When you are so far down the list of priorities, or your caring responsibilities are incredibly intense, self-care is something that is needed like air to breathe and clean water to drink.
Ironically, for the people who need it more that anyone, it’s often something that feels as achievable as climbing Everest. Much as I love to spread the message that mothers (and I’m focusing on mums because we are often the primary carers) need to get out of the house and put themselves first, I also know that can be a really triggering message to some of you.
Not every mother has the resources to leave their child. They may not a partner to share the emotional and physical load with. They may not have the money to pay alternative childcare. They may have a child so medically fragile, they cannot physically leave them alone and the childcare needed is so specialist that the options for help are severely limited.
Self-care looks very different in these situations and while regular nights out with friends and mini-breaks and date nights and evening classes would be amazing ways to press reset and make you feel whole again, we both know nothing like this is going to happen. So what do you do when time and finances are against you?
Life feels like a big black hole right now. You have fallen into the dark abyss you have been fearing for three months, ever since your sweet boy was born not breathing and the doctors hinted he might emerge with cerebral palsy.
You hoped for a miracle, but as more and more people shared their ‘miraculous recovery’ stories, the reality set in. There are disabled children in the world. Not everyone bounces back against all odds. Not everyone gets that happy ending.
You won’t get the happy ending you imagine. But that doesn’t mean you won’t be happy.
Grief is natural. By crying over the direction your life has gone and all the ways it’s going to be different from your dreams, you are not betraying your child. It’s true: he won’t be the person you imagined and he won’t have the life you dreamed of for him. It’s OK to feel sad for this. The park is where you go to walk around and escape the crying but it’s also where you grieve deeply. As you sit watching the other children play, it’s OK to feel sad for the things he will never do like chase the pigeons, splash in the paddling pool, beg for one more turn on the slide, scoot away too fast down the slope, join the junior football clubs. Just remember that it’s you you’re actually are feeling sad for. He will never know about the joys of these things, but neither will he ever realise what he’s missed. You need to mourn what you thought he would do, so that you can make space to accept the things he can.
I read this post this morning and resonated deeply.
This bit really got me:
‘How could you possibly be [doing enough]? You’re a woman, living in an age of extreme expectation. Superwoman Syndrome has shaken off its shoulder pads, pulled on its activewear leggings and buddied up with Hustle Culture to provide you a continual feed of All The Ways You Could Be Better. If you’re a woman with a child, then throw in a dose of Peak Parenting, and the bar for a successful life is now so high the Hubble telescope would squint.’
Aaaaaaaarrrrgh. This quote. This mentality. THIS is why mothers today are struggling so much. It’s such toxic messaging.
A friend shared this meme the other day and while I recognise myself in it (I’m often the first up and the last to eat breakfast), I also recognise that continually putting myself bottom of the pile is the reason I get overwhelmed, angry, burned out as a mother.
We need to stop doing this. We need to prioritise our needs. We can show our loved ones that we love them in so many ways, including respecting and honouring ourselves. Modelling that we are worthy of eating when we are hungry, having a hot meal, using the loo when we need to.
Otherwise our daughters won’t treat themselves with the respect they deserve. They won’t learn to recognise their needs. They too will buckle under their mental load. Our sons will see us as someone who meets their needs at the expense of their own and expect their partners to do the same. Our partners will carry on letting us shoulder so much of the responsibility of raising a family without even realising the imbalance and the negative effect it can have.
We can change this message. Put yourself first, at least some of the time. Show everyone that your needs are as valid as everyone else’s. It’s a small act with big consequences and your family and your mental health will thank you for it.
These words make me cringe. I used to say this phrase all the time, thinking I was helping. But time has taught me it’s not true.
At the time, I didn’t know it was a lie. I made the mistake of thinking that my experience was the norm and that everyone would follow my path. That’s usually the mistake of the privileged, to assume that their experience is the only experience. In this case it wasn’t so much privilege as luck that was responsible for my naivety. Continue reading “‘It gets easier, I promise’”
In the interests of fairly representing this rollercoaster called parenthood, I feel compelled to write a follow up post to yesterday’s.
Yes, overall, we are happy. For the most part, everything is OK. We go to work and school and nursery. We drink coffee and eat scrambled eggs on Saturdays. We go to the park and for country walks. We sometimes see friends for beers or barbecues or trips to Peppa Pig world. We go to IKEA and eat meatballs, get lost in the showroom and have a hissed row in the car park. We are tired. In other words, we have good times and bad times and are like any other 2.4 children family. And yet…
That grief I mentioned? Today it floored me. If you’re on a similar journey to me, navigating the extremes of everything that parenting a disabled child throws at you, perhaps you need a reminder that it’s OK to not be OK.
This time seven years ago, I woke up in a London hospital after a couple of hours of fitful sleep, feeling like I had been hit by a bus. In some ways I had.
Sure, the bus was metaphorical, but nonetheless I was sore, bruised and covered in last night’s blood. There was no charge on my phone and I was all alone, feeling dazed and anxious.
I’d had a baby. My first. But he was at a different hospital. For those early hours of Monday 8th October, I couldn’t even be sure he was still alive. The hatred I felt towards the Bounty woman who burst through my cubicle curtains with her shitty newborn pack, calling out her congratulations, was visceral. But I didn’t have it in me to do more than nod and then burst into tears when she left. At that point I had no idea it was the midwives I should be angry at.
Happily, that baby was still alive. We had to take it day by day, minute by minute at times, but he was hanging on. Thanks to several poor decisions by the midwives who were supposed to be keeping him safe, he had suffered a catastrophic brain injury that altered the course of all our lives. Continue reading “Seven.”
One of the recurring themes of my journey through motherhood is of being different.
Parenting a child with a disability (cerebral palsy) and a neurotypical child, I am caught between two worlds. Thanks to these two tiny teachers, I have a complete experience of motherhood from the difficult to the sublime. But treading this path means I don’t always feel like I belong.