No more apologies

I’ve started to prioritise myself a bit more.

It started when I realised that I was carrying so much with work and motherhood, leaving no space for myself.

My mental health was suffering from not giving myself any room to breathe, to rest, to have joy in things that are my own.

And so I started to take the space I needed.

Thursday evenings are my own to rest, reflect, explore or connect with others and each month I take a longer period of time for myself. Whether that’s a night away or a longer time alone.

But I feel judgement – mostly self-judgement – about my motherhood not fitting into the archetypical experience of what is ‘should’ be.

And on some days, I feel brave and strong when I respond to the ‘don’t you miss him when you’re away from him’, the ‘don’t you feel guilty’ or the ‘I bet you’ll miss him when you’re on holiday’ with the truth.

That I don’t miss him all the time, I don’t feel guilty for taking time for myself and that sometimes I could do with more time alone.

And some other days I find it hard to step into the greater truth.

The truth motherhood hasn’t made me. It’s challenged me, pushed me, forged a new strength in me but it hasn’t been the bright star that has given me a purpose missing in my life before.  I was purposeful enough already.

The truth that I wasn’t made to be a mum, I’ve stepped into motherhood. And if anything I feel broken apart due to the stretching that comes with my universe having to encompass another person’s needs.

The truth that I find the routine of motherhood boring at times. The rhythms of my son wanting to spend hours playing with his cars, the 5:50am wake-ups and the splitting up conversations and connections as I rush over to him to keep him safe from a height, a surface or whatever trouble is just around the corner for him.

Don’t misunderstand me, my love for Jenson is as fierce as a lioness and I’m bowled over by the joy that he brings. Yet motherhood is not enough for me in itself.

I used to get mad at myself for not having it in me to fit into this perfect motherhood box.

And I used to feel a sense of failure about this all.

But now, instead of telling myself about all the ways that I’ve failed, I feel more angry with the world and our structures which set me up for failure.

The world makes it seem possible for us to have it all – work hard, parent hard – without the social structures around us to catch the bits that are impossible to do.

The world fails me.

The social constructs with attachment parenting talks about the vital importance of the mother to instil a wellbeing in the child. But where’s Gregg’s role in this model to comfort, to feed, to be our son’s centre of gravity until he finds his own?

Our models of understanding fail me.

Our very ways of being with each other as human beings which can polarise different views of motherhood – you only have to spend a moment on Facebook to witness this behaviour. Those who say ‘it’s not natural for children to be breastfed for so long’ and those who say ‘but have you really tried?’ when a mother decides to stop breastfeeding because it’s not working for her or her child.

Our inability to listen deeply to understand the other fails me.

Our expectation that social structures – from the patriarchal vision of ‘what women should be’ down to schooling which teaches the importance of external validation -passing exams – over following what lights you up.

Our society fails me.

And where does it leave me?

Set up to feel like a failure for not being able to be everything to everyone.

The story of my life, which would have, in years gone by, led me to just try harder feeling like the impossible was due to my ineptitude and would be solved if I only worked at it a bit more.

But instead I’m starting to walk a different way.

A way which challenges the ‘don’t you feel guilty’ by asking whether that’s a question that would be asked to a man…and if not, why should I be held to account for it?

A way where I declare, starting with this blog, that motherhood is an individual journey and no two are the same. I’m no less a ‘good’ mum because I want to work and find parts of the experience boring than a mum who wants to be the sole carer and is in rapture at everything their child does.

A way where I take more time for myself and don’t have to attribute it to how good it is for my son to see a strong woman taking time for herself. I do it because I want the time alone, I need the time alone. And that’s a good enough reason to take it.

I’m not going to apologise for my experience anymore.

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Taking up space

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I made myself small in the past.

How I focused on being ‘likeable’ to all and felt uncomfortable with the few relationships which were less than glowing.

How I moderated a lot of what I said with disqualifiers – words like ‘just’ or ‘possibly’ or ‘I don’t know but…’

How I bent over backwards to accommodate others to the detriment of myself.

And although these are still behaviours that are my go-to positions when I feel tired or not at my best, I can see that I’ve started to take up more space in my life.

And I love it!

I love how I ask for what I need – whether it be time alone away from the demands of motherhood or asking for a glass of water from staff in a cafe.

I allow myself to take up space.

I love how I’ve embraced who I am and all the brilliant things I have to offer to this world – as someone who has a brilliant career ahead of them and the ability to do incredible things in this world.

I believe that I’m deserving of the space and recognition of all that I am.

I love how, more and more, I also delight in the sides of me that I used to hide away. How I’m stubborn, make vast assumptions about things, can be selfish and can hold on too tight to my views. Because they are the flip-side of my greatest assets – my stubborness is also my tenacity, my assumptions allow me to take in huge amounts of data and make quick sense of them, my selfishness allows me to self-protect and by holding tight to what is dear to me, I am dedicated to things like veganism, living as ecologically as possible and living out my belief that nuclear family should come first.

I believe that my shadow self should be allowed space.

It’s great how I give myself time to listen to my instincts more and more in life. When asked if someone can crash at our place for a night, I don’t feel obliged to say ‘yes’ straight away. I think about whether it will be something that will stretch me beyond my means and, if that’s the case, I say ‘no’.

I listen to what I need and, while I want to help people out, I want my own happiness more.

I’m moving away from the long-held belief that others should come first and that I intrinsically owe something to them. This doesn’t mean that I don’t believe in kindness, empathy, being generous with what I have. The difference is that I don’t believe I should give away more than I can – my time, my integrity, my self – for others.

And with this comes such a capacity for generosity, love, abundance as I allow myself the space I need and, where I want to, I give out of choice instead of obligation.

When I think about where I am now and where I was when I first started writing this blog of mine (268 posts to date!), I couldn’t have ever imagined that I’d be here, happier in my own skin, kinder with my stumbles, confident in who I am, accepting of my whole self.

It’s been a bit of a rollercoaster – full of times where I’ve wept with sorrow and brimmed over with joy – but I am so grateful for where I am and for all the space that I’m allowing myself to take up in my life.


Getting what I want – a feminist act

It’s Mother’s Day tomorrow and I’m looking forward to a day that has a bit of time and space in it.

I remember what was going on this time last year – I stayed at home with my four month old son whilst Gregg was at a party.

A party that he would be worse for wear from on Mother’s Day and would leave me a bit disappointed as he struggled to get out of bed and didn’t make me feel the most special of all mamas for having survived up to my first Mother’s Day.

I’m not saying this to shame Gregg or have any pity from you all – I’m aware that being disappointed at not being treated like a princess on this arbitrary day is such a first world problem!

Plus, I’ve known for a while how Greggs generally feels about ‘special’ days.

He’s ambivalent about them.

And it generally works in my favour.

He doesn’t expect a big song and dance on his birthday and isn’t fussed about having massive presents at Christmas or grand declarations on Valentine’s Day.

It’s just not him and I’ve always known that.

And so I’ve realised that I’ve got a choice with these ‘special’ days – I can expect him to ‘get’ what I want and feel let down when it doesn’t all work out as I’d like. Or I can acknowledge the situation and be clear if there’s something I want.

This doesn’t mean he doesn’t have any responsibility to make an effort. I know he’s bought me a card which he’ll make special in his own way, with perhaps a handprint from Jenson and a kind word about what he thinks of me as a mum.

Who knows, he may have even gotten me a present.

And I’m sure, even if I hadn’t said that I wanted breakfast in bed, this would have been something he would have done for me.

But I know that if I want to get what I want – on Mother’s Day or any other day, I need to step forward and use my words to ask for it.

And this, for me, is a deep act of feminism.

You see, I don’t know where it comes from, but I’ve felt scared of speaking up about what I really want for most of my life.

I don’t quite know where it comes from and part of it is fear of asking for what I want and being let down.

But a lot of my silence stems from my impression of what an ‘attractive’ women (attractive to men, now I think about it) should be like.

And in my mind, she shouldn’t be loud or outspoken.

She shouldn’t be ‘too much’ – asking for more than the other can give them.

She should be dainty and docile and quiet.

Not needy in the slightest.

But I’m casting that aside.

I want to be loud and outspoken.

I want to ask for what I want, even if it is too much for people to give me.

I want to be bold in going for what I want.

Heck, I want to take up space, to be feisty and loud and needy.

This isn’t in order for Gregg to grant my every wish (although I think he will tomorrow – breakfast in bed and a lie in are the pinnacles of my hopes for Mother’s Day!).

This is in order for me to grant my own wishes. To act out of the knowledge that I have the agency to create the most wonderful life possible for myself.

A day for women

Here’s to International Women’s Day. A day celebrating all that is means to be female and all that we’ve accomplished towards equality over the centuries. Despite being a day late – hey, I’ve got a baby and no longer work to my own schedule, I wanted to spend a few minutes to celebrate the brave and strong women I know.

The mamas

Here’s to my mum friends. Those who are standing side-by-side with me on this journey of motherhood. Struggling with lack of sleep, babies with colic, the dreaded witching hour, breastfeeding issues but showing their bubba and fellow mamas nothing but love and support.

My hotties

Here’s to my university girls. Hotwells Hotties (named by the area we lived in when we rented in Bristol during our uni days) who’ve stayed in touch for over a decade and still support each other through so much. I love how we talk about everything and anything on our whatsapp group – trying to find our path in the world of work, parenting, holidays, small successes, hilarious antics. Your support and presence makes my days happier and I can’t imagine a world without you.

My Newnham ladies

Here’s to my mum and sister who have known me for all (or much of) my life and who’ve supported me through some of my darkest days. You know that you’ve got good women in your corner when you can face hard truths together and can disagree about much together but still love each other fiercely. As my sister said yesterday – you’re both strong, independent, vulnerable, kind and really funny.

And to my Newnham cousins and aunties in Australia, I also want to honour you today. For the love you have shown me when I’ve visited and for the friendships that I feel are just blossoming now as you reach out to me with such love and support as I take my first steps as a mother.

My female friends all over the world

Here’s to you, all my women friends across the world. From Japan to Austin, Norwich to Norway, Perth to New York, you all teach me much about what it is to be a strong woman in this world. Serving others above self, striving to find your path in this world, going all in for love, pushing forward with amazing careers. You’re all so different and I take so much from each of you and am so thankful that the online world allows me to keep in touch more than ever would have been possible.

To women in the past

Here’s to all those who have battled in the past to allow me to be able to vote and who gave me the freedom to choose who I wanted to marry, to work, to receive an education, to be taken seriously as a human being and to have access to free contraceptives so that I have control over my own body and a choice about when I want to start a family. There was an excellent episode of the guilty feminist to celebrate the centenary of women getting the right to vote in the UK and it showed me the lengths to which you went to bring ease, choice and freedom to my life. Some of you died for me, went through hardships unimaginable and I’m forever grateful to you.

And here’s to you, amazing and talented women who have pushed the boundaries of science, politics or society in the pursuit of excellence. Ada Lovelace, Malala, Amelia Earhart, Michelle Obama, Frida Kahlo, Margaret Hamilton, Serena Williams…the list could go on and on. You’ve paved the way for other women to step forward into brilliance and I want to honour you for that.

To women of the future

Here’s to you, women who will come after me. The small babies and young girls I see in my friendship groups – Anwen, Hilary, Nora, Julia, Martha, Faith, Esmé, Emily, Robin, Sienna, Elise, Evie, Hannah…and all those my mummy brain has forgotten! I hope you are brave and courageous in going after what you want, that you knowingly choose your future – whether it’s to be a badass full-time mum or to follow your passions in the world of work (or a mix of the two). To know you have choices and that you don’t need a man to be complete.

My son

Here’s to you, Jenson. Yes, you’re not a female (although as a baby you are so beautiful and I think you could rock a dress!) but I still want to honour you and what I hope you will grow up to be. A feminist. Someone who believes in equality for all people, regardless of gender. I hope you know that everything is for everyone, that you are free to play with my little pony, polly pocket or to wear wings and a tutu if you like…or stick with Mighty Max and Thomas the Tank Engine. None of these things makes you any less a person. And I hope that you grow up respecting all people, regardless of background, gender or race. I know you have been born into good fortune – being white, male, in a developed country – and I hope that you use these privileges to amplify the voices of those who would otherwise not be heard in society.

I know that in some ways this seems like a big expectation to place on someone so small, but in a way that shows me how far we have to still go in our fight for true equality. And how I hope you are part of that journey, little one.

So yes, I’m a day late to the International Women’s Day party, but I still raise my (non-alcoholic) glass up to you all, my sisters of the world.