Motherhood (cont’d), Guilt & Moth Balls

I have decided that the topic of the research proposal for my master’s degree will be guilt and shame in new motherhood, because my God if there are two emotions I’ve felt near-constantly since having my son 9 months ago it’s those. I was pretty good at the guilt thing before having a baby, particularly where pursuing my ambitions (writing, studying, going freelance) was concerned. But since the baby things have amped-up ten fold. Now, on top of kicking myself about not pursuing the ambitions, my inner monologue spends much of the day berating me for all the things it perceives I’m doing wrong as a parent. Whilst the rational side of my brain knows it’s wrong (or at least grossly exaggerating) and I’m doing the best I can, it’s a hard voice to ignore.

Since returning to London in January (how is it already March?!) we’ve started to settle into a routine, or at least we had started to, until the cycle of nursery-related illness started. In the past month alone I’ve had to keep C home from nursery three times (once for a full week). He’s currently on his second round of antibiotics and whilst he is livelier in himself he’s still coughing and congested. It’s felt like Groundhog Day for weeks; as soon as he starts to show signs of improvement he gets ill again. I feel bad for him but also for myself (and here’s a prime example of where the guilt comes in), because when I have to keep him home from nursery it knocks my schedule out of kilter too. Last Friday, for example, I had to miss a whole day of uni, and given that returning to my studies has been having a hugely positive impact on my mental health that hit me hard. As weekends are family time and Mondays/Tuesdays are time with my son, that’s meant not being able to do any uni work for several days, which is stoking the embers of my anxiety nicely.

But on the flip side, I’m trying to make the most of being with C on Mondays and Tuesdays. I’m conscious of the importance of being really present (the other part of my research project involves mindfulness interventions) and not distracted (still working on this but getting better). I’m also trying to make sure we have fun together, because I know this time will never come again. We now attend Zip Zap baby classes every Monday morning, which he loves, and this afternoon I took him to a free trial of the local Gymboree class (not so sure about that one – bit too ‘organised fun’ for my liking). Nothing makes me happier than seeing his little face light up when he experiences something new. He’s such an explorer and I want to nurture that as much as possible.

When I’m not guilting or attempting mindful parenting, I seem to be permanently preoccupied with a million and one things, from the important (booking summer holidays) to the exciting (organising my best friend’s hen do) to the downright mundane (moth balls for the wardrobes). It’s incredible how every spare second can be filled with so much stuff. Pre-baby me was not dissimilar, the difference now is that there’s even less spare time to do it in. Sometimes it feels like life is one giant to do list, by day it’s things relating to the baby and by night everything else. It was only last weekend, when my husband gave me the greatest gift of breakfast in bed and some time to read my dusty stack of magazines, that I realised how long it’s been since I allowed myself to just relax.

On the social front we’re managing pretty well. Now we have a baby we’ve realised that the best way to keep the social life ticking over is to invite friends round for dinner. Fortunately my husband is a total Masterchef so it’s working out well (for me, as it means I don’t have to cook..). I’ve been ordering cases of premium wine like there’s no tomorrow (in the guise of wanting to broaden my horizons, but in reality just wanting to get rat-arsed and have less painful hangovers) and our flat is perfect for hosting dinner parties in. We’ve also enlisted a couple of babysitters so we can have the odd night out too. I have to remind myself that a few months ago this seemed completely out of reach – it’s all about the small wins when you are navigating early parenthood, and this certainly counts as one of those!

moth-balls

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Week Ten of Parenting: Routine Nightmares

When you have a baby, everyone tells you that for the first few weeks you have carte blanche to just sit around in your pants and do whatever feels best. You take this advice, and it goes some way towards soothing your sleep-deprived brain.

But when you emerge from that initial foggy cocoon, still-sleep deprived but marginally more with it than before, you are suddenly blindsided by a new barrage of ‘advice’ on how to get your little one onto a set routine. If you don’t do it while they’re small, the many books on this topic warn, you will face months – if not years! – of being wholly at the mercy of your child’s every whim.

As a side note (and to provide vital and relevant context regarding my current state of mind), I think I mentioned in a previous post that after giving birth I had the too-late epiphany that I should have spent my pregnancy reading up on what to expect in the first year of my child’s life, rather than about the pregnancy itself. Because I failed to do this, I was totally unprepared for the stage we have most recently entered. Now my son is 10 weeks old he is much more alert and demanding of my time. Whereas before he would sleep straight through my morning coffee and Love Island (I know, I know, so shoot me) session, now he either cries and fusses, or stares me down like I’m the most neglectful parent in the world. As a result, I have been experiencing extreme guilt about not stimulating him enough, and panicking constantly about how to fill his wakeful hours with meaningful interactions that will help him flourish. This has led me to singing maniacally along to Spotify nursery rhyme play lists, dangling every toy I have in front of his face for hours on end and generally being a freakishly over-attentive (and probably quite annoying) parent.

Now back to the routine. A couple of weeks ago I bought an old copy of Tracy Hogg’s ‘The Baby Whisperer Solves All Your Problems” (which seems a rather grandiose claim to say the least) from Amazon. I decided to try and read it on our trip back to the UK, forgetting momentarily that the fact we would have our child with us on said trip meant I would have no more time to read than I do when I’m at home. Still, I managed a few pages and decided that when we returned to Brussels it was high time we got our son on a schedule. How difficult could it be?

Fast forward almost two weeks and I’m a shell of a human. The few pages I did manage to read on our ‘holiday’ (ha) left me so stressed and confused I didn’t know where to start. Tracy’s proposed schedule is somewhat infuriatingly named the EASY method, the idea being that your child will Eat for half an hour, do an Activity for 45 mins and then Sleep for 1.5 hours, during which you have the luxury of treating yourself to some much needed You time.

The fatal flaw in my being able to achieve this EASY way of life is the following: My son does NOT feed for half an hour (more commonly ten mins, which Tracy says means he’s already developed a bad habit and is a ‘snacker’ – fantastic), and he flatly refuses to nap for longer than 40 mins during the day (if indeed I can convince him to nod off at all). Both of which mean it’s virtually impossible to follow the EASY plan. All reading the book has done for me is make me painfully aware my son does not sleep enough or eat for long enough, to the point where I’m now totally paranoid about both. This week I’ve been keeping a daily diary of everything we do to see if there are patterns in my son’s behaviour, and if we can get anywhere close to the EASY way of life. So far my nerves are shredded and I’m no more enlightened than I was when I started.

Frankly, I’m exhausted from the effort of it all. I’ve been putting such insane pressure on myself that I constantly feel like a failure. I’m so obsessed with the routine and noting every detail of our day down that I can’t imagine what life was like before (though I do know it was considerably less stressful); it’s literally taking up every moment and I’ve no idea where the days are going. Coupled with the fact it’s hotter than the sun in our apartment and the building works downstairs are continuing relentlessly, we’re both a little (to put it mildly) hot and cranky.

So, after having a mental crash yesterday I’m taking a chill pill. I’ve decided to focus less on trying to change every aspect of our days all at once, and am instead focusing on getting the bed time routine nailed. On night one the 8pm bedtime ended up being 10pm, but by the second night we had already got it down to 8.45pm. As my husband rightly pointed out, we can’t expect it all to fall into place straight away. Ten weeks ago we didn’t have this little human in our lives. All things considered, we must remind ourselves we’re doing a bloody good job.

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That face though ❤