Motherhood is a precious and amazing part of life. To watch and guide these little beings, to see them growing and learning brings endlessly special moments. The smiles, the cuddles, the “I love you mummy’s”, the giggles, the chatter, the first days at school, the sports, the drama, the achievements, the holidays the laughter, the fun…. There is no doubt every person who experiences motherhood understands how amazing and miraculous this can be. Yet motherhood can also be the most challenging, life changing, and overwhelming time of your life. It is tough, it is tiring, it is draining, it is relentless, it is groundhog day, it is boredom, it is overwhelming, it is emotional….it is an assault course, where you may feel you should be endlessly selfless and smile through every moment. It brings judgement and opinions and conflicting advice and confusion and help that may not be helpful, and doubt and indecision. It brings wanting a glass a wine at lunchtime, hiding in the bathroom, or never peeing alone, counting the seconds until your partner is home, recoiling at the idea of soft play, trying to remember a thousand play dates and birthday parties, and children’s names and appointments, and clubs and making every day a “fun learning experience”. It is never feeling you are quite doing anything well. And it is the sense of loss of self, of you, of the part of you who isn’t a parent, who may miss their life pre-children and yet immediately feels terrible for even thinking such a thing. It is seeing ‘perfect’ other lives on Instagram and wondering why that isn’t you. And despite all of this is it trying your best to love with all your heart & help these amazing little beings grow and flourish and have every opportunity you can give them.
So, if you feel any of the above remember firstly you are not alone and you are amazing. And then read on and see if, through this confusing, wonderful, overwhelming journey, keeping these ideas in mind (see below), may help you to make sense of life and motherhood.
- Be Kind to Yourself. Always. It is possible to love your children more than you can believe possible, and still have moments where you want to be anywhere else but parenting, all at the same time. This NEVER makes you a bad mum. It makes you human. It makes you real. It makes you honest, to be able to say: I love my children but sometimes this is really flipping hard. Sometimes, this is really relentless. Sometimes I don’t want to play Peppa Pig/Pokemon (**substitute here as needed) again. Sometimes I don’t want to have to deal with the ‘wrong colour cup’ or a sandwich that has been cut the wrong way (despite it being right the day before). Sometimes I want to be able to finish a conversation without hearing “MUUUUM”. Sometimes I want to sleep past 6am….And if you think any of this, it’s okay. Motherhood brings a whole diverse range of thoughts and feelings. Don’t feel ashamed of them. Don’t fight them. Let them in. Let them go. Choose to be kind to yourself. And just know it’s okay.
- Keep talking. Share how you feel. Share the good days, share the bad days. Write it down, keep a journal, speak to your partner, speak to friends, speak to family, speak to midwives, speak to health visitors, speak to your GP, speak to a therapist. Whoever or however you feel comfortable to share what you are thinking and how you are feeling, just keep talking, keep sharing, keep opening up. The more we talk, the more we share, it helps us process our emotions, our thoughts, it helps us feel grounded, supported, not alone. It helps to normalise, to contain, to be able to breathe a little more easily, to let out the stress, the anxiety, the worry, the sadness, the frustration. To know it’s okay to feel whatever you feel. And to know that if things become overwhelming, if the sense of struggle, or tiredness, or sadness becomes despair, or numbness or detachment all consuming, that it’s definitely ok to get help, support, care. You are important. You matter. You deserve support. Things can and will get better.
- Take any advice, opinions, social media, available information with a pinch of salt. In the modern digital age we live in, there is an overwhelming wealth of online information, opinion and advice about how to parent your children, suggesting what you are doing right, what you are doing wrong. There are blogs and books and articles and self-help, and groups, and Instagram pages, and tweets, and comments that support, and comments that judge or criticise…and so much else that could send any person’s head into a spin. Tread carefully amongst the words and pictures (including this blog here!). Trust your instincts. Follow what works for you. Leave aside what feels unhelpful. Remember what will be the most comforting helpful advice for one person, may be the most unhelpful for another. That’s okay. What you feel works for you and your children may be incredible difficult for another person to do. It’s okay. We all have our beliefs, our instincts. We are all influenced by who we are, our childhood, how we were parented, how we want to parent. Take information you find into careful consideration for you, your child, and what is the best thing. Yet if you feel confused and overwhelmed, seek specialist professional advice with time and support to think things through.
- Look after yourself. Self-care is one of the most important parts of motherhood yet also one of the most neglected. Children come first. Partners get priority. The house needs your focus. Work needs to be completed. Extended family need your time. Friends want to see you. Fitting in ‘Me Time’ can fall off the radar more quickly than anything when motherhood arrives. The idea of taking “time out”, or having a lie in, a morning “off”, a night away, a date night, a weekend break….can become hard , laughable even, to even consider. Sometimes we can even feel it is wrong to leave our children, a feeling of being selfish for our own needs. But there is nothing selfish about enabling yourself to relax, to recharge, to de-stress, to remember who you are as a person, to take the time that enables you to glow, to shine again so you can come back to motherhood and be more present, more engaged, more able to give to your children. So take that time to breathe, to relax, to rest, to sleep, to go to a spa, to do yoga, to have a night out with friends, dinner with a loved one, to have a lunch without children, to read the paper or a book uninterrupted, to have time away, to eat well, or cook, to take part in hobbies, to go to the theatre. If you can take this time, the positive impact on your sense of self, mood, wellbeing, can be priceless. Yet also self-care is not just about the time off, the rest and relaxation, but also about the daily self-care you can do when you are with the children too. Valuing yourself enough to eat breakfast or cook meals; taking time for sleep, (and seeking help/advice if that becomes a problem); having a glass of wine or two with friends if you want ( alcohol & children, a much debated subject – ultimately moderation helps, considering what the children see or hear or interpret about alcohol use helps, and being honest and human and thoughtful around this issue helps too); sharing childcare duties with a partner or family member (no matter how much your child may protest they want mummy, remember if your child is with a loving partner /family member they are not going to harmed by you taking a night off from bath time/bedtime); asking for five minutes to yourself to get ready, to think ,or pause. Whatever you can do, take some time for you. You are important. Care about you.
- Keep organised and prioritise what is right for you. Motherhood can bring a whole world of information to remember, places to be, things to do. It can make you feel like you must be losing your memory and skills because you may never quite remember or organise anything properly. You can rush around trying to do everything as the stress levels rise and rise without tasks being completed. So, if you can, if it helps, prioritise. Figure out what is most important for you and what you can let go of. If having a tidy house helps you cope and relax your mind, then prioritise that. If a tidy house is the last thing on your mind, but making sure you get to the gym or fit in all the kids clubs is important, then prioritise that. And then get organised (if this helps). When we are busy and stressed and overwhelmed, our memories do become unreliable, (usually because we just don’t have enough focused time to pay attention to relevant information in the first place, and if we don’t pay attention and store the information away in our memories, we won’t be able to recall it later). So help yourself. Paper diaries, electronic diaries, to do list systems, reminders, planners, shared diaries, prioritise time to plan, respond to emails, organise the family. Spend a little more time on this and the days and weeks start to feel a little easier.
- Keep active – exercising or keeping moving in some way will without a doubt help you with good mental health, resilience, and confidence that makes the journey of motherhood a little easier. The evidence is endless of the physical and mental health benefits of exercise. To run, walk, stretch, do yoga, dance, go to the gym, spin, have a personal training session, swim, cycle, hike, climb, Zumba, lift weights…will all bring ways to relieve stress, improve wellbeing and fitness, manage tiredness and fatigue, sleep better and think more clearly. If you can find a way to exercise by yourself or with a friend, this could also give you some time for you for a small part of the day. Find what works for you, find what you love, what makes you feel good. However, if finding time without children is tricky or feels impossible, consider ways to keep moving with or around your children – take a long walk with the pram, encourage scooting while you run, do a cardio workout in the park while they play in the playground, do sport together (tennis, cycling, rounders, football), do a parkrun together, let them help you do a circuit or yoga workout at home. Or if these activities aren’t for you, think of other ways to sit less, move more, whatever that may be. Go dancing, have a pole dancing lesson, go horse-riding, go indoor climbing, trampolining, put the music on at home and have a dance with the children. Yet whatever you do, would like to do, are doing, DO NOT beat yourself up for not doing enough, for not being a runner, a gym bunny, an avid sports person, for not fitting in cardio five times a week. Just do what you can and what you love. Do your best. Keep moving.
Lastly, no matter what, for every mother who is out there, trying to do their best, getting through the day, some days easier that others, trying to love and care and teach and share – remember this:
You are amazing. You are doing a great job. You are good enough.
Dr Emma Cotterill
(Instagram @empowerpsychology & Twitter @dr_cotterill)
Bio: Dr Emma Cotterill is a Clinical Psychologist with 10 years experience working in the NHS and privately. She believes in supporting individuals to help them understand themselves and their experiences, to help them make sense of difficult thoughts, feelings and behaviours and find ways to move forward towards the goals and values that are important to the individual and to live their life positively. Dr Cotterill works with individuals in London, Surrey, Buckinghamshire, Bedfordshire and Berkshire and is experienced in supporting people with mental health difficulties, and people with learning disabilities and neurological difficulties. Dr Cotterill believes passionately in developing and promoting psychological wellbeing and self-care, and to empower people to make positive life choices to look after their own health and wellbeing. With a keen love of fitness, Dr Cotterill enjoys running, walking, spinning, cycling, swimming and obstacle course races, and believes in the many benefits of exercise to enhance mood, confidence, thinking skills and physical health.