Being a mum is amazing. I should point that out from the outset and I am more than aware of how fortunate I am to have two happy and healthy children. However, being a mum also means that one day (which for me was May 4th 2011 – yes, that’s Star Wars Day, no he is not called Luke) your life changes dramatically and never reverts back, and sometimes rolling with that change can be challenging. Especially since there is no manual. Seriously, day one is go home and keep this baby alive! It’s petrifying! I have certainly found that whether it be money worries, work/life balance guilt, maintaining a social life, lack of sleep, lack of time to shower/apply make-up/exercise, keeping a toddler who is hell bent on injuring themselves alive, or maintaining a functioning relationship, there always seems to be something hiding round the corner to knock your mental health askew. So I have decided to focus on one aspect of parenthood that I have struggled with in particular which was keeping me, me.
When my first born arrived I was one of very few friends who were having babies and I felt like a fish out of water. I was fairly young, and so my friends were very much in the throes of their early 20s, starting their careers, travelling, partying and just generally growing and developing into successful adults. During which I was at home watching the 1,000,000th episode of Peppa Pig, becoming increasingly addicted to tea and learning the words to “hop little bunnies”.
I think the overriding feeling that I certainly felt during this time was isolation. There was a real sense for me that I was becoming boring, irrelevant and “just a mum”. That I couldn’t join in with the “what have you done this week?” “Any news or gossip?” conversations that my friends were having because unless you count Peppa losing her nursery teddy in a supermarket as gossip, I just felt my contributions were pretty drab!
But fear not! I found that making just small changes to my day to day life made a large difference. What works for me will not necessarily work for you but here are some tips which might help you feel that little bit more human:
- Keep up to date with life outside of the bubble
This may seem silly but I found that sticking Radio 4 on instead of Bargain Hunt when my baby was napping really helped me feel more connected to the world.
- Keep social media to a minimum
“Yes, person I went to school with, I see you enjoying that skiing trip whilst I can’t afford a weekend in Rhyl because maternity wages are a farce and even when I do go back to work I will be spending more on nursery fees than I spend on my mortgage” This is not helpful and it won’t make you feel good. So stop it! Also, do you even like skiing?
- Enrol on a course or take up a hobby
Just leave the house and do something purely for the joy of it, just for you. It does really work. Also, the people on your course don’t know you are a parent and you don’t need to tell them if you don’t want to.
- Join the dreaded Toddler Group
I know this seems like the worst nightmare of many a parent but every town and every village has a toddler group. They are not glamorous but they are good for building relationships with other mums and dads who are in the same boat as you. You pay a couple of quid, have a coffee and a biscuit, watch your child kick the shit out of play with other kids their age whilst you exchange horror stories with other mums and realise that you are not alone!
- Keep your friends
If you have the means, leave your child with someone (someone trustworthy – not just some random – obviously!) and go out with your partner or your friends. Once a month at least. It’s so important to maintain the relationships you had pre-baby with the people that know you and love you. They will really help you to feel like you again!
Ultimately there is no one size fits all answer and if you are feeling like your mental health is particularly suffering then the best advice I can give is to speak to someone… but I guess my message is, you are not alone in this and it does get easier… I promise!
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