I had a very ordinary day yesterday – shopping, a visit from my best friend, dinner at my mums, but in some ways it was one of these pivotal days for me, the kind that turns things on their head and changes my thinking.
I have had a busy few days and had been quite short with the children since the morning. Funnily I was aware I was doing things the wrong way and let my emotions sweep me along. I was getting more and more annoyed with the children and grumpier and snappier. Things came to a head at the end of the day during bedtime with me yelling at them and saying some very unkind things which I did not mean.
Looking back on my day, I can see some of the things which led to this: tiredness, lack of sleep, missing my husband and not being able to share talk of my day and the children with him. The baby is still waking through the night, so I have very broken sleep and there are periods during the day when I get very groggy. I am breastfeeding, which means I spend lots of time sitting and which has left me with a very sore upper back. I also find my lower back is not as strong as it was so every now and again, it gives way and I am left unable to move easily.
At the same time, having a tiny one means that she keeps me so busy that I can do little else. She has a period of a few hours in the morning where she sleeps when I have to prioritise and rush through everything that needs to be done for the day. This means that there are messy carpets, piles of laundry and stacks of dishes. I am a very visual person, so mess causes me to be anxious and means I struggle to focus on priorities, so I end up leaving something that is important for something that is in my way.
It is funny, but I had a ridiculous notion that I would be having a nice long holiday from work, doing lots of crafts, writing and blogging, classes, courses, learn to drive, sew and become a fabulous chef. Despite having three children, I somehow forgot that maternity leave is for rest and to look after a baby and that that baby will take up pretty much all of that time.
In reality, I can deal with exhaustion, I can try to ignore the dishes and laundry whilst there are more important things to deal with, I can accept that I won’t get much done during maternity leave and that making sure baby is healthy and happy is enough of an achievement. What I struggle with is feeling judged as a mother. I have had a few people say that my kids need to be calmer, cleaner, tidier and more respectful. I know that the people who say these things don’t mean any harm, but over time, this has made me doubt my ability and methods as a mother and see faults in my children.
I realise now that when other people are around and I feel as if I am being observed, I am harsher with my children. I am quicker to tell them off and to find elements of their behaviour unacceptable which I would normally let go. I realised that this is parenting according to other peoples standards on not on my own terms.
I understand the need for good manners in my children, but if I am hurtful or cruel in trying to get them to be good then for me that defeats the point. For my children to be kind and good natured, I need to calm and patient and loving. I believe that good manners without good character to underpin them leads to snobbery as the good manners are not to show respect or compassion to others but to show that you are somehow better. But good manners in conjunction with compassion lead to a consideration and respect of others. Shouting at my children and saying unkind things may force them to behave, but it will not help them to have good character or teach them how to be compassionate
It reminded me of something I wrote over four years ago (here):
This excellent article...made me think about what it means to me to be a mother. It helped me to put together my own definition of what a great mother would be like and also try to create a definition that felt realistic and achievable to me.
· Love unconditionally
· Allow yourself to be loved
· Have fun, sing, laugh, play
· Let your children guide and lead you
· Come down to your children’s love
· Stop saying NO all the time
· Be honest
· Value and honour yourself as a mother
· Allow yourself to make mistakes and when you do to start again.
In the end I called my children together and apologised for shouting at them and for saying unkind things. I reassured them that I did not mean them and that I loved them all. Little Man refused to come out from under his blanket where he was lying with tears in his eyes. I held him for a long while as I spoke to all of them and it felt as if both of us were being soothed.
I asked them to help me by trying very hard to be kind to each other and to take care of our volume levels so that the baby can sleep long enough for me to do the things I need to do. I told them that we would have a good day tomorrow. It reminded me of the power of affection. Having a new baby has meant that everyone’s bedtimes are hurried and I have been distracted. Today was a good reminder that I need to kiss and hug and hold them much more, they are growing so quickly and this is the time to make the most of their affection.
I left them in bed and went back to feeding the baby. I heard noise downstairs and went to investigate and found Little Lady had sneaked out of bed and was trying to tackle the pile of dishes for me in an attempt to help. I brought her back upstairs and let her climb into bed with me and her little sister.
I think today we will do something nice together and I will try to focus on enjoying my children whilst they are still little.
“Know that the cock-eyed definition of motherhood to which most of us are trying to measure up, makes it very hard to love being a mom. Only when you begin to write your own definition of great mothering, embracing the contradictions within, will you truly feel at home in your new life” - Mary Stark (2006)