The last few New Year’s Eves, I have made one resolution: for the pending year to be more about me and my needs. Each resolution has, of course, spectacularly failed under the weight of the myriad of responsibilities that I consciously or unconsciously prioritise each and every day. And like anything with sufficient repetition, it becomes habit. So, there my needs remain: at the bottom of the pile. Habitually.
Anyone else relate?
There was a post doing the rounds on social media a while back about how motherhood – in modern times – has peaked in terms of stress, or something like that. I remember its message jarred me as it felt a little like two fingers up to the mums of yesteryear who ‘had it easy’ or ‘easier’ as the post infered. We all know that’s rubbish, right? As motherhood is hard. No matter where you fall in the timelines of history (I’m also not a big fan of sentiments that pitch women against women as there’s too much of that crap already). So, I found myself rejecting that message as, quite frankly, I’d rather parent nowadays with all the technology we have than to face a pile of steaming terry nappies and a frickin’ mangle.
But that post stuck with me and, to a degree, I concede, it’s got a point. Yes, today’s mothers may not be facing rationing or the Plague but we are faced with a stress that motherhood of old never had to the same degree (at least I don’t think so, anyway): that of expectations. The expectation that we work a job like we don’t have kids, that we parent like we don’t have a job, that we ‘snap back’ after pregnancy and somehow breeze through life (with perfect make up, big hair, love life sorted, healthy work/life/leisure balance and a shed load of disposable income). It’s bull shit. We all know that but yet we continue to ascribe to the idea and end up weighted down by our excessive expectations of perfection.
Instead of giving ourselves a break, we adopt a ‘must try harder’ attitude like life’s a test rather than being for the living. It’s an absolute cycle of madness I’m not quite sure women of past years would have tolerated, or at the very least, they would not have been expected to act like they tolerate it via a picture-perfect portrayal of their life on social media. So, yeah, all in all, I fail with my resolution. Every damn year. No shit sherlock considering Albert Einstein so famously said: ‘The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results.”
So, it’s a no brainer, really, that my best intentions to get to Destination A are never going to reap the rewards I wish for if I’m not prepared to come off a track that is only ever directed towards Destination B . Heck, you can’t make something happen through sheer will alone (otherwise I’d be a millionaire and look like J Lo). So, for me, it is time for change. It is no longer good enough for me to sigh despondently at yet another marker of missed opportunity for change. I need to be the change (as much of a bell end as that makes me sound).
I was reading the latest edition of On The Doorstep magazine (a new Kent-based publication I’m hopefully going to be writing for soon, eek!) and there was an article in the latest copy (available here) written by @mummy_moi_ on this exact subject. The article was part of a wider campaign under the hashtag #allow4metime and there are other similar mottos, like when the lovely Cassie (from @mamas_little_squares on Instagram) talks about removing the ‘ish’ from ‘selfish’. I love all these reminders as they are part of changing the narrative around motherhood and helping us mums to normalise centralising our own, personal needs. Heck, before we became mums, and before we became women, we were just humans first. With bog standard needs, just like those human needs belonging to the menfolk and the little folk. So, maybe we need to stop acting like we don’t?!
As much as it is a million outside forces that got me into this position (think motherhood, single parentdom, working full time in a ridiculously stressful industry and living miles away from a familial support network), I need to accept my accountability in maintaining that status quo. Sometimes, I have no choice: if I have a work deadline that needs overtime it must get done, as one (frequent!) example. But equally, there are some choices I make that do not directly benefit me or my mental health. And that is not a criticism, I just think it goes back to that habit I mentioned earlier where sometimes it’s just easier to do it, and sometimes I’m just on autopilot.
For me to make a sustainable change, I need to rewire my brain and interrupt my habits. My impetus is wanting my mental health back. To not feel guilty. And to feel more like me. That’s why this week when my child has been away with the grandparents I’ve been more boudaried around time spent contacting her than I have previous years when she has visited during the summer. Prolonged phonecalls only open up the absence so I’ve kept them short, sweet and punchy. And then made a coffee and sat and drank it in blissful silence. And I’ve been present in that silence and enjoying it for what it is, as soon enough the hurricane that is my tween will be home again and the usual, chaotic sounds of our homelife will be gratefully restored.
But it’s not always easy – I get that. One example was Sunday afternoon. Sundays were always dance class until we decided our lives were too manic and we wanted that day for ourselves. Sundays are lovely, don’t get me wrong, but they are also nearly always about either doing something fun (chosen by the child, because, no great surprise, she gets dibs on what fun is) or we’re at home and I’m cleaning. If I’m likely to lose my shizzle it will be on a Sunday evening as guaranteed the weekend would not have included anything I particularly wanted to do, plus I’ll be knackered and thinking of the stressful week ahead. Result is grumpy mum.
This Sunday I sat for a cup of tea after cleaning and then thought “hoof this for a laugh, I’m gonna have a nap!”. I mean, it’s Sunday right (the day of rest and all that), but you would not believe the bloody argument that went on in my head about whether I should have a flippin’ nap, or not. It was insane. I must have laid down and got up again 3 times before finally giving myself permission to do what the heck I wanted after a busy week at work which was to get some bloody shut eye. My teenage self and indulgent, responsibility-free 20 something self would be appalled at who I’ve become, lol. The first ten minutes of said nap was spent rapidly fighting the urge to get up and clean or do some thing else useful. And that’s the problem, when we’re programmed for output all the damn time how do allow for input? And do you know what? It felt bloody beautiful. And the sky didn’t fall in just because I let go of my expectations (my internal ‘to do’ list) and did something just. for. me. And by allowing myself to recharge it felt GOOD (it also gave me energy to tackle the ironing pile later whilst whistling a happy tune as opposed to slamming the iron down in some kind of Cinders-fury).
All in all, its not rocket science. But it does require some commitment. So, baby steps it is. And now I’ve just got to work out how to keep this up once the mini tornado returns home next week. Answers on a postcard please, ha!
I’ll let you know how I get on!