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.

Asking for help is totally ok!

Yesterday evening I read the sad news that Caroline Flack, a 40 year old TV presenter has taken her own life. While she made mistakes in life, the press and society seemed to make more out of her troubles than try to help her. And how many of us read the stories or saw the pictures of her falling around drunk?

But more than this…. why as society do we make it so hard for people to ask for help? She should have had everything to live for, but she also obviously felt like it wasn’t enough. It’s so hard to hold your hands up and say you struggle. I know that from personal experience. No, today I’m not suicidal, but 24 years ago I was. I was at that lowest point. And I didn’t know that I could ask for help. Society didn’t talk about mental health. In fact I was made to feel ashamed about taking an overdose. I was made to feel like I was the problem. It took another 20 years to be cold enough to start talking about my battles with anxiety and depression.

Being there at the lowest point, feeling like you have no other option, is a dark lonely isolated place. Unless you’ve been there it is hard to understand. People look at the life you project outwardly, and assume that that is the whole picture. They love the rose tinted perspective they see. Today it’s like the social media portrayal that people put out. Only show the best and the positive or the humorous bits.

But life isn’t like that in reality. Really isn’t black and white. It’s blue, green, pink, grey, yellow and many more colours. And while for you, yellow might be positive, for the person next to you it might be negative. Rather than assuming that they see what you see, take the time to stop and to smile and to ask how they are and what they see! Those words our actions might be the thing that changes their day from a negative to a positive!

And if today you’re the person who is feeling that the world is black, hard and pointless, then please also remember you are not alone and there are people to help. Life is a hard road to travel, but there are some amazing highlights even on the darkest days.

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.

Realising some people don’t have a clue!

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One of the things I have had to do in recent weeks and months is learn that it is ok to put up barriers and set boundaries. This is actually healthy. I’m also learning how much I need to value and respect myself and my time. This has meant I also now know that my friends should be respecting and valuing me in the same way, and they should be placing a level of value on my time.

Sadly I have also realised that some people don’t do this. I know that all people are fallible. I know that we all make mistakes. I’m certainly not saying that I don’t make mistakes or upset people. But I have realised that trust and respect come hand in hand, and both have to be earned and maintained. Once it is tossed away, the damage can be irreparable.

My priorities have to be my faith, my family and myself. My self care includes making sure I surround myself with those who are building me up and not knocking me down. This doesn’t mean only surrounding myself with people in positive happy moods – in fact, I have been able to be a support to others while working through things for myself. And knowing I can be, really does help. But what it does mean is making sure that those who are in my life add value in one way or another.

For example, I have an amazing network of support that I have talked about before, thanks to a group of mums I met online who all gave birth at the same time as me. They are there pretty much 24/7. They know me so well and can build me up on my down days, celebrate with me on the good days, and make me laugh most days! The time I invest in them is so valuable to me and I know they are there.

But I have also learnt that some physical friendships are more one sided. I have learnt that my expectations of people and their commitment to time and relationship building can be different to the other person. And because of the loyal person I am, I have ignored this, but I didn’t realise the damage that this was doing. So I am now trying to be selfish in someways and say this isn’t healthy for me.

People say “talk it through with them” or “they may not know what they are doing”, and I totally understand that this is often true, but  the place I am in at the moment means I don’t have the energy for the confrontation or the emotional space for it.

I know this post could be seen as “controversial” or stirring the pot, but as ever my blog is honest and where I am at. I won’t be answering people who ask “Is it me?” in response to this, as actually that will show how little they have taken in.

Life is a cycle of seasons. And friendships can move in those seasons, and that is 100% ok.

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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.

A fine line….

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I’m discovering how there is a really fine line between me feeling up and me feeling down. I often don’t know when I am close to teetering over the line. I am starting to recognise the triggers though. As I posted a few days ago, I have had a really positive few days. But I also knew that this didn’t mean I was permanently back on the up.

This afternoon I have felt myself sliding back down. Parenting three children (and yes my teenager is still my child) is a juggling act. As I have said before, all 3 have different needs and demands on my time. This week I have been having to manage a toddler who has had an allergic reaction to another food. As a result, he has been crabby, clingy and just not himself. Juggling that with a 6 month old who is trying to reach further, move more, do more, but constantly toppling, and also needing greater input and awake for longer, has been exhausting. The break in the madness was then going out for half an hour to pick up the teenager! But all of this, combined with an early start, and a full on, but highly enjoyable day before, has dragged me back down.

I am still having to learn where to draw a line and give myself a break. When I topple over the line, I find myself getting into bad, negative cycles. I start to compare myself, my life, my children with those of others. I compare with friends, with relatives, with strangers who post in random places on social media. I get myself down because I feel I am failing my child(ren) because they are not achieving their maximum potential.

I struggle because my baby isn’t keen on eating, when my friend’s child who is younger will chomp through 3 meals. I struggle because my toddler isn’t as eloquent as other children his age. I struggle because I can’t do with my children everything I feel I should. I struggle because I don’t want to leave the safety of my house. I want to stay in my safety blanket. I know I need to find space to stop and take a break when this happens, but it is finding the safest way to do that.

I know I made a mistake when I got to a similar point when my toddler was younger. I cut myself off from people completely, and nearly lost completely some very valuable friendships. This time I am trying to get the balance right. To be able to take a step back without cutting everything off. I’m still not always getting it right, but I am trying, and I am learning.

I hate the struggles that PND gives me. I hate the impact it has on my life at the flick of a switch. But I am learning that I there is a trigger, and I am trying to stop the switch being flicked.

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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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