There is no perfect in parenting

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When I was pregnant my good friend bought a pack of nappies and everyone at my baby shower wrote little notes to put inside. It was a lovely idea for me to read in those hazy early days of nappy changing in the middle of the night. One of them really struck a chord – ‘If you care, you can’t go too far wrong’.

I was entering into motherhood with a really relaxed frame of mind. I was hyper aware of how my anxiety might affect parenting for me. During pregnancy I was still in counselling. I’d worked through a lot of issues, such as my perfectionism and my need for control. They weren’t huge issues and I wasn’t in counselling because I had a major mental health issue that needed addressing. Rather, because after going through bereavement counselling I realised that there were improvements I wanted to make for myself. I wanted to be happier in myself than I was. I wanted to live life to the fullest.

I’ve got such high standards of parenting from my Mum and Dad. I’ve written about what good parents they are before in ‘The vulnerable side of creativity’, but around Christmas time I’m reminded even more of the things they did to make my childhood so happy. When I was little they used to put up all the Christmas decorations once my brother and I had gone to bed on Christmas Eve. We’d wake up on Christmas morning to find not only a stocking at the end of the bed, but that the whole house had been decorated by Father Christmas and his elves. It was magical. Of course we had the normal arguments and fallings out over the years but all in all, they made my childhood pretty amazing. We had plenty of time with them, always on adventures, getting outside and close to nature. As I’ve got older they’ve always been the right balance of supportive, but respecting my independence. I have a lot to live up to.

So it was such an amazing thing to work through before taking this huge journey. Counselling along with mindfulness meditation and getting outside and back to nature helped me become the best version of myself. I was entering into this new phase of my life in a really good place.

And so, I became a mum.

And reality bites. Right from the outset I struggled with breastfeeding and bought a load of books to work out how to improve. I was stubborn and preserved through pain to carry on as I knew it was best for my little boy. I felt like I’d fallen at the first hurdle. But you can’t ‘learn’ breastfeeding from books. It was tough, it needed practice, I needed to use my intuition, I needed to get to know my boy. We needed to get to know each other. We needed trust and patience and time. We needed love. I’m glad that we’ve reached 7 months and still breastfeeding, but looking back I was a bit of a martyr.

I’ve always been anxious over too much choice. In this internet age I think parenting is even more overwhelming. At the touch of a button you can get every opinion under the sun on absolutely every topic (even things you hadn’t been concerned about). You can slip into a rabbit warren of information. Breast feeding, sleeping, weaning, illnesses, milestones, routines… Every tiny little thing, every decision there is to be made, I worry whether it is the right one. Every day I go from being super relaxed and trusting my instinct, to doubting myself and wanting to make a well researched and well informed decision, armed with all the facts. In fact, this isn’t just on a daily basis, it’s sometimes hourly.

There have been times I have called my parents in tears worrying about what I’m doing wrong when the boy is just really grizzly or he won’t sleep. When he’s had a little eczema I wonder whether it is the solids, the washing powder, an allergy, just normal for his age. When he’s not sleeping I worry about whether I’ve made the wrong call feeding him to sleep, cuddling him or rocking him for all his naps.

I know this is par for the course of being a parent. You worry. About everything.

But I’ve been starting to fall back into old habits. I’ve been going a bit crazy researching everything. I’ve been reading and reading and reading some more. I end up with a ton of information, conflicting opinions, complete overwhelm and an inability to move forward. And then I cry, desperate to find the perfect solution. He’s just so perfect that I want to be the perfect parent.

A couple of days ago I think everyone had had enough of my constant worrying. David told me to get a grip and stop crying. He is incredibly patient with me when I’m really struggling with my anxiety but he also knows exactly when I’ve reached the point when I need tough love. My parents know the same. Literally an hour later my mum told me I need to stop reading so much, get rid of the books and just trust my instinct.

So, I wiped away the tears, I took a few deep breaths.

I’m putting away the parenting books. I’m giving Google a rest. I’m being more mindful of what I’m reading on social media, and the opinions I’m listening to.

Parenting is tough and wonderful in equal measure. It’s being present and shed loads of love, but there is no ‘perfect’ in parenting.

Right now, I’m remembering that quote again. If you care, you can’t go too far wrong.

And I don’t think I could care more.

The social media balancing act

754F8AB3-56B0-4ECD-83C0-56F289F51A7E.jpegSo it’s the 1 December today – count down to Christmas. How do I know that? Well it’s all over Instagram of course. I certainly forgot to open our advent calendars until I saw my feed.

David called me out on Bonfire night for being on my phone at the fireworks. He said I was like one of those people who go to gigs and watch it through their I-pad. Not cool!

So it’s been on my mind the last couple of weeks. I’ll be honest, I have become more and more pre-occupied with taking a photo for Instagram, or jotting down notes for my blog. Scrolling through feeds while I’m feeding the boy (which is a lot – even during the night) and talking constantly to David about things I’ve seen on Facebook or Pinterest.

I’ve always had a love-hate relationship with social media (maybe most of us do?). One of the happiest times of my life was when I had a 3 month break. To be able to do that I had to suspend my accounts and delete the apps from my phone, otherwise I just kept checking on auto-pilot. It was complete cold turkey.

The break was not only refreshing, it was life-altering.

I already thought I knew how much time I wasted mindlessly scrolling through feeds. Without social media apps, I went onto my phone and there was suddenly nothing to do, so I had time for other things (i.e. life!). I could read books without getting distracted, watch entire movies without interruption, exercise without excuses. I woke up in the morning at the weekends and instead of going on my phone and getting side-tracked by other people’s plans and lives – I could live my own.

It gave me time to really get to know myself without the intrusion of what other people were doing. I have a tendency to be a bit of a chameleon and adapt to what I see. Social media had a way of making me more materialistic. In my darkest times in life I have been immensely jealous and going online has been anything but motivating. I saw people living lives that I wish I had, but I had no way of getting out of the black hole I was in. When I left social media and faced up to myself, with time to do so, it revealed my true desires, rather than getting carried away with the things that everyone else was doing. The break also gave me time to form my own opinions.  Instead of reading what other people thought and adopting that stance, I had a chance to decide for myself. I spent my time on the people that matter and the interests I love, using my time for books, and cooking, and music. Life slowed down. Without the constant bombardment of things, opinions, information. My head found space. I found myself.

When I made the decision to come back to social media, it wasn’t one I made lightly, but it was one that I entered into equipped with new tools. During my time off I had embraced minimalism and decluttering, and took this through to social media. I stopped following accounts I no longer found useful, inspiring or fun. I de-friended people that I wouldn’t call or meet up with. So gone were the reams of highlights from all the acquaintances I had picked up over the years – friends of ex-boyfriends, the colleagues from jobs long in the past. I was no longer living a past life online. It sounds harsh but I just had to clear the way.

What I did get were all the good bits. Seeing my friends’ babies reach milestones, family travelling the world, knowing when people close to me were going through things. I felt more connected than I had in a while.

And now… at the moment it all still feels super positive. I’m building a (tiny) following on Instagram and feel part of an inspiring online community. I’m following people that share my core interests and beliefs – living positively through mental health issues, getting outside, being kind and being grateful for all that life has to offer (whether that’s undertaking big challenges, or just enjoying their Friday night glass of wine). Becoming a mother can be isolating in so many ways, and social media has been a way of connecting. I go on Instagram and always see something I need to see, just as I need it. A reminder to be present, that I’ll feel much better getting outside into nature, something funny to lift me out of a bad mood or a reminder that I’m doing ok at this mum job. There is advice, help and support. It may not be as worthy as a real life community but at the moment it feels pretty good.

But – I don’t want to be that person on my phone when I’m having dinner with my loved ones, or taking in the scenery via my iphone camera.

I need to watch as the time I spend on social media creeps up. I need to check the emotions I feel. I need to be sure that it is still serving the purpose I need it to. I need to be mindful.

I guess at the end of the day, as with everything, it’s all about balance.

 

*Disclaimer* The irony of writing this and sharing on Instagram is not lost on me – just maybe put your phone away once you’ve read it!

 

Escapism

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In August, I escaped to Cornwall with my boys. For the first time in a while I unplugged completely from social media and went off grid. It was our first holiday with O and we walked on beaches, we carried him along the coast path, we lay in the sunshine and took long lunches. It was bliss, yet I was also wracked with guilt.

I’ve escaped like this once before. In the autumn of 2010 we ran away to Snowdonia. We hid out in our cottage, climbed mountains by day, and got drunk every night. I didn’t post photos of what a great time we were having because in reality, I was broken inside.

Both these times left me ridden with guilt and shame.

On these occasions, I didn’t have a digital detox to consciously take care of myself. In reality I didn’t go on social media because I was too afraid of showing people what I was doing when I should have been grieving, when I should have been supporting my family.

The day we left for Cornwall was the day my mum had her operation to remove a brain tumour. She gave us her blessing to go on our first holiday together. We knew she’d be sedated for a few days and always planned to return after the long weekend, once she was awake. As it turned out she remained sedated over the course of the next few weeks.

When we ran away to Snowdonia in 2010, my little brother had just been killed. I’d stayed with my parents while his body was repatriated from Afghanistan, through the identification, the press intrusion, the post mortem, the funeral planning. But it was 4 long weeks before his funeral could take place. I felt close to breaking point, like I would struggle to carry on.

So I escaped.

Both times, I left my parents behind to face things. It’s something I’m not proud of. They probably needed me but I was selfish. All I could consider was how I was on the verge of collapse.

Escaping, being at one with nature, simple pleasures, helped me to reconnect. Removing myself from our normal day to day world helped me to come back, fresh and alive, ready to face what I needed to face.

It was therapy for me, there is no doubt about that, yet I’ve only just been able to be honest about this.

So now, I’m working through the guilt and the shame, I must make peace. This is my first step.

 

The harder you try to hold on to something, the further it slips away

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We are on the cusp of a huge life decision and it’s filling me with excitement, eagerness and enthusiasm on one hand, then crushing fear, worry and procrastination on the other. I’ve noticed that this seems to be a pattern at the moment. I’m just stuck in the middle a little and I’m trying to cling on more than I should.

I’m craving my body back after over a year of pregnancy, birth and breastfeeding, yet at the same time I can’t believe how quickly my little boy is growing and I just want time to slow down.

I’m enjoying a more ‘normal’ pace of life, being mindful of the everyday mundane moments, but at the same time desperate for adventure. Reminiscing about days where I could drop everything and head to the mountains, but realising that I am also so fulfilled with my small family and the comfort of the life and home that we are creating.

My mum is back home after her long spell in hospital. On the one hand, she’s up and about, starting to get back to normal, walking, cooking, and enjoying things again. Yet, her speech is still slurred and may never recover, her short term memory is shot so she’s lost a lot of confidence and she may still need to undergo radiotherapy.

Teething, weaning, separation anxiety – every day brings new challenges with my little one. On some days it’s a battle just getting us up, fed and dressed, yet on other days he takes it all in his stride. He’s both amazed at the smallest things, yet super frustrated that he can’t do more.

In all these areas, every day is different. I feel the urge to both embrace the change and go with the flow, yet also to put the brakes on and make time stand still.

And here I am, stuck in the middle.

I find that I’m clinging. The more I’m in limbo, the more I want to try to control. But the more I try to control, the more things change. There’s a paradox right there.

At times like these, all through my life, I find getting outside so liberating. When you’re outside and at one with the elements, there is nothing you can control. You can be prepared, but you definitely can’t control. Especially when it’s wild, and you’re at the extremes, you have to let it flow. The weather, the terrain, your physical abilities and your mental state – each adventure is unique. You have to be present, rather than dwelling on the past or future.

So, now more than ever I’m understanding the place that adventure has in my life. It’s certainly harder to do now, but still so important. So my mission now is to plan where I can, take bold leaps of faith and then go with the flow and adapt where necessary. That’s all I can do.

Why mediocrity is more than ok

This morning I’ve been feeling pretty crappy. Nothing in particular has happened, just a bad night’s sleep and too much Instagram scrolling in the wee hours of the morning whilst I’m up feeding. Factor in staying at home to wait for a delivery and I’m feeling decidedly ‘meh’.

Although, it’s more than that, as I’m certainly not indifferent. It’s a feeling that has been building. I’m struggling with the transition my life has taken. I’m jealous of other people’s adventures. I’m feeling a bit trapped and the old ‘what am I doing with my life?’ questions, doubts, procrastinations are dominating my head this morning. I can’t make decisions, I can’t focus and I feel a bit frustrated. There are so many things I want to do, so many ways I want my life to be, so many decisions to make. It’s terrifying, and overwhelming and just too much. It’s also nothing new. This is the way my anxiety is. The only thing that’s new is that I recognise it now. I don’t realise straight away, it kind of has a habit of creeping up on me. But I do eventually notice the niggle and the doubts, the feeling I just can’t shake, and that’s the most important thing.

In the past I used to default to making grand plans when I felt like this – arranging big holidays, extravagant purchases, challenges, acting on impulse – but it didn’t help the feeling to go away. That’s the thing, acting out of jealousy and frustration won’t generally lead you to what truly matters. I’d generally be acting on other people’s ideals, expectations or circumstances. But, through trial and error over the last few years, I do know what I need to do to get through, I just need more of a gentle hand guiding me there. It’s not glamorous, or particularly revolutionary but I have the three things written down on my phone.

It seems basic but it starts with just getting one simple little thing done. Today I made hummus. It’s super easy to bung a load of stuff together and blitz, but my lazy arse side can’t be bothered with the mess of cleaning up the food processor. Especially when I’m struggling with the meaning of life and what the hell I’m doing with mine! But just doing this one small thing, I feel a sense of accomplishment. Not that you can call it cooking, but making something from scratch rather than buying something gives me such a sense of accomplishment (granted on a small scale). Generally it will give me momentum to get a few more things done.

Next I write down three things that I’m grateful for. When jealousy creeps up, or a sense of feeling lost in this world, it’s super easy for me to wallow. In an ideal world (and this was much easier pre-baby) I’d wake up and list three things that I’m grateful for in my journal every morning. Now it’s less of a pre-emptive strike and something I turn to when I know I need it (which is often a bit too late but I’m working on it!). Now, my life is full of abundance but my mind has a funny way of tricking me into thinking that I’m lacking. Social media has a big part to play in that (but that’s a story for another time). Once I’ve written down my gratitude list, everything feels lighter and clearer.

Finally, I get outside. I may not be able to go far today as I’m stuck waiting for this delivery, but even out into the garden is enough to clear my head. Fresh air, being closer to nature, seeing beauty in the small wonders – it never makes me feel worse. Nature is my medicine.

We spend so much time inside our own heads – that’s why the most important lesson you can learn is that it’s only YOU that can make YOU happy.   Those who have been dealt hardship upon hardship have proven that you can still find happiness, by being grateful for even the smallest of things.

Today may not be the day I climb a mountain. I may not see an Instagram-ready sunset or be full of profound, motivational wisdom. But I’ve made peace with this and I’m feeling grateful for today in all its mediocrity.

If I haven’t done anything else today, at least I’ve made hummus.

#OneHourOutside

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So, the number one thing that helps me keep a grip, when I’m losing my mind, is getting outside.

Most days I get out for a walk (on my lunch break while I’m working) or perhaps an early morning run. But our more exciting adventures are limited to the kinder summer months. I always find Nov-Feb, when the clocks have gone back and the days are super short, to be a really challenging time. I miss the daylight and can see really clearly the effect it has on my mood. I know I’m not the only one.

I was really excited then to stumble across this fantastic initiative from Splodz Blogz (OS Get Outside champion). #OneHourOutside challenges everyone to spend an hour outside each day throughout the month of November.

So, rather than fantasising about moving abroad to get me through the dark winter months, I’m going to give this a try and spend #OneHourOutside every day in November.

Granted, I’m on maternity leave, so I do have the luxury of not being confined to a working schedule, a 45 minute lunch break on an industrial estate or a 3 hour daily commute (unlike my poor husband). But I do have a small child in tow, and that is more than enough challenge in itself!

I’m also as guilty as anyone for keeping to things I know and those within my comfort zone, so I thought this would be the perfect opportunity to get some fresh ideas for how to make the most of time spent outside – see here for ideas from Splodz Blogz – involve the little one, and see where it takes us.

Some of the things I’ve got my eye on trying are:

  • Park run on a Saturday morning (& volunteer too)
  • Walk up a hill and take in the view
  • Make use of our fire pit and cook dinner outside
  • Followed by a TV free evening watching the stars
  • Take a flask of tea, wrap up warm and have a picnic outside
  • See if the boy will find it entertaining to watch me do a spot of gardening to tame our jungle (I may need to employ the services of grandparents to babysit for this one!)
  • Go to a buggy bootcamp
  • Collect pine cones to make into Christmas decorations
  • On a weekend, take a trip to the beach (it’s miles away but hopefully traffic will be less crazy in November)
  • Forage for mushrooms

I already know I’ll feel heaps better by the end of the month, but equally that it will be tough on those cold, dark, rainy days. Especially when little O has kept me up all night (the times when I need to get outside for nature therapy the most!)

I’ll be sharing my daily experience on Instagram, if anyone would like to join in.

Here’s to an exciting November full of outside adventures!

P.S. This photo was actually taken in November last year in Scotland!  So it’s not all rain and darkness 🙂

Running – I’m back

IMG_7451.JPGI realise that my blog has a tendency towards the tough times and my battles. That’s what has inspired me to write. But don’t get me wrong – on my good days I am on fire!!

This morning I was up early for my first run in over a year. Pregnancy wasn’t the kindest (in the sense of sickness and other ills), then birth (enough said), and breastfeeding, which means I haven’t run since last summer.

I always had in mind that I’d enjoy the first 6 months post-partum focussing on my little one, and listen to my body to know when it was ready to resume. Running has always been my go to when I’m feeling stressed. Some days I leave my worries behind without a second thought. Other days they go round and round in my head while I’m running but I find I get a new perspective when I’m out on the trail. At times I’m at my most creative when I’m out on a run and come back raring to go with fresh inspiration. Running leaves you dirty, achy and tired, but I never feel worse when I’ve been out for a run (mentally at least).

I’ve been feeling the urge to get out for a couple of weeks now. And what a morning I picked. I was out just as the sun was creeping up. It was fresher than I was expecting, damp underfoot, but I ran with squelchy toes through the farmers’ fields and footpaths behind our house. I was rewarded with the most beautiful sunrise. It was slow and steady. I stopped too many times to take photos. I didn’t run far. That was enough for me.

When I return home, the house was is still quiet. There is fresh coffee to be had, a hot shower, and facing the day with a smug smile.

I know the feeling wears off a little. I know the initial motivation will dull over time and it will be harder to get out, when the mornings are cold and dark. I’ve been there.

But right now, in this moment, I feel invincible.

The everyday truth of my anxiety

This is the hardest piece I’ve written so far. I’ve started and finished many times. Tonight I came on the computer to write about something else and I realised that I’m avoiding this piece because it’s laying myself bare and it’s not pretty. I’m not writing about the dramatic events, the poetic life circumstances, the beauty in gratitude or the pain and fear. What I’m writing about here is the mundane, everyday truth of anxiety. The ugly, low lying, creeps up on you day by day face of anxiety.

I’ve not been sure if I can articulate what it’s like to live with my anxiety. I say MY anxiety as I’m sure it’s slightly different for everyone. But I realise that I didn’t think I could articulate it because it’s not glamorous. Because actually on the face of it, it all seems pretty insignificant. There is no drama to be seen here. It doesn’t even really seem worthy of expressing. But it’s crippling none-the-less and all I have to do is write it as it is.

The inside of my head is constantly on the go. It’s frantic. This is quite honest but right now this is just some of the stuff that is going on in my head and it feels like it’s going to explode…

  • I need a new car because it only has two doors and there is no way I can continue to lift O and his car seat in and out over the front seat
  • We need to paint the downstairs bathroom as it’s still bare plaster
  • I haven’t hoovered upstairs for weeks and now with the baby I need to keep things clean
  • The garden is completely overgrown
  • We’ve run out of cat food
  • I haven’t been able to do any proper exercise for such a long time – how am I going to lose the baby weight
  • I need new clothes because I’m wearing maternity clothes that are too big for me yet I can’t fit in my old clothes
  • The cat needs more drugs from the vets
  • We need new light bulbs for the bathroom
  • I need to find a nursery for O
  • There are piles of clutter all over the house
  • When am I ever going to move out of the spare room
  • When are we going to get to go on holiday
  • I need to clean the oven
  • I want to go for a walk tomorrow
  • I need to get a card for my friends birthday
  • I need to get flowers for mum
  • I want to go out for lunch tomorrow
  • I need to copy the links off facebook about things to do with kids/how to be a better listener etc etc
  • I need to pay my credit card bill
  • I need to arrange a day to go visit work
  • I need to book an eye test
  • I need to…
  • I want to…

And so it goes on (yawn).

This may just seem like an elaborate to-do list. A bunch of pretty trivial stuff I just need to get cracking on with. And therein lies the problem. I don’t ‘get cracking on’ with any of it because the constant loop in my head means that I’m completely incapable of doing any of it, not even one single thing. I can’t prioritise. I can’t even procrastinate because the procrastination is another thing to fill up my head and worry about. Every single one of these things involves choice, and choice is difficult for me. Too much and I feel completely overwhelmed. Having to make decisions is scary; what if I make the wrong one?

This is a real-life example of how things can escalate…

I’m in the shower and as I turn around I don’t particularly like the ‘mum-tum’ that I’ve acquired. I know that a couple of weeks ago I said that we needed to sort out our diet, so as I’m drying myself off post shower I decide that sorting out our diet is the most important thing for me to do today. I rush downstairs and pull all the healthy cookbooks off the shelves, grab my phone and a pen and pad and start to write some lists and plans. How am I going to make our dinners healthier, quicker, and cheaper? I start a list for quick dinners, one for cheap dinners, one that will be good for weaning, as I go along I start to fill in a two week meal plan, categorising all the meals. Then I start looking at the lists of meals on my phone from when I’ve done this before, I start adding those to the various pieces of paper that surround me. One of the recipes was from pinterest so I wonder what other recipes are on there. As I go on my phone to take a look I see a post about exercising and I remember that I wanted to start exercising again too, so I start up another list about the exercise plan I want to have. Bootcamp on a Monday, Yoga on a Tuesday, Run on a Wednesday. I see a text pop up and it’s about planning a date to visit a friend, a friend that I really want to see, so I look at my diary and realise next week is pretty manic, and the week after. When am I going to fit in the bootcamp, the yoga, the run? I see that I haven’t bought a card for another good friend whose birthday is in the diary, so I decide to add that to my food shopping list. That reminds me that I was meal planning and I go back to the books I have laid out all over the kitchen table. But I realise I’ve started way too many lists and it’s an impossible task seen as I need to do a food shop today. I go to grab a glass of water but as I do, I remember that before I went in the shower I was going to load the dishwasher, but I didn’t finish because I was worried that there wasn’t enough space for everything to fit (!) so I had decided to hang some washing up instead. I’ve left a pile of damp clothes that need hanging up because whilst getting them out of the machine I had decided that I needed to have a shower so my hair can dry before I go out. Although, I can’t go out, because the inside of my head feels intense, I feel jittery. I know I need to stay here and sort myself out. I need to categorise, prioritise, segment things into lists and order. I need control.

But this isn’t the end. This carries on and on and on. Sometimes for days at a time. Sometimes for weeks. I’m doing a hundred things whilst thinking of a million things at once. Trying to multitask, trying to juggle but it all comes down to choice, to control, to order, to my crippling perfectionist standards. I can’t do anything unless it is the perfect scenario. But there is no logic, as there is no perfection in doing nothing.

Even writing this post is hard because the thoughts are coming so quickly I can’t get them down in any kind of order. There is so much in my head bursting out I can’t keep up.

Sometimes it’s very internal, no one else can see what is happening inside my head and I retreat into myself. Other times it all spills over and I am a sobbing mess, my husband picking up the pieces of my insane standards over such trivial matters.

I’m in control hell and I crave simplicity.

I’ve actually come to a place where I’m at ease with this now, most of the time. I have coping strategies that I’d love to use my blog to share – meditation, minimalism, getting outside into nature. There are also so many facets to my mental state, and this is just one. There have been glimpses of depression and addiction along the way which I also hope to have the courage to share.

If you’ve got this far, then thank you for sticking with me. Like I say, it’s not pretty or exciting but this is it when I’m in the thick of the mundane, day to day anxiety.