Beth was interviewed by Shevonne Hunt for the awesome Kinderling radio show Kinderling Conversation, all about kids, health and relationships.
No Mummy-blog would be complete without a post about how to deal with the existential conundrum that is the tension between simultaneously loving your children/baby but also feeling you want to press the ejector seat and zoom up and out of your life sometimes. As the wise and wonderful Cheryl Strayed says, “Two things can both be true”.
Why are people compelled to tell new parents ad infinitum “They grow up too fast” and it’s variations: “Enjoy every second”, “It’s the happiest time of your life”. In my own experience I find that it’s especially people whose children have grown up that say these things.
One possible reason they say it is that it’s all true. Or at least it was true for them.
Another potential reason is that, looking back, they wish they had enjoyed more of their children’s early life.
Or that they weren’t as maxed-out as our generation are with information, technology, work, communication, inner and outer expectations and debt.
Writing the phrase
makes me simultaneously roll my eyes, wince, feel a lump in my throat and a swell of love, sorrow, reminiscence and regret.
Being just six years into being a parent, I can see why everyone loves to tell new parents this, because they do grow up so fast. But I hated hearing it when I was in the thick of first-time parenting and feeling overwhelmed, traumatised, depressed, inadequate, lonely. My days felt unbearably long, every phase throwing up new challenges before I’d caught my breath from the last.
Second time around I have been able to savour a lot more, but my added experience and confidence doesn’t change the fact that having little children is in-tense.
Our two are 19 months and 6 years old now, and I can rattle off a list of my favourite things about these ages:
19 months: Beginnings of talking, learning to run, loves his soft toys Grover and Baby, bright-eyed and always ready to interact and say hello or good bye, his baby curls.
6 years old: Thoughtful, funny, curious about the world, fun to read with, great to play games with, loves his little brother, always ready to have a laugh.
But I can also summon up a list of the things that I find difficult: all the stuff I have to take everywhere, can’t nip to the shops, hard to go out at night, house a permanent mess, washing piled high, night waking, endless negotiations about screen-time, finding healthy food they’ll eat… Writing that list and looking at it alongside the list of the things I love about these ages, the list of complaints look trivial. But they create real frustrations at times, and it’s those times that if you told me to enjoy every moment, I might want to wallop you over the head with poor old Grover.
One of the reasons we so badly need a village to raise a child is that the pure intensity of rearing children is instantly more enjoyable once it feels like more of a shared responsibility, or at least something done in the company of other adults.
I find that time flies by happily when we’re outside. Even faster when there are other adults and children there too. The kids play and the parents chat, while playing with/feeding the smaller ones.
Maybe someone should only be allowed to say “Enjoy every second/They grow up too fast” etc. to a new parent if they’ve also done something to show support for them and all the hard work they’re doing.
An understanding look when their toddler is throwing a tantrum, for example. Or offering to help them load load groceries onto the check-out as they struggle to do it whilst also holding their baby. Or sharing that they themselves didn’t manage to enjoy every second but that in retrospect they see the sacred beauty of that early, intense time.
For more on this subject, read the seminal ‘Don’t Carpe Diem‘ by Glennon Doyle Melton, Andi Fox’s ‘Complaining About Motherhood‘, ‘Savour it Anyway‘ by Alicia from the Magical Childhood blog and Mia Freedman’s piece ‘My son is leaving school and I’m in pieces‘.
Leo went back to school today, so the Christmas holidays are officially over.
We had a lot of fun. It was nice to have both boys at home together and not be always hurrying to get out the door for school or waking Clem up from his nap to pick Leo up in the afternoon. I am looking forward to having more time to blog and show our book to a few bookshops.
Over the holidays I started to read Gretchen Rubin’s Better Than Before: Mastering the Habits of our Daily Lives. It gave me a lot to think about and spurred me on to think about habits I’d like to keep, lose and begin in my life. But I felt a hopeless about implementing her suggestions into my life, to be honest. It sounded like a lot of work and I didn’t have the energy. Clem had just been really sick and I was tired and run-down from the frenetic lead-up to Christmas.
Then! In January I went to the dentist and he told me that I have been grinding my teeth in my sleep. I have never ground my teeth before, so I felt really freaked out to have started. What was it all about?!
With Gretchen’s words fresh in my mind, I decided that I needed to assess my life and ask myself some questions. Things needed to change.
I want to share the questions with you, because answering them has been very clarifying for me.
- What I need to do to look after myself
- Why do I need to look after myself? What’s at stake?
- What if? Then… (if I fall off the wagon this is a plan for how to get back on)
- Potential excuses and responses to them
- Why do I find it hard to look after myself?
- What’s not on the self-care plan i.e. not important
- Who can I check in with?
- Why can’t I get off the hook?
- Treats that are good for me
Answering these questions I learnt that I totally do know how to look after myself, but I just don’t put it into action sometimes. I know all of my excuses and how to counteract them, but I choose not to.
After writing up all my answers with pen and paper, I made a one pager that I can stick up on the fridge and remind me what my mission is. Writing up this plan feels like I have a mission in life and everything else flows from here.
It’s all about fitting your oxygen mask before fitting anyone else’s.
Women especially are taught to look after others before themselves, and I definitely struggle with that. If I’m depleted myself I am terrible at looking after others, and yet I’ve done it all the time. Both before and after having children (I used to always be the friend who looked after everyone in high school for example).
When we were writing You’re Doing Great, Baby we had a line in there that we eventually took out, but it’s very relevant here:
I have all these parenting books on the shelf,
But sometimes it’s hard to look after myself.
The things on my list of things I need to do to look after myself are things I already did to varying degrees, but now it feels more binding. It’s powerful to have recommitted to why I want/need to look after myself.
It takes the element of decision making out of when to do yoga, for example, because I’ve written down the potential days and times I have each week and set myself a minimum number of times a week to get on my mat.
I’ve discovered there’s a great strength and self confidence that comes from choosing rules and then sticking to them. It’s not going to be perfect, and it will evolve over time, but I get excited every time I look at my one-pager. It’s all my favourite stuff (that it’s easy not to make time for).
Since committing to this self care plan things have felt like they’re falling into place. I am excited for the year ahead.
Wishing all of you a healthy and happy 2016. Have faith that you are where you need to be right now. You’re doing great.
It’s Leo’s birthday tomorrow and he’s predictably very excited. We are giving him lots of Pokémon cards as requested and the whole week is pretty much a festival of Leo: cupcakes at school, birthday dinner of fish and chips with his best friend and a party on the weekend with his friends.
As I was getting Clem to sleep tonight Leo was lying in bed and having trouble settling down for sleep. He asked me to sing him ‘Rock-a-bye Big Boy’ which has become a favourite lullaby since Clem was born.
Rock-a-bye Big Boy
In the big bed.
When the wind blows, the big bed will rock.
When the bough breaks, the big bed will fall
and down will come Big Boy, big bed and all.
I didn’t even get to finish the song before both Big Boy and Little Boy in my arms were snoozing.
He can read and write and run and ride a bike (with training wheels) and swim and he still loves a lullaby before bed. Bless his heart.
I’m going to write him a letter tonight – the first birthday letter he’ll be able to read – and tell him how much I love him and how proud I am of the person he is. As the man from the $2 shop where we buy Pokémon cards says: ‘Two boys. Lucky Mum.’
Leo has a big head (literally) and it took him a little while to be able to hold his head up as a baby. I remember starting at our mothers’ group and everyone else’s babies holding their heads up and me worrying that he’d never do it.
Intellectually I knew that he would learn to hold it up, but I was worried because I was a first-time Mum and a Virgo. Jeff (ever the diffuser of worry) bet me $5 that he would learn to hold his head up (easiest $5 he’s ever made).
I made a resolution with myself that I would remember this and never be worried about him meeting another milestone again because otherwise I saw a big worry career stretched out in front of me… I’ve mostly keep to it but there are exceptions 😉
I figure that it can’t be just me who’s worried before, so in the interests of sharing our vulnerabilities rather than just saying how easy/perfect/fun everything is, here are some things I’ve stressed about that have eventually turned out just fine.
- Potty training. I read books about it and heard horror stories and then when he was ready it gradually happened.
- Leo learning to swim.
- Having another baby. How would I manage? How/where/when would the little one sleep?
- Transition to pre-school/school.
- My mental health after having another baby, having had such a scary experience first time round.
The big theme of these worries when I look at them is the worry of you or your kid being seen as a failure. Or that you do something that scars your kid, or that they get made fun of, or that your friends/family think you’re not a good parent.
A big factor that can diffuse a lot of those worries is doing stuff in your own (or your kid’s own) time. It sucks when there’s an external force dictating when something needs to happen but that’s modern life I guess. Wherever possible it’s awesome to be able to cut yourself some slack and let things unfold in their own time.
In fact, I am always amazed at how elegantly kids solve all sorts of parental concerns by just being themselves. They are much better at adjusting than adults.
Having Leo come into my life has helped me conquer a lot of my own fears. I’ve learnt to speak out, say ‘no’ when I need to and look after myself. I’ve also learnt to open my eyes under water and jump into a pile of foam blocks at SkyZone.
They are amazing teachers.
I had a realisation the other night that I’m living in survival mode a lot of the time.
It’s a very privileged version of survival mode. My family and I are safe, sheltered and fed. There’s space for yoga sometimes and deep breaths and a lot of laughter, but there’s also times when I raise my voice, lose my patience, tell Leo to hurry-hurry-hurry, and berate myself about being late or not getting something done.
I often feel like I’m constantly lurching from one thing to the next. Frazzled.
I am often doing multiple things at once and there’s also a lot of weighing up of different priorities going on in the background: Clem’s sleeps, keeping us all fed, clothed and bathed, correspondence, shopping lists, logistics planning, school-related admin, general life admin, calling people back because my phone is always on silent, family wellness, work deadlines, Kickstarter reward fulfilment, social commitments, Leo’s needs and wants, Clem’s needs and wants, Jeff’s needs and wants, my needs and wants, SLEEP…
There’s a lot of ‘I’ll just do this’, which leads to ‘I’ll just do that too’, which means I often don’t get to the bit where I feel a sense of accomplishment and give myself (or my kids) a moment of pause.
And I’m not the only one. A lot of my conversations with friends lately include talking about how torn we feel.
A big giveaway that I’m in crisis management mode is that I hoard food. I started hoarding food when I was very pregnant with Clem and having had a taste of it (haha), I can’t stop. Instead of buying one packet of corn thins I buy a box of them. We have 10kg of flour under the kitchen table and many, many tins of tuna underneath the bed. We rented a chest freezer a while back and I don’t know when I’m going to be ready to say goodbye to it. It’s all a bit crazy-cat-lady (minus the cat).
When Clem was brand-new-little and Jeff has just gone back to work, I had a sign on the fridge to remind me that all that mattered was: love, rest, play and food and drink for everyone. I was trying to manage my expectations of what constituted a good day because I am notoriously overly ambitious about what I can accomplish each day. Tabitha wrote about this beautifully.
Just because your day isn’t newsworthy or the fodder for great anecdotes, doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile. You are accomplishing something monumentally important, but quietly. Every one of those days when you have nothing to report, or no goals kicked, you have been chaperoning a little human through dozens of amazing little milestones, most of them imperceptible to us, and certainly not worthy of retelling, but life-changing for these tiny babies.
But once our babies are no longer newborns and life gets a bit easier, it’s tempting to throw more and more things in the mix. Our book and everything that’s come from it: this blog, the kickstarter, my talk – are all good examples.
I thought my days of holding onto being busy as a badge of honour were over, but I am still doing it. Enjoying the buzz of lots going on. Loving a lot of what I’m doing, but also feeling stressed out and stretched a lot of the time. I’m sure you can identify. We are busy-o-holics in our culture.
We need to celebrate the corners we cut! The things we don’t do!
I don’t hold the key to simplifying, but in an efforts to take the pressure down in our household I’ve tried:
- Lowering my standard of tidiness.
- Sharing household chores with Jeff: cooking, tidying, washing, shopping etc.
- Having cleaners once a week.
- Embracing odd socks and crumpled clothes i.e. no ironing
- Wearing a uniform on the days I’m home (black pants, t-shirt, woollen hoodie) so I don’t have to think about what to wear.
- Online shopping.
- Rotation of meals and snacks (hummus, vegie sticks, muffins, creamed corn, egg mayo, croissants, melted cheese and corn thins are key).
- Freezing big batches of soup/stew for my lunches during the week.
- Washing my hair once a week (I used to do it every day).
- Hanging out the washing with as few pegs as possible (surely not that much of a time-saver but it feels very efficient).
- Having things going overnight so they’re ready first thing in the morning: washing machine, dishwasher, bread maker etc.
I know you have your list of these things too. Please share them in the comments or on the Facebook page – I’d love to hear them!
Something I majorly need to work on in order to simplify my/our life is saying ‘no’ or ‘not now’ … to myself when I want to add another thing to our schedule, to other people when it’s something that’s going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. I’m getting better with this but I still find saying ‘no’ really hard.
If you’re anything like me you have really high standards for yourself but beating yourself up about life being too messy/full on/not organised enough isn’t actually going to help.
I’m going to make an effort to tell myself I’m doing great this week, because I’m obviously feeling like a need a break, and the best person to give ourselves a break is us.
WE ARE DOING GREAT. Tell yourself. Tell a friend. We really are.
I am giving a talk in Sydney on October 13 at the Lord Dudley Hotel in Woollahra.
It’s part of the great line up of talks and masterclasses organised by Mama Creatives.
It would be wonderful to see you there! You can purchase tickets here.
More about the talk:
Enjoy an inspiring, informative and passionate talk by artist, filmmaker, photographer and writer Beth Taylor, who will be sharing her story, body of work and discussing You’re Doing Great, Baby – a book she has co-written and illustrated with her husband – over dinner and drinks in the company of other creative mamas!
“Motherhood has profoundly altered my perception of myself and the world, and changed everything about my art practice. It’s taught me about love, compassion and struggle.”
A look at Beth’s diverse range of work – from photography to writing and illustration, infused with personal stories of the heart-bursting highs and gut-wrenching lows of being both a mother and an artist, and what she learnt from her experience of having postnatal depression and mild postnatal psychosis after the births of her two boys.
There will also be a raffle on the night to raise funds for PANDA.
Getting ready for the talk has prompted me to update my portfolio on our main website – hooray for deadlines. Check it out!
Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.
You’re Doing Great Baby! Is a picture book for babies but it has a subtle message .. parent’s you’re doing just great too! The book was born (like a lot of parenting projects) when a young couple realised that having a baby was a lot harder than they expected… and they really wanted a way of expressing this to friends and families while giving them support and encouragement as they went. So ‘You’re Doing Great Baby!’ was born, a picture book that when read out loud gives parents a beautiful affirmation that they are doing just fine too!
There are moments that are perfect. Where I’m totally absorbed in what I’m doing. They don’t come that often for me, but when they do they are magical.
Some of the things that get me in that zone are:
- Making art or craft
- Walking and listening to music
- Playing with children.
(Disclaimer: most of the time when I’m playing with my kids I am not ‘in flow’ – I am thinking of chores that need doing, or writing a shopping list in my head, or tidying up, or cooking (or lately, composing a blog post). Not giving anything my full attention. But the times when I do manage to just enjoy whatever it is we’re doing are pure joy).
Having a baby or a young kid makes it harder to steal moments for all of the above (except for playing with them), and yet spending time with them is a perfect opportunity to surrender and just enjoy some simple pleasures. Clem will happily sit and play with wood-chips or dirt or a patch of grass for 30 minutes.
The best way for me to be more present with my boys (and enjoy myself too), is to be outside. At the park, in the garden or sitting out the front of our house, I’m not looking sideways at the mess I want to tidy, or the dinner that’s half done, or the chair that needs mending.
When I’m enjoying that perfect moment: a conversation with Leo or a bath with Clem or our whole family laughing or enjoying music together, I wonder why life can’t always be like this. And then Leo or Clem will ask for a drink of water and I end up pottering in the kitchen tidying up or loading the dishwasher. The moment lost. Those early parenting years are just busy.
Multiple times a day I’m struck by the fact that time is moving forward, and the kids are growing up. It’s bitter-sweet.
Clem is a-l-m-o-s-t a toddler and he’s (most probably) our last baby. Each time he grows out of a piece of clothing there’s no point in holding on to it for our next baby. Because there won’t be one. The lanolin that’s still sitting on my dressing table from the early days of breastfeeding probably won’t get used again. The toys that we pick up off the floor every day won’t be around forever.
The knowledge that I’ll be able to shoot off to a yoga class, read a book in the afternoon, or go out to dinner with Jeff in the not-too-distant future is exciting. If I’m feeling sad about the prospect of those little-kid years disappearing, then that’s a good reminder to sit down on the floor and just be with the kids or give them a hug.
When Leo was a baby, and I was climbing up out of the hole that postnatal depression had carved into my life, I vividly remember making a pact with myself to remember that there were lots of good times too. That I enjoyed this moment. That I drank him in. That I loved him more than I thought possible.
I knew I wanted another child and I didn’t want to wish away his babyhood because of my own issues.
That pact to recognise all the joyful moments was always an incredible comfort to me. I still think about it today as a reminder that I may as well be in each moment (whatever that entailed), rather than wishing it away. With a young baby the moments are underlined with sleep deprivation, boredom and having to choose between going to the toilet or waking the baby you’re holding. With an older child, the moments are underlined with different worries and discomforts: time pressure, money or career concerns… there’s always something.
Looking back at photos of the last six years I am overwhelmed with nostalgia. I see the fun we’ve had without seeing whatever little worry was on my mind at the time or whatever cold we were getting over… Photos are useful to help us enjoy the moment, but the act of taking them also removes us a little bit. It’s a double bind.
In 2013 I made an installation of 1,000 collaged photos – each one of them hoping to capture a moment in time. Seeing the beauty in little everyday domestic moments is pretty much what all of the art I’ve ever produced boils down to. I’m never going to figure it out or solve it or perfect it, but it’s my life’s work.
This is a post about finding ways to keep creating things when you’re a parent (other than breakfasts, lunches, dinners and clean laundry). And the joys and frustrations of being a parent who needs to create.
After a rocky start, becoming a Mum was the best thing that ever happened to me, both personally and creatively. I had always known that creative work was important to me, but there’s nothing like suddenly having a lot less time to make you stop procrastinating and just do something.
I trained as a documentary writer/director but I wasn’t confident enough about my work to pursue my ideas or apply for grants after I finished film school. I found a full-time permanent job that was related to film, and then pretty soon after that I got pregnant.
Once Leo was born and I had recovered from the shock of it all I was drawn to creative practice I could fit into nap-time and didn’t require other people, big budgets or expensive equipment. I had also grown up a lot and cared less about what other people thought of my work.
Parenting is a hugely creative thing to be engaged in. You are constantly adapting to suit your child/ren’s needs and playing imaginative games, playing with language, song, paint, dance and all sorts of different media (ATM my youngest, Clem, is into wood-chips and banana, and Leo is into pastels and mask making). But it’s not enough for me to just facilitate their creative expression – I want a turn too!
There’s lots of time to daydream but not very much time to actually put pen to paper, brush to canvas or fingers to keyboard.
“I had to learn to be fast, faster than I’d ever been, for every second counts with a child. I had to teach myself to commit phrases and words to memory when I did not have a pen, to scribble notes to myself on the backs of envelopes … I learnt to compose everything in my head rather than on the page, to have whole paragraphs, whole chapters, completely worked out before I even sat down.
… I write this book in my dreams, in buses, in the quiet moments before I go to sleep, in the ink of my blood. I have learnt to write in air.”
– Susan Johnson, A Better Woman: A Memoir