A sustainable life

I’m currently in the middle of an amazing trip visiting my dear friend, Nadine, in Texas.

On the cusp of this first prolonged trip away from my family, I felt apprehensive. But another part of me knew this trip was vitally important.

It was a time to find myself again after living in the reality of new motherhood for the past two years.

During these years, I tried to find a balance between my responsibilities to my son and my work, but looking back, I can see that other things suffered – myself, the relationships I hold dear, my health, my sanity(!)…

Balancing everything in a world that promises us that “we can have it all” is an impossibility. Because I believe that “having it all” is a lie.

Even if I were a millionaire, I might have more rest through the help of a nanny, but this would be at the cost of my motherhood.

And as I meditated on my way over in the airplane, I received the following wisdom;

Amy, you have 100% of your energy available to you. So how are you going to use it? Compromises will have to be made, certain things will have to fall away. But you have the ability to make a choice in all this. 

And so sat in a beautiful cafe in south Austin, I looked at what my life currently looks like with everything important to me.  

Here are my thoughts about certain parts of it:

Work

Work is deeply important to me. It fuels my creativity, allows me to feel mastery and it contributes to being an active citizen (working for local government) as well as contributing to my personal growth. It’s important…and yet, it takes up most of my energy. I know as it is it’s not sustainable for the long-haul.

Love

I miss my husband. I miss lazy lie-ins and carefree evenings spent with friends. I miss the time to love him, the energy to go on dates, lying next to him in bed, the spare money with no nursery to pay for to go on dates without thinking about the cost, the time to both enjoy TV shows together and also catch-up without any bedtime pressure.

I know this will pass, but it’s hard.

And I want to be aware of this so that we don’t come out of the early years of parenting fog to find ourselves on different tracks in life, lost to each other.

Recuperation and rest

This is another one which will change as Jenson grows and starts to sleep through the night. At present, my husband and I take turns to respond to our son’s cries and so at least half the week is made of broken sleep. This means that ideally bedtime is 9-9:30, which eats into my connection with Gregg and ability to tap into other areas of the circle – health, connection with friends, my spiritual life…

But it is what it is.

I’m realising how important it is to have an extended period of time – a night or two – away from the daily grind each month.

It’s important to have time just being me, time of sleeping in, time of not having every minute accounted for and a countdown to when bedtime should be.

It’s also a time of connection with friends and nature (where I get my spiritual connection), so I recognise that this isn’t just about rest, but about many more things.

I’ve not been as disciplined with prioritising this time away as I should be, but I will be moving forward.

Household & health

Sure, in an ideal world I’d do a yoga class weekly. I’d a tidier house. I’d stay fit by going for jogs instead of the continual late-sprint for my train or pedalling home on my bike. I’d eat less processed food. I’d do washing in my spare time instead of when I’m looking after Jenson.

But these aren’t priority areas for me at the moment.

And that’s ok.

Motherhood

I recognise that Gregg is stepping up and caring for our boy more than I am at the moment. And it’s not just when I’ve been here on holiday – he’s stepped into a 50:50 role if not slightly more of the care role at times.

I’ve needed him to do so when I’ve reached burnout and felt like I had nothing left to give.

And that’s ok.

I’m allowed for parenthood to be 50:50 at this early stage despite every cultural bone in my body proclaiming that I should be the carer. I should have the bigger role in Jenson’s early years.

This is compounded by a noticing of how I’m less capable of staying in the role of the ‘perfect’ mum – I don’t have enough energy for it.

The reality is that Jenson spends time watching Netflix if he wakes before 6am and I often find quick fixes to entertain him as I balance the minimal amount of housekeeping and food prep I do around time looking after him.

All the while, a little voice in my head tells me that I should be engaged with his play 100% and should leave the other stuff. Should leave my needs.

But I can’t.

And so I accept the reality of what is.

Interdependencies

I notice that several of these areas are linked together. Motherhood, work and love all jostle for my time and one area reducing leads to a gain in another.

Likewise, rest and recuperation is met through travel (often to see friends) and provides time for me to seek a spiritual connection outside myself.

And my spiritual opening links to better health outcomes as I live with less anxiety and live more in my truth, which positively impacts my relationships with friend and family.

And so this wheel of life turns, ever adjusting for my awareness of it. Constantly dancing as I find space for that which I hold dear in my life.


Thanks to Nadine, who treated me to a night in the incredibly cool Carpenter Hotel, whose coffee I’ve been sipping while finishing these reflections.

ctl-logo-01

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.


If you’ve enjoyed this post, please consider supporting my writing by buying me a coffee!ctl-logo-01

The other side

I’ve had a difficult time over the past three months. It’s been the most challenging time that I’ve experienced in motherhood and I’ve felt my sanity balance on a knife edge at times.

But it’s also been a time of immense growth and I’m appreciative of what it has taught me.

How my struggles have stretched and shaped me.

And as I’m coming out the other side, I’d like to reflect upon what I’ve learnt and am still learning.

I must come first

I always thought the analogy about putting your own oxygen mask on before putting anyone else’s on was trite. But I’ve realised that I’m good for no one when I’m on my knees with exhaustion.

So I’ve started to prioritise my needs.

I’ve made plans to get away to have some time of solitude every month and Thursday evenings are for me to have time alone. I’ve so far tried an African drumming circle, gone for drinks with friends, had dinner with my parents, spent the evening working late to do some things that I don’t usually get the chance to do in my working day.

Being free to do things as an adult, not a mum or carer, has been life changing. It’s brought me so much joy and has refreshed me for the week ahead. I don’t know how I coped without this time before.

Now that I’m over the worst, it’s hard to keep finding the discipline of time alone.

Since I’m not at crisis point, time to myself can seem less important than getting on with life. Making sure I’m pulling my weight at home. Being there for Jenson.

But then I remember that for 18 months, I gave more than my fair share to this family.

So it’s not about an even 50:50 split, but about communication and asking for what I need so that I can thrive as a mother, wife and woman.

Asking for help

I’ve asked my husband over the past months to step up with the caring of our son – we now share the bedtime routine and co-sleeping so the other can enjoy a night of disruption-free sleep.

And with me no longer taking the caring role with everything, I’ve let my husband care for me more and I’ve felt closer to him than I have in a long time.

I was so busy caring and coping before that I’d lost what it was to be a wife.

What it was to be vulnerable and gentle and soft. Cared for, desired and with desire

It’s not been easy.

We’ve had more disagreements than we have had in a long time.

I’ve pushed him and pulled him into me.

I’ve been more vocal about my needs and have confronted him when I’ve felt hurt or ignored or misunderstood.

Instead of burying my feelings deep inside me, I’ve spoken up.

But it’s been good.

Because instead of feeling complacency – a foreboding of the death of a relationship – I’ve felt fire.

And that has kindled us in a way that I haven’t experienced in a long time.

I’m not an island

I’ve also asked other people to step up and help in our lives.

Friends have rallied around to babysit Jenson and give us some precious time alone.

When Gregg’s parents or my own parents have come to visit or had us to stay, I’ve asked them to look after Jenson so I could rest and find moments of solitude. I’ve taken time for myself without worrying that I was being ‘rude’ or ‘inhospitable’.

Because I recognise that this time alone is what I need and their love for Jenson means that time with him isn’t a chore.

I remember writing on this blog, at the start of Jenson’s life, how important it would be for me to ask for help. How I longed for Jenson to know that he doesn’t need to be strong, independent, self-contained. 

And I find myself reflecting back now and seeing that my desire has come true – I’m living how I want him to.

In community.

Asking for help.

Accepting the support of other people even though I can’t always give back in turn.

New season

I’m finding myself in a new season in life.

Connecting with the beauty of nature and the spirituality of the world.

Not through any religious beliefs, but through an awakening to the ancient wisdom of the planet and the inherent spirituality I feel as a human being.

I know that what I’m saying is quite vague, and that’s because I can’t quite articulate it myself.

All I know is that I feel connected to something bigger than myself.

And with that, I’ve felt a love for myself and a self-compassion that I’ve never felt before.

I’m finding myself able to say ‘no’ to invitations that aren’t right for me.

I’m looking at my body in a way that I’ve rarely been able to in the past – with true love and acceptance for all that I am, complete with stomach rolls, a slight double chin, my wrinkles and grey hairs.

It’s all me and all worthy of love.

Over the past month, I’ve danced with joy.

I’ve cried with sorrow.

I’ve started to reconnect to the wild Amy who has been tamed by society but is bursting to break out.

And this feels like just the beginning.

Taboo

I feel like I’ve broken one of the biggest taboos in the world – speaking about how motherhood isn’t always pretty.

How I have regrets for the child-free life I left behind.

How I know that I could have been happy without a child, even though I love Jenson with all my heart.

We do women a massive disservice in silencing the truth about the brutalities of motherhood.

It’s exhausting.

It’s relentless.

It’s the best and the worst experience.

And yet we only speak about the beauty, and at most, laugh about the witching hour before bed or whisper to our friends in secret ‘I’m not happy’. 

And I’m so proud of myself for having spoken up and started to challenge the taboo.

I’m so proud that I’ve been loud in saying how hard it is.

And I hope that others have felt permission to be truthful and honest, even if only to themselves or to me.


And so while this time has been one of the trickiest in my life, it has brought more growth than I could ever have imagined.

And I’m looking forward to seeing where this next season in life will take me.

ctl-logo-01

Boundaries

For the past ten days, I have been part of an online challenge with other mothers, focused on tapping more into our intuition. I’ve enjoyed connecting with others, reflecting on the questions set for us (such as ‘what would your ideal life look like?’ and ‘what are the words that your inner critic says to you?’).

The question that impacted me the most was ‘where have you been criticised as a parent and what did you do about it?’. I reflected on the criticism I received from someone about my choice to co-sleep with Jenson, a choice which we intent to make for the foreseeable future.

I don’t think it was meant purposely to hurt me – I imagine that it was a throwaway comment that the other person made but it has stuck with me and influenced how I feel about them.

It made me retreat, trust them less, not want to spend as much time in their presence.

And that also makes me sad.

As I reflected on this in the group, the facilitator asked me what it would take to restore this relationship.

Straight away, I knew what it would take.

Boundaries

And in knowing that, I was made aware that it’s not really anything about them.

It’s more about me.

Knowing what my boundaries are and respecting myself by sticking to them.

And really when I think about it, there’s only one boundary –

I listen to myself and respect my wishes and limits

It’s so simple.

And yet so hard for me as someone who has lived so many years living for what I think other people need and hasn’t listened to my own inner compass.

So I’ve taken some time to ask myself what I need to put this boundary into practice in my life…

Listen to my body

Often I’m not sure what I want, but I’ll feel some resistance in my body if what is going on isn’t right for me.

A tightness in my throat, an unease in my tummy, a quickening of my pulse.

My body knows before my consciousness does that I’m stepping outside of what is right for me and I need to learn to listen to it.

An example of this is something that happened at work on Thursday, when I was speaking to a senior leader. We were discussing something to happen in the future and what was agreed didn’t sit well with me. My throat went tight and I went a bit hot.

So I listened to what was going on and spoke up.

It turns out I had reason for feeling as I did and, as a result we changed our plans.

Take my time

I’m so unused to listening to myself and my desires. And as such, I acknowledge it’ll take time to understand what is going on for me.

It’ll take time to listen to my body and translate what I need – whether that is to be heard, to listen to myself, to do something different, to acknowledge and communicate a need I have.

And that’s ok.

With any new skill, it takes time to master it.

So I need to give myself that time.

Be brave

The scariest thing about having this boundary of acting in the way that I need is speaking up for myself.

But it is possible.

An example of this which springs to mind was when I was going to London to meet my mum a few weeks ago.

It was a belated mother’s day present to spend the day together but I was on my knees with exhaustion. We’d made plans to visit a graveyard that my mum wanted to see and had talked about doing a number of other things together. But I knew that I needed a relaxing day without jumping from plan to plan to plan, and so I spoke up and said that.

Knowing she might be a bit disappointed that her day was being monopolised by my needs.

But I also knew that I was likely to crack if we spent the day running from one thing to the next and so I spoke up.

I said that I needed us to take a more relaxed pace.

And that’s what we did.

She heard me and, as we took it easy, I was able to be fully present with her.

I didn’t have to contort myself into the Amy who was ‘fun’, ‘up-for-anything’, ‘without a care in the world’ – the Amy I wasn’t at that moment.

And it increased my level of trust in and love for her. Knowing that she is willing to meet my needs. Seeing that she is able to hear me and meet me where I am.

No other option

It’s a scary thing to vocalise what I need instead of pushing my needs down to accommodate others.

But the truth is that this isn’t a choice any more.

I’ve ventured into the realm of speaking my truth and, like a butterfly who has burst from its chrysalis, there’s no going back.

There’s no way that I can contort myself into having no needs.

There’s no way I can live to just please other people.

And so on I will go – setting my boundaries, stumbling and getting things wrong but then getting back up again and moving forward.

And I hope the relationships that have been broken or damaged because of my lack of boundaries might be built back up.

I’m not sure if it’s possible, but I can only try.

ctl-logo-01

The realities of motherhood

Things have been really hard over the past few months.

And I’ve shared it with you in bits, ranting about how hard things are right now, how I’m lowering my standards to cope and accepting that things are hard.

I’ve been a bit worried (and so have people around me) that I was going to crack and I asked myself whether I was going through a delayed post-natal depression.

Things were unbelievably hard.

So hard that I’ve found myself wishing that I wasn’t a mum.

And if I’m honest, going a bit further, wishing that I didn’t have Jenson.

This latter point feels a lot more worrying to me because it wasn’t just a wishing for times gone by, but wishing that the son I adore wasn’t in existence.

This wasn’t how I knew I felt when I thought about it logically.

I love him.

I’d give my life for him.

I truly believe he’s here to teach me as much as I’m here to guide and support him as he develops.

But I felt so depleted, with nothing to give, and I noticed how he had started to bring less of a smile to my face. A smile that had always come regardless of the hour he awoke or the naughtiness of his actions.

Why am I telling you this?

Because it’s a narrative which is not spoken about much in the world.

Parenting is talked about honestly among good friends, but there’s not a dialogue in society about how hard it is to be a parent.

There’s the truth-based comedy about parenthood found in ‘hurrah for gin‘ or the ‘unmumsy mum‘. It allows us to laugh about waiting for 5pm to reach for a glass of wine to take the blunt edges off motherhood. We smile at the raggedy mother with her little despots who refuse to eat anything other than beige processed food.

But it doesn’t go as far to say ‘seriously, being a mother can push people over the brink’. (Or at least, this is not what I’ve seen in the parts of it I’ve read).

We remain mostly silent as a society about the realities of motherhood:

How far it pushes you.

How serious an endeavour it is.

How challenging it can be.

And in this silence comes a lack of understanding, a lack of support, a lack of honesty.

There are the reassuring looks of other mums when they see other children in meltdown and the ‘how’s it going?’ that we give out to new mums. But there is the sense (at least from the experience I’ve had) that once the newborn stage is over – with the lack of sleep, poonami explosions and trials of breastfeeding – that you should just be able to get on with it.

And in my experience, this is a relatively easy stage compared with what comes after.

Don’t get me wrong, I found the newborn stages hard, but not nearly as hard as the shuffling around of my life to make space for the desires and wishes of my son as he starts to know what he wants.

Now life is dictated by his desires, his wishes, his needs.

And mine have to come second for the most-part, which is so hard if you’re like me and need space and time alone to stay sane. If you’re opinionated and have wishes of your own.

At the early baby stages, Jenson was my shadow and I was allowed to pretty much do as I wanted.

But now, even when I get to meet up with other mums and friends, I’m only able to be half-present as my mind is scanning for hazards to Jenson – where he is, what he might do to himself, how he is interacting with other children.

And yet I’m left to get on with it.

There’s no support apart from the support I cultivate around me, risking other people’s judgement as I dare to say how I sometimes wish I wasn’t a mum.

How I sometimes wish that I didn’t have Jenson.


I thought long and hard about sharing these thoughts with you, dear friend, because they seem like a slap in the face to all those I know who wish beyond measure to have a child and are struggling to do so.

And I’m half-worried that, in a Handmaid’s Tale-like twist, these words will be used against me in the future. Judging me unfit to be a mother in the same way that June and Luke’s relationship was invalidated because of their past.

But I want to change the narrative that we hold as a culture.

I want to see more honest, open conversations about the challenges of parenthood at all stages.

I want us to be honest as a society about how hard parenthood is – it’s the most difficult job I’ve ever had.

And I believe that starts with people speaking out about their truth.

Thankfully I’m starting to feel more like my own self, due in part to the support of my family and close friends and in part due to speaking up more and saying what I need from my husband.

Thankfully I’m wishing less that I wasn’t a mum and am grateful for having my son.

Thankfully I’m able to smile more.

But it doesn’t take away from the truths I’ve shared with you in this post. Motherhood is the most challenging thing I’ve ever had to go through.

And I know it will continue to be challenging along the way.

I know I’ll continue to need the support of family and friends to get me through it.

I hope if you’re also struggling, you’re able to share how you’re feeling with those close to you.

Or I hope that, at least, my words help you to feel less alone.

ctl-logo-01

Re-defining success

I was speaking to my sister this morning – what a wise one she is! I was sharing how hard I was finding life right now and talked about the standards I hold myself to. 

These standards are partly helpful – they guide me to be the best mum I can be to Jenson. But they can also be unyielding and can cause me pain as I hold myself to them regardless of what’s going on around me.

So I thought I’d list out all my standards to take a step back to see whether they’re standards I want to hold onto so tightly.

So here I go!

Standards

  • Jenson shouldn’t watch very much TV – it’s a last resort when I’m running late, not something to make my life easier
  • I need to talk to him as much as possible, a running commentary of what I’m doing if I’ve got nothing to say to him
  • I should enjoy all my time with my son
  • I must speak French to him – it’s an important gift to pass to him
  • I have to be fixed so I don’t pass on my struggles – comfort eating, avoidance of confrontation, people pleasing, lack of boundaries – onto him
  • I should be able to cope at all times and never loose my temper with him
  • He needs to spend loads of time outside – there are studies about how children aren’t nearly as active anymore and I’m a bad mum if I don’t take him out

As I list them here, I feel such relief at thinking “I don’t need to hold onto these things. They’re not mine”.

And I love what I saw on twitter this morning linked to this very topic:

Screen Shot 2019-06-23 at 14.05.01.png I love the final point from Beth – re-define success.

What if the standard (and definition of success) I held myself to were to model what it means to be a person who puts their wellbeing first.

  • About TV, I’d ask whether I needed a moment for myself that morning/afternoon/evening. If so, I’d put the TV on for a little bit. It’s not going to kill him.
  • About constantly talking to him, I’d ask myself what I needed in the moment and what my son needed. Some meaningful interaction – singing and dancing, reading a book, chasing around – or some time in silence as I walk somewhere or just potter around. Both are ok. I’d know it was about balance.
  • About enjoying time with him, I’d ask what I needed to enjoy my time with my him. And that probably is an acceptance that it’s not going to be enjoyable all the time (especially when I’m playing peepo with him for the 1,000th time, that shit gets old!)
  • About speaking French, I’d continue to speak French to him – my imperfect, messy French, because it is a gift that I’m keen to pass to him. But I’d also look out for other French parents to hang out with so I don’t feel so alone in it.
  • About worrying about passing my issues onto him, I’d know that worrying about this wasn’t doing me any favours in dealing with them, so I’d speak kindly to myself and remind myself that it’s not the whole truth. I’ll pass on some of my habits that I’d rather not pass onto him, but I’ll also pass on the good. My passion, my ethical compass, my love of cooking, my book wormery, my kindness, my strength.
  • About coping, I’d know that I’m not able to cope all the time and that it’s ok. The most important thing is showing him how to get back up. How to apologise when I shout at people or am short with others and self-kindness to myself when times are hard.

I’d know that I’m doing my best. My god-damn best. And that’s all that is important.

And as I read this, I feel overcome with emotions. I feel a relief knowing that life can be different.

That I can rewrite my story.

And yes, I’ll probably fall as I try to do the above, but that’s part of it, right?

Falling down but then getting back up and trying again.

ctl-logo-01

Where I’m meant to be

I’ve had this morning to myself and am feeling so much better for the long sleep and time to be in stillness and inaction with myself.

Life has felt so difficult recently. I’ve been at the bottom of my reserves and have felt myself coiled like a spring, about to snap (or whatever it is a spring does when it’s pushed beyond its limits!).

But this time has been different from all the other times I’ve felt like this.

Instead of pushing through until I snap, I’ve been able to recognise where I am and have done things differently.

I’ve shared how much I’m struggling (to differing degrees) with friends (you included in that category, my friend), family and work colleagues.

I’ve asked Gregg to step up to allow myself to not ‘have to be’ strong, self-contained, coping when life with a baby, full-time work and no time for myself is too much.

I’ve taken the decision to slowly stop breastfeeding so I can have some more freedom and space outside of the role of ‘mum’ in my life – something that will benefit Jenson far more than the nutrients he gets from me. A mum that is less frazzled, not resentful for the role she feel obliged to take, role modelling what is means to have healthy boundaries and prioritising her needs.

I’ve taken Thursday evenings for myself to meet up with friends, take classes, go out and be me.

I’ve booked a weekend away by myself at the end of June on a self-development course of sorts to get some space in such a packed period of time.

And as I reflect on all that I’ve done, I’m more grateful than ever for what Jenson, my son, has brought to me.

You see, before I would have kept on struggling.

Due to not having the responsibility of parenthood, I would have coped with the expectations of other people that I put on myself without challenging them.

I wouldn’t have had such an urge that I have now to break down the roles I take which are ones I don’t want to hold.

Strong

Selfless

Self-contained

I don’t disagree with being all these things. But I found myself being unable to be anything other than that.

I couldn’t be weak, apart from too my closest friends and family.

I struggled with being ‘selfish’ and prioritising myself.

I had made strides to share more of myself, through this blog, but it didn’t go further than that because it didn’t need to.

But with my son here, I want him to know more than anything that he doesn’t have to be ‘strong’ all the time. I want him to see me reach out for help and, in doing so, know that it’s ok for him to do the same thing.

I want him to self-prioritise. Not to the detriment of other people – sending a big ‘F you’ to others – but so that he has enough resources to live out of abundance.

I want him to have the freedom to share what’s going on for him. And if he takes after his father – a wonderful ‘steady Eddie’ of a man – he won’t need to much. But if he has my sensibility and a gentleness (that which I see in many men around me, including my brother), I want him to be able to share what’s going on for him, because he’s seen me do that and he knows it’s ok. He doesn’t have to be an island.

And so while it’s pushed me to my very limits, his arrival on this planet, I can’t help but feel that he has been sent to me to teach me these things.

And so while it’s hard to be in this place, I know that I’m where I’m meant to be.

ctl-logo-01

Not the whole truth

I’m feeling a bit better since I ranted to you a few days ago. A night out with my husband did wonders for me feeling like an actual human being instead of being in a constant state of mum.

A lie-in has also left me feeling a bit more replenished as well as the day ahead of me – in London with my mum.

From this, I know that:

  1. Feelings are better out than in
  2. I need to get out more with Gregg
  3. Sleep needs to take more priority
  4. I’ll need to ask for more help from people around us to babysit – already two friends, Laura and Ellie, have been amazing taking Jenson for an evening. Big love to you both if you’re reading this.

I’m also left feeling better after a coaching session I had yesterday which showed me that my inner critic has been rampaging around me recently. Due to tiredness, being stretched beyond my means, keeping in all my feelings, I’ve had little resources to keep her at bay and she’s been busying herself.

You’re only a good mum if you manage to breastfeed until he’s 2.

You’ll never be able to express yourself.

You’re broken.

You don’t know how to do this.

You didn’t come up with the best idea for the session and this is the area you’re meant to be an expert at. You’re a fake.

You’ve got no clue what you’re doing.

Hold it together, you need to be perfect.

What would they say if you fell apart. They’d never trust you again.

You don’t have this.

You called your boy a little shit to someone else, what a terrible mother you are.

I can feel these words pressing on my chest like a weight. Making me retreat, feel small.

And I feel the anger towards myself for not managing to hold things together. For not being perfect. For not coping when I think I should be able to bloody well cope with something that appears, on the surface of things, so simple.

And as I spoke to Jenny, we talked through how I might talk to my inner critic.

Acknowledging that she’s just trying to keep me safe by keeping me small.

It’s safe if I measure my life and success by the standards of some external expectation – others, society, perfection.

I’m less likely to trip and fall in front of others if I stay small.

It’s not what I really want. I want an expansive, large, messy, bold, brave life of exploration, courage, excitement.

But that’s really scary too.

I also acknowledge that she’s piping up because I’m reaching breaking point. I’ve been doing too much for too long, giving too much of myself for too long without replenishing myself.

But she’s got her wires crossed and instead of saying ‘Hey, Amy! You need to take care of yourself and sack everything else off’ she shouts at me military-style to try to get me to keep on going.

Awareness that what she’s saying isn’t the whole truth

When I’m in this situation, her voice can be all consuming. And I believe what she’s saying – I’m broken, I’m a failure, I’m shit.

But what she’s saying isn’t the whole truth.

For example, it’s not the whole truth that I need to get everything right every time.

It’s not the whole truth that I need to breastfeed Jenson to be a good mum.

It’s not the whole truth that I don’t know what to do.

It’s not the whole truth that I’m broken.

There are part-truths in there for me –

My role requires some mastery but I don’t need to be right every time – I need to have a learners mindset and ask good questions to help others make progress.

Being a good mum to me means putting the needs of my child first – but I can fulfil Jenson’s need for nourishment through other sorts of milk and lots of affection. It doesn’t need to be through breastfeeding.

I don’t always know what to do, but I do sometimes.

I’m struggling at the moment but I’m not completely broken. And it’s not the whole truth that struggling and even cracking is a crime, a judgement of my worth, a sackable offence.

Calling on another part of me

At the moment my inner critic is pretty loud. But there are other parts of me that have something to say.

The wise part of me able to say that breastfeeding is more about nurturing and loving Jenson, which I can do in other ways.

The cheerleader in me who says ‘you’re a bloody brilliant mum, I’m so proud of you.’

The gentle part of me which says that I need to let Gregg step into the nurturing role with Jenson more so that I can nurture myself and continue to be a good mum to him and be an example to him of the importance of putting yourself first. I want that for him – that he puts himself, his happiness, his well-being, his desires, first – and so I need to show him me doing that in action to role model this behaviour.

Will this ever get better?

I asked Jenny if I’ll ever get to a point where this voice isn’t so loud.

And disappointingly she said ‘no’. But she did say that I’ll get quicker at noticing my inner critic and will get better at telling myself that what she’s saying is only partly true. I’ll get better at calling on different parts of myself to give different perspectives.

It’s not what I wanted to hear, but that’ll have to be enough.

A good old rant

I’ve been thinking a lot about not being ok since I wrote a recent blog post on this subject.

I feel great at work and how I am in my role as mother to Jenson – often I feel that I’m flying when I’m in the midst of a meeting or playing in a park with my son.

But I’m left on empty when it comes to other things outside of these realms. Small events like unexpected plans or having guests to stay can throw me into a spin and leave me on my knees with exhaustion.

Not putting boundaries in my life, taking on more than I can deal with and having little-to-no time for myself is impacting me.

I’m comfort eating more, snapping more, feeling more and more on the edge of ‘ok’.

I need time for myself.

And so I’ve been weighing up what I need to do to find more time in my jam-packed life.

Breastfeeding

I’ve started to stop breastfeeding my son, which comes with a multitude of feelings including sadness, not being good enough, judging myself as selfish for putting my needs above his well-being.

I know I’ve breastfed him far longer than most people. I know I’ve given him the best start I could. I know many babies never have breast milk and are perfectly happy, well-adjusted, healthy.

So I’m not looking for reassurance or anything like that from you in writing this. In fact, you’re likely to get a punch on the nose from me if you say things like that (ok, more like a frosty ‘thank you’ – I’m too polite to turn to fisticuffs 😜)

Because I know all these things already and that doesn’t change how I feel.

I still feel anger, sadness, disappointment, hurt…

So I’m asking myself what’s going on.

I’m tired so am not at my best. Things feel trickier, my emotions around this ending are heightened.

And I’m scared too, scared he’ll not need me as much if he doesn’t physically need me.

I can also tell that I’m trapped in a rhetoric that it’s possible to have it all – being a perfect mum, employee, perfect person – and thinks of myself as ‘weak’ for not being able to just buckle down and push on through.

But I’m not weak.

I’m a human.

With only so much energy to expend.

And I’m an introvert.

Who hasn’t had much time over the past 16 months to be in stillness and recuperate from the hustle and bustle of life.

I had quite a traumatic birthing experience with Jenson and, thrown into motherhood I perhaps didn’t get a chance to process all that went on so I’ve transferred some of my feelings about that into this whole breastfeeding malarkey.

Getting out of my head

I’m so so so tired of being stuck in my head.

Holding onto the million different parts of my life – do we have food sorted for the week? Has Gregg got out £20 to pay the cleaner? I’m not talking enough to Jenson, what if that delays his speech? Do we have the paperwork sorted? How can I find some French friends for him to hear French from people other than me? Where is my community in Brighton?

It’s so busy in my mind.

It’s exhausting.

I’m carrying the mental and emotional load .

And I feel like the writer in the link above – I have a good, kind husband who actively does a lot of work, picks up the slack if I ask him to, does things around the house.

But I still feel on my knees from the emotional load I’m holding which keeps our lives together.

I doubt he would have asked himself, putting the last vegan sausages in the oven yesterday, whether we had anything for dinner tomorrow. Part because I enjoy doing the food prep but part because he doesn’t carry this mental load.

I don’t usually mind carrying the mental and emotional load. It’s something I’m generally capable of until I get to this point of depletion and can take no more.

Politeness

And I’m so good-damn tired of being polite and not speaking my mind.

Of bearing in mind the feeling of other people and adjusting myself to fit into their ideal (or what I think their ideal is).

I know they don’t ask me to be anything other than I am (although they might not approve if I were to be outspoken and speak my mind) so I’m mostly angry at myself for taking on this polite BS and not allowing myself to speak my mind more often.

I hate that my default is ‘yes, whatever you want’ instead or ‘nah, I’m alright thanks’.

I hate how this makes me exhausted.

I hate how I don’t say ‘that hurts’ when something someone says hurts my feelings. And instead I bury it deep and hide away the pain.

I know I am getting better at speaking my mind, letting go of needing to please, being open and honest to those around me.

But it’s exhausting to step out of safety and into unknown territory.

The anxiety after my neighbour asked if she could cook a chicken in my oven (as hers is broken) and I said ‘yes, but poor chicken’ as I’m against slaughtering animals for our own purposes. I expressed my view but am on tenterhooks that she might feel ill-will towards me and my views.

Such a small thing but something that is taking up brain space when I’d rather not give a damn and respect my views.

Will this ever get better…?!?

I hope so, and I want to believe so. But it feels a bit hard right now.


So there you are – my good old rant! It feels so great to express how I’m feeling and to share that things are hard right now.

I’m sure it will get better in the future, but at the moment it all feels a bit ‘meh’.

I hope you’re in a better place than I, dear friend. Or if not, I hope you have the courage to speak out like me and say ‘I’m not ok, but it’s ok’.

A narrow set of rules that just don’t work

I’ve been thinking about my age old stumbling block – my body – since I went to see the Guilty Feminist Live a few weeks ago.

I was lucky enough to hear the amazing music of Grace Petrie who is a singer/activist and also a self-proclaimed butch lesbian who never felt she fitted until she came to peace with who she was and how she looked.

And in hearing how she felt she didn’t belong because she didn’t fit into the ideal of femininity, I realised just how much I only feel I belong if I’m at my thinnest and fit into the female ideal of beauty.

I don’t really understand why I feel this way, but I do.

I don’t hold other people up to the same standard. If someone is overweight it doesn’t make me question their worthiness or think less of them.

I might wonder whether there’s a reason for it – some hurt they’re trying to bury with food, a medical reason, because they love food and don’t feel ashamed of being who they are in their body.

But with me, I believe being a bit soft round the edges shows me as weak, not able to cope, lacking in self-control and so many other things…

But after seeing Grace and marvelling at the idea of fully embracing myself, I’ve been wondering about a few things.

What if I lived by Grace’s words?

Some of her song lyrics – and the title of this post – are ‘a narrow set of rules that just don’t work’.

And that’s, in my ‘logical’ thinking moments something I understand about my thoughts about my size.

Not everyone is made to be a size 6/8/10/12.

And by saying ‘you must control yourself to stay thin and within these narrow views of beauty’ I’m saying to myself that it’s not ok to not be perfect.

But perfection isn’t real and these rules about what is ok to be, food-wise, is too narrow.

It’s not realistic.

It’s not something that works for me.

It’s not ok to not be ok

Food and body image becomes more problematic to me when I’m not doing ok.

When I’m treading on new and tricky ground.

When I’m challenging myself in areas that I’ve not challenged myself before.

And that’s what I’m doing at the moment – I’m out of my comfort zone and so it’s no wonder that the old self-critical voice and comfort-eating behaviour is creeping back.

It’s not a wonder really with the strides I’m taking in my life:

  • I’m shedding the thought that I mustn’t stand out or ask for things for risk of being thought of as a nuisance.
  • I’m getting the self-belief and assurance to take time for myself in my personal life. Seizing time for myself just as my husband does when he goes to park run on a Saturday or football on a Wednesday evening.
  • I’m doing different things at work which are new and uncomfortable – having challenging conversations, staying in ‘adult’ mode when I want to be the rescuing ‘parent’, considering how I might work as more of a team instead of staying safe through being self-sufficient.
  • So I suppose what I’m saying is that I’m not entirely ok at the moment.
  • But that’s ok.
  • When I am going through periods of growth, I tend to turn to food for comfort before I slowly unfurl into new territory.
  • And that’s ok.
  • I don’t quite believe that I could be a size 14/16/18 and still think of myself as fantastic, worthy, brilliant. But I’m recognising this and trying to change my inner dialogue.
  • I’m making headway.
  • What if I loved my body like I love my son’s body? 

    Like with other people, I don’t measure my son by his body. But it’s a part of him that I love. His beautiful, plump arms and legs ripe for the biting, his cheeks so soft to stroke and kiss as he lies next to me, sleeping.

    He could be twice or half the size and I would still look at him as perfection. And, although I love his body, it is a small part of who he is.

    He is his cheeky smile and his ability to spot small details at such a small age.

    He is his obsession with bubbles and his pushing around of Harold the Bear in his little pushchair.

    He is the ‘woof’ he says when he sees the dog and his concentration as I read story after story to him.

    He is his strong legs that allow him to toddle around.

    He is his hands that clap and his fingers that he moves to try to mimic ‘baby shark’.

    He is his body – and I love it for all it is – but he is so much more than that too.

    And to view it in isolation is to do him a grave injustice.

    To view my body in isolation is, likewise, to do myself a grave injustice.

    What if loving my body was a great act of rebellion?

    It does feel rebellious, the thought of accepting, loving and cherishing my body, whatever its size.

    To see rolls around my waist (just the act of writing this feels disgusting!) when I sit down without any sense of disappointment or judgement or disgust.

    To no longer look sidewise to see how narrow my body is because it’s just not a priority for me.

    To look at my body as I did just after giving birth to my son – with wonder, respect and gratitude for what it does for me.

    To not be defined by how I look.

    To not think I’m less deserving because of not being a small size 12 or that my body and my size has anything to do with my worth or my worthiness as a person.

    When I look at myself through this lens, it feels like a deeply rebellious act.

    It’s not an act of self-sabotage – pushing as much food as possible in myself to defy a society which tells me who I should be.

    It’s an act of deep self-love and freedom to nourish myself, give myself food I love and food that provides nutrients without any heed to my size.

    Without any pressure to my anything other than I am.

    Without any rules defining what I should or shouldn’t be.

    So where do I go from here?

    I accept that I still have far to go on my journey.

     I remind myself that it’s ok to not be ok.

    I send gratitude to the divinity of motherhood for the chance to see a love I want for myself mirrored in the love I have for my son.

    I see the small seed of hope for the future me.

    I am reminded to look at myself with love and compassion.

    And I’ll end this blog with some words from Grace’s beautiful song:

    “You will figure out what’s yours and that it’s got nothing to do with fitting neatly in a box that was constructed to make it seem like people come in just two teams and anything that’s in between ain’t good enough”