to their kids’ lives and I feel like a hopeless case of parenting failure. I worry that my sons are bored or miserable – or both – and that I am ruining their lives by not being pro-active enough. Is literally every other mother out there doing a better job than I am at the full spectrum of parenting? Some afternoons when my husband is at work, Toddler Taylor is bored and destructive and Baby Taylor is cranky, I take them out for a ramble around where we live and I always feel this overwhelming sense of achievement that I managed to get them both out of the house on my own. How totally fucking ridiculous is that? I feel like giving myself a slow hand-clap just writing it.

This guilt/inadequacy complex often gets me thinking about Baby Taylor and the problems he has faced over the first 12 months of his life. A lot of the time I wonder if his reflux is somehow my fault. I was so sick during the early part of my pregnancy that I stopped taking my supplements because they seemed to make it worse. I've scoured the Internet, literally spent hours trying to implicate myself in his condition, and try as I might I can't find a link between the two. But then I also can't seem to accept that sometimes things just happen, especially not when it comes to my babies. I must have done something wrong during my pregnancy. Maybe it was that time I cleaned the bathroom with a bleach spray and didn’t wear gloves or open the window. Or perhaps it was that day I spent out in the garden using an electric sander on a couple of chairs; maybe the vibrations did something to him. Could I have rolled on my bump one too many times in the night and caused it? All of these ruminations are equally ludicrous and unlikely, but I will ponder over them for hours and convince myself that it is all my fault.

Sometimes I think about the breastfeeding thing too. Fucking breastfeeding. It's the most wonderful thing in the world when it goes well. It's a horror show when it doesn't. But I'll often catch myself wondering if I really tried hard enough. It was a nine week battle. I think. Who knows? It felt like fucking eternity. The idea of trying to battle through another three weeks, struggling to get him to latch on at all for a reluctant feed and otherwise pumping every hour... I felt like I'd lose my mind if I had to keep going. When I talk about it with other people, I'll say, "I tried SO hard, but he just wouldn't have it" and even as I'm saying it I'll be thinking But did I really try hard enough? Could I have done more? Was I really just doing something wrong the whole time? I think I've more or less accepted now that I'll never completely rid myself of the guilt, shame and, yes, feeling of utter fucking inadequacy... But it would be nice to forgive myself for it someday.

Being a mother is kind of all about being neurotic about stuff. I mean, when you have your first baby you’ll catch yourself staring at them while they’re sleeping, irrationally terrified that they might suddenly forget how to breathe. If you breastfeed you panic that they’re not getting enough, and if you don’t then you worry that it’ll have some catastrophic detrimental effect on them. You freak out over how they compare to their peers and spend countless hours Googling BABY MILESTONES  to try and figure out if they’re “normal”. It’s endless and constant and really fucking lonely sometimes because men just don’t seem to feel the same way, and it’s almost impossible to talk to other mothers about it in case you pick the wrong confidante and she turns out to be someone who does that awful “my baby could talk, walk and recite Shakepseare by the time s/he was six months old” one-upmanship bullshit. I hate those women. What happened to sisterhood and solidarity? Is that not a thing anymore?

I read this article once about how comparing ourselves and our lives to the people around us is ultimately really damaging, and the fact is that we probably aren’t even making an accurate comparison. Most people don’t go around telling everyone who will listen about the times they’ve fucked things up; they present us with the version of themselves that they want us to see. The same is true with motherhood, I imagine. We all have good days and bad days, but we tend to talk up the good days and gloss over the bad ones. My kids probably aren’t going to remember the boring days when we stayed inside and did nothing much of anything because mummy’s brain was numb from lack of sleep, but they will remember the days when we went on adventures and spent hours running around the garden and jumping on the trampoline. They’ll remember the afternoon when we read twenty stories in an hour and covered every inch of the floor in jigsaw puzzles. They’ll remember the day we planted the rockery, all four of us out in the sunshine together. If I judged my mothering skills by how happy my children are then I would probably be a lot kinder to myself, but I suppose that at least my constant worrying is also a constant force driving me to be a better mother and a better version of myself every day.

Saturday, 19 September 2015

What About When...?

I didn’t actually start this blog with the express intention of only ever writing about parenting stuff. I actually thought that at some point I might say something about my political standpoint or my diet, but then I figured that those of you who follow my Twitter account already have a pretty comprehensive overview of those subjects and probably don’t need a blog to fill in the blanks. But in spite of everything I share about my kids and my motherhood battles, the only part of my relationship that I’ve ever really alluded to is the fact that my husband had a vasectomy in March and we very nearly got divorced in April, two completely separate things which were in no way related. So this blog is going to be about relationships and marriage, and if you don’t want to know about either then please look away now.

So, the first thing I should probably mention here is that I’ve always thought of myself as being a pretty emotionally open person. I’ve never really been afraid to tell someone that I loved them, whether it was in a romantic or platonic sense. But this week I’ve kind of realised some stuff about myself that has actually left me feeling really fucking confused. Like, I almost feel like I’m not really sure of who I am anymore. For this to make sense I have to deviate from my original point so I can lay the groundwork and bring this back around full circle. Eurgh. This is hard... I’m not actually sure why I decided to do this.

When I met my husband I was hurt. Seriously messed up hurt. I remember sitting on the steps outside my flat after our first date thinking, “Well, fuck... I don’t even know if I can do this.” I’d been in and out of this toxic thing with my ex-boyfriend for about four months by this point which basically amounted to us not actually being together, but somehow always ending up sleeping together whenever we thought it was a smart idea to see each other. Which it never fucking was. It was always a terrible idea. So I was in a bad place around the time of that first date and definitely not at my best at all. I was pretty determined to be completely emotionally unavailable, but I guess over the weeks and months, my now-husband kind of... Won me over. I mean, it wasn’t that easy. I was a total mess a lot of the time and he had to be really patient with me, but I started to figure out that you probably don’t put that much effort into a fledgling relationship unless you really, really like that person. Or, I guess, unless you enjoy hard work with little reward and like a challenge.

After about four and half months we moved in together. I think pretty much everyone thought we were crazy, but you know what? If it’s going to be a total fucking deal breaker that he leaves piles of clothes all over the house that never find their way to the washing machine without female intervention then it’s probably just as well that you figure that out quickly and don’t waste your time picking them up. On the other hand, if it’s not a deal breaker and you can laugh about how he always sings the wrong words to every single fucking song ever – with the possible exception of songs you hate – then maybe it might work out. It wasn’t easy. It really wasn’t. I have a really chequered relationship history and I’d lived with someone before so I had pretty warped expectations of what it would be like, but... We did okay. We got engaged about eight months later, and I guess the rest is history.

But even though I pretty much think I’m doing okay now and I’m probably about as “normal” as I’ll ever be, I’m still a bit less of a person than I used to be. I’ve kind of lost some pieces along the way. So when on Tuesday night we were in the pub with some friends and someone who once spectacularly shattered my heart walked in, I went into a kind of state of shock. This particular guy was somebody else’s boyfriend when we met and nothing happened for a really long time because I knew about her and I was determined not to be that person. Except that of course I ended up being that person, for which I have no excuse other than possibly the fact that I was only 19 and pretty besotted with him, and I was that person for exactly two weeks until the guilt crippled me and I walked away. But I was so hurt. I was heartbroken for months. In fact, since then I’ve only seen him in passing a handful of times until that night in the pub. And when I saw him and I felt the awkwardness of knowing that the only really sensible thing to do was not acknowledge him at all unless he made it impossible, I started to realise that maybe I’m not quite the person I thought I was.

On Thursday night, my husband and I watched a movie called “I Give It A Year”. I hope none of you were planning to watch it because I’m about to completely ruin it for you. When we went to bed that night, he cuddled up to me and said something about being really glad that our marriage isn’t messed up and how happy he is and even though I was thinking that I absolutely feel the same, I somehow felt uncomfortable about saying it. Which is when I realised that this actually happens quite a lot... Which is also when it occurred to me that maybe it’s because I still have some residual walls or defences or whatever.

Over the years, a lot of friends and family members have tried to reassure me that my husband loves me, which is something that I actually know is true, but I always respond with, “Right, but what about when...?” What About When... he figures out I’m not actually cool? Happened about six years ago when he realised that I love Dawson’s Creek, Pure Shores by All Saints and that I cry at veterinary programs. What About When... he notices that I’m a bit of an emotional train wreck? The illusion of me having my shit together was shattered pretty quickly when my aforementioned ex-boyfriend reappeared on the scene about a week after we met, causing an I-don’t-know-what-the-fuck-to-do crisis that had me calling the whole thing off. What About When... I’m sick with something and I look like shit? About a month after we moved in together I came down with swine flu and he found me crying on the kitchen floor on my third day off work because I didn’t have the strength to get up and go back to bed. Looking like shit didn’t quite cover the catastrophic state of my physical appearance that day. The point is, there are about 27million What About When...? scenarios, and we’ve probably gotten through at least 26.5million of them over the last six years. So I should really know by now that it’s okay to be emotionally open again. I do know. I know he’s not going anywhere. I know there’s not one single What About When...? that could make him think any less of me. But... knowing and accepting maybe aren’t quite the same thing.

Saturday, 12 September 2015

Toddler OCD

Is it me or do all children have some degree of OCD? I used to think that Toddler Taylor must have some kind of genuine condition because everything had to be done in a certain way or in a particular order. For example, when he first started to take an actual interest in the process of getting dressed – and by interest, I really mean decided it was an aspect of his daily routine that he had to have absolute control over – the entire morning would descend into tantrum filled chaos if I dared to suggest that he put his pants on before his socks. Like, if I just got sick of the whole messing about of getting dressed every morning, pinned him down and forced him into his clothes in an order of which he did not approve, I would find him five minutes later standing naked in his room screaming bloody murder.

Usually these things come and go in phases. We’ve had the “I want to do it!” phase where Toddler Taylor behaved like I’d just committed the most heinous crime imaginable if I dared to close his curtains for him or put the toothpaste onto the toothbrush without his input. Shortly after that was the aforementioned daily clothing debacle. Now we have this thing where he has to win at everything. If I was late for work in a life before children, I would run like buggery down the stairs and hare out of the front door, throwing myself dramatically behind the wheel of my car and tearing out of the driveway. But these days I have to allow Toddler Taylor to go down the stairs in front of me while I work myself up into a state of complete internal panic because if I don’t then he will have an utter fucking meltdown about the fact that he didn’t “win”. This also goes for the following situations:

Finishing a meal first.
Putting Baby Taylor in the bath first.
Walking into any room in the house first.
Getting ready for bed first.
Doing absolutely anything first.

Seriously. If I sneeze first then I’ve overstepped the boundaries because Toddler Taylor wanted to sneeze first. I really fucking hope this phase ends soon. I’d like to win at something in life again someday.

I remember my mother telling me once that my brother went through a stage shortly after potty training when he had to use every toilet he came across, which very nearly led to a terribly awkward situation in B&Q. So when Toddler Taylor throws me another OCD curveball, I just try to remind myself of that and thank every possible deity out there that nothing that bad has happened to us... Yet.

The thing is though, sometimes I still have absolutely no idea how to deal with these OCD phases. The whole winning thing at the moment is particularly trying because, realistically, I cannot always let him “win”. There are many nights when I’ve given Toddler Taylor every possible opportunity to get undressed and into the bath before his brother and he’s still running maniacally around the house and I just want to get both children bathed and into bed so I can collapse on the sofa and stare at the wall for the rest of the night. I also kind of want to explain to him that there will be times when he will not win and that he will find life very disappointing if he believes that winning is everything, but I rationalise it by assuming that it’s just a phase and will pass eventually like all the other phases. But knowing that doesn’t always make it easy to deal with and sometimes I am just really fucking late to work and need to get down the stairs first, so I have to leave my poor husband to deal with the epic tantrum that ensues when the door slams behind me and the screaming is lost in the screech of tyres as I gun the engine out of the gates. Sorry, husband. This too shall pass!