Monday, 31 January 2011

How to have boundaries but not feel like a bad Mum

During the last week I have been feeling pretty awful and part of that is this awful exhaustion and lethargy and a feeling that I just can't keep up with Ella. I know, that is just motherhood. But this is an almost numbing feeiling and I get really anxious cause I feel unable to look after Ella at all. It sets off a spiral downward where I feel like a terrible mother for feeling this way. It becomes a vortex into darkness. The depression means at times I am unable to think rationally about it and give myself a break.

Part of the steps I am taking to help me recover is to work on my boundaries with other people. That is challenging for me but what is harder is learning to have boundaries as Ella's mother. I guess I used to thinking of her needs as immediate and my job is to meet them. But as she gets older she has more wants rather than needs and I am having to put some of my needs first so that I can still be a good mother to her. It is such a hard line to draw and especially difficult at a time when my judgment and perception of things not that clear.

I guess all mothers have to work out where meeting their child's needs first has to end so that they can take care of themselves and have enough energy and generosity to keep giving to their children. For me this is going to start with night weaning. At Ella's age most people I know have stopped breastfeeding altogether. I had been aiming for breastfeeding on demand until 2 years old. This does not mean I think anyone else should have to, it was just what I had been planning on. But plans have to change. One of the principles La Leche League espouses is that for breastfeeding to work well both child and mother have to be happy with how it is going. And for me I think I have reached the end of my ability to breastfeed as I was.

I need space. Both physical and emotional. I need some time to just be me. And I would love more than 4 hours sleep in  row! What is so concerning to me is how difficult it is to give myself permission to have some boundaries and to say what I need. I have created this picture in my head of what I should be prepared to do as a mother. And the reality is that my expectation are unrealistic and I have come to the end of myself. It is not good to feel resentful and anxious about anything to do with being Ella's mum. And for me to be able to celebrate her and enjoy her as she grows I have to stop being a victim of the stereotype of a mother that I am beating myself over the head with. And instead be the mother that I am. Maybe then I will show Ella how to be herself too.

Friday, 28 January 2011

Time to face the facts

I have depression. I have not recovered. I cannot leave the horror of the months after Ella was born behind because the blackness is still there. I wish I could, I wish I could tell the story of my recovery. I have been trying to tell it for over a year now. But it is not true, no matter how many people I tell or how much I try to ignore the reality.

Don't get me wrong. I have been better, the drugs have made life so good, almost too good. Because I have let myself believe I am fine and I have not taken responsibility for my own mental health. I have popped my pills and carried on doing all the things which create the stress which has led to me feeling this way again. It is not my fault but the facts are the facts whether I want to accept them or not and I feel that I have no choice but to accept them. And accepting I have depression, have had it for a long time before Ella arrived and will probably need to manage it for the rest of my life, is a harder pill to swallow than a couple of SSRIs.

I have got to this point because my attempt to change medication didn't work. The new meds didn't suit me and over the summer I have slowly spiraled down. Growing anxiety, the typical stress of the Christmas season, starting back at work and putting Ella back into daycare have stretched me and the drugs just didn't cut it. So now I am transitioning back to my old meds and through the haze of that change the blackness and horrible thoughts have come back. And so I have to acknowledge that it is still there. Changing meds can make you feel awful and a lot more unwell than you really are. But it has also highlighted that I need to take better care of myself.

I had already started trying to do that but it was all external - trying to do more exercise, eat better, see an osteopath for my back. But for me that has just created stress and pressure through appointments I have to get to and the challenge of finding time to exercise. It wasn't about caring for me it was about doing what I 'should' and achievement. Now I am trying to go deeper. I must do less and say no. I am learning to be honest with myself about what I really want to do rather than what I think I 'should' do. For me that is so hard. I always want to do everything and even that is not enough. I am starting therapy. I had avoided it cause I just wanted to take a pill and forget about it. I didn't want to have to go any deeper. But now I need to and want to. I am sick of not feeling in touch with myself, not knowing my own mind and feeling lost in what I think others want or expect of me. I want to face up to the things which scare me.

Today I am at home resting. And it is hard. I have tidied the house, picked tomatoes, put the washing on. I feel that I 'should' be resting. I don't know what I want to do. Where did I lose me? I want someone to tell me what to do. To tell me how to get better in three easy steps. But instead I have to be with myself and work it out myself. I know that will be the hardest thing but is the only way to have some peace back in my life.

I want to go to bed and read and sleep but here I am writing. It is good to get it out but it is not resting and I want to rest. So here I go...

Thursday, 20 January 2011

To be honest...

When someone says "to be honest...", you know something you don't want to hear is about to be spoken. At the moment I am feeling very challenged to be honest with myself about who I really am rather what I think or hoped I would be. It is upsetting to realise that I had such a strong idea of what I was going to be like when I became Ella's Mum but to discover I am not like that at all.

I spent quite a few years thinking about what kind of mother I would be. I was going to be a mother who stayed at home, made all the meals from scratch, was full of energy and creative ideas for playing, would be always patient and would pop out hoards of children one after another. I had even got my head around the idea of owning a people mover (loser cruiser as my hubby affectionately calls them). But I am not that mother.

It was easy to imagine myself in a future which didn't yet exist without the realities of daily life. It is funny really to think about how many facts about myself and real life I was able to ignore in my day dreams of motherhood. Like sleep deprivation, boredom, frustration, mess, mess and more mess. Self doubt, and the unexpected all ruin the pretty picture I had in my head.

And now I find myself saying "to be honest" because I am trying to be courageous enough to own up to the fact that I am not the woman I imagined. I never was and never will be. And that is scary because I have ideals and if I can't live up to them, then what? Do I like the person and mother that I am? Can I let the ideals go and realise that being me and being good enough is enough? Can I silence the perfectionist and not grieve a person and future which never existed. Or will I let it steal my joy.

So to be honest, toddlers are so full on and after three days at home with Ella I look forward to going to work. Being at home is not enough and is too tough for me. I miss her but I love the company of other adults, the joy of making a difference and the creative challenge of teaching. And when I come home I am so much more present in the moments with Ella rather than wishing them away because I am tired, or overwhelmed. I have this deep sense of unease with myself over this but it is the truth. I have to be honest.

So to be honest I am not sure I would cope with more children. Maybe one, or maybe I will get a burst of energy and confidence and want more. But at the moment I stand in awe and a little shock at those Mums around me who are embarking on number two. It feels like that makes me less able as a mother but I also feel strong for knowing what is best for me and not being pressured by other's choices.

So to be honest sometimes being a mother is downright monotonous and boring. And I have to give myself a mental slap and say "pay attention" so that I can really notice Ella and who she is becoming. Because part of me wants to do something else and be somewhere else. I feel guilty admitting this but it is the truth.

So I am trying to look at my reflection in the mirror and really see who I am. Not what I wish I was, or who I think I should be. But who I am. If I can love and accept that then I feel like I spend my energy on getting on with living instead of spending it being in conflict with myself and eaten up with disappointment in who I am turning out to be. Life must be lived as I am, not as an unfufilled fantasy.

Tuesday, 18 January 2011

A diet of hat

I think eating hats would be considered a little too much fibre for a healthy diet but it seems that since Ella was born I have eaten many.
I spent quite a few years before we had Ella thinking about becoming a parent, spending time with friends and family who had young kids and reading lots of books. I felt quite embarassed about being so obsessed but now I also think it set me up well for the journey of becoming a parent.

However, like so many things in life, the reality is very different from the fantasy. I spent a lot of time observing others and saying to myself "I would never do that", or "they should do this", or "my child will never be like that". God has a great sense of humour because almost every day I have to admit that I was wrong and that I didn't know anything. The harshest voice of judgment is often your own and it is even harsher when you know you have judged others for doing what you are doing. The difference now though is that I get why.

It is a wonderful lesson to learn that observation is a precious thing and I am so grateful for all the time I had to learn from other parents and from the books I read. But judging others and their children just becomes a bitter weapon you use upon yourself and your child. It leaves a bad taste in my mouth and strips the joy out of life.

I am a harsh critic, mainly of myself. But parenting is a rolling and ever moving feast. You cannot plan for every eventuality and each child is their own person doing their own thing. I am enjoying the freedom of realising you never know what is round the corner or what challenges may present themselves but intentions don't have to be a decision and you can be free to choose again and again how you will respond to your child or a situation. The toughest part is letting myself and not reproaching myself about it.

Parenting and perfectionism are not happy bedfellows. A friend said to me when I was pregnant that her favourite phrase as a Mum is " Never say never". I should have that tatooed somewhere!

Monday, 10 January 2011

Learning to stay home

While I was really depressed one of the ways I coped was to have something planned each day and to get out of the house. Over the holidays I have decided that I can't be that busy anymore and that I have been running away from being at home in fear of feeling down or feeling like I can't cope with caring for Ella. By the end of last year I felt like someone else was running my life rather than me choosing what I wanted to do. The someone else was fear and exhaustion. I had this idea that going to things and visiting people would mean I didn't feel so tired. But the result was me feeling anxious and more and more tired because I wasn't choosing my life, just reacting.

So today was the day hubby went back to work and my first day of doing less. It was still pretty busy but I didn't have anything planned and did what felt right for today. It was tough to not get on the phone and organise things. I had to consciously decide not to fill my diary. It helps that I am working Thursday and Friday this year so I can keep the first half of the week as my own and the clear delineation helps me to see how I can manage my commitments better.

What I ultimately want is to build my confidence to be alone with Ella and to embrace life as a part time SAHM. I love people and company but don't want to be afraid of myself.

Thursday, 6 January 2011

Creeping insecurity

Over the holiday season we have spent time with lots of friends and family and have had a wonderful time. We have also been to lots of places and tried new things with Ella. It has been such a blast but I have developed a case of creeping insecurity.

I think it is a common condition to afflict parents when you are around other people, in close proximity and people see your child and the way you parent up close and personal. We have also been observing other families and the similarities and apparent differences between our kids and family lives.

I knew Ella was pretty energetic and busy but now I am really recognising what a ball of energy she is. And it is easy to fall into the trap of negatively describing her because she is so full on and does not just fit conveniently along side or into the background of activities. She knows her own mind and is happy to communicate it. Fighting against it is futile and usually a waste of time.

So here is my internal dialogue when out in public or with other people:
"They must think we have no control and are those permissive parents who are afraid to give their child boundaries."
"I think they think Ella is a wild beast!"
"Their child eats meals. Mmm Ella doesn't. Is that my fault? Should she be eating meals? Have I done something wrong?"
"Here she goes asking for Mama and beating her chest. Will these people think I am a wierdo hippy if I breastfeed her? Maybe I can distract her. Hmmm no luck there." Then make some self conscious and self deprecating joke.

I know I am not alone in this very unhelpful habit. And recently I have been letting it get to me so much I have been pushing Ella to be more "acceptable" and "normal". It is just so sad and awful that I can let my guessing of what other people might or might not be thinking determine what she needs and how I parent. But I think all parents want to know they are doing a good job and in our culture a quiet child who fits in and behaves in a predictable manner is seen  as a 'success'. But we are all unique and different and somehow I need to celebrate Ella's uniqueness. In her freedom to be herself she encourages me to be free to be my own person and not to let 'normal' be my guide. She as the confidence to walk out into the world and throw caution to the wind. If an 18 month old can, surely I can give it a go.