You deserve a break

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.

Our house
Our house looks like this a lot of the time

Cutting corners

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.

Untitled design (2)

Beth talking on ABC Babytalk podcast

Penny Johnson from ABC’s great Babytalk podcast interviewed Beth about You’re Doing Great, Baby.

Penny writes:

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!

Listen to Beth's interview here

What is my purpose in life? (and a belated thank you)

What an amazing month that was! We had never done anything like that before (writing and illustrating a book, publishing 21 blog posts in one month or creating and marketing a crowdfunding campaign) so we had no idea what it would be like. It was fun, emotionally exhausting, hard work and an amazing learning experience. And as Jeff is fond of reminding me IT’S NOT OVER YET! We still have rewards to create, a launch to plan and lots of other things to do.

Thank you so much to all the backers, and those who shared the project far and wide. The online copy of the book had over 4,000 page views which is amazing. The money raised by our Kickstarter project is enabling us to get 750 copies of the board book printed, along with producing the other rewards.

For those who didn’t pre-order a book and would like to buy one, please sign up for our newsletter (link below) and we’ll let you know when they’re ready to buy.

Blog celebrate end of campaign

I was meaning to publish a thank you post on the blog earlier this week but I kept on falling asleep with the kids – knackered after pushing through August. And then I saw the pictures of Aylan Kurdi and I felt dumbstruck and deeply sad.

Feeling helpless, and somewhat hopeless, about the larger state of the world and at the same time hopeful for my own children makes me think about the big questions. What are we all doing here? How can I best use all the great good luck I’ve been given? What is my purpose in life?

I have wondered about this at different junctures in my life. When I was in primary school I wanted to save the world and be Prime Minister. At uni I thought my purpose was to create something of lasting value as an artist. And right now I think it’s to do my best to be kind. Kind to myself and others and the world. Years ago I would have thought that credo was lightweight or unambitious but the older I get the more it feels revolutionary. It’s one of those things that is elegantly simple, but if you look closely it’s actually really complex.

So we are getting doing our tax returns, writing mega lists of all the things left to do, taking the boys to swimming lessons, cooking, tidying, wiping up bits of boiled egg from the floor, donating money to refugee charities, going to work and coming home, writing blog posts… the stuff of a life we are very grateful for.


 

Newsletter sign-up

We won't share your details with anyone.

Expectations of parenthood

Shannon
Shannon and her daughter

We are very lucky to have another guest post. This time by the lovely Shannon Taylor.

Shannon is a crafting, beginner vegie-patching, freelance writing mum of two, living with a muso hubby and a pug on Sydney’s northern beaches.

Swirl

I don’t know about you, but I don’t think anything can really prepare someone for first-time parenthood.

You know you’ll be tired. You know it’ll be hard. You know you’ll be sore. You know you will feel like you don’t know what you’re doing. You know you’ll be crazy in love with your baby and will do anything for it.

But no matter how much you expected to be tired, sore and clueless, and despite being totally crazy-in-love with your new baby, nothing quite matches the utter culture-shock of having a child of your own.

Now, I always was the maternal type. The one who, as a kid, mediated arguments, soothed boo-boos and make decisions when consulting a grown-up would have resulted in big-time big trouble.

As a teenager, I was the one who dealt with pissed-paralytic friends, broken hearts and friendship infractions. “You’re going to be such a good mum one day,” I’d always been told.

So when I became pregnant, I had no worries. I could do this! Motherhood would just come naturally to me. Mothering was what I did.

Parenting would be hard, for sure, probably the hardest thing I’d ever done. It would be relentless and I would be tired and my patience would be tested. My body would be weird.

But I would take it all in my stride, quietly and determinedly, like I had done pretty much everything in my life so far. Or so I expected.

Continue reading Expectations of parenthood

The challenges mothers face

After spending the last six years listening to women’s stories of pregnancy, birth and early motherhood, I have seen women dealing with all sorts of challenges.

Challenges to do with:

  • Infertility
  • Miscarriage
  • Birth trauma
  • Mother’s health (mental or physical)
  • Baby’s health
  • Breastfeeding
  • Sleep (baby’s or mother’s)
  • Feeding
  • Family or relationship stress
  • Isolation and loneliness
  • Identity crises
  • Outside stress (death of a family member, moving house, financial stress).

There are surely exceptions, but I can’t think of a mother I know who hasn’t faced one challenge or another (or multiple challenges). It’s as if this is part of a woman’s rite of passage into motherhood.

Sometimes women face these challenges alone – not wanting to tell anyone what they are going through. Especially if their issues are hidden, such as injuries from birth or pregnancy. Other times it’s very obvious that they are being challenged to their core. At the time it’s not something you would ever hope for, but often there are amazing insights that can come out of dealing with one (or more) challenges in that early time.

I found that the challenges I faced as a new mum have given me deep compassion for other mothers’ struggles. Our book has been borne out of this compassion and everything we have learnt.

May all mothers going through struggles

Through Leo’s birth I learnt how to communicate my needs and advocate for myself and my child. I don’t feel like I can know for sure what Clem’s birth has taught me until he is a bit older, but one year on it has taught me that surrendering to, and learning from, life’s ups and downs is my life’s work.

It’s so important to honour our disappointment when things don’t go as we had hoped. I remember my despair when I couldn’t produce enough milk to sustain Leo. I needed to grieve. Gratitude would come later, once I’d honoured my sadness and my profound wish that things could be different. (I will write more about my journey with breastfeeding with Insufficient Glandular Tissue in a later post.)

It’s easy for people who aren’t in a mother’s position to belittle her feelings of loss and disappointment when things don’t go as she had hoped and planned for, or dismiss them as ‘first world problems’. This is so unhelpful. Everything feels heightened with a new baby around and what the mother needs is support and empathy – not “at leasts” e.g. “at least you have a healthy baby”.

I had mild postnatal psychosis and postnatal depression after the births of both of my children. I thought that all the work I had done and the lifestyle changes I’d had would mean that I’d be fine after Clem was born, but it happened again. Mental illness is bad enough at anytime, but trying to recover while you’re also looking after and getting to know a baby with round-the-clock needs is extremely challenging. Beating myself up about getting sick again wasn’t productive, but I have had times when I felt like a failure for having it happen a second time.

Women dealing with challenges: I salute you.

It can feel so lonely to be going through whatever it is you’re going through. I know so well that feeling of just wanting your family to have a happy life free from struggle. I solemnly hope that you find some peace in whatever your sorrow is.

Related reading:

Loneliness in early parenting

Learning to go with the flow

 

‘Buddhism for Mothers’

Sarah Napthali‘s book Buddhism for Mothers really resonated with me when I read it a few years ago. Its messages of being truly present with your children and practicing self-compassion are gently expressed but so powerful. It crystalised a lot of things for me – especially the quote above, which adorns a cupboard in our kitchen.

“I may as well show up for my life in the present moment rather than drift off in thoughts of the past and future.”

It’s such a simple idea, but it can be acutely hard to do sometimes. Especially when you’re having a difficult time.

I hope that our little picture book contains some of this wisdom (in rhyming couplets). I could write a thesis on all of the thinking behind our book, but I’ll stick to just writing a few blog posts instead.

 

The biggest thing I’ve ever done (apart from having kids)

This book feels so important to me. Like a pressing thing that we’ve got to get done because when it comes to fruition it might make a difference to someone’s life. In my wildest dreams, it could make a difference to lots of people’s lives.

Working on it and thinking about its message of loving yourself, despite all the mistakes you might make and how unsure and uncomfortable you feel, has certainly changed my life.

The thing that makes Jeff and I laugh about what we’re doing (writing, illustrating, designing, self-publishing and marketing a book) is that behind every part of it is a profession people work years to master. And we are trying to do it all! What hubris! But we are doing it anyway.  Continue reading The biggest thing I’ve ever done (apart from having kids)

The story so far

Some backstory on the origins of the (yet to be completed) book You’re Doing Great, Baby by Jeff Edwards (my husband) and Beth Taylor (me).

In 2012 Jeff and I started writing a picture book for new parents. We didn’t know exactly what it was about but we knew we had something to say to new parents:

  • You’re doing great
  • Be kind to yourself – having a baby is a major learning curve
  • Early parenthood can feel lonely and overwhelming
  • It’s hard work being a baby – they’re going through a massive learning curve too
  • When you and your baby can hang out and just ‘be’ together it feels really great
  • Your child is your greatest teacher
  • You are your child’s greatest teacher

We also knew all the things we didn’t want to say to new parents:

  • Advice about feeding, sleeping, eating, teething or developmental milestones

Continue reading The story so far

‘Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind’

When Leo, (our eldest) was really little, I was obsessed with his sleep. I wanted to teach him to fall asleep and stay asleep by himself, but it seemed like the only way of doing that involved tears.

When he was ten weeks old we went to a sleep school and came home and tried to pat and shush, but it just didn’t work for us. One very memorable time all three of us ended up in tears and we knew it wasn’t working. We were sleep-school drop-outs.

During that time when all I thought I wanted was for him to learn to sleep by himself – out of our arms, out of our bed, as the books said – Jeff said something that’s always stuck in my mind.

You've got to be kind to be kind“Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind”.

It totally blew my mind.

That simple truth cut through all the conflicting emotions I was feeling. My love for Leo, my desire to control him, wishing for a full night’s sleep, wanting to do the ‘right’ thing (whatever that was), wanting to hold him when he cried… All the stories I was telling myself just melted away with those simple words.

Continue reading ‘Sometimes you’ve got to be kind to be kind’