We do have a choice

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It’s been a crazy few days with last minute Christmas preparations and social activities, plus some family troubles. I’ve been stressing like normal, trying to get everything done and make sure everything is perfect as we host our first Christmas. Expectations and pressure that I place on myself. Worrying about the problems that have been surfacing, doubting myself and feeling a little jaded. Because we’ve been so busy, self-care has slipped to the bottom of the to do list, and I realised this morning that it’s been three days since we got out for a proper walk, or since I just sat with my breath.

So in the middle of all the drama, chores and activities still left, we’ve been out for some fresh air today and I’ve just given myself 5 minutes to breathe and be mindful.

Now, stepping back from all the craziness, I’m reflecting over the year and realise just how lucky I am to be in this place right now. We started the year hugely excited (and scared shitless) about welcoming a new little one into the family. David was unemployed having been made redundant just before Christmas and we weren’t sure what the future held. I entered into motherhood, just as David was facing his biggest challenges as an existing father. I became a mum, at exactly the time I nearly lost mine. To describe this year as an emotional rollercoaster is an understatement. It’s a bit of a cliche but it doesn’t matter about all the presents, all the food, whether the house is a state. We’ve got family around us and after this year, it’s a miracle that’s the case.

My mind was wandering to the word ‘choice’. I’m mindful of how much I’m letting life happen to me at the moment, and how I’m in danger of coasting through what I think are obligations and living a life of others. Not being true to myself.
We can’t chose the things that happen to us but we can chose how we act or react, what we prioritise, the things we tell ourself in our thoughts every day, whether to be grateful. My mum has had an awful time in terms of her health this year. And she’s been dealt some pretty tough times in her life full stop, but she’s bouncing back and getting stuck into life again. Others I know are going through really horrible times and I can give up on them because of things they’ve said and done, or I can chose to support them no matter what.

So there are new beginnings just around the corner. I’m setting my intentions now to prioritise self-care above everything else next year. To me, that means being grateful, meditating and getting outside. This is what makes me the mum, wife, step-mum, daughter and friend I want to be, in this one life that I have. Gone are the days of setting big challenges and goals. This is all I need to prioritise.

And so, with choice in mind, I’m logging off of social media and blogging for the next week. It happens to also be my birthday in the middle of Christmas and New Year, so I’m going to enjoy much needed family time, and time for lots of self-care too. Relax, regroup and replenish.

For those who are struggling right now, life might not be great, you may have suffered huge loss or be not feeling quite right even with huge abundance. Remember – this will pass. Hold on tight, don’t give up and be kind to yourself.

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year everyone, see you on the other side!!

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!