To any mums who are feeling utterly exhausted, tearstained, overwhelmed, guilt ridden and besotted (TTSOGRB) at the moment and Anna… (with thanks to Anna Jones for her honesty on this subject!)
I was you twenty-five years ago. Although I didn’t grow up in the Isle of Man, I also struggled with feeling really isolated in the early days of motherhood. I moved to South Africa, to a large city where any relatives were a day’s outing away, and gave birth to our baby boy ten months later. It was lonely – very lonely. The first night at home, we had no idea what to do or how to stop the crying – his and ours!
My mother’s knock on the door two weeks later was a huge relief. Though I know many young mums wouldn’t have been pleased to see their mums – trust me, at any other time I’d have packed her off to a hotel myself – but I really needed her at that point, and was so grateful. My husband was back at work, I was feeding on demand because I didn’t have the energy or emotional capacity to do anything else, my breasts were chapped and sore, and I almost had mastitis. Not to mention the third degree episiotomy which meant I didn’t even get out for a walk.
Mum got me in a salt bath for my nether regions and onto a four hourly feeding schedule. She cooked for us, made me sleep when baby was sleeping and was generally a #blessing – an angel sent from God! By the time my mum left two months later, I was much happier in my mum-skin and far more in control of who we were as a family.
Life was not a bed of roses however (actually maybe it was – thorns and roses…so many thorns!) – I went through all the things Anna talks about. I only got out to do the grocery shopping and attend a toddler group twice a month. We saw friends over the weekends, but those weekdays were a wrestle and a challenge with moments of joy thrown in. Thank the Lord we didn’t have social media – I can totally appreciate feeling defeated if I’d had to judge myself by others’ perfect moments – but we didn’t have any parent-equipping or couple-supporting resources either. We had our childhood and family experiences as the benchmark and for the most part, they weren’t great. We just had to get on with it as best we could.
C.S. Lewis once said that ‘friendship is born the moment one man says to another, ‘What! You too? I thought I was the only one.’ Fast forward sixteen years and a big country move to the Isle of Man. I found ‘that friend’ in Care for the Family. They were there to help me see I wasn’t alone as I tried to navigate the teenage anxieties of leaving their friends and family and the sudden onset of the beginnings of social media. They encouraged us to re-imagine our family traditions and build happy memories which have lasted as the nest has emptied and we’ve welcomed in the next generation as grandparents. They are now a part of our family as we help our children begin to raise theirs. Hopefully we can do things differently this time around and their experience will be a lot more resourced than mine!
I once heard Rob Parsons from Care for the Family say ‘There is no silver bullet to help you be a perfect parent but there are loads of ways to become a better one.’ This is such a heart-warming and guilt subsiding sentiment to pass onto my daughter and I hope it helps you too.
At the very least, TTSOGRB mum, although technology has created spaces where mums may feel judged, it has also helped us create and access resources where we can feel understood, uplifted and equipped to carry on. It has also helped us find our tribes online or in person. No longer do we just have to get on with it as best we can – there is a wealth of advice and support we can tap into and discuss, helping us to #keepitreal!
Anna, I absolutely agree on the importance of talking – I love that you repeated it three times! ‘Talk talk talk – Talk to other mums about the good, the bad and the ugly.’ But sometimes it can be hard to start – to know what to say, so how about using these two positive, practical and soul-lifting resources to get you started from the Mum Show and Let’s Stick Together.
And lastly, a big thank you to Anna for being such a champion of maternal mental health in our communities (even if I can relate far too much to scoffing all the kids’ chocolate whilst hiding)!