How motherhood makes you stronger

With motherhood comes all sorts of lovely experiences and some, um, less lovely ones. The first time your child says “I wuv you” is lovely. The first time he vomits on your lap is not lovely. And yet, some of the things that really suck about parenthood have actually made me improve my coping skills in a number of areas.

Things the pre-child me simply couldn’t cope with just roll right off me like the peas my toddler placed on my head. So here are 5 ways motherhood has made me stronger.

Poo, vomit and other bodily effluvia does not phase me

Before I had kids, simply the smell of vomit would make me feel ill, let alone actually seeing it or, god forbid, touching it. Now, I can quite comfortably (and even intentionally) catch vomit with my bare hands. It may not be my favourite pastime, but I can handle it.

I don’t think twice about the odd smear of poo that may make its way onto my person. These things wash off so easily. It’s only a little bit stinky.

And, as a parent, sometimes picking bogeys out of another human’s nose is simply a necessity. You can try using a tissue but it doesn’t always get the job done. And I’d rather pick it and bin it than stare at it flapping out of my son’s nose all day.

All of this exposure to nasty, germy things means that I have very little fear of anything I might encounter late at night on public transport.

Spiders

On my 8th birthday, I brushed my teeth and when I spit out the toothpaste, a partially-chewed spider came out of my mouth. This was an extremely traumatic experience which kicked off a lifelong fear of spiders.

I remember being 18 years old and finding a spider a big as two 50p coins in my bathroom. I called my dad to kill it for me, but he had decided to foster my emergent independence as a responsible adult by informing me I had to resolve the situation myself. I was too scared to squash it, so I dropped my 1500-page English Literature anthology on top of it and left it there for 2 days. When I finally got up the strength to remove the book, the spider simply got up and crawled away, never to be seen again. I neither killed it not removed it from the house, but it would appear I taught it a lesson!

In more recent years, married life has meant I always had an obliging husband to remove spiders for me. He is a kind and gentle soul and so catches them in the designated “spider cup” and throws them outside.

I coasted along in such a manner without facing my spider fear until I had kids. Now, there is a real problem because nothing is more spine-chill inducing than the notion of a creepy-crawly, fang-sporting, hairy spider crawling over your sweet, sweet baby’s face. And so suddenly I became both fearless and merciless when a spider comes anywhere near my children’s domain. I’ve caught them in cups, I’ve hoovered them up, washed them down the drain (even using an implement to make sure they really went right down) and even, on one occasion, picked one up by the leg and flung it out the window.

Thank you, motherhood, for teaching me that no spider is fiercer than a mother’s love.

Squatting, carrying, running and squeezing

We’ve covered squeamishness and visceral fear, but of course motherhood also makes you physically strong. The average observer may not be able to see our mum muscles, but I assure you they are there.

A mum can hold a wiggly baby to her breast whilst assisting a potty-training toddler in wiping his bottom.

She can wrestle a tantrumming toddler into a carseat or highchair.

She can climb a flight of stairs in a single bound if she hears a suspicious bang while the kids are in bed.

She can wiggle into narrow spaces to retrieve a much-loved toy.

She can squat for unreasonable amounts of time when needing to apply shoes or change a nappy in a less than hygienic area.

She can push a buggy, up and down hills and over grass or gravel, for untold hours until the little bugger angel falls asleep.

She can carry her handbag, two children, an overstuffed changing bag, a potty and a bit of shopping with barely of bead of sweat appearing on her furrowed brow.

And we do all of this without (much) whinging. Pre-kids I would have collapsed in a heap if I had to do all that.

Pain, illness and lack of sleep

Everyone knows that childbirth hurts, but the bit that comes afterwards hurts even more because it lasts longer and nobody offers you any drugs to cope with it. We take our babies home when we are worn out and emotional, with stitches holding together either our stomach or our undercarriage. I had an emergency c-section after my first, and had burst blood vessels in my eyes and soft tissue injuries in my legs after my 2nd from pushing too hard. But in modern life we’re expected to just carry on. Maybe pop to the supermarket or take a nice(??) walk. In other cultures, women are allowed to stay in bed for a whole month after the baby is born!

Then some of us might get this lovely thing called mastitis. If you don’t know what it is, it’s a lovely infection inside your breast, which not only hurts the breast itself but gives you flu-like symptoms that make you feel like dying. And besides taking antibiotics you have to keep feeding the baby with your sore boob to help it get better. Ouch is an understatement.

Then of course there are the bugs. Have you ever tried to breastfeed in between bouts of vomiting? Or worse, cooking a meal for hungry children or changing a really stinky nappy? It might actually be my personal version of hell.

But I look back at the times I kept everyone alive when I felt like dying, and think it’s a pretty amazing achievement.

Keeping calm and carrying on

The final skill that motherhood has taught me is staying calm in the face of confrontation. I’m not going to say I’m always calm … but it takes more to throw me in a tailspin than it used to. Sometimes, I’m even calm with my own children. Mostly, this skill is employed outside the home when dealing with other adults. I know that it is very unlikely that, under everyday circumstances, an adult is going to scream in my face, kick me in the shins and lay on the floor screaming. And thus any confrontation is that much easier to deal with.

So the next time you feel like this parenthood gig is bringing you down, or you feel insecure about your parenting skills, just look back on your tired, sick, sore self, carrying heavy loads, vanquishing dangerous insects and catching vomit in your bare hands, and know that you are one strong mama.

What things can you do better now that you’ve faced the travails of raising small children?

Mission Mindfulness
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Regrets, fear and the comfort zone

Have you done things in your past that you regret? I’m sure many people have. I’ve done a few stupid things, but I’m not sure if I entirely regret them. I feel like some of the ridiculous pickles I’ve been in through naivety (or pure stupidity) are actually sort of fun looking back on. Wouldn’t it be boring if we didn’t have any embarrassing stories to tell our friends?

So I don’t really regret things I have done. But I do have regrets. I regret the things I haven’t done. I regret that first day of high school when I was too scared to go and talk to a boy I really wanted to talk to. I regret the camping trip during which I was too scared to try white water rafting, and so I stayed behind and missed out. I regret not making the most of a summer fling when I was young, just because I knew it didn’t have a long-term future. These are just some of the small things that I’m willing to share with the internet.

What my regrets amount to are that I regret letting fear hold me back from making the most out of life. There are times when fear is sensible – when there is an actual likelihood that something will harm us. In that case, fear does us a service. But in many cases, it simply holds us back.

Maybe you’d like to change jobs, or even careers, but you’re afraid to move on. At your current job, you feel safe – you know where you stand. What if you changed jobs and then it didn’t work out?

Maybe you’re stuck in an unhappy relationship, but you’re afraid of the upheaval that ending that relationship would cause.

I’m not saying these things are simple to face. Making a huge life change requires thought and planning. But fear alone should not be the reason we don’t do things.

Maybe you’d like to do something just a little bit physically scary (like white water rafting), but you feel anxious about it. Maybe you’d like to do something a little bit socially/mentally scary (like going on a date or giving a presentation), but you are scared of it going wrong.

It is scary leaving our comfort zone. It is hard to do things that might be difficult and scary but necessary. Or to do things that are just a little bit risky, either physically, socially or mentally, but could result in huge payoffs.

As I look back at my life, I see that fear of leaving my comfort zone has never served me well. When I did do things I was scared to do (like moving countries, taking a risk on a relationship, having babies, putting myself in any situation where I was under scrutiny), I was almost without exception glad that I did. When I let fear hold me back, I later felt sorry about missing out.

So the next time you have an opportunity that you are afraid of taking … the next time you face a difficult choice … or if you simply feel unhappy with where you are right now, ask yourself: Is it only fear of the unknown that is holding me back? And if the answer is yes, throw your fear in the bin and break out of that comfort zone.

Mission Mindfulness

 

Five ways running could make you happier

I am not a runner. I could never be a runner. My boobs are too big and my ankles too weak. I hate being out of breath. It’s boring. It’s too difficult. It’s raining / hailing / snowing outside.

These are the things I used to tell myself about running. But, more recently, through sheer desperation to get fit in a way that fits around work, parenting and a budget, I started running. I did the Couch to 5K programme, which involves interval training, starting very gently to work up to 5K.

My friends were impressed that I was running 5K. They asked me if I’d thought of doing a 10K running event. NO WAY! said I. Why would I want to do a silly thing like that? I don’t need to prove myself.

But shortly after that conversation, The Children’s Society asked me to run the London Vitality 10K and blog about it in support of their work. My blogging obsession converged with my newfound running skills and a desire to help the charity, and thus began my 10K training journey.

With less than a month to go until the big day, I’m actually amazed at the progress I’ve made. Yes, there have been setbacks: illness, work commitments, very inclement weather and even grief. But at the same time I’ve proved to myself that I can run 8K at a decent speed (and if I can do 8k, what’s another 2k?), and have increased my speed at running 5K. I’m now confident that, barring any disasters, I can complete the 10K on the big day before they close the course (i.e. in less than an hour and a half).

And I want to urge everyone to give running and especially training for an event a try. Unless your GP tells you not to, I believe that anyone can run. And the benefits are about more than just fitness. Here are some of the serious and less serious ways that training for this event has improved my life:

Mental health

Before my training really took off, I was suffering from some serious anxiety problems. But since I really started amping up my running efforts, the anxiety has just disappeared. The running has also been absolutely essential in helping me deal with my grief at losing my grandmother recently. She is my number one top most loved person other than my husband and children. Running has given me space to contemplate and address that loss.

Perseverance

I am so surprised and pleased with myself for sticking with my training. I never do as much as I want to or hope, but it’s clear that there has been an improvement since I started this journey in February. Some people doubted my ability to train for such an event, but I’ve proven that Marty McFly (from Back to the Future if you were born yesterday) is right: “if you put your mind to it, you can accomplish anything”.

Confidence

I haven’t lost a single ounce of weight doing all this running. Mainly because it makes me mega hungry and I just can’t be bothered to diet on top of all the other stuff going on in my life. But my clothes fit better, my rear end is tighter and I just feel better. I’m technically overweight according to BMI scales (which I don’t entirely agree with), but the running has proved to me that health and fitness isn’t just a number on a scale.

Fashion sense

Running clothes tend to be brightly-coloured and tight-fitting. I have a bright green top, skin-tight running tights and day-glo orange running shoes. Nothing will make you feel more daring than dressing in a ridiculous clashing ensemble composed of bright colours and spandex. It’s made me a bit more confident in my style generally. See featured photo for a representation of the sheer blinding colour of my trainers.

Washing

My commitment to running has increased my commitment to doing the washing because:

(a) Running clothes are expensive. I have two sets and I’m not buying any more. So they need to be washed.

(b) They’re smelly.

And you can’t do just the running clothes as they don’t make up a full load. So I’ve been totes catching up with my washing just because running forces me to do the washing.

And by catching up, I mean the hamper is merely full, rather than overflowing.

I’m running 10k on 29 May and it’s going to be bloody hard work. But the money I’m raising will help children and young people suffering from mental health problems, abuse, debt and a whole host of other rubbish things. If you’d like to help The Children’s Society improve the lives of these kids, please check out my JustGiving page.

All the things you don’t know about me…

One of my blogger friends who joins in with the #EatSleepBlogRT linky every week linked up a funny post the other week. It had a fact about her for each letter of the alphabet, and I really enjoyed learning more about her in a format that required her to be a bit more creative in how she expressed it. I commented that I’d really like to copy the idea and so she turned it into a tag post!

So here you are, an alphabetical description of some things that are important parts of my personality. To read the original post that started it all, and see more instructions for joining this tag, please check out Heather’s blog, Shank You Very Much.

Shank You Very Much

A is for acting

My childhood dream was to be a musical theatre star, but I never pursued it.

B is for boobs

My boobs are my favourite feature of mine. They aren’t quite what they used to be. They’ve been subjected to pregnancy and breastfeeding and 30-mumble years of gravity. But they’re still mine and they’re great.

C is for cats

I like black & white cats who occasionally bite you when you may or may not deserve it.

D is for Dad

I was brought up by my dad, and he did a smashing job really. Respect to all the solo parents out there doing it for themselves.

E is for Editor

In my day job, I am an editor. It’s not quite the acting dream, but I actually really love it. I dabbled with a lot of other possible professions in my younger days but I was always meant to be an editor.

F is for (the F-word)

I really love swearing. I like doing it and hearing other people doing it (as long as it’s comical/therapeutic and not aggressive). I don’t like to swear on my blog, but if you come round for a drink after the kids are in bed we can turn the air blue.

G is for Geek Groupie

I like a few geeky things like Star Trek, Lord of the Rings and other fantasy books & movies, Comic Book movies etc. But I’ve never quite been passionate enough about any of it to qualify to be a true geek. More so, I’ve always enjoyed the company of people geekier than me – and pretty much everyone I’ve ever dated has been a geek of some type. So that’s why I say I’m a bit of a geek groupie.

H is for Hats

I like to wear very warm, flamboyant hats in the winter. I get away with not blow-drying my hair and just sticking a hat on it. My mother-in-law bought me a real winner this year, and my son is taking after me.

Hats.jpg

I is for Indian food

I am obsessed with any sort of Indian food, from whatever region, authentic or not. Exotic spice combinations are my happy place.

J is for Japanese

I’m also obsessed with Japanese food. Sushi, Teriyaki, Udon – all of it. I NEED to eat it at least once a week. When I was a teenager my dad had a similar obsession, for which I ridiculed him. But it must be in the genes because now I can’t get enough of the stuff. I also find Japanese language and culture fascinating – have studied it a bit – and hope to visit Japan properly one day.

K is for Kitchen

We recently built an extension to our house with a brand new shiny kitchen in it. I’ve always wanted a breakfast bar and now I have one! We have worked for years to be able to get such a thing. When I’m feeling a bit down, it’s wonderful to have a part of my house that is shiny, uncluttered, and just how I like it (unlike the rest of the house).

kitchen.jpg

L is for Listening

As I’ve grown older, I’ve realised how important it is to listen. I’m sometimes good at listening to my friends when they need a friendly ear. But other times I’m too self-centred and I forget to listen and think of others. It’s something I’m working on.

M is for Mindfulness

I am still new to mindfulness but I’m learning it’s a wonderful thing for my physical and mental health. It was actually another blogger who got me interested in it. If you want to know more about my new interest, check out my guest post on Mission: Mindfulness.

N is for Nicole

It’s my name … and I can’t think of anything else for this letter.

O is for Only You

My favourite cheeseball movie guilty pleasure from 1994. It stars Marisa Tomei, Bonnie Hunt and Robert Downey Jr before he was Iron Man. It’s about a woman who goes all the way to Italy chasing after a man who an Ouija Board told her was her soulmate. It’s full of beautiful scenery, cheesy lines, cringey comedy and good kisses. I will never get tired of watching it.

P is for PhD

It is a lesser known fact that I have a PhD in English. My thesis was about religion and postcolonial literature. I don’t remember much else about it.

Q is for Questions

Another of my current intentions for myself is to ask people more questions. I talk about myself too much and forget to ask other people things. So I’m trying to think about what I’d like to ask my friends. But I also have to be careful and not ask the wrong sorts of questions!

R is for Rock ‘n Roll

My music tastes are very eclectic. But if someone forced me to pick one, it would have to be rock. There is nothing like a rousing guitar riff. Plus there are so many sub-genres of rock, I’m sure I wouldn’t get bored.

S is for Sugar

The sugar police can go and drown themselves in a massive avocado smoothie as far as I’m concerned. I love sugar. Sugar in my drinks. Sugar in my cakes. The current trend of “giving up sugar” makes me roll my eyes so hard it gives me a headache. It’s definitely bad to eat too much of the stuff, but that doesn’t mean it’s always bad.

T is for Truth

I am truthful about things to a fault. Perhaps the T could also be for Tactless, but I’d like to think I’ve gotten better about that over the years!

U is for Ukulele Orchestra of Great Britain

This is a real thing and they are bloody amazing. They play all sorts of songs on a collection of different sized ukuleles, with a strong dose of humour. Seeing Kate Bush’s song “Wuthering Heights” performed on ukuleles made my life complete.

V is for Vasovagal Syncope

That’s a fancy medical term for fainting. If I hurt myself and I think it’s really bad – like broken bones, gashes, or just extreme pain – I faint. I just check out. I also faint if I don’t lie down when they draw my blood for blood tests. It scares the bejeezus out of people.

W is for Wuthering Heights

If someone asks me what my favourite book is, I always say Wuthering Heights. Of course, I first read it when I was an impressionable, angsty teenager and I just thought it was the most romantic story ever. In my more mature years, I actually think Cathy is sort of an idiot. But I haven’t found another book that has made quite so strong an impression on me.

X is for Xylophone

I don’t really care about xylophones, but there aren’t very many words that start with x.

Y is for Youth is wasted on the young

Do you ever look back at pictures of yourself and think: “Damn, I looked good and had no responsibilities, but I never appreciated it at the time?” I do. I also think how much I would love to sit around studying maths and history, whereas as a teenager I thought it all mind-meltingly boring. It’s a shame that we have to go to school when we’re too young to appreciate it.

Z is for Zippers

When zippers stop working properly and come unzipped from the bottom underneath the pull tab. That just sets my teeth on edge. Aaaagggh.

I’m tagging Becki from The Mum From Brum, Nadia from Scandi Mummy and Jen from Just Average Jen to participate next. I hope you’ll all let me know when your posts are live so I can have a read.

The rules are here:

  1. Read through my post. I know, that seems like a given.
  2. Start your own blog post.
  3. Fill your alphabet in with things that describe you. Or just random thoughts that start with that letter if your brain decides it doesn’t feel like cooperating.
  4. Tag the person who sent this to you and two other bloggers that you’d like to know more about.
  5. Copy and paste these directions above your post so people know what to do.
  6. Pop over to Shank You Very Much to grab the badge code.
Keep Calm and Carry On Linking Sunday

Casting call: Actors needed to play the role of parent

This post might be controversial. Maybe people will totally judge me over it. But I am over worrying about being judged … and this post explains one of the reasons why.

Picture this:

You’re in the park and your son is playing confidently on the equipment designed for his age group. You’re chilling on a bench nearby – maybe you even check your phone. Another mum turns up and is keeping close to her son as he climbs the stairs, and she always catches him at the bottom of the slide. All the time she is talking to him loudly in a conversational tone, loudly encouraging him to continue being totally awesome at playing in the park.

What do you do?

If the answer is carrying on doing what you’re doing, then well done. You may be immune to the scourge of acting like a parent.

But you know what I’ve been known to do? I start copying the other mum I see at the park. I go and stand near where my son is playing, talking to him and stuff. Because I (almost subconsciously) worry that the other mum will judge me if I don’t.

I react to my instinct that in public I must parent in a way that other people – especially other parents – will approve of.

Do you ever change your natural parenting behaviour when you’re in public? Do you start acting like you think other people want you to? Some examples I see and/or do every day:

  • Correcting my children loudly when they misbehave in public, so that others know that I’m not letting them get away with it. But NEVER shouting.
  • Being excessively involved in my children’s play when I have an audience.
  • Acting more attentive than normal in making sure my child doesn’t fall over or otherwise sustain an injury. Hovering. Otherwise someone might think I am neglectful.
  • NEVER leaving my children alone in the car, not even for a moment while I put my trolley in the trolley park. Even if this means dangerously carrying armfuls of groceries along with a child and any number of other items.
  • Making loud comments about limiting screen time when they play with their tablets in public.
  • Worrying about whether others will approve of what food I feed my children. Making excuses for biscuits.

The parenting performance

I am perfectly happy with my parenting techniques that I use in private. There’s nothing wrong with them. And yet I almost compulsively adjust them in response to what I perceive as other people’s expectations. I’d be surprised to hear that I’m the only one.

Modern-day parenting is full of the expectation of being present and accounted for. “Helicopter parenting” is the fashion. We make sure our children are well-behaved and polite, are fed healthy food, play with educational toys, bathe regularly, brush their teeth, and are never put in harm’s way. Of course we do those things. I can’t speak for others, but I suspect I’m not the only one who’s totally insecure about this. I know I’m doing the right things, but I am so worried that other people think I’m doing it wrong.

And so my public parenting has become a performance. I feel as though every time I go in public, I’m walking onto the parenting stage.

I’m so over it

Is it all in my head? I don’t think so, actually. I’ve been known to judge other parents. I’ve heard other parents judging other parents. I’m almost certain that people sometimes judge me.

It’s human nature to be judgemental. We can’t judge people for being judgers because that just creates a big ugly judge-y snowball.

What we need – what I need – is confidence. Most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have. We need to believe this about ourselves. Letting go of our parenting insecurities will make us happier – and happy parents raise happy children.

Parenting is hard enough without worrying about what other people think. So the next time you’re at the park – go ahead and hover if it makes you happy. But not because you think that the mum over there checking her phone thinks you should.

A Mum Track Mind
Quite Frankly She Said Sunday Best
My Petit Canard