The happiest time of your life [eye roll]

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

They grow up too fast

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, traumatiseddepressed, inadequate, lonely. My days felt unbearably long, every phase throwing up new challenges before I’d caught my breath from the last.

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An opening from our book ‘You’re Doing Great, Baby‘ talking about those intense first months with a new baby

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‘.

Our story so far

I want to share some snippets of our story to show why we wanted to write You’re Doing Great Baby.

When I was a new mum I read A LOT of blogs and articles about things that I was going through and wanting to learn more about, and I found it really helpful and normalising to read unvarnished tales of motherhood. I hope that in turn it is helpful for people to read about our story.

The main challenges I faced when I first became a mother were:

It’s not all challenges though. There have been many, many joys. Especially once the mental health and breastfeeding issues had settled down. I have also written about the good times:

Community makes the world go round

As I get older and get to know myself better I see that a sense of community is integral to my happiness. One of my favourite authors, Brené Brown, talks about “the need to belong” and how universal it is.

Instgram CommunityAs I mentioned in my post about loneliness as a new parent, we moved into a new area right before Leo was born, so we hadn’t had a chance to build up a local support network. In fact we didn’t meet our neighbours on either side until he was several months old. Once I had made friends and some new babies were born and other families moved into the street I felt like we were ‘home’.

Summertime is always lovely for getting to know people because we are all out of doors more. The photo above is from a very happy era on our street where the kids were toddlers and they played out the front until dusk.

Having a baby/kid is a great way of meeting new people. There’s mothers’ groups and playgroups, and when they are older there’s preschools and primary schools.

Any time I spend doing something that builds community gives back ten-fold. When I think of what community means, I think of:

  • Stepping out your front door and having someone to say “hi” to
  • Your kid playing with a neighbour’s kid
  • Helping someone with their pram going down the stairs
  • Giving a nod of solidarity and compassion when you see a parent with a tantruming toddler
  • Starting a meal train, or dropping some food off to a family when they’ve just had a baby or are having a tough time
  • Using collective buying power to start a food co-op
  • Hosting a soup swap or a Mama Bake group
  • Having a street Christmas party. Easter egg hunt or other celebration
  • Holding a garage sale with other families
  • Doing a local team sport or exercise class
  • Doing your shopping locally
  • Walking or catching public transport instead of driving – you invariably meet someone
  • Looking out for the kids and elderly people on your street/in your block of units
  • Joining an online community that nourishes you
  • Signing a petition

8073188798_99aa5c62de_zWhen Leo was two, we held a fair in our backyard. Everyone pulled together to make food and craft to sell and together we raised $1,400 for charity.

It was one of my favourite days ever, and it’s Leo’s first memory.

The feeling of belonging to a community, or communities, makes me a kinder and happier parent because it makes me a kinder and happier person.

What does community mean to you? Please leave a comment below!

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Loneliness in early parenthood

There are many levels of loneliness. The loneliness where you’re alone and wish you weren’t. Then there’s loneliness in the presence of others – where you don’t have much in common with someone or can’t communicate with them. Finally there is a kind of loneliness of the soul. A feeling you are a stranger from yourself. I think that is the worst kind of loneliness.

00000011 - Version 2Early parenthood is ripe with potential for any or all of these types of loneliness.

I remember being shocked by how lonely I could feel in my precious baby’s company.

I have a distinct memory of sitting down and telling Leo (my first child) about myself much in the way you’d introduce yourself to a stranger in a bar. “My name is Beth and I was born in New Zealand…” I had no idea how to talk to my beautiful boy.

Of course this got better with time. I honed my non-verbal communication, and baby Leo learnt to talk with body language and later with words.

Another source of loneliness was that I wasn’t working for the first time in my adult life. You don’t realise how social work is until you’re not there anymore. No incidental chats in the hallway or catch ups at lunchtime. I found it hard to get out to socialise with friends (especially those without kids). It was easier to stay home that fitting in around sleeping and feeding times, plus I felt so exhausted I wasn’t a great conversationalist and didn’t feel like I had any news when asked what I had been up to. What on Earth did I do all day anyway?!

I met other mums out and about, but our conversations were fleeting and sometimes you didn’t have anything in common except that you both had a child. When I was a new mum I wanted desperately to meet my doppelgänger – someone who I had a lot in common with who also parented like me. I burned with the desire to mother alongside other mothers (much like we would have done in earlier human history). I think that this impulse was also to do with me feeling like I’d lost touch with who I was since becoming a Mum.

IMG_6598 - Version 2There is an opening in You’re Doing Great, Baby that shows the mum sitting on the couch holding her sleeping baby and staring out the window forlornly at passersby (I’m working on the painting in the top image). I remember doing this myself – feeling trapped inside stuck in a cycle of feed, play, sleep (repeat).

Jeff was away at work from eight in the morning until six or seven o’clock each night and I was desperate for his company and envious of his freedom.

Mothers groups and playgroups are great for meeting new people. It can also be very comforting (and make you feel less alone) to talk to mothers of similar aged babies who may be going through similar phases with their sleeping, feeding etc. I was lucky with my mothers’ group and have made some lasting friendships. It’s so cool to think that the kids have known each other from when they were tiny. We had moved to our area right before having Leo and I didn’t know anyone at first, so it was awesome to see familiar faces walking the streets. I’ve written more about this in my post on community.

I didn’t have a smart phone when Leo was little, but I remember what a revelation it was when I got an Ipod and could check my Facebook or email if I was sat holding him while he napped. This simultaneously made me feel more and less lonely.

Second time around with baby Clem I found it much easier to adjust to having a friend who used crying as his main form of communication. From the start I felt like we understood one another.

Clem’s birth coincided with a golden era of podcasts: notably the three S’s: Startup, Strangers and Serial. I credit podcasts with making me feel so much less lonely in that early time.

I’ve also become a lot happier in my own company in recent years and don’t feel the need to leave the house for lots of social input. However I was happily telling my friend Tamie this and she laughed because she pointed out that I’ve made my own company so I’m never alone – Leo is amazing company and we can happily have a day at home playing boardgames and chatting. Clem and I sing nursery rhymes (he claps along) and sit out in the garden or sort the laundry together.

What were your experiences of loneliness in parenthood? Please leave a comment below, and subscribe to our newsletter so we can keep you in the loop with the project.

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