Please don’t think you know the answers….or have a strop cos you don’t get a cuddle!

Parenting for anyone is a journey.  It has highs and lows. Every day is another point of learning, of frustration, of joy, of laughter, of tears. For me, the last few weeks have been more of the lows and the tears than many would expect. My parenting journey has been an emotional challenge, that I was hoping it wouldn’t be. In the last 8 weeks I have struggled as having my daughter has not been the perfect time that I had dreamed it would be.

I know that at times of upheaval and change I have an even greater desire to be in control and for things to happen in the way I had expected. I also know that when it doesn’t I struggle with myself, my feelings of disappointment, and my urge to have everything in control. I also get more anxious as i feel life spiraling out of my control. I end up hitting rock bottom. I can get very depressed, and I find each day a challenge.

At the moment, most days are a challenge. Getting myself and my children dressed in the mornings often feels like a great achievement. To get out of the house, is an even greater task, both in terms of emotional preparation and in terms of physically getting there.

But in all these challenges I can keep hold of my children – with my baby this is often currently a very physical thing. I need to hold her for reassurance, but also so I know that I am not missing her cues for need of provision fro me – be it food, communication, space to sleep. I know people think they are helping me by offering to hold her, to take away the “burden” of having to do it all, but at the moment, I need to. When I feel safe and secure I will ask for help. I will ask for someone I trust to hold her, but I won’t just pass her around for cuddles.

With my toddler, it’s being able to give the cuddles, make the dinner, provide the stimulation required, sit on the floor and do the jigsaws. I need to know I am still meeting his needs. I also need days where all we do is chill together watching movies. I need to know I’m getting things right.

With my teenager, I need to know that I can still be there for him. I need to know I can drive him to college occasionally.  I need to be able to check in and chat over the day. I also need to be able to sit back and let him be the near adult that he is. I need to enable him.

And in amongst it all I need to be a wife that can support her husband. I need to be able to do bits around the house so that we can still function.

I know people will say to stop, let go of the feeling of have to, share some of it. But the reality at the moment is that at the moment I can’t. I haven’t got there yet. So sometimes I need space and that is where I am at. I am getting support from the right people, and I know I’ll get there in the end. I’m not always getting it right for the world, but right now it’s right for me.

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Would like it to be straight forward, and would like some positive affirmation

Some days I feel like I just want to go back to bed and start the day or the week over again. I really dread taking Niamh to any of her routine check appointments at the moment. I dread  lifting her on to the scales to see if she has gained weight, if she’s gained enough weight, if she’s still sitting on the same growth curve.

For those not in the know, babies weight is marked on a centile range chart, with tracking lines starting from 0.4th and going up to the 99th centile. Niamh sits under the bottom line for her weight. Every time we see a new professional – be it the “duty” health visitor  at the weekly weigh-in clinic, or the GP for her routine 6 week check, a doctor in hospital – they all comment on the fact she isn’t on the chart. They don’t comment on the fact she’s actually gaining weight steadily, and at the rate they would expect for all other babies, they just comment on the fact she is small. As a parent, I’ve found this exhausting and draining. I feel like i’m being judged as a parent – both in what my body can do naturally, and my choices to breastfeed over formula feed.

I also feel more anxious about each appointment. I know, due to having issues with self confidence and anxiety, that I take things more personally than others. I know that I need more affirmation at times that I’m doing it ok. I will hold my hands up and say I know this isn’t easy on those around me, and I also don’t say that  I need it or when I need it. It’s not straight forward, and it’s affected by my emotions, my tiredness levels, my stress levels, etc etc etc. But I also think that the professionals need to sometimes look at how they talk to parents and pass comments on things and realise that hearing something like – your daughter is tiny, and we need to monitor her weight – repetitively isn’t great  at building them up as a parent. For them to give positive affirmation to a parent seems to be too costly.

In amongst it all I am very grateful for a supportive community midwife and a supportive health visitor, who have championed me and fought my corner against others. My health visitor has even held me when I cried tears of relief because Niamh gained a reasonable amount of weight for the first time ever.

I am ever grateful for the patience of my husband and eldest son, who cope with this so well at times. I know i’m unpredictable and things like being anxious over appointments make some days trickier than others. I also know I am great at not telling people around me what’s going on inside. Sometimes I don’t even know what is making me feel worse. But I am learning too.

 

Food aversions….another thing to juggle,and small steps are big achievements

I’ve talked a lot about the challenges involved with a child multiple allergies.  We are still very grateful that so far almost all are gut reactions, and there is only one that is looking like an IGE reaction. But we are still at a place where our little boy only has 25 foods that we know are safe. But in the last 4-6 months we’ve encountered a whole new game….. food aversion! 

Food aversion is different to being a picky eater.  It’s refusing to eat whole food groups or refusing to eat any food apart from very specific foods.  In our case it started as a refusal to eat anything that required chewing after a period of being ill.  It then also embraced refusing most vegetables and only wanting Ham and cucumber! Tough enough for a child with a varied diet, but trickier with such a limited diet.  

I must admit I am very grateful for our very supportive and understanding dietician.She talked through some good basic ground rules, and gave us some helpful literature. Learning not to make food a battle from early on has been really important. We’ve learnt to give him some closed choices on what he can eat. We’ve made eating about family time sitting together, and we’ve made it fun. But it is hard when you have a child refusing to eat. Even more so when you know every 6 months a health professional is checking his height and weight to make sure it’s all on target (whatever target means??? ) 

We became more reliant on the prescription formula,which still accounts for up to half of his daily calories. We’ve delayed taking a bottle away,as we know he needs to take the formula,even though we know for dental development we need to be moving away from a bottle. We’re having to choose our battles. 
In the last couple of months,and more so the last couple of weeks, we’re seeing big steps forward. New textures aren’t being rejected! We’ve successfully managed to introduce some new snacks that he will not only try, but devour! Things that just mean we can buy a few more things rather than have to make them from scratch! These for us are huge leaps forward! I never knew a little boy’s willingness to eat a pom bear would make me so happy!! 

A summer of firsts and lasts

The last 3 months has certainly been a busy season in our lives. It’s been a time of lots of firsts and lots of lasts!

As a parent it was my first time of feeling totally helpless during the long wait from exams to results day. There was nothing I could do to impact or change the results. I just had to wait.

I witnessed my son complete his last day at secondary school. It was a day of pride, when he was recognised for what he had done outside of lessons to help others through sport; a day of closing a door on a huge chapter of parenting my eldest as he moved on to his next journey. It was also the start of a process of letting go as a parent.

We then moved into a period of the toddler really changing in his development…. walking finally arrived, as did running, tripping, and a huge determination to do it for himself. New words are spilling out daily, which come with frustrations for us all. We hit one of those “leaps” which resulted in a lack of sleep. Oh and then we all had to deal with a heatwave!

Holidaying with a toddler and a teen was a new challenge. The teen missed lie ins, because the toddler didn’t do them, and noise travels freely in a tent. But they also spent special tunes together as brother’s – especially on the water slide in the pool and the rides as the local theme park! I loved watching them bond and enjoy the time together. It’s amazing to watch.

We then did the first of results day. I discovered that I was more emotional about the results than my son! But that actually we were both in a state of tension. We also did some good talking that day and week and I felt things shift to the next level, where he takes even more responsibility.

Whatever age your child, it’s hard to let go as they take the next steps. Letting go of my toddlers hands physically so that he can walk on his own, or metaphorically letting go on my teenagers hands as he walked into college on his own to enrol. The worrying doesn’t go. It just changes. With one I worry he’s going to fall or step off something not realising there is a drop, with the other I worry about bigger life choices.

It’s been a summer of change, but good change and essential change. This is a period of change for us all as a family, but the one thing I know is that none of us are doing any of it alone.

Allergy fun…..when all the best plans…

This weekend we had the total privilege of witnessing the marriage of one of my longest standing friends. It was an amazing weekend, but that kind of event for us always comes with a few stresses.

Our friends were amazing in their catering planning for the weekend, providing lots of food for me to eat with my allergies, and lots for my eldest son too. We had agreed in advance we would provide the food for the toddler, as we know it is hard to cater for all his allergies.

So with all the best laid plans, there also comes for me a level of anxiety as to the what-ifs that can happen. And we survived the first 24 hours without a hiccup. But with 21 other people around, who are aware to a point, there is always going to be a degree of risk. With a mobile toddler though, you at times need eyes in the back of your head!

We don’t know what, or when, our little guy picked up something he shouldn’t  have, but somehow he ate something he was severely allergic to. An unhappy, itchy baby was bad enough, but the sickness that followed was on another level. I was so grateful for the help of new, but wonderful friends, who jumped up to help so we could sort out a very unhappy little boy.  As ever what amazed me was once his system had rid itself of the allergen, and he was cleaned up, out little boy was back to his happy, chatty self! He tucked in to more, safe, food, and merrily chatted away to people.

We will never know what he ate, if it was a known allergen, or a new one, and that makes it tricky, but what I am learning is that we can only do so much. There will always be a time when there can be errors and slip ups. We try to minimise the risk as much as we can, but we also want our little boy to enjoy life and have as many similar experiences as other children as he can. But we will also spend time raising awareness with others about the dangers of allergies.

No, he currently doesn’t have an epi pen – as currently all his known allergies are non-IGE. But that doesn’t mean one day his allergies won’t become IGE and result in anaphylaxis. It also doesn’t mean that even a small bit is ok. Too many times we have heard people say, “well a small bit can’t hurt can it?” The answer is yes, a small bit can do a huge amount of damage to his gut. As an example, testing mackerel – just a teaspoon of it – resulted in 4 weeks of his tummy being unable to hold any food!

Things are not going to be easy for a potentially long while. I will permanently be grateful to our child minder, who provides him with a safe environment which he adores. To friends who help us have safe play experiences. People who will have him to stay and even provide him with food, which is not always the cheapest or most straight forward option.

Living with allergies and living with a child with allergies isn’t easy, but it is what it is. What I am learning on this journey, is that I need to stop letting people make me feel like it is an inconvenience,but it is ok to be honest and say it is a problem.

I hate GCSEs just as much as a parent!

This image really sums up how the GCSEs my eldest is sitting this summer seem. I hated GCSEs the first time around when I had to sit them. It definitely wasn’t a time I look back on with happy memories. And now, as a parent of a teenager going through them, I hate them again.

It seems so unfair that my son’s year are having to be the guinea pigs for the new exams and syllabus for so many subjects. I know a year has to be, but for so many at once?!

I hate the pressure that is put on schools by different groups. Not just Government, but the academy group they are part of, the governing body, parents, the list goes on. I hate that this pressure is passed down on to all students. And I hate that they insist that all students have to learn and revise in the same way, even if it really doesn’t suit them, or they have additional needs that require a different way of working.

I also get frustrated that by standing up for my son and his needs, I’m labelled as a fussy and protective parent. But without too many emails, 3 meeting, 5 or 6 phone calls, he would never have got the support he is entitled to.

So I guess this is my rant about the frustrations on the older end of parenting. It’s hard work. It’s frustrating as a parent. It’s frustrating for the teenager. It’s a time of change and decision making that can affect life goals. I’m glad I’m not there again as a teen, and I hope I get it right as a parent. Roll on 2 months time!

Finding time for me

I’ve just spent a wonderful week with my husband and toddler in Dorset, but I’ve come home exhausted! I have felt like I need a other break to recover from this holiday, which seems so ungrateful. I realised 15 minutes after walking back through our front door what had gone wrong…. in 7 days away I hadn’t had 15 minutes totally to myself.

I have spent the week making sure my husband and son were happy. I planned in spending time with dear friends, who we don’t get to see very often, and I wouldn’t take back a second of that time. The week was a good break, and I don’t want to come across as ungrateful. But it has made me reflect on where I find time for me and how I find time to recharge my batteries. It has also made me realise I need to find a way to tell those closest to me that I need time and space to myself without them feeling rejected or unloved. If I don’t then I become grumpy, short tempered, agitated, and then I want to retreat further and further in to myself.

At home, I work for a fabulous organisation, I spend 16+ hours a week working at home in my own space. Yes I have video calls etc with colleagues, but I also get head space while I am working. (I know that might sound like a contradiction, having my own head space while working, but I get time where I am not having to engage directly with others and although I am generating outputs (often lots of outputs!!) I am also no having to energise others. I can only liken this to a rechargable battery. When in a torch, for example, when it is turned on it is being drained of power. When it is off, it is static-not draining but not recharging. When the battery is placed back on the charger it is gaining power again so that it can make the torch shine brighter and for longer.

A few years ago realising I was an outgoing introvert was a big turning point, and since then I have kept trying to carve out space for me. Be it half an hour in bed on my own each evening with a book, or making the most of the nap times in the day since having a baby. Taking that time for me has become crucial. I had forgotten how when on holiday routine changes, and there are others with expectations. I also had expectations, and we’d never discussed them.

I know before we go away for much longer in the summer we need to have the conversations about how each of our needs are met. I know I am more complicated at times to read, but since having a baby and now a toddler, I know I need to carve out that space for me even more than ever. Parenting is still very much a journey, possibly even more so the second time round! But this time I think I am learning more and more about myself!