End of another phase

This week marks another key point in my parenting journey. My maternity leave is coming to an end. I’m really not sure how i feel about it. Mixed emotions i think.

I adore my job. I’ve said this many times,and I’ll keep saying it. I love my job, the charity I work for, the work we do. It’s also what makes a huge difference to my mental health. But on the flip side,this means my daughter is growing older. She’s going to be going to a child minder. She’s now closer to a year than to birth. She’s been growing in the big wide world for almost as long as she was growing inside me.

I have loved my 9 months of being mummy and mum. I’ve loved watching my children grow. Watching my teenager flourish in his first year at college. Watching my toddler gain more independence. Watching my baby grow and learn.

Knowing i will not do this parenting journey again has made me even more aware of every milestone. Each new thing. Each change in appearance. Each ounce of weight gained. Every smile, every tear. I hate the thought of missing anything,but also know i need to step out of this safe bubble.

But this realisation has also been a bit overwhelming. It hit me hard, especially as it coincides with returning from a fabulous holiday this week, and a big change in weather. I’m trying to make sure I stop and refocus,but in reality at times that’s hard. So for now I’m focusing on things I can manage and control. Deep breaths and move a step forward.

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Getting ready for the next stage

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One of the things I am really struggling with at the moment is every time someone tells me that my little girl is growing up. I know that she will be my last baby, and so in someways I want to make all of this time last as long as possible.

In 2 days time she will be 7 months old. That is more than half of her first year gone, and I feel at times like I have missed so much of the first few months. I am constantly trying to capture in my mind and my heart each moment, as I know I can never have them again. While I am celebrating her moving on in her development, part of me keeps feeling ‘Not yet’! Part of me isn’t ready yet for her to start being mobile, becoming more independent, needing me less.

And I know that some of this is a long long way off.

My toddler still needs me daily. My teenager needs me – but not as much as it feels like I need him. And my daughter needs me. I know she does. But I also know that she doesn’t always miss me like I miss her. I know that none of my children do.

My husband and I joke about my behaviour when I am apart from my teenage son for any period of time. I feel like I have lost an arm or a leg. I find it really hard. I struggle with letting go, as I can still remember holding him in my arms nearly 18 years ago, and  realising that this small person was suddenly totally dependent on me.

I struggle with how willingly my toddler runs off to his childminder – and only because she is so amazing at what she does, and he absolutely adores going. But I struggle because it is a time in his week when I am not needed.

At the moment I am struggling with the idea of returning to work. I love my job. I have really enjoyed my Keeping In Touch days. I adored the day I had back in the office a couple of weeks ago. I love my colleagues. I love what we do. But I am struggling with the idea of not being there for my daughter all day every day. It’s irrational, I know. I know she will be having an amazing time with our wonderful friend and childminder. I know I can touch base whenever I need to. But I am struggling.

What I have realised is that I am human, I am normal. I am not superwoman. I am allowed to feel like this. Loving my children is the hardest but the easiest thing to do, and each stage require me to let go a little bit more.

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A mouth smile and not a heart smile

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I’ve been honest before about my struggles with depression and post natal depression. I wasn’t truly surprised by being hit with it again this time around, but I have been surprised by how hard it has hit me, and how it has affected me in different ways.

This time it really hit me hard. I had days where all I could do was cry. A black cloud had come down, and it wasn’t shifting. I started retreating more and more into myself. Not communicating with people and wanting to be in my own safe bubble. I also felt my anxiety levels shoot up and I became  worried about so much. From little things like what my children were wearing and what people would think, to bigger things like what would happen if…. and imagine extreme situations. And then on top of it all my need to control and have things in an order I can cope with have spiraled.

This time I have taken the step of medication. Small tablets that have the power to stop the tears falling daily. But they have also had the power to stop other emotions too.

I have been really struggling to connect with the joy that I should be feeling with my children. I have struggled to rejoice in all the positives. It has been heartbreaking when I have been smiling at my daughter, as it helps her learn to smile, but they have been mouth smiles, not heart smiles. Celebrating milestones has never been a struggle before, but this time it is, and it hurts.

At the same time I am struggling to connect with my toddler, and struggling to find time for my teenager. They all need me. They all have their own needs as children, and as a parent, my role is to meet those needs. But at the moment I know there are days when I can’t. My husband is amazing, and he does so much, but I also know I am not meeting his needs at times either. My parenting guilt has never been greater than it is at the moment. I constantly feel like I am failing them.

But I have learnt that I also need to prioritise. I have learnt that while for some, going out daily helps, for me, being busy is exhausting. I need to find the balance. I need to know I have people I can see when I am able, but that they also know if I don’t see them, or respond immediately, then it is nothing personal. It is just me trying to prioritise me and my family. I have discovered an amazing online support network. Other mums who gave birth around the same time, that I can connect with as and when I am able. But they are there even at 2am! I also have friends I can see when I am able, but who also understand if I have to say ‘Not today’.

I have been lucky. My GP and health visitor have been supportive, and are helping me with next steps and moving forward with a long term solution, but it’s not going to be a quick and easy fix. This cloud can thin and clear a bit, but it may never completely go away. I’m not sure how I feel about that, but I don’t have a choice.

What I have discovered is that my job helps. It makes a difference. In the last few weeks I have started doing some of my keep in touch days, and they have helped me refocus and find a bit of who I am again. I also know that I need to make sure that I can get the balance right in September when I go back to work fully.

Right now I need to focus on me. And on being the best mum I can be to my 3 children. Meeting all their needs at all their different stages in life was never going to be easy, but I can only do the best I can. I carry mum guilt round on a daily basis, and wonder if all I can do is enough, but I can only be who I can be.

I don’t ever write my blog for sympathy, but I write it to show others that they are not alone, and to help me process where I am at. I also know it is how some people find out what is going on for me, and I am sorry that for some this is how they find out, but at the moment I can’t always talk it through. I have a small number of people I am able to talk about this with, and if that is you, then thank you so much for listening and being there. Especially when it can be one sided. And if it’s not you, then I am sorry. Please don’t take it personally, it’s just how I am coping.

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When you just want to make it all better

Some of the toughest days as a parent are the ones when you can’t take away the pain that is making your child hurt. Whatever age, your gut instinct is to protect them and to stop pain.

For nearly 3 weeks we’ve had to deal with the aftermath of the worst allergic reaction with our toddler since they realised he couldn’t have cow’s milk. The biggest problem this time has been that it totally unbalanced his gut. So we’ve had a very unhappy little boy. All because of a few mouthfuls of a new food item – mackerel!!

It has been so hard. You can’t explain easily to a 16 month old that they are going to feel sore. You can only hold them, and at times feel pretty useless that you can do no more than provide cuddles. Encouraging him to eat, when he knows food is linked to some of the pain he’s going through, is tough. But knowing that he needs to eat to have the energy to get better makes it harder. You do all the right things – staple foods, probiotics, water, cuddles, sleep – but it doesn’t make it instantly better.

And then you have the debate and juggle, do we leave him and go to work as normal, or do we stay at home. I know we are blessed with a fabulous childminder who provides him with the most loving environment, and my in-laws who adore him too. But it doesn’t make the choice easier or stop you, as a parent, worrying when he’s not with you.

For me it is one of the juggles I will always struggle with. In fact I struggle with it with both of my boys.  Do I send the older one to school or not? It’s always a balancing act. I don’t think it gets easier in some ways as it is different decisions with different impacts, but you still always want to get it right and to keep you child free from harm.

So there will be days when I can’t take the pain away, but as I mum I will always provide the cuddles.

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!

The look of peace

Today I had one of those treasured special moments, that after 14 months is already becoming less of an occurrence. In fact this was the first time it had happened in a few weeks. My little boy curled up in my lap and fell asleep. I loved just watching the look of peace wash over his face as he dropped into a deeper sleep. It seemed a long way from the little boy who 30 minutes earlier had been emptying the bookcase at a rate of knots to find his favourite lift-the-flap book!

It was so calming to watch too. For a few moments i just treasured the peace. The calm. The quiet. Not times that regularly occur with our delightful, lively little boy. It surprised me at how much I had missed those snuggly moments of a newborn sleeping on me.

The flip side to this is actually I cherish the moments that he is asleep in his cot. It took several weeks of perseverance and feeling like it was never going to happen before we got him sleeping in the cot, and then longer till he would fall asleep in the cot. I knew we needed that to happen, for my sanity and for our life as a couple and our time with our older son. Looking back, now, I know some of it we bred ourselves. It came from a place of love, of exhaustion, and of wanting to protect our fragile tiny baby, who had had so many challenges put in his way, that we didn’t want to add another. A sleeping baby means I can have an hour (or 2 if i’m lucky) where I can have some me time, catch up on work, do some housework. It means I can recharge my batteries for the next stage of the day.

I find the constant need to be entertained draining. I adore my sons, but I am so very aware about how much space and time I need for me. These days it often means going to be before 9.30pm, just so I can curl up with my book for more than a page before I fall asleep. I know my time for knitting will return in time, and that I also wouldn’t change where I am in life for a moment. My writing is my space to express, and to be me. So here you go. Peace!