Comparisons hurt…. and they can do lasting damage

I chose to walk away from a group chat earlier today because people were comparing what their children could and couldn’t do. I find this really hard on so many levels. I feel like I’m having to justify why I feel like this.

In know society is full of comparisons and oneupmanship but that doesn’t mean I think we need to bring this on to our children. It is one thing saying you are concerned about your child’s development. It it’s another entirely when you feel you have to prove your child is as good as the next one or better. Each child will develop in their own time. Some will speak, some will walk. Some will write, some will perform. Some will love science, some will love music. Some will be all rounders. Some will have a very specific skill. Some will need help to get their development happening. Others will do it an looking time before their orders. All are perfect the way they are.

I’m also aware that maybe I’ve been blessed by my friend circles in the past or maybe just attitudes have changed more recently, but there seems to be less around celebrating the milestone, big or small, that your child has achieved, and more about have they done this thing by this date.

As a parent of two children with very different sets of additional needs I’m even more aware of the damage that comparing can also do to the mum. For a mum to hear than another child’s doing more and better than theirs it can be so painful and destructive to their confidence. The stress it can add to the parenting journey is huge.

As a parent, when your child is the one that’s not hitting the same achievements as other children the same age it is hard.  You start to doubt yourself, your parenting, your instincts. One thing I had to learn was that they do it when it’s right for them.

I was very blessed that the nct group’s I was part of with both of the pregnancies with my boys were incredibly supportive. Both groups celebrated the achievements if each child and joined one another in support rather than it being a big competition. In fact with my second son, they were all as keen as I was to set my son achieve the next weight gain! They cheered us both along.

Yes there are concerns that your child has “problems” and that that need help. But there are also people around to help identify that. And don’t be afraid to ask for help. You know your child. You know if they are happy. You know them and who they are. You are also the one that needs to champion them. You need to celebrate them and every little thing they achieve. Let them know that being them it’s very definitely enough. Being the best of themselves is all I ask of all my children.

I will always struggle hearing others comparing their children, because it highlights where I have a child who is different. I would much rather celebrate one child’s achievement, rather than the minute i hear “xxx can do this” i know that it will be followed by “well yyy can do this and this”. I’ve been told that it’s natural and i have up accept it will happen. Yes it will happen but that doesn’t mean i have to like it , agree with it, or participate in it.

If only it was that simple to stop your mind comparing…

One of the things you always hear as a parent, and something I try my hardest to follow, is ‘Don’t compare your child to others.’ And when you have a child with additional needs, this is even more important. Their milestones are their milestones, and they reach them when they get there. But that doesn’t stop human nature.

You will always get the comments comparing siblings or friends’. You will get the well meaning person who says “they’re not that far behind” or the other person who says “well they are special”. But you also always have the little voice in your head, that triggers emotions when you see children of the same age doing tasks that you know you child is not capable of and won’t be for a long time.

The last 8 weeks that have been “lockdown” have highlighted some of those differences, and it really can be so hard. No my son isn’t creating crafts or exploring the world more. He’s struggling to understand why there it’s nothing different in his days, why he can’t see the people he wants to like normal, why he can’t visit the zoo, play in the playground. He doesn’t understand the concept of people being sick or the chance or being sick.

One of the recent things that have got me as a mum is the “chocolate challenge”. (For anyone who hasn’t seen it, you leave a child with a bowl of chocolate or sweets and tell them not to eat them till you’re back, and leave your phone filming them to see what they do. ) I see children the same age happily understanding what is asked of them and choosing not to eat the sweets. But I know that there is no way my son would understand the instructions enough to follow them. He still has very minimal concept of time and delays in time. He will use the word tomorrow, but then expects it five minute later. Life is still very much in the immediate.

It feels strange to be celebrating my son at 3 and a half finally trying to sing a nursery rhyme. My eighteen month old is almost at the same stage. Where there should be a two year gap, much of the time it feels a lot lot less. But then I stop and remember that other parents would be happy if their child was even halfway to this point. And then I tell myself to stop comparing. But it’s never that simple. You do keep comparing even though you try not to, because society pushes us that way.

This is a journey. Parenting is a journey, but boy it’s out tough at times.

Overtaking…

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Some days this parenting journey is tougher than others. Watching other children doing things you would expect your child to be doing is hard. But what I am finding harder at the moment is watching our 14 month old develop at a rate of knots, while seeing memory photos and videos of our 3 year old 2 years ago, and how there is a stark difference. Any health or development problems with a child are complex and challenging in their own ways. One isn’t worse or better than the other. And no parent deals with it better than the next. But each comes with its own challenges.

At times I feel I am grieving for my son for what he doesn’t have, but then I see how happy and content he is, and realise I need to keep focusing on the positives and celebrating him for who he is. He is the unique boy that he is. He brings us so much joy through his simple pleasures. His excitement that he can’t express when we understand what he is asking for. The celebration he makes of us when we get a shape in the right hole in the shape sorter! (Yes, we get clapped, and told ‘Well done you did it’!)

The hardest days are dealing with the frustrations that he can’t communicate. Often with his younger sister doing something he wanted to do but couldn’t, or her mastering something quicker than him. The tears and the tantrums can be explosive. They come totally from frustration from lack of ability to communicate, rather than bad behaviour.

Our frustrations end up coming from his lack of understanding of instructions, timings or consequences. Again most of the time not through bad behaviour, but from in inability to understand the concept of later, or afterwards.

All 3 of our children bring us total joy and complete frustration at different times – yes, even the 18 year old! But we know that it is a normal part of parenting. But parenting a child with developmental delays brings a different level of frustration at times because of what society expects them to be doing verses what they are capable of doing. I feel I have to justify why my 3 year old still has a dummy a nighttime. The simple answer is he is incapable currently of understanding that he doesn’t need one anymore. We can not prepare him like you can other children. I am constantly explaining that we are no where near toilet “training” as there is not currently the physical capability. Yes I know most children his age are getting there on the toilet training journey, but for him it’s not happening. But for all of this, it’s totally alright.

We might have the frustrations, the headaches of multiple appointments, the dramas of misunderstandings. But we also have the joy, the love, the cuddles, the laughter. The little boy who is so concerned every time his little sister is crying that he makes sure we know about it, even if we’re in the same room or even holding her!

Just remember when you see people and their children and it’s not what you would expect, the reason behind it is often far more complex.

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Small things that can do lots of damage

Yes I’m talking about words. What you speak can do so much damage. And the damage can last much longer than you ever realise. Knowing I’ve upset or hurt someone with my words intentionally or not plagues my mind for days. Similarly being hurt by the words of friends can take weeks or even months to go away. Or even if you think the hurt has gone, it doesn’t take much to resurrect it.

I know that there are times currently where I can be more sensitive to what people say, but I also know my closest friends are aware of this. But that hasn’t stopped people saying things without thinking. Little comments about how my children are dressed, or a mark on their faces or that I’ve not wiped their nose instantly could all upset me. It left me, and still can leave me, feeling judged.

But I’ve also witnessed how social media especially means words can be really damaging. I’ll never forget how it felt when I was single but desperately wanted not to be, and I had friend after friend posting they were “in a relationship with” or “engaged to”. And while I was happy for them, it could be hard to read.

Pregnancy announcements could be the same. Knowing how others could be hurting because of their own situations that you or I are not aware of made me be very cautious. And again while I will celebrate with friends in their joy, it doesn’t take away the pain. This pain, hurt, jealousy, etc isn’t new, but before social media it was easier to manage. You can only control to a point what you can see when you log in.

I do share on social media, but I choose who I share things with. Not everyone can see everything I post and that’s my choice. I choose who sees lots of images of my children. I choose who can see my blog post notifications. I choose what I post generally. And I carry the responsibility for those choices.

Commitment…as a wife, parent, friend, colleague

I’ve been thinking about commitment a lot over the last couple of weeks, as my eldest child turned 18. I made a commitment to him from the moment he was born that he would always come first. And I really hope that I’ve always kept that promise. That promise didn’t mean he always got what he wanted, or that he liked everything I said or did, but I meant that he was always a the forefront of my choices and plans.

And now that he’s turned 18, that commitment doesn’t end. And because he has 2 siblings that commitment doesn’t change. I have to change to adapt to putting my children and their individual needs first, and work out the compromises that need to be made. Within that, I also have my commitment to my husband. He is my best friend and my partner for life. He will be along side me long after all our children have flown the nest. My commitment to him is to keep investing in us through the tough times as well as the great times.

Anyone who truly knows me, will know that I give my 100% commitment to everything that I do. Be it friendship, work, hobbies, faith, life. That is a core part of who I am. As a result I don’t have a huge circle of friends, but those I have I give everything to. A lunch or coffee date will take priority as I give them my time. I know how much someone giving their time to me like that matters to me, so I value it when I give it to others too. Yes this can set me up for hurt, but it is a core part of me.

My commitment to my younger children means commitment to the menial tasks like making meals, sterilising bottles, providing them with a safe home environment, feeding them, clothing them. But it also means a commitment to being there forever. You can’t turn off being a parent just because they reach a certain milestone, but you can change how you relate and behave.

So take your commitments seriously. Especially to other people. You are probably unaware of how much others value it.

Making choices cos they are right for us all

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While we were on holiday my husband and I managed 2 date nights! It was fabulous having a slow dinner out, walking, talking and just spending time together. We made time to have conversations that went beyond what was for dinner, or how the children had been. We stopped and chatted about us, about what we wanted for ourselves and each other.

We discovered that we need to talk more, as there had been something we had both been thinking about, but not talking about because we thought that the other would object. Instead we both agreed. We chatted with our teenager, who also agreed, and so, as a family of 5 with 2 under 3, we are going to move!

Chatting it through with friends while we were away also helped. It helped us see if we were being rational or if we were in a holiday bubble. It also gave us space to make some calls and see where everything is at.

We need more space….mainly bedrooms, as we have discovered that the toddler and the baby can’t happily share. He can take a while to settle, but is then is a very deep sleeper. But while he’s settling he makes a racket! She is the opposite. Falls asleep very quickly, but is then quite a light sleeper. Having your big brother playing loudly round you is not conducive to a good sleep!

But it’s more than that. We need a home that works for us both now and in the future. We need a place we know we are planning on being our forever home (at least we really hope it will be!!) The ties to where we are now have gone, and we are free to go where we feel we should be.

How long will it take? We don’t know. Where will we be? Royston we hope.

But we are journeying this next adventure together and all our family will have fun!

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.

Insecurities… not seen by others but can be crippling

I live every day feeling that I’m not good enough at the moment. My insecurities can be bad at the best of times, but at the moment they are huge. My insecurities trigger moments of jealousy, self doubt, feelings of neglect, of being over looked or left out.

People can say “Don’t be silly!” or “It’s all in your head!” but that doesn’t take away the feelings. The feelings are strong and are real. Some moments are worse than others. Seeing things posted on social media that you weren’t invited to, but would have loved to attend, seeing other friends getting together without you, hearing about plans made. This doesn’t mean how I’m feeling is right or justified, but it’s where I’m at.

When I say I have anxiety, it’s not just about practical things, it runs into feelings and emotions. It affects my self worth. It affects my self belief. And I hate it! I hate doubting my friendships, my relationships, my capabilities I hate feeling inside that I’m inferior. Some days it makes me want to just walk away from everything and live in a bubble with my family.

The triggers are varied and unpredictable, which doesn’t help others really. It can range from lack of sleep, to absolutely nothing I can pinpoint! And then it eats away. The damage it can do can be long term. I’ll often, when really struggling, choose to cut myself off from people, from the world. My head is saying ‘If people can’t be bothered with me, then I won’t bother with them so they can’t hurt me!’ But on the flip side my heart is screaming ‘Please let me know you value me, you want me in your life!’

Little things can make a huge difference. But also no one should feel that they have to acknowledge. I never truly appreciated the value of the words “thank you” till my insecurities and anxieties took over. Someone acknowledging you and saying hello, or checking in can make such a difference.

I know over time these insecurities will fade and be less of a struggle. But these struggles are real and they are a battle. They can be exhausting!

The end of a journey

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Over the last couple of weeks, my husband and I had agreed that we would  start to wean our daughter off of breastfeeding and on to formula. It came with a real mix of feelings for me. Sadness in someways as I have enjoyed the closeness and knowledge that I was her main provider, but on the other side there was a huge feeling of relief. It was so hard to actually make a decision, because society has so many feelings about what you should or shouldn’t do.

For us there was the added complexity of her milk allergy, exacerbated by her starting to react to her dairy free formula. So another GP appointment, and another formula, and we could start the process again. But for 5 days I was doing every feed, and what I realised very quickly was that I was exhausted and struggling. I missed being able to do bedtime with our son, because I was having to feed our daughter, rather than my husband giving her a bottle. I was struggling in the morning, as a time where I had normally caught up on sleep, while my husband did the first feed and took both children disappeared.

And then on top I had the mum guilt. I felt guilty cos I was resenting having to feed her all the time. I felt guilty because I couldn’t do things with my son because I was feeding, and when I wasn’t feeding I was too tired to do much. I felt guilty as a wife, because I was so worn out by it all. It was a huge battle I was having internally.

Making the decision to swap to solely formula feeding, was, in the end, and easy one. I knew I couldn’t keep going feeling so tired out by it all. I needed to be able to share the load. I need to be able to say yes to an invite from a friend if I want to go out. I need to find time and space to be me, Rachel, rather than spend my whole time being “mum” or “mummy”.

I have to say, I couldn’t have done the feeding journey I have been on without the never ending support of my online mummy friends. The two dozen or so women who have supported me through the middle of the night endless feeds courtesy of WhatsApp. The ladies on our facebook group that have encouraged me when I was having the bad days. And today, when I shared that I was at the end of the journey, they just loved and supported me some more.

For me, to reach 22 weeks of breastfeeding, is a milestone I never thought I would achieve. In the early days I was under so much pressure from medical professionals to switch to solely formula feeding, and then since then there has been pressure from some friends and family to stop breastfeeding as they think it was invading in to life too much and not what they saw as “normal” as it wasn’t what they had done, to pressure from people to go to solely breastfeeding as “breast is best”. I’ve always known that I was going to have to increase bottle feeds as I couldn’t express the milk needed to do a day or a night without me there, and with returning to work, and settling in with the childminder, it was something I was anticipating.

For me, fed has always been the best option. My eldest was bottle fed from 10 days old. My second was given his first feed by cup, he had 12 hours of tube feeding, 8 weeks of breastfeeding, and then switched to formula. So all very different journeys. Ending the breastfeeding journey now is what is right and best for me, my daughter, my sons and my husband. Because, more than anything else it is what is right for my mental health right not. My journey is not going to be right for everyone, and I know people will have their opinions, but I am going to try not to care. I know my family are going to be happier and that is my priority.

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The fear of the scales

This contraption has been the cause of some of my biggest problems since giving birth. It has caused me panic attacks, it has caused tears, it makes a fear bubble up inside me every time I have to get her weighed.

I know that the fear stems from the first few weeks of her life, when every time she hadn’t gained weight they would be sending us back to hospital. But it has left a deep rooted fear that I will be judged and comments will be made if at any point she drops off her weight curve. Things like get bringing up more milk than normal after feeds because she’s full of mucous from a cold or she’s been gumming lots and creating acidic saliva make me worry. I dread the times when we have to put her on the scales.

As I’ve said before, my health visitor is amazingly supportive, and she’ll come to the house to do the weighing, rather than getting me to go to tbe clinic, where I’ve had meltdowns because I’m panicking. But I still have to get her and her brother weighed every time we see the dietician.

There is no easy fix at the moment, and like all my other anxieties it’s made worse by tbe post natal depression, but it doesn’t take the fear away. Like everything else, it’s another fear I have to overcome, and each of them is a baby step.