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.

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.

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!

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!