Perhaps I'm not the best person to give 'advice' on motherhood. I've been a mother since I was eighteen, and so I don't really know of an adult me without it, nor do I remember having lost anything by becoming it. How can I tell you how to thrive as a mother when that's all I've ever been? But then I've had to create room for myself within motherhood for over sixteen years now, and three children in I've learnt a little too.
The first thing I want to tell you is that the last sentence I wrote is not entirely true. Yes, you need to find room and time for yourself when a mother - a cup of coffee in silence while your children watch their favourite programme; a bath after they've gone to bed. But better than that, you need to find ways to be yourself and a mother at the same time. There's not 'the normal you' and 'the mother you', and a day full of lurches from one to the other. In the fullest sense, a mother is who you are as well as what you are. And the mother you are is because of the true, real you filling every corner of that mould.
Here are some of the ways I thrive in motherhood. I hope some of them are useful to you. I hope you know that there are many, many times when I feel like I'm drowning or failing in motherhood too!
- Sleep is the number one rule. Sacrifice other things to get more of it. Pick a nap over a clean house. Pick an early night over the washing up. The more sleep you've had, the better you'll feel, the more you'll accomplish, and the nicer you'll be to your children.
- Be yourself all the time, and find ways to involve your children in what makes you happy. Mine still aren't that into art galleries, but I still take them (and give them challenges like 'how many horses can you see in the paintings in this room?' because art galleries feed my heart). We love to walk, so we have found ways to get sometimes reluctant children to love it too (a future post, I think!).
- But also find time to be yourself apart from your children, if you can. I don't feel bad about the half hour or so I let my four-year-old watch tv after lunch so I can read blogs and drink my coffee, because it refuels me every day. Although your love for your children is limitless, your ability to treat them lovingly can run out if you don't give to yourself too. They need the best of you, and that requires you to be kind to yourself.
- Write to do lists because you'll kick yourself for forgetting things. Always put a couple of things on it that you've just done, as those first ticks just feel so good. Include little tasks, and break bigger ones up - put washing in machine, unload machine, do ironing etc, rather than 'do laundry'. If you're like me, little successes are key to your wellbeing, and so the more little ticks your day includes, the better you'll feel.
- Start the day with some successes already under your belt. If you're a night owl, tidy up once the children are in bed so that you start the day without the weight of that job already over you. If you can rise early (and your children aren't also up before dawn!), get a little done then. Playing catch-up on your day is demoralising and disheartening. It's always easier to start your day with your children without a weight or a chip on your shoulder.
- All those things that you beat yourself up about as a mother? Stop it. If you forget to brush their teeth today but remember every other day, they'll be fine. Trust me, the kind of parent who worries how a missed teeth-brushing will affect their child is not the kind of parent that the dentist dreads to see. It's the parents that don't worry about those things that are a problem. If you worry whether you're a good mother, that in itself means you are a good mother.
- Remember that your parenting is a function both of who you are and who they are. That equation is unique to the pair of you. Parenting books can give you tips but no one knows your child as well as you. The longer you parent them, and the more children you parent, the more you'll wish you knew that at the start.
- A change of scene is almost always the answer. Get them outdoors. Get yourself outdoors. Visit the park, go to the library, whatever it is - change things up and you'll find their cranky moods, their fighting, or your stir-craziness is forgotten or cured.
- Above all else, and I've said it before, be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself lots. Know tomorrow is another day. Know that the times you lose your temper or don't have the energy to play are not the times they'll remember, or the things that will damage them. Know your children really do think you're the best mum in the world, and force yourself to believe that. You're the best mum for them. Know that though you could do better, you could do worse - much worse. Give yourself a break when you need it. Fill your heart up so that you have more to give each day. Suck in all those cuddles they give you. Cuddle back.