Motherhood

What Do You Do? – Labels and Mum Guilt

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Becoming a Mother seems to go hand-in-hand with being neatly labelled, like rows of veg in a garden. You’re a ‘Stay at home Mum’, a ‘Working Mum’, a ‘Full-time working Mum’ or ‘Part-time working Mum’… Over the last four years I’ve had to fill out a few forms or answer various administrative questions about my ‘occupation’, and I’ve always felt a bit funny about writing ‘stay at home Mum’. The title seems to be heavily loaded; it’s one step away from saying ‘I’m a housewife’ (very un-P.C now) and in our current society where work success and just general business are lauded, choosing to stay at home and look after small children seems to somehow fall short of the mark in terms of society’s expectations of us, or perhaps the expectations we now put upon ourselves as women (the perpetual question: can we have it all?!). It may just be that British society sadly doesn’t seem to value or respect individuals who care for young children, as it should. What are your thoughts? Do you think that other countries seem to value those in childcare roles more highly? I think this is something we should continue to question.

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WORKING MUMS

Having children and making the decision of whether or not to go back to work is a tricky one for women. It’s great to see that more people are taking up shared parental leave after having a baby, but I would hazard a guess that the majority of Dad’s go back to work after their two-week (or so) parental leave is up, and that’s that. There are people fighting for flexible working for parents (most notably Anna Whitehouse of Mother Pukka) so hopefully things are starting to move in the right direction in that respect. But I’m not going to go into more detail about that just now. I’ve been thinking about the questions that Mothers get asked, and along with the usual (rather controversial) questions (ie “are you breastfeeding?”, “how is the baby sleeping” etc) , one that crops up from when your baby is between six months and one year old is “So, are you going back to work?”. I think that whatever your answer to this question, it will throw up conflicting feelings and a certain amount of guilt. If you are going back to work (full-time or part-time) it could be for a number of reasons: you want to keep your career going; love your job; need the second salary; have to go back for a certain amount of time to keep your maternity pay etc. I can only imagine the difficulty in returning to a job and juggling everything on very little sleep, not to mention the emotional strain of leaving your baby in someone else’s care. This must be particularly hard if you would rather stay at home with your baby, but need to return to work for financial reasons. I’m sure some Mum’s (and maybe some Dad’s too, but that’s a whole other conversation) struggle with feelings of guilt over this. On the flip side, though, I can completely understand how freeing and wonderful it might be to have time away from the baby where you are pursuing something you (hopefully) enjoy, in an adult space where you can have proper conversations, pee in peace and drink hot tea!

 

STAY-AT-HOME MUMS

For those Mums, like me, who decide not to return to work, or are unable to for whatever reason, a whole array of conflicting emotions emerge around staying at home to look after the baby. For a start, there is undoubtedly a high level of drudgery and repetition involved in staying at home and keeping small people alive. You don’t get any thanks, or constructive feedback on how you’re doing, and can often feel lonely or bored. Some days the house will feel like a prison and you won’t talk to another adult until your partner gets home. When you become a Mother you change as a person (to a degree), and you lose the freedom you had (that, in hindsight, you sometimes think you didn’t make the most of) and can’t just decide to go on a last-minute mini-break to Paris, or even go on a night out with friends so easily. But being a Mum and staying at home to look after your babies doesn’t render you completely devoid of a personality outside that of ‘Mummy’. You still have interests, ideas and dreams: they might be hidden or suppressed for a while, but are still there. The thing is, with not going out to work, you can lose sight of yourself a bit, and forget about all the other things you’re good at (you’ll probably be especially hard on yourself if you’re having a tough time and don’t feel like you know what you’re doing as a Mother). So, even if you’re quite happy to stay at home long-term with your baby/child, you might not enjoy every minute of it. You may sometimes long for adult company (especially if you’ve been stuck in the house all day and can’t bear to watch another episode of Paw Patrol), or even no company at all! Feeling ‘touched out’, where your senses are overloaded after a day being pawed at by little ones is something most Mums have probably felt at one point or another.

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I’ve never regretted my decision to leave my career and be at home with my children, but it doesn’t mean that I’ve not felt somewhat confused over the years about my current ‘role’.

 

I gave up my career in academic publishing when I went on maternity leave with my daughter in 2013. It was the best decision for me/us for a number of reasons: 1) I was able to take voluntary redundancy as the company was undergoing a major shake-up and office move; 2) I didn’t much fancy doing the busy daily commute into London; 3) I felt ready to have a break from the world of publishing (even though it had been a great, although at times stressful, career); 4) The cost of childcare meant that returning to work, either part-time or full-time wouldn’t make sense financially; 5) It wasn’t a guarantee that I would have been able to go back part-time, or even in the same position (and my job involved a fair bit of travel, which would have been tricky with a young family); 5) My husband works freelance in the film industry: his work is unpredictable, involves long hours and often working abroad (sometimes for months at a time) so it made sense for me to stay at home and be on hand for the children.

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I’ve always felt fairly happy and comfortable with this decision but there are times, particularly if someone I don’t know asks me what I ‘do’, when I find it hard to answer; because being a stay-at-home-mum carries a certain degree of stigma, and I battle with the feelings that I might be seen as boring, un-ambitious or ‘un-cool’ because I haven’t kept a career going whilst raising children. These feelings come purely from a place of vanity and ego as it’s all about other people’s perception of me, so it seems silly to give in to those thoughts, but early motherhood is a strange time in your life when your identity, confidence and self-worth are often called into question (sometimes on a daily basis). In a way, you have to reconstruct who you are in relation to your new responsibility of caring for young children.

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When asked what I ‘do’, I say ‘I’m at home with the kids’ (I never use the phrase ‘I’m a stay-at-home Mum’), but I always manage to slip into the conversation that ‘I used to work in publishing’ (why do I feel the need to do this?!), just so that the person knows that I did have a career, and used to do something that might be considered ‘interesting’, or even ‘successful’. It’s easy to get sucked into the vortex of social aspiration and one-upmanship. Telling people that you spend your days looking after small children seems to quickly shut down any interesting conversation (unless they are a fellow parent), whereas when I was in my old job people would usually say ‘oh that’s interesting – what have you published, do you travel much…’ etc etc. Sometimes I almost have the feeling that I’ve literally shrunk in their eyes to someone who is not really worth investing time in.

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But perhaps all these feelings are really inconsequential, and I need to ‘own’ my status as a stay-at-home-mum? Are you bothered about labels? Or what people think about your life choices?

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Over the last four years, I’ve often wondered what I might eventually ‘do’ in terms of a job or career, once both children are in school. In truth, I have absolutely no idea. I’ve been out of an office environment for so long that I don’t know if I’d like going back into that sort of setting, and I’m really keen to be flexible so I can be around for Annabelle and Rafe. On the other hand, I would like to do something that I get a lot of satisfaction from, and to be a strong role model for A and R. I sometimes get a bit panicked that I won’t ever find something that I really enjoy doing (that also pays some bills!). Part of the reason I started this blog was to give myself a focus, to do something for me, and to bring in some semblance of ‘work’ (ie by carving out time to sit and write these blog posts) to my days. We’ll just have to see what happens in the future but for now my job description is ‘Mummy’, and that’s OK.

 

Siblings, New baby, Toddler, Motherhood, Advice, Two children, Uncategorized

Going From One Child to Two – Tips for Preparing your Firstborn for the Arrival of a Sibling

 

I think that most parents are a little nervous about having a second baby – ‘how will I/we cope with two?!’. By the time you’re thinking of having another child (or pregnant with number two), you’ve probably come out of the real ‘baby’ stage with your first child and may (!) be getting more sleep and have some routine to your week. You’re settled as a family of three and can’t quite imagine adding another small person into the mix (hey, life is busy enough as it is!).

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Having your first child is a special and very intense experience, from pregnancy onwards. Every stage is new and exciting (with many, many challenges along the way) and you spend an awful lot of time just you and the baby. Every ‘first’ is something to be celebrated and gushed over with friends and family, you take loads of pictures and can’t imagine loving another human as much as you love your little one. But at some point (probably when your memories of pregnancy, birth and the difficult newborn stage/ lack of sleep are beginning to blur and fade!) you might think you’re ready to make a sibling for your little one. You start to imagine another baby – what they will be like, who they might look more like, and what sort of relationship they’ll have with your son/daughter.

One of the biggest worries I think most parents have is wondering how your first child will react to having a new brother or sister. I remember my friend and hypnobirthing teacher, Deborah, telling me something she’d heard that was really insightful, around the time that my second baby was born: just imagine that your partner came home one day and said that something wonderful had happened: they’d met another woman who was so sweet and lovely and beautiful and they were brining her home to be a part of your family. You now had to share your partner’s love with somebody else. Now apply the feelings you might have in that situation to your first child learning that another baby is on the way: hurt, confusion, anger, jealousy…these are all quite natural responses to finding out that they will have to share the spotlight of their parents love. Of course, it depends on the age of your first child as to how much they will understand, and in what way they might react, but there are ways to slowly prepare them for the arrival of a new brother or sister.

I’ve listed some things below that worked for us. Our daughter, Annabelle, was 20 months old when I fell pregnant with Rafe (2 ½ when he was born). We were lucky that she had a good level of understanding and communication so we could talk to her fairly early on about the new baby.

 

A few tips on preparing your first child for a new sibling:

  • Talk about babies and siblings during your pregnancy.

We started talking about babies and brothers/sisters in a very general way from when I first got pregnant, but didn’t actually tell Annabelle that there was a baby on the way until after our 20 week scan, when my bump was more noticeable (we have a heart-melty video of the moment, and of her saying ‘I’m not a baby anymore’). It’s a long time for little ones to wait and they won’t necessarily understand why the baby has to stay in Mummy’s tummy for a long time and can’t just pop out tomorrow! This is a really personal decision, however, so tell your child whenever you feel the time is right. In the latter stages of pregnancy you can talk more about how babies need to be cared for, what they eat, how gentle you must be with them etc (if your child has/likes playing with a doll or special stuffed animal, this can be quite useful role-play practice). Visit friends or family with babies, if you can, so your child can see how they are cared for. Once you feel the baby kicking it’s great for your child to feel the kicks with you (if they want to/are interested – don’t push it if not!) as it can make it seem more real that there is a baby in there and you can play games guessing what position the baby is in etc and see if your daughter/son wants to talk, or sing, to the baby.

  • Read books and watch TV programmes that explore the sibling relationship.

We love the Alfie and Annie Rose books by Shirley Hughes (old favourites from when I was little) and watched a fair amount of Peppa Pig during this time. Talk about what it might be like to have a little brother or sister. We also picked up a copy of There’s A House Inside My Mummy (by Giles Andreae and Vanessa Cabban), and there are loads of other books for children that explain pregnancy and what it’s like waiting for, or having, a new baby.

  • Tread delicately with feelings.

Try not to assume how your little one might feel when first told about the baby. It’s really difficult not to say ‘are you happy/excited?’ or ‘isn’t that exciting?!’ when you are yourselves excited about it, but your daughter/son may feel otherwise. Sometimes these feelings might be expressed through difficult behaviour (although it’s hard to know whether it’s just normal toddler behaviour!) so bear in mind that your little one might need reassurance of your continued love. You can talk about what it was like when you were pregnant with them, as it will help your child understand that you went through this special time with them too. Annabelle loved hearing that she used to get lots of hiccups when she was in my tummy, and that her nickname was ‘Bean’!

  • Be careful of the language you use and get your little one involved.

Use inclusive language when talking about the baby. Refer to it as ‘our’ baby, or ‘your’ baby brother/sister and make sure your little one feels included in some decisions. Most people choose a pet name for the baby bump and its nice to get your firstborn involved in that. Getting them to choose some new clothes or toys for the baby can make them feel like they have a real role to play and are already being a helpful big brother/sister.

  • Once the baby has arrived, ensure your son/daughter gets enough attention.

It’s a lovely idea to get a present for your first child (either from you, or ‘the baby’) so they don’t feel too left out with all the fuss and presents the baby receives when they arrive. Make sure family members pay as much attention to your oldest as they do to the baby – maybe they could take them out for little trips or treats (so you can have a much-needed nap!). If you can, also make sure you and your partner have some special one-on-one time with your oldest as you can check in on how they’re feeling. It should help with any feelings of jealousy they might have if they know they have your undivided attention for certain periods of time. Buy lots of sticker books, stories and films so you have plenty to keep them occupied, as you’ll probably spend a fair amount of time at home during the first few weeks after the baby is born.

  • If you’re making any big changes to your oldest child’s routine, do it before the baby arrives.

A lot of people seem to aim for an age gap of 2-3 years between their children, so ironically the new baby often arrives during challenging times, such as potty training your first or moving them out of a cot into a toddler/single bed. If you can, try to do these things a few months before the baby arrives so that there aren’t too many big changes at once and it doesn’t seem like your oldest is being ousted from their bed because of the baby. Potty training can be a long process so don’t stress too much if your toddler regresses and has more accidents when the baby arrives (it’s quite normal, apparently). It’s sod’s law that your child often desperately needs to use the potty/loo when you’re in the middle of changing a pooey nappy or feeding the baby (buy lots of carpet cleaner!). If your older child has a dummy but you’d like to wean them off it, do this well before the baby arrives, especially if you plan on giving a dummy to the baby at some point (otherwise there may be a lot of jealousy and dummy stealing!)

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So, these are some of the things we found helpful. No doubt I’ve probably forgotten some things, but I think the main thing is to give your oldest child lots of love, cuddles and reassurance throughout your pregnancy and once the baby arrives. This will not always be easy as you’ll probably be dealing with toddler tantrums combined with morning sickness/fatigue/feeling like a whale, but don’t feel bad for being snappy once in a while – we’re only human!

I was going to write more about what it’s like for the parents once you have two children, but have probably written enough for one blog post, so maybe I’ll save that for another…?

O x